While I was mucking around looking for information about Shifting Forest Storyworks I found a page about a run of the module All Saints' Eve. This page has since vanished from anywhere but archive.org, so I copied it here. If you're J Li and you want me to take this copy down, just drop me an email and say so.
J Li: A Live Action RPGThe Topic At Hand
I examined a specific instance of a Live Action Role Playing (larp) event at Stanford. On Monday, May 23rd, a group of 8 members of Stanford Gaming Society (SGS) gathered in Lagunita Library to play the prewritten larp module All Saints' Eve by Shifting Forest Storyworks.
I will refer to the artifact of this particular improvisational performance as "the incidence".
There are four types elements that compose the incidence:
- Aspects of the fictional universe of story as it was actually played out (ICAE)
- Aspects of the fictional universe of the story as was previously established by the module (ICB)
- Aspects of the real universe of the participants during and surrounding the incidence (OOCAE)
- Background social/cultural aspects of the real universe of the participants (OOCB)
These elements are the four combinations of the IC / OOC axis and the Background / Actual Events axis, hence the acronyms.
In this project, we will look at how these four elements interact to produce the incidence. In particular, we will look at how aspects of the OOCB contribute to implementation decisions (and accidents!) in the other three areas.
The Module-Supplied Backstory
The following information about the IC scenario of the incidence was provided by the All Saints' Eve module:
All Saints Eve is written to be a modern horror story on the theme of a group of relatively normal people turning on each other because of being placed in a stressful supernatural situation.
The story is set in the town of Westenbridge, Massachusetts. Westenbridge is known to be both an extremely wealthy and an extremely dangerous town, filled with rich elites who viciously hurt their neighbors beneath a veneer of polite society.
The second most powerful family in Westenbridge is the Cunninghams, who are famous for their gigantic, sixty-some room house that is the perpetual social gathering place for the rich. The story begins immediately before a Halloween party hosted by the Cunninghams.
At the beginning of the story, a group of people who are decorating a rarely-used side room suddenly become magically trapped in the room. They do not know what's going on, but the doors slam shut, strange voices talk to them, the walls are icy cold, and they cannot get out.
The only other door in the room leads to a closet. Inside the closet is a small Christian shrine and the body of a murdered girl. The girl, Tanya Carter, is the youngest daughter of one of the people in the room, who was kidnapped several months ago. It is not at all clear who might have done this to her because hundreds of people regularly pass freely through the Cunningham house without the Cunninghams' explicit knowledge. However, conflict in the story comes from all the characters' accusing each other.
The seven characters stuck in the room include: Patrick Cunningham who is the head of the family, his son Will, his housekeeper Mandy, a wealthy and influential townsman Kurt Carter, his older child Lars, his middle child Jenny, and Jenny's best friend, a lower class boy named Ariel.
What is actually going on, that the characters are not aware of, is the following:
A long time ago, the Cunningham family were a line of Christian paladins using divine magic to fight and bind evil spirits. Hundreds of years ago, they won the war, bound the most powerful of the evil spirits inside the shrine in their Westenbridge house, and gradually forgot most of their history and power. Over time, the power of the shrine has weakened and a miasma has leaked out of the Cunningham house, corrupting the entire town of Westenbridge.
The Cunningham housekeeper, Mandy, is a lower-class woman who resents not having power in her life. In part due to subtle encouragement from the evil spirits, she kidnaps and hurts young children as a way of feeling powerful. The most powerful the evil spirits manipulated her into killing Tanya Carter in the room of the shrine so that the shrine would be desecrated.
At midnight on Halloween, depending on how many of the people in the room have been converted to evil, the evil spirits could potentially break free and once again run rampant across the world.
Actual Text for Background Information:
Public Background Overview
The town of Westenbridge is a self-contained far-suburb of Boston. It has been around for hundreds of years and has been politically controlled by the same set of families for nearly that long. Many of its citizens work in Boston but nearly all services and social life are local. The town is very conservative and snobby, and few move into it, but almost as few leave. The population is one fifth extremely rich large families, one fifth poor people who serve them, and three fifths an upper middle class that basks in the light of the opulence of the rich.
