Blackened Hearts, a pirate LARP scenario

I made a thing!

The parlour-style LARP scenario I’ve been working is finally complete and published. I’m actually quite surprised at how long it took me to get it all put together, worked, reworked, playtested, torn down, written back up, polished, and finished — part of that was simply me being unmotivated and easily distracted, but a lot of man-hours still went into the production. The final product is 62 pages long (A4 format) and weighs in at almost 30,000 words, which is basically half a novel.

The whole thing was basically a new experience for me. I don't normally write roleplaying material for public release, though I've been running various different games for sixteen years and have written a lot of stuff for personal use in that time. On top of that, I've only really played in a handful of LARPs. I'm more of a tabletop roleplayer, though I really enjoyed all of the scenarios I've played in.

I've actually already got a few short notes on things I think probably could be done better, but seemed like they would create a lot more work for fairly small payoffs. If and when I get more play data and feedback, I'll definitely consider taking the time to revise the scenario and release an updated version. Until then, I'll leave it as-is and other people can have a bit of fun with it and let me know what they think.

I'd really like to hear people's thoughts :-)

- - - - -

It be a fine day for larceny upon the high seas indeed! The Devil hisself must have blest the crew of the Black Kraken with his own luck—how else could it be that you would happen upon the fat Spanish treasure galleon the Urca de Lima, separated from her escort and crippled by one of the worst storms that ever scoured the ocean? Then again, even in these most favourable circumstances, the Spaniards fought long and hard before you finally took her. The Urca de Lima now trails behind you, a small prize crew doing what they can to keep her limping along just long enough to get to the port of Tortuga.

It’s been clear sailing all week all the way back to Tortuga—almost suspiciously easy-going and peaceful, in fact—and without much to do the crew’s been going stir-crazy thinking about how they’ll spend their ill-gotten rewards. In fact, the Captain’s arranged for an early share of the loot to be divided amongst the crew. Those who aren’t needed to sail the ship are able to enjoy the rest of the evening with a little bit of early gambling and drinking, so everyone is in high spirits. All that’s left now is to enjoy the rest of the evening as you coast into port, and maybe swindle some of your fellows out of their share.

Wait, what’s all this about a curse?

- - - - -

Blackened Hearts is a live action roleplaying (LARP) scenario for 8 to 15 players plus a Game Master (GM) that runs for approximately two and a half hours, not including set up and tidying afterward.

In a LARP, you take on the role of a character and physically act out that character’s actions, pursuing their goals and interacting with other players while remaining ‘in character’. More specifically, this scenario is a parlour-style LARP, meaning that the area of play is confined to a relatively small area and the focus is on roleplay and intrigue rather than combat.

Blackened Hearts uses a very simple set of mechanics to govern what a character is able to do in the context of the scenario. It is designed to be played with the assistance of a GM who will facilitate the game.

The download package includes a main document that outlines everything you need to know to play and printable PDF versions of all material that need to be printed prior to the LARP.

- - - - -

Blackened Hearts is now available as a Pay-What-You-Want download from DriveThruRPG — please head over and grab a copy!




  • Well written pitch and an intriguing scenario.
  • Well written pitch and an intriguing scenario.
    Thanks! If you have any feedback or questions, I'll be keeping an eye on this thread and would be happy to talk about stuff!
  • I don't really have much of a sense of what the game is about from what you've posted here, TBH. Like, who are the PCs? What sorts of conflicts does the game center around? Where does the game take place—on the pirate ship, or on the captured ship, or somewhere else?
  • edited November 2017
    Here's what I gathered :
    The PCs are pirates from the crew (and, why not, some prisoners - could be helpful for what's coming), the main conflict is : you are cursed, how can you undo the malediction (but there will be side plots, some helpful, some hindering). The game takes place on the pirate ship (and, why not, on the captured ship or on a island close to Tortuga, as long as it is in a "bubble" - I was gonna say Huis Clos).
  • edited November 2017
    Right, the blurb stops just short of telling what the actual situation or plot might be. We have a hint about a curse, but the actual ramifications of that are left out of the "blurb".

    There's nothing wrong with that (sometimes a little mystery is a good selling point), but that means that it will appeal to people who are into the pirate Colour enough to be interested in "pirate LARP" without knowing how the game will actually play out.

    This might be perfectly sufficient to "hook" players, but if you want designers to give you feedback and/or opinions without actually reading the scenario/book, it's not enough. Just depends on your audience and what kind of feedback you want! I think either approach is fine.
  • I think either approach is fine.
    I don't. And I'm an experienced LARPer and have a moderate amount of experience writing LARPs. Intercon organizers would never accept something like this as a blurb, for example.
  • Ah! That's a good point. I just meant for advertising purposes online.

    Naturally, I'm not surprised that LARP organizers would have stricter guidelines - that sounds like an excellent practice.
  • It is half whodunnit (what's the malediction exactly ?) half stock exchange (everything can be transacted, with everyone trying to outwit everybody).
    Except for the stunts, Pirates of the Caribbean is a giant chain of transactions (one ship for the love for the lover for the key for the map for the treasure without the malediction). Make it a LARP, you make the chain a network : a market.
    My wild guess.
  • edited November 2017
    Oh, wow. A lot of responses popped up overnight! Er, my response gets a bit long below because I give a heap more information on the details of the LARP.

    I don't. And I'm an experienced LARPer and have a moderate amount of experience writing LARPs. Intercon organizers would never accept something like this as a blurb, for example.
    Thank you for commenting and I can see your point! The scenario is free/pay-what-you-want, so the current blurb was written from an advertising perspective to pique people's interest enough to get them to download it to take a look. I'm ordinarily a fiction writer, so I took the same tack as I would have with a blurb on a story I'd written. It's aimed at potential GMs, not con organisers.

    I can always update the description, and I'd definitely like to do so with feedback from people who know what they're talking about!

    If I give a bit more detail here on the particulars of the scenario, would you be able to give me a bit more direction on how much should be included/given away, without it getting way too long?

    As the initial in-character description already says, characters are members of the crew of a pirate ship called the Black Kraken. They recently attacked and captured a Spanish galleon and are currently in the middle of returning to the pirate port of Tortuga with their prize. It's smooth sailing and everyone is a bit stir-crazy, so the captain distributed the wealth early and gave everyone leave to slack off in their duties and do a bit of gambling and socialising while you return to port.

