[The Bell]New larp scenario

Hi, I've just published a larp scenario called The Bell

It's a science fiction suspense live roleplaying game inspired by The Fountain (Darren Aronofsky), Five-Twelfths of Heaven (Melissa Scott), Vacuum Flowers (Michael Swanwick) and the works of Cordwainer Smith. The Bell is intended to be an emotionally intense game that pushes moral dilemmas. It also draws on a trope of science fiction which treats space travel as a spiritual journey. It doesn't make assertions about any particular religion, but it does examine metaphysical themes and ethical issues.

Anyway, if anyone has a look at it, I'd be interested in your thoughts.

Stephanie

Comments

  • edited February 2012
    Only judging from the blurb on DriveThruRPG.

    I really like the set-up for this game! Seems to me this way of doing the amnesia-thing gives a lot of interesting possibilities. You are free to feed the game with interesting elements, when lifting the cloak of amnesia for the characters, while at the same time it seems like interaction will be allowed to flow freely. This may the base for very dynamic gameplay. A set-up for a great game!

    I do wonder though, on the narrow timeframe for the game (2 hours). I would expect the interaction to bloom more in a wider timeframe. I believe 4-8 hours would be better. It would give the players time to delve into more complex relationships and developments within the window of one "bell-time" (you could make them longer; 1-2 hours). It all depends on the details of planning you are doing; how much technical/setting support do the game provide? What is the physical scene for the game; is it built to simulate a space-ship, or is much left to the players imagination?

    The set-up may be suitable for longer games too, 1-3 days, depending on the support, and interesting to dive into within such a timeframe.

    Good luck with the game! Hope you post an actual play report here.
  • That's fantastic, Stephanie. Good luck with that.

    Could you tell us a bit more about how it plays? What's happened when you've run it before? What cool things have emerged?
  • Heya, thanks for the comments.

    Two hours seemed about right from other 'talky' games I've run. More intriguey games where people have got to do a lot of deal making, or more fighty games, seem to stretch out longer in their timing, but in this case they had a lot of emotional stuff about who they were and how they felt about other people, and an external problem, and a very small space to interact in. In the first run, I actually had the Captain ask to go into the final bell sequence early (although it probably works out at 2 hours when you add in the bit when they fell to purgatory and I turned off the sound track.) I'd do things differently to make it a day long game - many more things to interact with in the environment, for a start, and probably include some more active threat like one of the characters who's trying to stop them making it to their destination.

    In actual play, the first phase was primarily information finding, so I got a lot of people clustered around me asking questions, and the people who weren't were mostly introducing themselves to each other and checking out the marked paper that was doubling for consoles and that; in the second phase they were freaking out a lot and arguing about what to do (they had some big choices to make about how they could survive and for what cost); the third phase surprised me - I'd been kind of disappointed that no one had been fighting each other, and then, directly after the big problem was fixed and killing someone else wasn't going to give anyone a meaningful benefit they started dropping like flies. And we had someone deciding to direct the ship to the Horsehead Nebula ("Yay!") and one character suiciding that I hadn't expected and various crazy stuff going on. It got very hard to track what was going on. One of the specifically cool bits was near the end, when some characters had been turned into revenants (effectively robots wired into the ship for extra computing power), and when I made a ship announcement they'd pick up on what I said and start repeating it - it sounded very eery. And one of the players remarked that his best moment was waking up in the final act where the person he was paired with had just realised that yes, actually he had done all the horrible things he'd been claiming to not remember, and been responsible for the death of her lover to boot, and she just woke up and gave him a look of purest venom. I did find that one of the options that I'd put in as a backup choice (I didn't think they'd be keen on it) got picked up as the favourite solution - the game was built with multiple ways that they could go about solving their problems, but they didn't go for the ones I'd expected (players always surprise me).

    It was a very minimalist set - cushions laid out on the floor, paper with specific symbols to be consoles and electronica, a lighting stand with some coloured gels and the soundtrack. I had the lights pretty low at first, but people were struggling to read their character sheets so I turned them up. The background for the game was that the first run was at a larp convention based at a scout camp, so the rooms available were pretty basic and I knew I wouldn't have a lot of time for set dressing. That was also one of the reasons for the way people select characters on the day - at previous events I'd run there I'd been freaking out in the last couple of weeks because of last minute drop outs and additions to my player group, and I didn't want to have to worry about the precise number of people who would be there.
  • This looks very interesting. And sounds like you had the right amount of time if they started picking eachother off after the resolution of the main problem. If they felt that way about eachother, you were clearly doing something right. :) Choosing characters the day of seems a good fix to last minute worries about character plot groups being complete. And symbolic sets are great, aren't they? After a short while when playing, you're interacting with the props as real, so long as the story sucks you in.