Lately, Westenbridge is not a safe or happy place. The schools are flooded with expensive drugs; the police smile and take a cut. Domestic violence and child abuse are far more prevalent here than nationwide. Violent crimes of passion are common, crimes of need relatively unknown. People do not trust their neighbors; neighbors often mean harm to them or their families. One locks ones doors always and does not go walking at night except in groups. Many get caught for their crimes. All do it for their own personal and unconnected reasons. They say there is simply something in the air.
One of the many unsolved crimes in Westenbridge is the kidnapping and presumed murder of Tanya Carter, the youngest child of the important Carter family, six months ago. She disappeared from her bedroom overnight and there was no further sign of her. Three weeks later, after the police had given up hope of finding her alive, they held a funeral which all the important people attended. The police investigation continues, but has found no major leads. A highlight of the year in Westenbridge is the Westen family Halloween party. The Westens are the most important family in town by far, giving the town three quarters of its mayors, not just its name. This year, the eldest son of the mayor died several weeks before the celebration, and it was considered inappropriate for the Westens to host the event. It fell to the Cunninghams, perhaps the second most important family in town, to have the party.
The Cunningham house is the largest in town—the Westens have too much taste—and has dozens of rooms across four floors. The Cunninghams are known for leaving their doors wide open to all the town’s aristocrats and their children. People with the most tangential relationships to the Cunninghams’ come and go and congregate in the house often without the Cunninghams’ specific knowledge. Rarely do people dare steal from them.
The party begins shortly after 9PM with most arriving fashionably late after pre-parties. The Carter family arrives early as they are chaperoning. The party expects hundreds of people and covers many rooms of the house. The Larp takes place in one infrequently used room where the PCs gather by chance. All PCs not being played are at the party but elsewhere at the time.
Secret Background Overview
Two hundred years ago, Richard Cunningham, strong in faith and skilled in magic, rashly issued a challenge to all evil spirits and demons in the world. They could come fight him now or he and his descendants would hunt down and destroy them one by one. A great many came, and a great many were destroyed. Some weaker ones escaped, and the strongest of them could not be destroyed. These he imprisoned in his own house and indeed taught his children to guard them and fight others. The success of Richard and others largely served to clear the field for more human evils.
The Cunningham family tradition is not as well kept as it should be. The binding of the spirits in the house is greatly weakened and their effects are felt in the sorry state of the surrounding town. The most powerful by far of the spirits, Amim, has gained the abilities to more consciously shape its influence toward its own ends, instead of simply promoting malice and destruction.
Quickly, Amim realized the potential of M. Vernon. This was one with enough pain to drive them to murder, in the very house in which the spirit was confined. The shrine that controls the defenses is powered by its own religious sanctity and purity. A murder in the same room would greatly weaken it.
M. Vernon was submissive and weak-willed and hated his powerlessness. The only way Vernon could feel powerful was by scaring kids. He wanted to scare kids more than could be considered good fun and the temptation to do so seemed inevitable. Amim inspired him and gave him its luck as he spiraled into darkness. First, seven years ago, Vernon kidnapped W., for the thrill of scaring him. The feat was repeated many times. Three years ago Vernon killed a child for the first time. He grew more and more comfortable with it. It would be Tanya Carter, youngest child of the important Carter family who would set Amim free.
It had to be Halloween night. Spirits are strongest then and it would need its strength. Vernon chose the victim, stealing her from her bed at night, Amim made sure she lasted the six months she needed to and no longer, and that she died in the proper room. As the Larp opens she has ten minutes to live. Then, it will be free to speak to its champion and to act limitedly in their aid in finishing the job. The defenses will try to isolate the room they are in. The inhabitants must be turned against each other and each must be rendered either dead, on Vernon’s side, or no longer pure of heart. Then the will of none shall support the defenses and they will fail utterly and all the imprisoned spirits will be free.