    As for stuff that's not currently stated in the blurb, there are two major plots that affect everyone on board and everyone has reason to be involved in:

    There is a political struggle in progress on board the ship -- the current captain's position is tenuous and he risks being replaced (pirates are democratic) by the ship's bo'sun. The bo'sun just had a number of their proponents assigned to the Spanish galleon as a prize crew, cutting him off from their primary support. The bo'sun is trying to sway the remaining crew to their side so they can call a vote for a new captain before Tortuga and aren't kicked off the ship when they reach port, while the captain is trying to stop that from happening.

    The second major plot involves a curse. Some specific characters believe (or know for a fact) that the ship has been cursed, while others are skeptical. Information about the curse is limited, and one character is actually on the curses' "side", working against the rest of the crew. None of the other characters begin play knowing who the curse spreader is (many don't even know there is one at all), but it can be worked out during play. The curse spreads like a virus and has deadly consequences for those who are affected by it at the end of the scenario. Characters need to work together and share information to discover exactly how it spreads and how to get rid of it.

    In addition to these two major threads, there are several smaller plots that run through the background, complicating things -- a treasure map that needs to be deciphered, a Spanish noble hiding their identity, etc.

    Finally, how much gold you've amassed at the end of the scenario functions as a sort of 'score'. Not all characters care about gold (e.g. the curse spreader), but most have a listed goal of obtaining as much wealth as possible in addition to their character's personal goals/motivations.

    From a character perspective, I'd say that the overall goals of any given character is to come out of the political struggle in the best position they can, disarm the curse or otherwise protect themselves from it, accomplish any person goals, and walk off the ship at the end of the evening with a sack full of gold. Again, can vary from character to character.

    If you're wanting more details, I'd encourage you to download the scenario! As I said before, it's free/pay-what-you-want, so there is nothing stopping you from taking a peek :-)
  • That sounds very juicy! I like the layered issues at play; seems like some would create parallel tracks of dramatic interest while others would overlap nicely.
  • edited November 2017
    Oh! There is a thing that a few people in various places have commented positively on, so I feel it's worthwhile taking a second to talk about:

    In previous LARP scenarios I've played in, pretty much every character was written to be a specific gender. Normally, a small handful of characters would note that they could be easily genderflipped and would provide an alternate name to be used in that case. I'm not sure if this is consistent across most LARP scenarios, it was just something common to every one that I've personally played in.

    I had noticed that doing it that way could result in some minor issues and confusion when it came to picking roles and remembering who is playing who. Some people just aren't comfortable playing a character of the opposite gender in a LARP so it throws up a barrier to picking certain characters. For genderflipped characters, it can be tricky (especially if playing with strangers) for everyone to remember that a particular character, who is referred to as male with a male name in your role descriptions, is being played as a female character with a different name.

    When I first started coming up with the character list, I decided to try and head off these problems by writing a handful of characters as gender neutral. I starting trying to work out what the split would be -- what would be more convenient for most groups? 5 male, 5 female, 5 neutral? I wasn't too sure. I was fiddling around when I realised that I couldn't think of a decent reason why I couldn't write all of the characters as gender neutral and just let each person sort it out for themselves.

    So yeah, every single role is written as gender neutral. Overall, I think it works well, and people seem to really like that aspect. If and when I write another LARP scenario, I'll probably handle characters the same way.
  • In previous LARP scenarios I've played in, pretty much every character was written to be a specific gender. Normally, a small handful of characters would note that they could be easily genderflipped and would provide an alternate name to be used in that case. I'm not sure if this is consistent across most LARP scenarios, it was just something common to every one that I've personally played in.
    Its fairly common, and more in some genres than others. Mostly because people write for their local audience, with sharing or publication for a different audience a distant afterthought. It can also be difficult in some genres (e.g. regency romance, to use what I'm working on at the moment) to create gender-neutral characters.

    But gender neutral characters give huge flexibility and are IMHO a positive selling point (they certainly are for me, given the difficulties I've had in adapting acquired or even past games for local gender-skew). I've used both methods, but now unless I've got a strong genre requirement for gender, I write gender-neutral, using gender-neutral names.
  • That's cool. I feel like I'd want even the short blurb to give some hint of these things. "Can you survive in the cut-throat world of pirate politics... while avoiding a supernatural disaster?" Something like that.
  • Oh, this looks like a lot of fun, and I'm interested in running it for my LARP group. I can already see the complaints that are going to come, though, about the lack of any physical conflict-resolution system. What's the in-game reason that so few pirates have weapons, and they can only use them in port? If one character is offending the others with thievery or cheating at gambling or some other annoying behavior, why wouldn't they gang up and agree to toss the blighter overboard? In your games, how would you handle contested actions, like "I want to leave the room" vs "I want to restrain you and ask you more questions?"
  • Oh, this looks like a lot of fun, and I'm interested in running it for my LARP group. I can already see the complaints that are going to come, though, about the lack of any physical conflict-resolution system. What's the in-game reason that so few pirates have weapons, and they can only use them in port? If one character is offending the others with thievery or cheating at gambling or some other annoying behavior, why wouldn't they gang up and agree to toss the blighter overboard? In your games, how would you handle contested actions, like "I want to leave the room" vs "I want to restrain you and ask you more questions?"
    :-) Happy to hear from you! If you do end up running the scenario I'd really love to get some post-game feedback from you and your group! It'll help me if and when I write my next scenario, plus I'll definitely consider releasing a v2 of Blackened Hearts if I get enough feedback.

    Wall of text incoming!

    That is a fair enough complaint, but I think comes down to differing play styles. I've found that I don't particularly enjoy scenarios with anything other than relatively simple mechanics, so a combat subsystem doesn't appeal to me that much.

    It probably wouldn't take too much to re-jigger the rules to add a fast set of combat rules, maybe just something with a deck of cards and 'draw high' mechanic.

    I will note that no one in any of the playtest groups raised this at all. Then again, if I do get feedback from people who've played and this comes up, I might consider adding an optional variant set of rules for combat to v2.

    From the research I did, even pirates didn't really carry weapons on them all the time -- they were generally locked up in the ship's armoury and distributed prior to a fight, specifically to avoid people having weapons if arguments turned ugly. This is also the reason why the quartermaster starts with a bunch of weapons.

