[Maroons] Talking about Maroons in detail -- HERE BE SPOILERS

edited May 2013 in Actual Play
This is a thread for discussing the LARP "Maroons" by Jason Morningstar. If you haven't played it, you might want to run away now, because this thread will spoil your fun. A lot of the fun of this LARP was the slow discovery of various in-game secrets.


  • For me the fun was the merging of the two games. When people started messing with my family, I got very protective. When Truth and Zeal were gone for so long at the spaceship I felt genuine worry at the thought of them not returning.

    I would like to play this again but be on the space crew.
  • I've played it twice, once as Truth (with 7 players in a summer house on an island) and once as a facilitator (with 8 players in a hotel room & hallway at Gamestorm). Both times were really impactful and moving. It really does a good job of presenting a box/chamber larp to an audience that may have only done some of the hippier tabletop games, and empowering them with what they need to play. I'm planning on running it at GoPlayNW, assuming we can find a decent space for it.
  • edited May 2013
    Maroons! It was excellent!

    Quick note - this is from my perspective - there are many happenings and conversations I never witnessed.

    We were divided into groups based on cryptic binary questions right off the bat with little explanation. I ended up in the larger group, and we trudged off into the darkness to a single-room cabin with a big parachute set up inside to indicate a cave-like shelter.

    James lead us through some warm up and explanation. I ended up as Zeal, the youngest member of this small family who had (IIRC), some 30 years ago, escaped to this harsh planet to avoid religious persecution. Zeal was the most ignorant of them all, knowing nothing beyond her small family and home, not even metal, glass, or the taste of sweetness.

    I pulled the cards that made me the hunter of the family and also gave me an incestuous relationship with my brother Peace.

    We then just interacted as a family for a little while - father Wisdom guiding us even in his ailing health and planting the garden; mother Mercy, long dead, prodding and encouraging us with her spirit; sister Truth urging us to do better; brother Peace, doing little, but offering up scriptures at key moments; and I, Zeal, charged with youthful enthusiasm and handy with a spear. It wasn't easy - we were always hungry, and weather was a true threat, but there was a nice quietness to everything - this was just life as we knew it.

    The incest thing didn't seem all that weird in our context. It wasn't like, “let’s be edgy just because!” It seemed more like two young people knowing little else, doing what came naturally. We felt a bit guilty, but Zeal didn't think about it too much. The gods had just shown her a star sign and blessed her with a wolf kill. She was coming into her own. It was so easy to overlook all of the problems.

    Then the strangers came out of the darkness with their weird lights. We were all surprised. There was a bit of yelling back and forth between us and them. (Meta note: it was SO interesting how fast the scientists - who had arrived to check out what they thought was an uninhabited planet - started talking down to us and how fast I, at least, maybe all of the family felt like, “WTF - there’s nothing wrong with us!” despite starvation, injuries, etc.) Once I, as Zeal, understood that they weren't the gods or immediately dangerous, I fixated on their stuff, which seem magical. I’m sure I annoyed everyone over the next few minutes, wreaking havoc as everyone else tried to understand each other. I snatched a light and “broke” it. They wised up and didn't let me snatch the other lights, but once I saw one of them clutching a bag of jelly beans, I knew the gods had intended it for me (more meta-level thinking - knowing Zeal had never tasted sweetness, I had to steal them for her!). So I did a fake-out (oh the physical fun of live action vs. tabletop!) of being careless with my broken light and snatched the jelly beans when they reached for the light. I ran inside and my sister Truth and I gorged ourselves on sugar for a few delicious seconds.

    Everyone came in and calmness prevailed eventually. The scientists sat glumly in our cave for a while and eventually, while they talked among themselves about going back to the ship, Truth and I sneaked out. We hid and followed one of them to the ship. This was another aspect of the physical space that was so cool. It took a few minutes of walking through the woods in the darkness to get the ship, so it felt a bit like a mysterious journey, and it ended at the spaceship which was a huge cabin with lights all around it. We slipped inside, blinded by the lights, and Jason kept whispering bits of description to us to evoke the alien feel while Mercy’s spirit kept urging us on towards trouble. The scientist managed to slip by us (exciting!), and we found the control room. Licked and pressed a lot of buttons. Eventually found a stash of stuff and ran back to our cave with it.