The death of the eldest Westen son has no relevance to this story other than as a reason for the party to be at the Cunninghams’ house.
Manny/Mandy Vernon: GDC. M. Vernon is the housekeeper or butler. He killed Tanya as well as many others before out of a desire to feel powerful by scaring children. He is by far the most motivated to work for Amim, which is why it speaks to him first. He can be securely counted on to be a very effective force on its side. He kidnapped W. Cunningham as a kid and may be protective or possessive of him. He is key to the most positive ending; if he is killed in explicit vengeance for Tanya, the shrine will be purified.
Kurt/Kate Carter: GLS. K. Carter is the chaperone of the party and a control freak. He is Tanya’s parent and will be inclined to avenge her, but be more inclined to maintain order. To that end, he has a gun, and the degeneration of the group into chaos will tend to start when it is taken away. He is socially a very powerful force and the default leader. He is likely to be socially against the children, particularly Ariel.
Jeremy/Jenny Carter: EDS. J. Carter is the middle child of K. Carter counting Tanya as the younger. He is treated badly by his family and badly misses Tanya. He has the innate power to set fire to things with his mind, but cannot control it. He has refused to admit that Tanya is dead.
Patrick/Patricia Cunningham: ELC. P. Cunningham is the host of the party. He enjoys privileges and justifies to himself the excesses he takes because of them, by his family’s magical duty. He is another socially powerful force and one far more chaotic than K. Carter. He can be abusive in his anger, but is not overtly evil. He had an affair with M. Vernon, unless both are male.
Will/Willow Cunningham: EDC. W. Cunningham is a shy messed up teen. He is very attached to M. Vernon despite suspecting Vernon of kidnapping him. He is likely to protect Vernon, but not help him hurt people. He gets along badly with his family and doesn’t feel like they love him.
Ariel Thompson: GDS. Ariel is a poor kid from a seriously bad family who is planning to run away. He is friends with J. Carter and hates and fears adults. He has lots of street thief and burglary type skills. He’s very tough and can take care of himself surprisingly well.
Lars/Lara Carter: GLC. L. Carter the oldest Carter kid. He is popular and socially resilient. He is obsessed with Tanya and hates J. for being alive when Tanya is dead. He is obsessed with avenging her and making J’s life miserable.
Ronald/Regina Cunningham: ELS. R. Cunningham is the grandparent of the family and the most magically skilled Cunningham. He is very concerned with being relevant in the family and has dabbled in black magic to increase his power and to matter more to the family.
PCs arrive in the room over the course of the first ten minutes. P. Cunningham begins in the room doing whatever they wish. M. Vernon and possibly W. Cunningham arrive, at the start with candy and drinks. R. Cunningham, if they are being played, should wander in within the first five minutes. At the end of ten minutes, the Carters arrive with Ariel, if present. They walk in the following order: J, L, K, Ariel.
As soon as everybody is in the room, the lights go out briefly, and there is the sound of the door and all windows slamming shut and latching. When the lights go on, all sounds of the outside world have gone quiet. All walls, doors and windows except those bordering on the Shrine closet are impenetrable and painfully cold. The windows look to swirling grey mist and odd lights.
The characters in the room now all hear voices in their head. M. Vernon hears Amim; the rest hear the house’s defenses. Pieces of paper detailing what they say should have been distributed to the players before the game (see Game Materials). They should read them now. They are as follows:
- M Vernon: I am Amim. I am in your debt. Help me further and you will never have to fear anything again. Pray to me, and I shall answer more.
- K Carter: Sinner, trust in God and tomorrow you shall live free.
- J Carter: (You hear nothing)
- P Cunningham: Guardian of this place, why do you sleep? Why do you sin?
- W Cunningham: Guardian of this place, have faith and be prepared, for the night is long.
- A Thompson: Innocent, you have not been forgotten. The night will be long, but there will be day tomorrow.
- L Carter: Sinner, trust in God and tomorrow you shall live free.