    The "in-game" reasoning as to why you can't stab each other prior to dropping anchor in port is just that it's too risky to outright attack someone without any sort of escape route. You are able to use them in port because you have an immediate escape route and can therefore get away afterward if you need to.

    It's a little flimsy, yeah, but out-of-game I'm not sure how to have the scenario work at all with constant potential for violence. The crew is a powder keg and there is a complex web of friendships and alliances, and judging from my experiences running the scenario any violence is almost certainly going to spiral rapidly out of control, possibly until half the crew is dead. Getting killed and having to sit the rest of the scenario out sucks, too.

    The scenario is designed primarily for intrigue and roleplay and I feel like increasing the potential for physical conflicts too much would risk making it significantly less focused. I haven't yet had any complaints about this in feedback from any of the actual play sessions, so so far it seems like people are willing to stretch their immersion a little to allow for it.
  • You could include some provision for physical dominance without having it go to violence and death.

    For instance, two pirates could face off in a sort of intimidation contest. (A staredown, a duel...) Perhaps they could each wager an action they would take if they lost, or something like that.

    It settles a tense situation and allows someone to play a violent aggressive pirate, without actually forcing people to play out a fight or killing off characters.
  • edited December 2017
    You could include some provision for physical dominance without having it go to violence and death.

    For instance, two pirates could face off in a sort of intimidation contest. (A staredown, a duel...) Perhaps they could each wager an action they would take if they lost, or something like that.

    It settles a tense situation and allows someone to play a violent aggressive pirate, without actually forcing people to play out a fight or killing off characters.
    Mmm, you could add a intimidation/stare-down minigame but it does run into what I said before about preferring very simple mechanics.

    Characters who are supposed to be good at intimidating others already have power cards that reflect their ability to bully people into doing what they want, so I'm not sure whether a change like that would be worth the minor advantages.
  • In your games, how would you handle contested actions, like "I want to leave the room" vs "I want to restrain you and ask you more questions?"
    I think it's worth addressing this directly with regard to the above about intimidation -- some characters can play a power card and intimidate/bully/order someone into doing what they want. I'd say that "stay here and answer some questions" is definitely a valid request for those power cards, and if you don't have a card like that then you're just not intimidating enough/physically capable of doing it.
  • That's fair! I haven't read the scenario; if you already have something in place then I'd imagine you're good to go.
  • That's fair! I haven't read the scenario; if you already have something in place then I'd imagine you're good to go.
    If you're at all interested, I'd really recommend downloading a free copy at the very least and taking a look over it!
  • That makes a lot of sense in terms of why everyone wouldn't have weapons, and having a historical precedent will certainly help shut down any complaints. I'm definitely not requesting a mechanic to let people kill each other 20 minutes into the game — it's certainly better without one. And just having the "it's too risky with no escape route" reasoning should shut down any tendency in that direction. None of my players are violence-mad gunbunnies.

    But some of them do get competitive, in ways that make it hard for them to back down when their goals in a scene directly conflict with someone else's. They don't necessarily want to "win the LARP," but they can have a hard time not "winning the scene" if there's no mechanic to let them save face or justify why they backed down. That's is why it's often useful to have some guideline for resolving non-lethal, non-damaging confrontations where two people expressly want different things — ie. my example of "I want to leave the room" vs. "I'm blocking you from leaving the room."

    In the past, I've used rock-paper-scissors if the players just absolutely can't come to an agreement about how to resolve a low-stakes physical combat, but I was curious whether this had come up at all in your playtests. I would expect there to be a fair amount of competition for the signaling mirror, for instance, and not everyone has a weapon or Thievery.

    I think this is ultimately a roundabout, thinking-it-through way of saying that I'd be really interested in hearing about your playtest experiences and how they went!

    Regarding managing a story capacity for constant violence… I'm actually writing a mechanically similar LARP right now, in that it's a closed-setting intrigue game where everyone has a different character goal and different abilities represented by cards. But these characters are powerful supernaturals, and I expect there to be a fair bit of potential for violence. The solution I think I'm going to try for that is that everyone has a limited number of hit points, and roughly equal basic attacks. So anyone who wants to fight can fight, but they're all aware that they're of about the same strength, and if they do a point of damage to someone, they're going to take a point of damage in return. I THINK that'll work for allowing people to fight if they really want to for story reasons, while making it clear that it's dangerous, and it'll come at a cost. We'll see!
  • Unfortunately, no situation like that arose in either of the two playtest sessions. It wasn’t raised by any of the players when they provided post-game feedback using the little survey that’s included with the scenario, either. Perhaps the lack of a stated mechanic/avenue for that sort of conflict just made it more unlikely for players to think to pursue those sorts of actions?

    The playtest groups were very different from each other—one group was almost entirely populated with people from my regular RPG circles. Most were avid tabletop gamers with only a couple of LARP scenarios under their belt, with a few scattered in who have more extensive experience with LARPing. The second group was made up almost entirely of people who had never participated in a LARP before, and a good number of them didn’t have much experience with roleplaying in general. I imagine that if your entire group are very experienced LARP players, they’re almost certainly going to behave differently than either of my playtest groups. I’d also imagine that feedback from a group like that would be extremely helpful to me!

    In general, I found that the people with limited means to steal or otherwise force other players to give them items/information tended to identify people who did have those capabilities, whom they felt they could ally with and trust to a limited degree, and I think that helped to fuel roleplay. If you decide you need to find someone who’s capable of strong-arming someone out of information or stealing stuff from people, it becomes another goal for your character that encourages further intrigue and roleplaying. Can you trust the person who’s said they’ll help you? What do they want in exchange? Etc.

    While you could use a rock-paper-scissor mechanic for the situation you describe, I feel like that might lose a bit of the above, which is what the scenario thrives on. If the matter had come up during play, I probably would have told them “Well, your character doesn’t have any abilities that allow that, so they’re just not intimidating enough or physically capable enough to hold the other character there and press them for information. Maybe you should find an ally who is?”

