Wednesday, 28 March 2018

Breakout 2018 Convention Debrief (Part Two)

Today I'm writing about our big day Saturday at Breakout. (If you missed Part One, it's here.)

I didn't get a great night's sleep on Friday, which is pretty normal for me in a strange bed, but especially after a day of great games. I had the momentum from playing ROSENSTRASSE to carry me through the low-energy bits.

Our first game of the day was MISERICORD(e) with Emily Care Boss. Emily has written a lot of terrific games, and while we weren't able to play in her Ere Camlann game (that went down at the same time as Fate with Ryan Macklin), we had a lot of fun playing this personal favourite of hers. MISERICORD(e) is a storytelling game about the people living in a medieval town, using Tarot cards to structure the story and insert twists and turns the players can't see coming. In this game, my wizard character's lover -- a brave knight with the city's army -- convinced him to help her overthrow her superior for the good of the city. There were many entertaining shenanigans about using a potion that would cause uncontrollable diarrhea, a mind-switching villain, and a sexy hobo.

Emily Care Boss is one of the nicest people I have met in the game industry, and she makes wonderful games about relationships (which are right in my wheelhouse). You can find MISERICORD(e) and other excellent games here. She is also a huge fan of the NBC time travel adventure show Timeless, and if you like that show -- or you want someone to talk you into why you should be watching it -- she often enthuses about it on Twitter.

We had planned to go to a few panels in the afternoon, but after my Friday night adventure, I said Megan really needed to give LARP a try. I knew that Moyra Turkington was running another game that afternoon, and as of the night before there were still empty spaces. We both signed up as soon as we could, and found ourselves in an afternoon game of MODEL PROTECTORATES.

This game (which can be found in the WAR BIRDS anthology) is about a family living in Nazi-occupied Denmark. The family is in a bad place when the story begins, with the mother having died a few years ago and their grief-stricken father increasingly retreating from the world. Their daughter is an idealistic young nurse who wants to do more, and their son is a firebrand teenager who is stirring up trouble in the streets. The household is managed by an aunt who has a background of revolutionary activity. When the daughter brings home an injured spy waiting for a radio message on an illegal receiver, the family is forced to make hard choices that sweep them into the war.

I played the grief-stricken father and Megan played the aunt. Unlike ROSENSTRASSE, this game played out in a series of long, tense scenes that included all of the characters at once (and a few games played by Moyra as the facilitator). That was really interesting, because often scenes were playing out simultaneously in different places in the room, meaning no one could hear every line of dialogue spoken. In the first scene, which played out over 45 minutes(!), there were long moments at the end when no one was speaking -- but we weren't bored. It was tense as hell!

Megan was very happy to get to share a LARP experience, and I'm so glad she had the opportunity to try it. You can find more information about MODEL PROTECTORATES (and a link to a page to buy WAR BIRDS) here.

We headed out for a lovely dinner with her sister at a local Indian restaurant and a little down time before our late-night game: BLUEBEARD'S BRIDE with Sarah Richardson.

I was a very enthusiastic supporter of BLUEBEARD'S BRIDE when it Kickstarted a while back, because it's the kind of unusual, boundary-testing game that really pushes the medium forward. It's creepy as hell, and my reaction when I read it -- like many, especially men -- was that it was awesome and I wasn't sure if I'd ever be able to run it. It was so dark, so disturbing, and most of all it was feminine horror. A part of me said that I didn't have the right to tell that story. But listening to a few actual plays convinced me that Sarah Richardson was a master of telling that story, and I was both eager and a little wary about placing myself in her clutches.

I wasn't sure if it was a good idea for Megan to play this game or not, because she's more sensitive than I am to heavy subject matter like sexualized violence and cruelty, and I was wary about the game myself. But I had every confidence that there would be safety tools (and an open door) to help us through the experience, and Breakout is a welcoming enough environment that we felt safe to try something that pushed our limits as players.

In case you haven't read it already, the game places all the players inside the mind of the title Bride, as she explores Bluebeard's mansion and faces the horrors within. It's not a traditional roleplaying game, because there's really only one character and everyone plays different facets of that character's identity. The object of the game is to play through several scenes where the Bride encounters evidence of what kind of man Bluebeard is, and must choose whether or not to open the door to his forbidden room -- the act that seals the fate of the character in the fairy tale.

For this game, we were playing a variant of the game where The Bride is instead The Showgirl, a new face exploring the various tents of Bluebeard's Dark Carnival. We were playing with Duan, someone we played some great games with at Breakout 2017, Lexi (someone I know a little bit from online interactions), and another player whose name I don't recall. I think we were all a little nervous going into this game, and that helped -- we were in it together.

Sarah Richardson is a terrific horror GM, and I learned a lot from watching her work. She makes wonderful use of her voice, speaking in a slow, measured way that really drags out the tension sometimes. And she's so great at telling the initial Bluebeard story, which always opens a session of BB. That really sets the mood, and I'm a huge fan of fairy tales.

The game took us some pretty dark places, and I did end up using the X-Card toward the end of the game. My only regret about that is that someone didn't use it earlier, which would have made it easier for others to do so. None of that is on Sarah, who had a long and serious conversation with us about safety during the game beforehand. As she said, if you think the game might be too much for you, then it probably IS too much for you, and you shouldn't play it. She pulled no punches as a GM, and I admire that a lot, although I probably can't see myself ever going quite that far. Megan got to play in her game of 70's girl gangs, VELVET GLOVE, the next afternoon, and I'm sorry I missed it.

You can find BLUEBEARD'S BRIDE here, and VELVET GLOVE here.

To be continued...

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