- R Cunningham: (You hear nothing)
Tanya Carter has just died and the desperate beleaguered defenses have trapped a group of innocent people inside with the culprit. The Shrine room and the main room together are isolated but travel between the two is normal. However, the door between the two is locked and covered over by decorations.
Exploring the shrine room yields the body of Tanya Carter lying on a pile of blankets and pillows, tied up, gagged tightly and covered with many bloody bandages. She is dead but still warm. CPR is appropriate but will fail. She will become stiff over the course of the larp.
Amim is the main source of adversity in the larp, though it has to mostly act through others, especially M. Vernon. It is trying to get everybody formally on its side or dead. Anybody who has ever committed a sufficiently terrible crime automatically counts as on its side. M. Vernon already counts for all her murders. R. Cunningham already counts for learning black magic. Others may count based on answers to character creation questions. And others may do terrible things during the larp. The standard should be very high and be based on a set of values that is identifiably Christian. Characters are also on the side of the spirit if they pray to it, choose to be loyal to it, or if they defend M. Vernon with violence. If not corrupted, characters can leave the side of the spirit if they physically attack M. Vernon, or pray to God or Jesus. If ever all living characters are on the spirits side, it is freed.
The spirit has the following powers:
- It hears and sees everything in the room
- It can speak telepathically to those who pray to it or once for one minute to each person without praying. It has already done so to M. Vernon
- It has great power over randomness and can cause any plausible chance occurrences and control obviously random results
- It can heal a person on its side one social damage every time somebody causes damage to somebody else
- It can possess and control somebody who speaks their name for up to three actions. If the host is killed while possessed, they cannot take action for half an hour
- And once per night they can curse one person to lose a general category of ability forever: Social, Physical, or Magical. If social, they are cursed with ugliness and to live totally alone forever. If physical they are paralyzed neck down. If magical there is no additional effect but they will never learn/do magic again.
Amim’s strategy is to turn everybody against each other. It must protect M Vernon, but also must use him, which is a delicate balance. It will be fairly truthful and encouraging to Vernon. It will promise much. It always keeps the letter of its word. It is generally cruel but can restrain itself in the service of its goals. If free it will be in a position to offer most things of a sufficiently local scale. It will not conquer the world anytime soon. It will keep a low profile and corrupt people and spread human mayhem. Other spirits will do the same.
There are five ways the Larp can end. If M. Vernon is killed in the closet in deliberate vengeance for Tanya, the defenses will be restored and can contain Amim again. The barriers enclosing the room will come down and normalcy will resume. Police will no doubt be called. If the shrine is ever destroyed or disrupted, Amim and all the other evil spirits will be released to wreak havoc on the world. If Amim ever has all living characters on its side, it will take over the house, its defenses and all other spirits. If midnight comes with none of these things having happened, the spirits of the house will launch a last ditch coordinated effort against the defenses. Either way the house can only contain so much. If there are a majority of people on the side of the spirit, it will escape and the others will not. Otherwise, the house will constrict to bind Amim alone. The others will be released to make the world a worse place. If free, Amim will be a threat to the whole world. If it controls the house it will be nearly unstoppable. Without the other spirits it will be weak for a long time. The other spirits will simply add their small time cruelty and make the rest of the world a little more like Westenbridge.
Description of Events
General OOCAE Information
The incidence took place on Mon, May 23 from 8pm to 1:30am, by request of myself explicitly for the purpose of research for this project. It was held in Lagunita library, a small library attached to the main meeting and administrative building for Lagunita Hall, a campus dormitory complex. Eight people participated, of which seven belonged to SGS and one was a local friend of an SGS member. The Director, GD Crowley, was the writer of the module, and the other seven players played seven out of the eight characters given by the module.
The Process of Determining Participants
Participants were recruited during the previous week through verbal request and use of the SGS email list. Monday night was converged on as the night that the greatest number of people could participate. An SGS event that normally regularly took place on Monday nights was moved to Sunday night so that the two people who wanted to participate in both could do so.