    The players who wanted the signalling mirror, in both sessions, completely lost track of it and weren’t able to keep a handle on who had it at any given time. In the less experienced group, I think it just got lost in the sheer amount of moving parts in the scenario while they were focused on other things. In the more experienced group, one other player found out what the bo’sun could use the mirror for and managed to keep it away from them through clever play and inadvertently kept it from the other players that wanted it as well.
  • edited December 2017
    Very neat! I'm planning on running this as much like the written version as possible, so I'll just present it to them as written and see whether it comes up, rather than presenting them with the RPS option for contests. I can always keep it in my back pocket in case they just can't resolve something through RP.

    I haven't tried to schedule it yet because December is always a pretty lost cause for scheduling a large group. I'm waiting for some January scheduling stuff to shake out, and then I'll be looking to run it in late January or early February. I'll let you know how it goes.

    And yeah, some of my group are VERY experienced LARPers — as in, I met them through a vampire LARP more than a decade ago and they've been LARPing ever since — while some of them are newbies I brought in to see what they did with the games I ran. So their mileage may vary!
  • I look forward to hearing how things go! :smile:
  • @Leprenomichaun: Just an update for you. Our game is scheduled for Feb. 3. We're currently in the character-selection phase. I think I'm going to have a full crew of 15. The captain and the bos'n were chosen by a couple, which will be fun, because they don't yet realize they're going to be fighting each other for power. I look forward to seeing how that comes out.

    One piece of feedback at this stage: I can already see it's going to be hard for people to cope with being introduced to 14 other characters at once. I'm planning on sending everyone their full character writeups a couple of weeks before the game so they have time to digest, and I'll have a character-introduction session beforehand. But I think one thing that would really help is if you had their positions on the nametags as well as their names — just a quick descriptor like "popular helmsman" or "blunt hunter" or "swaggering fighter," so everyone doesn't have to consult their character lists on first meeting to try to remember which of the descriptions they've read matches up with Cam or Remy or whoever.

    My players are so excited about this LARP. I'm really looking forward to seeing how they deal with it.
  • @Bricoleur :smile: Excellent. I look forward to hearing how you go.

    Thanks for the early feedback -- into the reviewing file it goes!
  • @Leprenomichaun Game is this Saturday! Everyone's got their characters in hand and I'm fielding "how do I" and "what does it mean that" questions now. Looking over the cards, one question I can't answer — can anyone just give the Black Spot away to anyone else? What prevents them from just handing it back to the person who gave it to them in the first place?
  • edited January 2018
    @Leprenomichaun Game is this Saturday! Everyone's got their characters in hand and I'm fielding "how do I" and "what does it mean that" questions now. Looking over the cards, one question I can't answer — can anyone just give the Black Spot away to anyone else? What prevents them from just handing it back to the person who gave it to them in the first place?
    Yeah, the holder of the Black Spot can give it away to another character. I'd suggest giving it over and walking away quickly, before the other player has grasped what it is!

    Blair doesn't actually have any particular need to give it away at all until the very end of the game, given that that's when it takes effect. Trying to pass it on quickly could reveal their agenda, as well. It's basically designed to be an additional 'hot potato' that Blair can potentially use to exacerbate an already chaotic situation. Plus the longer it's out, the more likely that Remy will see it and be able to defuse it.

    In my play tests, Blair tended to use it as another manipulation tool -- she would confide in people she thought would trust her word that someone else had cursed her with the Black Spot, thereby casting suspicion upon that person. In one game, another player was forced to take the Spot at sword point at the very end of the game, because Blair had tricked her allies into thinking that player was the originator.
  • @Bricoleur Hope the game goes well :-) Really looking forward to hearing how it went.
  • edited February 2018
    @Leprenomichaun I'll give you more of a report tomorrow — I'm beat. But here's the quick rundown — it went spectacularly. People were very involved in their characters and had a lot of fun with them, and were extremely positive at the end of the night. I've put out an email call for feedback, and I'll share anything I get with you.

    I was left with two questions at the end of the night. One was — if Blair gets his hands on the crucifix or talisman, he can tell that they'll curtail his powers. Can he dispose of them? Just drop them into the sea? Or can items be destroyed or disposed of in this game? This didn't come up, but I wound up wondering about it.

    The other was — in the final five minutes, Fishlips tried to stab the captain, who countered with his own cutlass. The way the cards are written, it seems like they should both kill each other, but the "sword cards can counter sword cards" in the rulebook suggested that the captain's sword prevented Fishlips' attack from killing him. I ruled that both cards were torn as if used, and that essentially they locked swords with each other, stared each other down, and came to the conclusion that neither of them would survive a pitched battle, especially as no one stepped up to defend either of them, so they both chose to disengage. But was that correct, or should both stabs have succeeded?

    My favorite thing of the night — I largely let people select their own characters, but I pressed Blair on someone I trusted to do creative things with the character, and he just mopped up. He brought a black light and highlighter to the game, and suggested that cursed coins should just get covered in highlighter. They were indistinguishable visually from uncursed coins, but at the end of the game when we laid them all out and he ran the blacklight over them, half the coins in the game glittered with an unnatural glow. It was really effective, like a special effect from the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie.

    He was spectacularly creative about getting cursed coins into people's hands. He started off the game by starting a lot of gambling games, losing most of his money, then walking away to leave other people playing and distributing the coins amongst themselves. At one point, someone left their coin purse sitting out, and he stole it, cursed all 15 coins in it, and then brought it back, saying "oh, someone left this behind and I found it," and he was hailed as one of the few honest people on the ship. In the late game, when rumors of cursed or marked gold were circulating thanks to Reyes and general player suspicion, he talked five different people into letting him hold all their gold for safekeeping, especially since so much thievery had happened, and he marked all of it, then disbursed some of it to people who hadn't given him gold in the first place. When we tallied at the end of the game, there was only one surviving character who ended the game with gold but wasn't cursed — and only because she only had four doubloons to her name.
  • edited February 2018
    @Bricoleur Hooray! Glad to hear you all had fun. To answer your questions:

    1) By the rules you can't destroy an item, but yeah, it's never actually come up. If someone wanted to throw something overboard, I'd probably just take them aside OOC and say that's not an option in the rules and point out the Stashing Items rules. Tell them that they try to throw it overboard, but it gets caught on something and is recoverable. They can leave it there for 10 minutes and let someone else happen across it or recover it themselves. Note they can totally stash it in the last 10 minutes of the game, effectively making it unrecoverable.