    I have no idea what went down while we left. But there had apparently been a hostage situation which meant they lost their chance to get back to the ship and the game went off the rails. They were stranded with us and given names like ours. A love triangle among the scientists soured. They had a lot of reasons to be mopey. Wisdom died and we honored him while the scientists argued quietly over our primitive religion. Starvation set in. Zeal felt Mercy’s whispered fortune: “you will one day lead this family” coming true. And she was ready for it. Truth wanted to go be with the gods, so she let her spirit go and made us promise to eat her.

    Cannibalism was another thing that didn't feel like some falsely edgy thing in this context. Truth’s death was very sad, but eating her body seemed practical and a way to honor her request in Zeal’s mind. So we carved up and roasted her body. There was this funny moment where the scientists, with their “superior knowledge” started advising us on meat rationing and preservation and we had literally had the exact same conversation as a family unit prior to the scientists arrival when I brought in the wolf. So I’m like, “yeah, we know,” with an eye roll.

    Then I brought a platter of roasted meat to the scientists. They hesitated, then reached for it, and I pulled it away. I gave them a hard look and made them understand that to partake of our offering meant they weren't exempt from a similar fate should food continue to be scarce. “You mean if one of us dies naturally, right?” I shrugged. They hesitated. I blew the smell of roasted meat in their faces. They dug in. (I say “they” a lot! The scientists did not all believe or act in the same manner, but sometimes it felt that way.)

    We jumped forward in time. We were all starving again. The garden was not yielding well. There was little from hunting. It would be 6 more months until help came for the scientists. The scientist Insolence was especially frustrated and when Peace once again referred to the scriptures, Insolence snatched them up and threw them into the fire. Prior to that Zeal had no intention of choosing cannibalism again despite being protective of and worried about her remaining family member, Peace, but fuck Insolence, man. “ You've just made my decision very easy.” Zeal grabbed her spear and drove it into Insolence. One of the other scientists (arrg, I forget the name of Clarissa’s character) then killed Zeal, and Peace killed her in turn. Only Peace and Justice (the more empathetic scientist) survived.

    It was so good! Really fun and enjoyable as a roleplaying experience, and super interesting on a social and intellectual level. I love this game. I would definitely play it again.

  • I totally love that your players destroyed everything in scene 2 and had a totally different scene 3 and 4 than what the game describes. Awesome.
  • Yeah! I was surprised to hear that we took it off the rails - James and Jason rolled with it just fine. It certainly seemed plausible enough as a story! Knowing that now though just makes me all the more interested in seeing this game played (or playing it myself) again.

  • Hey, this is James, co-facilitator. Really to me, one of the brightest stars of this game was the setting. Having the games spread out, in pitch black woods added so much. That Jason and I weren't in constant communication made it even better: I didn't know when the spaceship people were coming, and didn't know they were going to have creepy green lights. The first contact scene was hilarious, with Rachel swiping all of their stuff. When everything went to hell, there was too much ground to cover between the two settings and the woods, which meant that when I walked back into the cave and found the scientists tied up, it was a total, delightful surprise.

    We took a little longer to setup the family, but it seemed to pay dividends: the family interactions got strong really quickly, and that led to a lot of how the family cared and defended each other during the interactions.

  • It was so, so good to have a wide gap between locations, and to play at night. The long walk from one cabin to the other in the inky darkness was very beneficial in setting the mood.

    I had brought Mercy's player back to the spaceship to brief her on her role as Tomes, and we waited for the crew to return. When they didn't we went and found them. So when things went haywire at the end of phase two James and I put our heads together and weren't really alarmed; we just followed the fiction and adapted a little. Mercy stayed Mercy and that was the only major change. Interestingly, that implied that as family members died they stayed engaged - as ghosts.

    The early time spent was valuable for the crew as well - they had a wonderful argument about religion, and the Old Religion adherent (our co-pilot) swore she'd never put her faith above the mission. This, obviously, was not the case. Her "defection" early in phase two was a delicious, well-played twist.