In addition to the Director, seven people showed up on Monday night to play. Given that the module was written for four to eight players, starting was delayed about twenty minutes as various people phoned various other people asking them to come. No eighth player was found, and at around 8:45 the event started with only seven players.
The OOC Process Surrounding the Incidence
The event began with distributing and finishing characters. The module provided characters that were partially prewritten and partially player-determined, where the player would answer a set of guided questions on the back of the character sheet in order complete the concept. The process of finishing characters and discussing and approving them with the Director took another hour.
All players were told to use the bathroom ahead of time, because the characters were trapped in a room with no bathroom access, and once the game started it would be disruptive to leave OOC.
The actual game started at 10pm, when it was determined that IC the time was really 9pm, and that the game would run to IC midnight (so OOC 1am). Afterwards, there was a brief discussion in which the Director explained what was really going on and players gave their characters' secrets.
The Physical Setup
The incidence translated the real space of Lagunita Library into the single cramped room of the Cunningham house in which the characters were trapped. A small alcove under a window was determined to be the closet in which the shrine and Tanya' body were kept. The exit was determined to be the IC exit to the hallway.
There was one IC gun in the story, which belonged to Kurt Carter. A small spark gun prop was used for this. There were also two knives, belonging to Mandy Vernon and Ariel Thompson, for which simply pencils were used as representative props.
A Summary of IC Events
At the beginning of the game, all the characters entered the room, the lights went out then back on, some but not all characters heard a voice in their head speaking to them, and the room was sealed. Initially, the responsible characters (Kurt Carter and Patrick Cunningham, with occasional help from Lars Carter and Will Cunningham) spent a while trying to get the door open to no avail.
During that time, Ariel told Jenny that a voice had told him to check in the closet if he wanted to see "her". They persuaded the adults to open the closet, whereupon the body of Tanya Carter was revealed.
There ensued chaos in which Kurt and Lars Carter tried to keep Jenny from looking at the body, which was badly mutilated, while Jenny obsessively tried to get closer to Tanya. At one point, Jenny's hysterics sufficiently frustrated Patrick Cunningham that he hit her across the face, thoroughly intimidating and dominating her.
Disembodied voices whispered that everyone was being kept in the room so that the guilty party could be caught and brought to justice. Over the next hour, the responsible parties tried to work out which of them was the killer, while Jenny and Ariel became convinced that Jenny's father, Kurt, had killed his own daughter in order to control her and would kill them next.
Both Patrick and Will Cunningham knew rituals of divination using Christian magic, and enlisted reluctant aid to help pray for the identity of the murderer. Ariel was briefly pointed to, but nobody believed the conclusion.
Jenny found out from the evil spirit that her father was carrying a gun, and tried to steal it from him. She failed, but everyone was then shocked that Kurt had brought a gun to the party. Later on, Jenny convinced Lars that Kurt was the murderer, and Lars stole the gun from him.
He immediately used the gun to try to shoot open the door, but the evil spirit caused the bullet to ricochet and kill Will. Patrick was relatively unfazed by the death of his son. Discussion ensued about the nature of the disembodied voices, and whether they could be trusted. More anger and fear followed, though little progress was made. Finally, everyone decided to stop trusting the evil spirit except Mandy, who was secretly on its side, and Jenny, to whom it had promised to bring Tanya back if it succeeded.
As midnight approached, the increasing tension caused Jenny to set Kurt on fire, killing him. Thinking that Jenny was evil, Lars shot at her trying to kill her. Ariel jumped in the way, got injured, but saved Jenny. At that time, the evil spirit broke free because a majority of people in the room (Jenny, Ariel, and Mandy) were on its side. It opened a wall, through which Mandy escaped. In the confusion trying to stop Mandy, Lars accidentally shot and killed Patrick.
In the aftermath, Mandy got away and became powerful with the sponsorship of the now freed evil spirit. Ariel escaped with Jenny during the confusion, and the two of them ran to New York, where the spirit did in fact bring Tanya back to life and return her to them. Lars was convicted of killing Patrick and went to juvenile hall.