    2) Countering. The example given in the rules says that if you counter someone's attack, you kill them instead. I can see that it's not perfectly spelled out though, so I can amend that to make it a bit more clear. The intent is that if you use a sword on someone and they use a sword back, you die and they live (unless you have another weapon to counter their counter with).

    The black light cursed coins was something I actually considered doing myself, but wasn't sure how well it would work out or if it would get rubbed off by the people handling the coins. Decided to just use two slightly different plastic coin sets. I might add a line in the prep guide suggesting using the black light.

    It sounds like your Blair really cleaned up! The bit where he returned someone's misplaced gold and got known as a super honest person is really funny.

    Looking forward to hearing from your players if they do choose to give feedback! If you and any of your players would be willing to I'd also really appreciate it if you could put a star rating and/or short review on DriveThruRPG.

  • @Leprenomichaun Added a review and sent you a payment, since I initially downloaded the game for free just to look over the rules.

    Yeah, our Blair really dominated his personal mini-game. At one point, our cat flopped down on the table where people were gambling, and ended up on top of half of a deck of cards. Blair waited a few minutes, then started announcing that no one could gamble because the cards had disappeared, and promised three gold doubloons to whoever found the deck. Fishlips eventually moved the cat, found the deck, demanded his money, and seemed pretty surprised when Blair paid up. I found it funny because it was just one more way to get coins into people's hands.

    The highlighter seemed to work pretty well without coming off the coins, though we did blacklight our hands at the end of the game and find that most people had fairly cursed hands, too.

    I'll send everyone over to the site, but not sure how many people will leave reviews if it means creating an account.

    Yeah, it would be useful to note on the weapons themselves what happens in a clash (just a brief "this can counter other swords," "this can counter other guns or swords"), so people have an idea of the consequences and conditions of fighting. The same way the Hidden Dagger says on the card itself what it can counter.

    The biggest difficulty I had in the game was with the final five-minute flurry, where I could tell people wanted to act, but no one wanted to go first because they were hoping everyone else would use up their weapons, and they didn't know what would happen if they used them. I finally had to give them a 10-second countdown and say that anyone who hadn't declared an action by the end of that period didn't get one, because their target was out of range. That final five minutes wound up more like 20, because once people did start acting, people without cards wanted to get involved in various ways and were upset when they couldn't make a difference.

    The main example there was that the Black Corsair tried to kill Kelly with The Deadliest Blade. Kelly countered with the Hidden Dagger. The Corsair blocked that with Riposte, and used her Ornate Rapier to stab Kelly again. Mad Morley tried to throw himself in the way and was upset that he couldn't physically interpose himself and take the attack for her. I ruled that the Black Corsair is skilled enough in combat to get around him, and the player (who had a peace-bonded rapier as a prop) demonstrated how easily she could lean around him and still stab her target, but he wasn't pleased because he was choosing to do something dramatic in-character, and the cards said it didn't matter. Not sure there's a good fix for that, unfortunately.

    Other thoughts… I was disappointed the Signaling Mirror never came into play. It stayed on Charlie the whole game. The Treasure Map, on the other hand, passed through at least four different people that I know about, and was back in Kelly's hands multiple times — at one point, she stashed it with me, but a character who knew she had it because she'd been talking about it approached me and said he'd been following and watching her, and he wanted to search the area she'd just been in. So I gave it to him. Later, she stole it back off him, and then the captain went and ordered her to give it back. Watching it circulate through the game was fun.

    I gave them three hours to play instead of two because it was a huge production, getting 15 people together, and I wanted them to have more time with it. The time definitely didn't drag. They got a lot more into the gambling than I was expecting them to, and there were a lot of lively exchanges around that.

    More people stashed items with me than I was expecting, especially given the warning that someone else might find that item if they didn't come back for it relatively soon.

    The intrigue against the captain didn't work out well for anyone. Kelly did a lively round of recruiting early in the game, and seemed like she had a decent number of people on her side, but the captain spent the majority of the game in his quarters, calling people in one by one and making deals with them, or intimidating them, shaking them down for information or finding out what they wanted and offering it to them. He found out pretty quickly about Kelly and Leighton's plots, and turned people against them. By the end of the game, Henri was holding Leighton at gunpoint in the captain's quarters, she had no allies or items or gold left, and in the end, there was no vote for who should be captain, because no one had any faith in anyone but Avery. He only came out of his quarters to settle disputes and order people around. He was really, really good at the role.

    Anything you're specifically wondering about?
  • @Leprenomichaun As one completely side note — this is an experienced LARP crew, and it didn't occur to me to cover some of the things that often get covered at con LARPs, about consent, the no-touch rule, and the "you are never trapped, you can always leave" rule. You might consider covering some of that in your GM briefing, in terms of what to tell people at the beginning of the game. The woman playing Reyes played her part as very beaten-down and fearful, given what she'd been through and what she knew, and she said people were touching her comfortingly all night, which surprised her because LARPs usually have an expressed no-touch rule. She didn't have a problem with it, but was aware that for some people it might have been an issue. Several people talked to me about potential issues around trauma and consent, in that intimidation, seduction, and commanding other people are expressly part of the game mechanics, and so is being stuck on the ship with no escape. It might be worth letting people know at the top of the game that the usual consent rules apply.
  • edited February 2018
    Thank you very much for the review and payment! I really appreciate it. No biggie if none of your players rate/review it, its completely understandable. I had trouble getting many of my own playtest players to give ratings as well. Had to ask, though! – the more ratings/reviews it gets, the more visibility it gets and the more likely other people will grab a copy.

    I’m really enjoying reading all those little anecdotes from your game. In my first playtest Blair did extremely well too. The role had been claimed by one of the most experienced LARPers/roleplayers in the group and he just went to town with it. He didn’t curse quite as many people as yours did, though, simply because one particular other character managed to end up with an absurd amount of gold by the end of the night, so there just wasn’t enough to go around for everyone else.

    I’ll definitely tweak the rules text for countering. I think I’m getting to the point now where I’ve gotten enough feedback from people in general to work on an updated version 1.1.

    RE: Final 5 minutes. I found in my playtests there was a little bit of a stand-off at the start as well, but then once one person made the first move everyone else went OH NO NEED TO ACT and basically all hell broke loose … glorious piratical chaos = maximum. People feeling like 5 minutes wasn’t long enough actually came up in the post-playtest feedback as well. I thought about changing it, but eventually kept it as-is with a note to revisit it if I got more feedback, so it’s starting to sound like I should definitely extend it out to 10 or 15 minutes.

