In early April 2019, I had the pleasure of being invited to cover Hanging Lantern’s event “Real Royalty” written and designed by Natasha Borders, Jeffrey Steele, and Benji Michalek. The game was a dark fairytale incorporating stories and inspiration from the world’s most famous, classic stories. From a designer’s standpoint, Real Royalty was an amazing and fascinating game. While not everything worked and the experimental mechanics certainly could have used more playtesting before going live, the fact that the Hanging Lantern team was willing to try so many experimental things meant that Real Royalty helped push freeform mechanical design forward dramatically faster than any game I’ve played in the last two years.
Processing negative feedback can always be challenging for players or organizers, but we can take feedback in and defend our games without putting other games actively down.
I recently attended Eskhaton by Reverie Studios. It was talked about as a horror game, but in truth, it was a game of modern day cults and the end of the world. The characters and cults were the horrors, not the things being horrified. It was interesting to walk on the other side of that classic gaming genre. Here is a full review of the things that worked, what didn't, and what we can learn from this engaging, dark experience of an event.
A basic part of any literary analysis is identifying themes of characters and story. Learning your characters own themes is a great way to help highlight a narrative story and steer your character into deeper tales even in non-narrative gaming.
As much larping goes in the direction of freeforms and one-shots, design documents have become an essential part of larp design, but still aren’t things discussed much in the greater North American community. I’d argue that EVERY larp could use a well written, ten page design document which sets up the basic play style, themes, player expectations, and any other must-haves. For those unfamiliar with a design document (and for the purposes of this blog because it actually could be defined a lot of other ways), I consider it an essential guide to any given game which introduces the players to what they should expect in the larp, how they fit in the game, how to interact with the world, and main themes of the story. A player should be able to click on a game’s website, open the design document, and know within a few pages if this game is for them or not.
Not many people are ready to deal with death in their real lives. It takes an incredibly strong, self-aware, and reflective individual to have prepared themselves for what we all inevitably face. Therefore, facing it in your hobby rarely creates a safe and enjoyable space for the person who has lost a long-term part of their life. No, it’s not the same as losing a friend or family member to the great beyond, but campaign characters are years-long fictional companions which the player has usually poured in a great amount of time, money, thought, and emotional space. I even wrote a piece about giving yourself the permission to grieve when losing such character relationships, but it didn’t really touch on how players and game runners design to better handle death. Frankly, it’s something a lot of games and player don’t handle well, so it’s worth examining.
Death is not a subject I’ve managed to find my comfort with yet. I think most people live in the same ‘pretending it’s not going to happen’ bubble that I do, and yet we participate in games where it’s something we need to face on a semi-regular basis. From long term campaign larps where there is a possibility of permanently killing a character in unplanned fashions, to events like Inside Hamlet, where the goal of many players is to create the most epic death possible, it’s a theme we often explore in larp. For game designers, deciding on how to handle death in your event is a pivotal design choice and one that will make or break a player’s experience if it’s handled well.