    The way the game hummed along after being derailed so hardcore filled me with confidence! Thanks to everyone who played at Nerdly, and to James for co-GMing so excellently. I learned a lot watching you.
  • edited May 2013
    I also liked the moment when the geologist and pilot cynically renamed themselves Science and Insolence in the Old Religion manner after it became clear they weren't going anywhere, and how the family were all like "those are good and proper names."
  • This is very disjointed. I'm still trying to make sense of what happened, put it into a structured form in my own head. Partly, I was exhausted and tired and partly the game took me to another place and I became another person for a couple hours. Translating that journey back to the real world is hard.

    I played Peace, one of the colonists, the middle child. Peace and his younger sister Zeal had an incestuous relationship. Peace and his older sister Truth had invented a secret language so that he could confess his troubles (the incest) to her without upsetting dad (Wisdom). In my mind, Peace understood that the incest was not entirely acceptable, but he pushed it way down and didn't think about it a lot. When he had to talk about it, he couldn't even talk about it in normal words; hence, his shared language with Truth.

    Peace was a young adult trying to step up into his father's role as caretaker and family glue. Never once did Peace disobey his father directly, but he (I) did manipulate things to make it unnecessary. When his sisters went off to the spaceship, Peace asked his father what to do and didn't like the answer (don't let the ship take off), but he obeyed and tried (and failed) to find the spaceship -- I literally walked around the campground ("wilderness") for a few minutes until I realized I didn't know where anything was.

    What really touched me was how earnest we all were. It would have been easy to play these characters as parodies or political statements. Instead, we all just embraced our roles and played real people as hard as we could.

    We invented rituals for prayer and played through them once. I would have liked to have several day cycles to really hammer home the ritual nature of them. More importantly, the rituals were intimate. We sat close and held hands while I read verses of scripture. I tried to pick out bits of scripture that were relevant to our situation. Before the ritual, we were players; after the ritual, we were family. I doled out bits of food (edible seeds in a bag) to my family; I gave Zeal twice as much as the others.

    As others have said, the setting (fictional and physical) was a character in itself. The colonists had a "cave" in the cabin. It was basically a lean-to tent constructed from a tarp, and they'd tossed some chairs under it. It was cramped and uncomfortable and claustrophobic. Wherever possible, I grabbed props to give us physical stand-ins for things. I repurposed my lantern-style flashlight as a campfire in the middle of the cave. I dragged in a bucket to serve as a corpse when Zeal hunted and killed a wolf for food. These props were important to me. I really wanted to turn off the lights in the cabin and play around the one source of light, but as people were coming and going a lot, it seemed (RL) dangerous so I left the light on. I did flash them like lightning a couple times.

    It was after 1 AM and it was very dark, a bit cold, a bit rainy. This made a perfect hostile "alien" environment. When Zeal would run off into "the wilderness," I literally had to stand quietly and listen for her and try to locate her by sound. I could not see her. (Contrast: Meanwhile, the spaceship people--I still don't know what to call them--were in a warm, lit cabin with access to Things, including an actual bathroom if they wanted it.)

    Outside the cabin, the GMs had designated "the ground where the cabin light shines" as our garden. The other three of my family spent time outside planting seeds. My character was lazy for reasons I didn't understand, but I embraced it. I didn't even go out with them at first. I took that time to study my scripture (two pages of made up verses) and give them a chance to settle into their chore and realize I wasn't there to help. When I did go outside, I "supervised" until it was clear that if I didn't help, really bad things would happen. Peace is lazy, not suicidal.

    On the fictional morning after our planting, there was some part of me that expected to go outside and find that the GMs had somehow replaced our barren ground with plants or something. When I saw that had not happened, part of me was crushed. We were going to starve.

    The broken nature of my relationship with Zeal made me feel extremely protective of her, more than the rest of my family, though I felt protective of them, too. Zeal played into that, too, running off whenever she could and making everyone worry about her. Several times in our interactions with the space people, I found myself stepping between them and my family. I did not imagine Peace capable of violence, but there it was. Harm my family, and I will harm you. At the end, when Science slew Zeal, I found myself enraged that all I could do is kill Science in turn. I wanted peace, I wanted my family, I wanted survival, and none of this was going to happen.