    RE: Morley’s attempted intervention. Unfortunately, as you note, there’s not really a good fix for that (I assume Morely must have used his Stitch ‘Em Up card to save someone else?). It’s a weakness of LARP scenarios that aren’t relatively freeform. Refer back to our previous conversation about general opposed action resolution mechanics. It also ties back into the timing issue – at least with the cards, there’s basically an in-built maximum amount of stuff people can do in the last 5 minutes. If you didn’t limit the amount of actions people can take, that could really exacerbate the issues with everyone trying to cram everything they can in that final segment of the game.

    RE: Signalling mirror. I’m surprised that it stayed with Charlie. With the sheer amount of thievery that goes on in the game the general expectation is that every single item is going to trade hands at least once.

    RE: Stashing. The stashing rule wasn’t in the original draft of the rules but it was something that came up almost immediately in the first playtest. In the first hour, someone wanted to hide something so he could show someone else everything he had to ‘prove’ he didn’t have it. It was pretty heavily requested, so in it went. People seem to really like being able to do it. The Treasure Map circulating through the way you described is exactly the sort of thing that should be happening in the game. I would have adjudicated that ‘searching for a stashed item’ situation the exact same way, too.

    RE: Three hours of play. I’m happy and a little surprised that you guys managed to get an extra hour of fun out of it! The scenarios that I based the design of Blackened Hearts on all had the same two-hour structure (for con play, I guess). I would have worried about it dragging on a bit, but it sounds like it all worked out for you. In my experience, people do tend to love mini-games like gambling in a scenario, so that can definitely bulk out the time a bit.

    RE: Consent/touching etc rules. Huh, I honestly can’t believe that I forgot to include this in the rules and that no one has pointed that out before. Thank you. Yes, that is something that should definitely be in there. I’m trying to make the scenario as easy as possible to run, so that even people with little or no experience LARPing can do it. It can’t be assumed that everyone knows the standard spiel.

    As for questions…

    (1) As GM, how did you find running the game? Did you feel like you had too much to manage/not enough to do?

    (2) How did you go with the dénouements?

    (3) Did you use the provided Tabletop Audio ambience and/or Spotify playlist? If so, did you like them? If not, did you use something else instead?

    (4) From a GM perspective, were there any roles that you felt were significantly weaker/less fun than the others?

    (5) How did the Black Spot work out in play?

    (6) Is there anything else we haven’t talked about already that you’d think would be a good change/addition to version 1.1?

    (7) Something that’s only tangentially-related – may I ask whereabouts you’re located (country/city)? I’ve recently heard that someone’s going to be running the scenario at a con in Wellington, New Zealand and I’m vaguely curious about where else it’s being played.

  • edited February 2018

    1) I was very impressed at how self-running it was. There were a few points where several people wanted me at once for clarifications. Things I was asked included "Can I polish up the silver crucifix and use it as a signaling mirror?" "Can the false ledger be stolen, since it's apparently a power?" "Is it okay if I make up stories about myself that aren't on the character sheet?" But for the most part, the briefing up front covered it, and people were able to interact around powers without my intervention. The only place I felt strained was in that final five minutes, largely because I had half the group yelling questions like "Can I get items off a dead person?" while we were still resolving whether anyone was actually dead.

    2) We didn't do a ton with them, because virtually everyone was doomed by Blair. We had two fatalities (Kelly, stabbed by the Corsair, and the Corsair, shot from behind by Henri), and a few people whose fates were clear (Leighton, thrown off the ship into the water by the docks by the Captain, and left penniless but alive). Fishlips ended the game with more than 40 gold, gave half of it to the captain to buy the Urca de Lima, and sailed away as a captain in his own right. Everyone who ended with a mid-sized to minimal amount of gold and Blair-doom agreed that as pirates, they were expecting to live short lives and die violent deaths anyway. We did have a secrets-and-stories session over pizza afterward that lasted more than an hour, as people explained their specific lies and manipulations.

    Looking at the rules again, I now think I misplayed that. Because there were players who ended the game with no gold, I'm guessing the curse shouldn't have manifested at all? That's something I'd personally change to "anyone with five cursed doubloons is cursed regardless of what happens to Blair," because otherwise Blair can work their ass off the whole game, and be undone by one thing entirely outside their control. In this case, Reyes ended the game without gold because she got rid of it to avoid the curse, the captain ended without gold because he'd used it all to bribe people, Leighton because when she was cornered, they took it from her, and so forth. I'd hate for all Blair's cleverness in this game to have come to nothing.

    3) I used the Tabletop Audio track, yes, on separate stereo systems upstairs and downstairs. It really tickled people, though of course after the game started I don't think people noticed it much.

    4) Morley and Fishlips didn't seem to have as much agenda as the others. They make up for it by being really colorful characters, and the players hammed them up and had fun with them, but these are the two I'd be most concerned about for players getting them as a random draw at a con game. Honest Ellis's player said people barely spoke to her all night, which was odd since she was the one with all the weapons, and I'd even emphasized that to the players at the beginning of the game. No one even stole one from her until the end of act 2. I'm going to take that as a quirk of my game rather than a flaw.

    The woman playing the Black Corsair, who is very conscientious about other people's fun, worried that she was actually overpowered, since she's such a distinctive character that half the game revolved around her — who she's supporting, who she's protecting, who she's seducing.

    5) Blair planted the Black Spot on the captain close to the end of phase two. I didn't follow how it was passed around from there because things were pretty busy at that point, but it went through at least a few people before Jolly Cam Sutton used Plant Evidence to stick the Black Corsair with it in the final 5-minute phase, assuring that there was no way for her to pass it on before the game was over. Then the Corsair was murdered, so Blair didn't get his new host.

    6) I'm not sure I get the purpose of the crease/tear mechanic. Is it to force people to use their powers in phase one and not sit on them the whole game? It definitely confused some players. Even though I gave them a 15-minute and 5-minute warning about the end of phase one and advised them to use their two-use powers if they hadn't already, there were still people who hadn't used them and wanted to.