    I like the format you're presenting the scenario in. I will have to pick it up some time soon. Have you published them before? There are a couple of larp scenarios Julia Ellingboe and I wrote that I'd like to publish sometime soon. It would be great to hear about your experiences with it.
  • Interesting experiences you've had with the game, Steph. Thanks for sharing!

    Symbolic sets can work like hell, if done right, and if the players buy into the fiction. Clearly they did in your game, and that is fun to see, eh?

    Please post more on your experiences in the field, Steph. Your last post, with the a-p, was an interesting read.
  • "Choosing characters the day of seems a good fix to last minute worries about character plot groups being complete. And symbolic sets are great, aren't they? After a short while when playing, you're interacting with the props as real, so long as the story sucks you in."
    Yeah, I've seen, and played in, some really cool games that were bare bones in terms of props and set dressing, but they were really there in terms of the emotional game. I have found that if I do casting on the day I feel a bit more detached from the actual characters that people play - if I'm casting in advance, I usually end up talking to people about what they'd like and trying to fit the personalities together and their individual performances really stick in my head, but when they pick their own characters on the day, I remember the people but I can have trouble remembering who played what sometimes. I've seen another technique that I thought was really cool but haven't tried yet, where the game gives you an outline of the character and then it asks you a bunch of questions about why you did stuff and what your connections with other people are - in the games like that that I've played in, I found there was a really great buy in from all the players.

    "Have you published them before? There are a couple of larp scenarios Julia Ellingboe and I wrote that I'd like to publish sometime soon. It would be great to hear about your experiences with it."
    I published a couple of scenarios last year on the same website. They have a very large catchment area - I've sold games to the UK and Italy, according to the email addresses in the sales notifications, and I think one to Germany? I found them pretty easy to deal with, and they've answered technical support queries very quickly and helpfully. Sales have been on the 'handful' side, which is consistent with a couple of friends who've done the same thing. I couldn't tell you if that's because we're unknowns outside our local community, or DriveThruRPG isn't the best place for larp scenarios, or there just isn't that big a market for prewritten larp scenarios right now. What are your scenarios about? I really liked the Shooting the Moon/Under My Skin set of games I got at Epimas.

    Thanks for your comments!
  • Posted By: StephaniePeggI published a couple of scenarios last year on the same website. They have a very large catchment area - I've sold games to the UK and Italy, according to the email addresses in the sales notifications, and I think one to Germany? I found them pretty easy to deal with, and they've answered technical support queries very quickly and helpfully.
    Good to know. I've had good experiences selling through DriveThruRPG. Though it's not necessarily the biggest market for my games. But the technical side of it is extremely convenient.
    Sales have been on the 'handful' side, which is consistent with a couple of friends who've done the same thing. I couldn't tell you if that's because we're unknowns outside our local community, or DriveThruRPG isn't the best place for larp scenarios, or there just isn't that big a market for prewritten larp scenarios right now.
    Yeah, that doesn't surprise me, too much. Though I think there was a good audience for the wonderful Shifting Forest parlor larps, but I don't know the scale. Larps have it going against them that they take more resources to run than tabletop--more space, more people, more stuff, often more time. Though short form like yours, and pick up/symbolic games like jeepform should cut down on that.

    There is a great larp con in Massachusetts called Intercon. And there are a few more that this community runs. That is the kind of community I can see being interested in larp scenarios. But--folks generally write original ones for the con, and the community ethic is to make things available for free or at cost. They do have some great structure though--speaking of casting. Registration is long in advance and GMs send out casting surveys and game materials well in advance. It's a great way to work it, though it does mean you have to be tolerant of a certain amount of pre-homework as a player. But it's worth it, generally. And some games have very little you need to do in advance.
    What are your scenarios about? I really liked the Shooting the Moon/Under My Skin set of games I got at Epimas.
    Awesome! I'm so glad. The two scenarios are a bit more larpy? If that makes sense. The first is What to Do about Tam Lin? A court room drama set in the Faerie Queen's court. The second is a steampunk version of Chad Underkoffler's game Dead Inside, which Chad kindly gave us permission to adapt.

    We had a wonderful time running both. Julia brought Tam Lin to Denmark! And we've got all the material, just need some illustrations and to do the final layout. Time, time!
  • Yeah, I think the basic thing is that the people who like running larps also like writing them. (Which is a good thing. ;-) ) There have been some runs around here of overseas scenarios - Snow White from Shifting Forest is very popular, and Hamlet and Eridanus Rising have both gotten interest. And the Freeform Games and Peaky crowds write good games, as well as a couple by J Tuomas Harvainen which got a good reception. Jeepform we know about, but I've looked at some of the material that's being published and there's a fair amount that looks way too gritty for my comfort zone (not all of it, I enjoyed the Soap Opera jeepform.)