  • So, the incest... We never really delved into it, but we didn't have to. There were a couple knowing looks that really said it all. Peace and Zeal sneaked outside at one point and everyone else in the family knew why. Truth came to the door and peeked at us. Zeal and Peace were "just talking" but it was quiet, intimate talk, no touching. We discussed having a family, why we were doing it. How I imagined children taking care of us like we took care of Dad. It was survival, but it was also very tender. If I had it to do again, I would have held her hand. Later, when the space people arrived, Zeal and I immediately came to the same conclusion: we'd marry them, not each other. Zeal gave me a look that seemed worried that I would be upset or jealous, but I was relieved. Again, so much in this game was communicated before the words came out. When she and I did speak about it, it was almost shorthand. I'd marry Science or Justice (?) and she'd marry Insolence. It was just very matter-of-fact. It was how things had to be.

    One of my favorite moments was an argument with the space people. Science made some really snarky comment about my family not even being able to read. I blew up, asking her if she knew how to plant a garden as we did, because those skills were going to keep her alive, and reading was not. (Turns out, they knew how to garden better than we did. *cough*)

    So back to the decision to leave the planet. Things were happening on a couple different levels. First, the space people were not being forthright with us. I'm not sure if they thought we were too stupid to understand, or if they were afraid to give us all the information, or what. It was like pulling teeth to understand what decisions we were making. They were being cagey. When I finally overheard them talking about danger, I reread my scripture and found some verses that talked exactly about this, and it portended doom for anyone who got on that ship. But I confronted Insolence and demanded he plainly explain what risks we faced by staying. I can't remember, but I think he lied or dodged. In any case, I thought the entire planet was going to be destroyed. My goal was to get my sisters off the planet. I would sacrifice myself and Father, and the two female scientists would stay with us (there was room only for three on the ship). Justice was already staying back with us. I kidnapped Science so that I had leverage if Insolence was going to hurt my sisters.

    Problem was, it took all three crew to fly the ship. Theoretically, as I knew how to read, I could study the instructions and learn to fly it, but I didn't understand the complexity of it. (And I never found the ship.) If it had been up to me, I'd have gone to the ship with one crew member and Zeal, and escaped. I asked Dad what to do, and he said, "Don't let that ship take off," so that became my new goal. Apparently, keeping Science hostage was enough to prevent take-off. Later on, Insolence and Science scuttled the ship to create a crater that would serve as a distress signal to their people, and help would eventually come (too late).

    Talk about "bleed"! It took me about a half hour after the game ended and we parted ways to stop being Peace. I felt protective of the players of my family. I felt vaguely hostile towards the other three players (but was capable of being civil and friendly, of course). I found myself walking Rachel / Zeal back to her cabin and shining the flashlight on the door so she could find her way in safely. I chatted in the mess hall for a little bit to clear my head, then finally passed out in my cabin.
  • Oh, another interesting development: the scripture. Jason provided a one-sheet-front-and-back, densely-packed "bible" of sorts with all kinds of verses of our Old Religion. I would draw bits and pieces from it, reading aloud whenever I could. I scanned it for verses relevant to our situations. Occasionally, the scripture would be written "wrong" for the situation and I started morphing it in subtle ways. I changed the gender of characters in the stories to fit my family, for example. Peace used the scripture as a tool of control.

    The scripture contained bits that were (to me) obvious "cargo cult" interpretations of space ship stuff. I didn't get it at first, but as I read more over the two hours of play, I started getting it. I let Peace start to get it, too, after the spaceship landed.

    Peace confronted his father about it, asking "where did this come from?" and he (Keith) was confused where I was going with it. We had a brief out-of-character discussion (the only one for the entire game, I think) and I explained that I was wondering if he or his father had written it, making it up from scratch, rather than it being Olde Time Religion stuff. He told me his father had written it, confirming to me/Peace that it was all bullshit.

    Peace, even knowing it was bullshit, continued to use the scripture to control his family, to keep them safe, to keep them together. Part of me felt that the scripture contained useful information about our safety, about how to live our lives to avoid death. It doesn't have to be the word of God to be a good instruction manual. I'm not sure if that's cynical or beautiful or both.