    You were right about conflict-resolution mechanics — it just didn't come up. (Though my most contentious player, the one who I thought was most likely to resent not having them, cancelled on day of play and was replaced, so I didn't get to see that particular acid test.) I'm iffier about whether that'll still be true when I'm running this for strangers at a con, since they tend to be more contentious and less likely to back down for each other, but it feels like something people are going to ask about, and that should possibly be acknowledged in the rules, maybe just with the language you gave me — that it needs to be worked out among players, and if you don't have something like an intimidate card, you aren't intimidating enough to force someone to stay in a room, do as you ask, etc.

    I'd definitely prefer clearer rules about weapons on weapon cards and in the rules — I would never have interpreted "guns counter guns" as "a gun card used in response cancels the first gun card, and the initiating character dies."

    Maybe some sort of GM bonus card could be given for exceptional role-play or particular contributions to the game? My Kelly character taught everyone a sea chantey and got them singing along, for instance, and it would have been fun to award her with a small bonus. Or possibly a mechanic for a GM hint/assist for characters that are really struggling. Our captain was so effective at his job that he shut Kelly and Leighton down early on, and they both struggled to come back from that. I was really tempted to help them out, but didn't want to interfere with the flow of the game.

    7) I'm in Chicago. I'm planning to run this again in two weeks at Gamicon in Iowa City. It's my college-town gaming convention, and my husband and I go back there every year, and I always run one thing. I've been playing with the idea of possibly running it at Origins or GenCon, where it would fit either into Indie Games on Demand or as its own standalone event. It'd also fit pretty nicely at Forge Midwest, where I've run a previous large LARP. Are you planning to run it at any conventions this year?
  • @Bricoleur

    I should actually put a suggestion to do the customary post-game secrets-and-stories session at the end of the GM Guidance section. It’s another thing that’s just so standard that it completely slipped my mind to include.

    RE: The Curse and the Black Spot. Here’s the relevant text from the GM Guidance section:
    If Blair is killed or their Black Spot is rendered impotent, the curse is broken and the ‘cursed’ doubloons are harmless. However, if Blair survives to the end of the game it will spell the doom of whomever carries them. If any character ends the game with 5 or more cursed doubloons they are doomed to a terrible fate, regardless of how well they achieved their goals or how much wealth they accumulated.
    It doesn’t matter that there were individual players without any gold, they would just avoid the curse. The key bit is the first sentence there – it sounds like the Black Spot was taken out of commission when the Black Corsair died, so that meant that the spirit possessing Blair had nowhere to go, which means the curse should have been foiled.

    I get what you mean about Blair’s cleverness and fun coming to nothing, but I think every single character has the same potential risk. Anyone can have their plotting foiled by the actions (deliberate or inadvertent) of another player, and anyone can meet with a grisly fate at the end of the session with their plans in tatters. I think that there does need to be a way to break or foil the curse, otherwise Remy (or any other character who wants to do something about) has no way of really accomplishing their goal. The Black Spot is also meant to be a balancing factor on Blair, who I think is quite a powerful character in general -- no one else has the potential to affect so many other's fates. The added risk of having his curse undone makes him have to work harder to safeguard it. I am open to potentially reworking it, though.

    RE: Morley and Fishlips, your comments mirror my own vague concerns about them. Part of the issue is that they’re the last two optional roles, so it’s a bit harder to tie them closer to the existing plots. I’d welcome any suggestions you have about adding anything to them.

    RE: The Crease/Tear Mechanic. Yes, that’s about the long and short of it. I found there was a recurring issue with the LARP scenarios I modelled the structure of Blackened Hearts on, where players would always hoard their single-use power cards until the late game. It happened consistently, every single time I played in or ran them. I wanted to heavily encourage people to use their power cards throughout the length of the scenario, rather than saving them up until the end.

    Thanks for those other notes. Adding them to my revision document! Not sure exactly when I’m going to get the time to work on v1.1, but I’ll get there eventually. Work is hectic at the moment and I have several other projects on the go.

    It’s really encouraging to hear that you’re planning on running the scenario again! You do realise that this means I’m going to pester you for updates on how those future games go as well, yes? :-) As far as I know you’re the first American to run the scenario, too, so you’ve got the whole US con scene to yourself, Blackened-Hearts-wise. I’m actually based in Brisbane, Australia, and our con scene here is woefully inadequate. I am currently run off my feet at work, too, so I’m not planning on running it this year at all I don’t think. One of my playtesters, however, will be running a game in April.

    I’ve been meaning to ask as well – back in December you mentioned you were working on a mechanically-similar LARP scenario, with powerful supernatural characters. How are you going with it? I’d be very interested to see what you’ve been working on, if you’re inclined to share.

  • Yup, I misplayed the thing about Blair's curse, certainly. Sorry about that! I'll have it clear for the next game. I do feel like their goal might be impossible, though, if they have to survive to the end AND pass on the Black Spot to someone who survives and doesn't have a defense item AND get five cursed gold into the hands of every single player, including people who've been robbed blind or are determined not to end up with any gold. Given the odds stacked against Blair, I tend to think that they should be able to curse anyone with five cursed gold if they successfully survive to the end, that they shouldn't have to get everyone to curse anyone.

    I'll talk to the players who had Morley and Fishlips specifically, and see if they had thoughts on what they wanted to be doing. And I may have a better sense once I've seen it play again — my first thought is that Leighton and Kelly could use stronger allies, but I'm aware I only see it that way because we had a really strong and capable captain, and if he'd been ineffectual and they'd been powerful in our playthrough, I might feel the captain needed better allies instead. So we'll see how round 2 goes.

    Certainly I'll keep you updated on other iterations of the game! I'm not committing past the Gamicon edition, where I'll get to see what it's like running it for a mixed group of friends and strangers. If that goes well, I'll think more seriously about running it at a con for an all-strangers group. I do enjoy running the same scenario multiple times for different people, and seeing how differently it plays out. I have one Dread scenario I've run five or six times now for different groups, and it always boggles me how different their solutions have been.

    I haven't made much progress on the LARP I was working on, in part because I've been busy with work and other writing projects, and in part because I had this to look forward to — when I'm focused on organizing one event, I usually don't think too much about the next one, past occasionally mentally poking at it. But now that this one's under my belt, I can go back to that project.