    Where I am (New Zealand), there's a larp convention called Chimera which started running annually in 2008 and is thriving (and I think built on similar lines to Intercon), plus another one called Hydra that's happening First Time Ever in April in my home city, and I'd say that we're generally on an upwards swing of interest. One of the things I've noticed in bought scenarios is that the gender ratios can be quite different - I think we're roughly at parity in our local community, but a lot of bought games seem to end up with 'male' roles being rewritten to 'female' or someone cross dressing. And some of them, Shifting Forest I'm thinking of in particular, have rather more complex rules systems than is common in home grown games.

    "But--folks generally write original ones for the con, and the community ethic is to make things available for free or at cost."
    I sometimes do that, but for me, I guess that the difference between free and paid is the amount of work that I do to make it a reasonable game for someone else to run. The difference between just handing over the character sheets with a big "Good luck!"; or processing all the feedback from the playtests, and writing out a guide on how to run it, and putting in the extra effort to make it pretty and root out typos. And there's a part of me that figures my time has value, even if the hourly rate works out to pretty low. I guess it's a fairly personal decision for everyone.

    I'd be really interested in your Tam Lin game when it becomes available. It looks cool.
  • It's great to hear about your community.
    Posted By: StephaniePegg
    "But--folks generally write original ones for the con, and the community ethic is to make things available for free or at cost."
    I sometimes do that, but for me, I guess that the difference between free and paid is the amount of work that I do to make it a reasonable game for someone else to run. The difference between just handing over the character sheets with a big "Good luck!"; or processing all the feedback from the playtests, and writing out a guide on how to run it, and putting in the extra effort to make it pretty and root out typos. And there's a part of me that figures my time has value, even if the hourly rate works out to pretty low. I guess it's a fairly personal decision for everyone.
    That's very well put. With the amount of time & energy people put into running larps, it amazes me that they are not published more. We'll just have to keep putting things out there, and see how it develops.
  • Thanks for the pointer to Freeform Games. Now that is a well organized group.
  • I've just taken a look through this, Steph. It's a great setting and collection of characters. The tone you and Catherine are aiming for comes across very clearly, and I'm taken aback at how much detail you've put in the game (while at the same time making it very accessible).

    Very very cool stuff!
  • edited February 2012
    Stephanie, I really liked what I learned about your larps from your essay published in Larp Frescos, thus I'm inclined to check out this new work of you! OTOH, the "science fiction" setting is a bit of a turn-off for me. How did you solve the problem of futuristic aesthetics in a larp? Did you work around it by making it a "black box", no-visual-illusion larp? Or does staging The Bell involve construction of a backdrop, costumes, etc.?
  • Posted By: Emily CareThat's very well put. With the amount of time & energy people put into running larps, it amazes me that they are not published more. We'll just have to keep putting things out there, and see how it develops.
    I think they're frequently not commercially published because there's just not much of a market for them. Once you're beyond the Shifting Forest scale, then producing even a short-form larp is a serious logistical exercise: you need to find 20 players, acquire a suitable venue, and potentially dress a set, acquire props. Which automatically shrinks your possible market to "handfuls". For larger or longer games your market is basically people running a gaming convention. Which really isn't a commercial proposition.

    Fortunately, larpwriters don't seem to be motivated so much by the money, and keep writing games for love and egoboo.
  • edited February 2012
    Hi Rafu, thanks!

    It was very much a black box setting. I had some black pieces of cloth I draped over chairs and the table to cover the moderness of the furniture, and some coloured lighting, but it basically expected people to selectively ignore stuff in the room that didn't fit in. People were asked to wear plain black clothing and the objects they could interact with were pieces of paper with particular symbols on one side, and text on the other. If someone had that symbol on their nametag, then they could interact with it. The science fiction material was kind of ... "hey, this stuff exists" without me trying to explain why, although a number of characters' stories were built around the idea of a particular technology or phenomenon. It wasn't like a hard SF novel where the writer builds from the ground up why a particular thing might be plausible, more of the sociological kind of SF where the writer assumes a particular thing and then looks at the implications of it. Does that make sense?

    Hang on, there are pictures: https://picasaweb.google.com/chimeracon/Round1TheBell#5648746645202768882

    PS: My sister says to add that the soundtrack contributed strongly to the feeling of immersion.
  • What's the range of players?
    It says 20 sheets but do I need exactly 20 players or can they be less than that?
    Thanks
    Lorenzo
  • 12-20. The casting is set up as seven clusters of characters. There are three mandatory clusters which have core information about the big external problem, the other four clusters you can mix and match depending on the number of people who walk in the door (they're different sizes so you can cast for any number, but each cluster should be filled in its entirety.)
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