    At the end of the game, Insolence ripped the scripture out of Peace's hands and burned it. Peace was aghast at the rudeness but wasn't worried. Jason as GM consoled me for some reason: "It's okay. You have it all memorized." Meanwhile, I was thinking, "It's all bullshit anyway. I've learned what I need from it. I can just make up my own verses." Plus, we're all probably going to starve to death anyway, so why does a book matter?
  • edited May 2013
    Adam, I consoled you because I was concerned that you'd feel deprotagonized by the loss of the scripture. In retrospect I didn't need to but that was my gut reaction.

    The holy writ of the Old Religion is taken from the apocrypha; the Testament of Zebulun and the Testament of Naphtali. I changed the personal names but that's it. There's no deliberate correlation to what happens in the game beyond what you map to it yourself. Everyone finds pretty deep meaning in it somewhere though!
  • Ha! There's stuff on there that is, like, "And they got on the ship and the deluge wiped them out," which so much felt like spaceship cargo cult stuff.

  • Tell us about the landing sequence! I've never gotten a chance to watch it in person.
  • OK! It helps if you know Camp Nerdly; the building we call The Castle was the spaceship lander. We started at midnight and a space big enough to host six RPG sessions comfortably in various rooms was all ours.

    A back corner room usually used for RPGs and an adjacent space no bigger than a picnic table were the play space for the crew; they actually had more room than usual (I wanted to put the controls in a little closet but it just wasn't possible to manage). So they spent most of their time in the back room arguing and, when it was time to enter orbit they moved to the side chamber where the pilot and copilot sat hip to hip on a bench before their controls and the geologist stood at her panel and called out the procedures. Everyone got really into it. I gave them a hard countdown and the pressure was on - they landed with 15 seconds to spare. Early on they had some panic before they realized that the geologist actually *had* a panel to enter commands on.

    The castle is so big it was a wonderful dramatic playground for the family members who later snuck on board.
  • Adam - thanks for sharing your experience! Want a cool experience on so many levels.

  • So the next morning, I think it was Shane who said to me something like "You know, you guys were really creepy last night. Good job with that." I sort of accepted it as a compliment, but I was thinking "I wasn't trying to be creepy at all. Were we creepy? We were just a family doing their thing."

    The family dynamic was also very interesting to me because my wife was in this game and she was on the team of explorers. When she showed up part of me was like "Oh, hey, it's my wife." But then I moved into a "Why is she shouting at us? What is in her hand? Did she just fucking point a gun at Zeal!? Oh, no, she's not messing with my family!" Like Adam said, we ended up being very protective of each other.
  • Yeah, I wasn't trying to be creepy. I was just being earnest. They were invading my home and not being polite to us.
  • So I'm wondering if there was any structural impetus for the derailment or if it was just an emergent thing (it's awesome either way).

    - Did people know what the game was about beforehand? (inc. the likelihood of incest, but that's a seperate issue)
    - Did you pitch the overall situation to the group before splitting into family and crew?
    - Did you do orientation seperately or together?
    - Were people primed to "create conflict" rather than a more laidback approach that might wait for it to emerge?

    In our most recent game, Ross Cowman's Wisdom had a old blaster that he'd kept hidden all these years, which was later very important.
  • I can't speak to people's foreknowledge, but I wasn't secretive about its general theme.

    Since I had James, I divided them arbitrarily and then sent the family off to a briefing with James for separate orientation.

    My feeling was that conflict emerged organically, we certainly didn't push it in that direction at all.
  • edited May 2013
    Settler orientation:
    I kept people pretty much in the dark as far as the structure. I almost forgot to ask, but did see if anybody had an incest trigger. (if that had happened, I just would have removed that set of cards). We did a little bit of ritual building for the family (although as Adam mentioned, it would have been cool to do a lot more of that, I could easily see with the right people, running a game where the settler group gets a headstart, in order to have more phase one time.)