    The story I had in mind for that one is that God and Lucifer have both simultaneously disappeared, leaving heaven and hell in an uproar. Most of the powerful celestials, angels and demons alike, are at war in the heavens, trying to finally win the ancient good-vs-evil battle. That's left the celestials on earth without supervision. Normally there's a strict supernatural hierarchy on earth, and one Arbiter who determines policy and resolves conflicts. That role rotates between angel and demon on a strict 500-year cycle. But the Arbiter has abandoned their post along with countless others, whether to fight the war or to flee it, no one knows. The celestials who still feel ties to Earth are aware that without some organized system of government in place, the world will go as the heavens are going, falling into a chaos none of them will escape from. So a call has gone out, and anyone capable of hearing it has gathered to debate and vote on who will be the new Arbiter for Earth.

    The idea here is that everyone's either an angel or demon, but because they're bound in mortal shells for interacting with humans, and because they're basically the same order of being, it isn't clear who is which unless they reveal themselves through use of celestial powers. When I say "mechanically similar to Blackened Hearts," I mostly mean a game about the same size, with pre-gen characters who each have their own alliances and agendas, with cards in hand to represent powers and items, and a focus on intrigue and conversation. Angels are more powerful, demons are more numerous, so there are reasons for anyone in the game to hold back on exposing themselves until they see how the land lies.

    There's a lot more to it than that in terms of what it means to be an angel or demon — each of them will be built around a principle they're enacting, and anyone who figures out their principle will have some power over them, and all of them will have specific reasons for remaining on Earth, and agendas in the intrigue. But that's the basic idea.
  • Yup, I misplayed the thing about Blair's curse, certainly. Sorry about that! I'll have it clear for the next game.
    No, no – your group had a lot of fun and that’s the important thing. Running something exactly per the rules isn’t as important as that!
    they shouldn't have to get everyone to curse anyone.
    Sorry, it seems like there was a miscommunication here. Per the rules I quoted above, if Blair survives, anyone with five cursed gold is cursed. It’s not an everyone or no one thing.

    Your LARP scenario sounds like it could be really cool! Keep me posted on how you go– I’d be really interested to give it a go, if you’re intending on releasing it for general consumption.

    I’ve been doing some vague preliminary work on a new scenario as well – the concept is a kitschy, low-budget cable TV show crew going on-location to a building where a series of horrific murders were committed years ago. The place is rumoured to be extremely haunted, so the crew, including a supposedly psychic medium, is hoping to communicate with the spirits and film some supernatural phenomena. After little success early on, once the clock strikes midnight the doors of the building lock and the world outside the windows is enveloped in darkness, trapping them inside. The producer assumes that their ‘psychic’ is running some smoke and mirrors deal, but is all for it if it gets them some good footage. Of course, the ghosts are all-too real… and one of them is a killer.

    This one has what I think is a pretty interesting central mechanic/conceit—half of the cast are unable to interact with or perceive the other half directly (because they’re ghosts). Communication between the two distinct groups is done indirectly through the use of ghostly powers. The ghost characters can wander around, interact with each other, and eavesdrop on the living freely, while living characters strictly instructed to completely ignore the ghost players’ presence, unless ghostly powers are used. An Ouija board is the primary medium, but there is also interference with recording equipment, poltergeist activity, and maybe even a silly possession mechanic. I’m also considering a mechanic for the ghost killer to be able to start murdering the living people (and for them to subsequently become ghost characters) but I’m not quite sure how to pace it out yet.

  • This actually has some similarity with the most successful original LARP I've run to date, which has a group of living people coming to a house because they've been promised they can communicate with their dead loved ones there, and instead being seized on by a group of ghosts trying to make it through the veil and back into the physical world. The backstory on that one is complicated. It's something I intend to write up for publication someday, because it was so much fun. Everyone in that game was allowed to communicate directly, though, to make it easier on me — they had to be able to run their own scenes as much as possible, because it was 16 people roaming around a VERY large house.
  • they had to be able to run their own scenes as much as possible, because it was 16 people roaming around a VERY large house.
    Sounds great!
    It makes me think of a larger version of Old Friends by Ole Peder Giæver and Jason Morningstar. It's awesome!
  • @Bricoleur Good luck this weekend! :smile:
  • edited April 2018
    Apologies for the bump of a months-old thread, but Tabletop Game Designers Australia put up their 2017 wrap-up video showing some of their favourite Australian games released last year -- Blackened Hearts gets shown at 3:25, which made me quite happy:

    I've also gotten feedback from a couple of other instances of the game being run -- the organiser of HydraCon in Wellington, New Zealand ran it at the convention, and there was a private game run on the Gold Coast here in Australia. Got some really glowing feedback from the organisers of both events, and a handful of filled-out feedback surveys.

    It makes me pretty happy to see it doing so well.
  • I've also gotten feedback from a couple of other instances of the game being run -- the organiser of HydraCon in Wellington, New Zealand ran it at the convention, and there was a private game run on the Gold Coast here in Australia. Got some really glowing feedback from the organisers of both events, and a handful of filled-out feedback surveys.
    I played in the Hydra run, and found it to be a solid and enjoyable larp. Which is a lot harder than it sounds :)

    It will also be running at Phoenix, Christchurch's annual larpcon, in August.
  • I played in the Hydra run, and found it to be a solid and enjoyable larp. Which is a lot harder than it sounds :)

    It will also be running at Phoenix, Christchurch's annual larpcon, in August.
    I'm glad you enjoyed it! Which character were you? Any particular highlights?

    Good to hear that it'll be appearing at another NZ convention, too. I've snuck onto the Facebook event to stalk it >_>
  • I was Honest Ellis. I think my highlight was the conversations with one of the nervous new hands about what the pirate lifestyle meant, and how being crew meant being protected.
  • Sounds like an excellent moment (and potentially ironic, given what usually happens in these games).

    I really like hearing about all these little bits from people's games.
  • I'm running it twice at GenCon this year! Excited to see these were approved.

  • Hooray! If both events happen you'll have officially run it more times than I have (I've only actually run it twice, both while playtesting).

    All this news about people running and playing in it is making me start thinking more seriously about doing a revised version, as well as step up a bit more when it comes to working on my second scenario.
  • edited April 2018
    I think either approach is fine.
    I don't. And I'm an experienced LARPer and have a moderate amount of experience writing LARPs. Intercon organizers would never accept something like this as a blurb, for example.
    Really? This sounds like plenty of Intercon blurbs I've read.
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