    I definitely primed Zeal to be adventurous by taking her outside to hunt a few times, but if anything, I was gearing her towards thinking the space-team was a blessing (by letting her capture a wolf just as I described the star falling from the sky). During the first contact and ensuing hijinks, I was pretty much entirely hands off, because the players were doing such a good job on their own. I once or twice bird-in-eared Mercy to see if she was suspicious of these people claiming to be of the same religion. Her and the family decided she was on the up and up, and that's when everything went great/to hell.

    So I think it was almost entirely emergent. I'm curious if the stronger bonded the family is (as this one seemed pretty tight), the more likely this would be to happen.
  • edited May 2013
    That's interesting. In both games I organized, I've taken a somewhat lighter hand and the setup has been more collaborative. Players have always chosen, with some discussion, whether they wanted to be family or space crew. We read both of the bolded blurbs to the whole group before splitting up, as a way for people to make a somewhat-informed choice. The space crew and family have been left mostly to themselves in terms of discussing how things are and then running the intro scenes in both groups. In our games, family members have decided to go off to hunt or plant without any poking from organizers, just emergent from play.

    Taken together, I think all of that may have created more buy-in to the overall premise and structure the rules describe, which creates some disincentive to break from the established sequence of scenes.
  • Jason, as a side note, if I knew people who were interested in playing (or play-testing) this, what's the process for getting play materials? Are you to that point?
    Do you project a commercial release on this one, or is this just an "in-house" experiment?
  • I'd be glad to share with you Arnold, just say the word. I'm thinking it'll go up on RPGNow eventually.
  • As a data point, I couldn't hear Mercy half of the time. I tended to entirely ignore her. When I could hear her, I tried to incorporate whatever advice she was giving me. I had made a decision (as Peace) that the voices were real, that they were Of God, and that I should obey them.
  • Responding a bit to Jonathan -

    I had a vague notion of the initial premise - that these two groups interact, but no knowledge of the intention of the scientists or even that there were specific phases. As Zeal, I was indeed primed to see the space team as a blessing, but I was also primed to see them as a threat. It was dark. I was the hunter. I protected my family from wolves. So I questioned them to learn if they were gods. The scientists assured me otherwise, and I felt somewhat repulsed by one or two of the scientists reactions to us, so I went with my interpretation of Zeal's outlook - finding the blessing in otherwise bad situations. It didn't seem like much good could come from them, so I focused elsewhere.

    It was my idea to sneak into the ship and no one discouraged me, so I brought my sister too. I was surprised by the hostage situation, but y'know? I think we all (the family) shared this uneasy feeling about what the scientists were intending to do with us. They came on strong and seemed upset. It felt like something bad was going to happen, but it wasn't clear what. When we returned and they had taken on names and looked glum, it felt like we won - not in the gamer sense, but in the sense that they no longer threatened our family. Of course it turned out badly in the long run, but Zeal died feeling like everything was playing out like it was supposed to.

    I dunno, maybe it would have turned out differently if we knew more about the phases? But it really felt like we were reacting and acting organically to the tense situation and people involved more than anything else, which I liked very much.
  • edited May 2013
    That's super awesome. I'm not trying to question anybody's personal experiences, which I think are the most important outcome of Maroons. Both of the times I've organized it in the past, people sat around talking and debriefing for hours afterwards.

    I'm just wondering how fragile the game is if the phases aren't outlined in advance and collectively internalized (i.e. if only the organizers and maybe the space crew know about them, which -- thinking back on how the text is structured -- may actually be Jason's intent).
  • It's a good point, J_Walton. I think my other playtest had a moment of fragility, where in phase two (first contact), the family essentially agreed to go with the outsiders. This planet sucked. They had Justice, who seemed fine. Why stay?

    We as GMs essentially were like: "The ship isn't big enough." (which is supported through the materials) and the scientists used a lie to get the heck out of there, setting up fraught phase 3 and 4's. There's asymmetry at work here: the family can be in the dark about just about everything, while the spaceteam, even if you don't tell them, can get a much clearer idea of how the 'game' works. This seems fine to me, but you have to be aware of where the structure can crack and be ready to respond.
  • It's absolutely my intent that the family is essentially timeless. Only the survey crew worries about time and phases.

    Given our experience I'm not even remotely concerned that the game can go off the rails. I will add a paragraph about it just in case though!
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