State Of The Game: The Last Day

The Last Day is a very weird and experimental LARP that I wrote in Late 2009 and Early 2010. It saw a 10 week playtesting period in early 2010. What is weird and experimental about it? Well, primarily the setting and the genre and the way it is handled. Besides the fact that the genre is (half-jokingly) identified as “” the rulebook that players had access to told them literally nothing about the game’s story or setting, by design. Literally everything there was to learn about the highly enigmaic game universe they had to find out in game (‘FOIG’ as we say in the LARP business)  since all characters begin as identical amnesiacs.

Even race and class selection were handled beneath a shroud of utmost misery, with players defining and refining their PCs’ identity with the power and ability choices they made. For instance, a typical power might have the added rules text of ‘You are now a Kin, even if you don’t know what that means’. The rules themselves were highly experimental, and not just because they used very high numbers, and lots of them. Like I always say, my ideal LARP player is a polyglot; a professional mathematician, a classically trained shakespearian actor, and a gifted athlete and swordsman. Never was this more true in The Last Day, which was extremely complex even for one of my games. Character creation was a wide open, balls-out, “nothing is too strange” point-based, point-buy system, based on the Hero System. The Last Day rules let you build literally anything you can think of as a legal playable character. Want to be a shape-shifting griffin empath? Done. Fire elemental with a machine gun? Easy. Vampire with eye lasers? Sure. Cyborg dragon? Yes, you may.

Original Character Sheet From 1st Quarter 2010 Playtest – WingMan Was The Only PC To Survive The Brutal Unrelenting Horror That Was The Campaign’s End. As you can see, he is a winged venomous sword-wielding arcane technomancer with a disruptor gauntlet. Awesome!

With 1,000 CP to allocate, in addition to being wide open, character creation was also highly empowering. You are, at start, a demigod…but so is everyone else, and there are bigger, scarier things out there. In spite of the high level of character power and weirdness, the game’s tone was downright Lovecraftian horror and despair at times.

The arbitrary weirdness gimmick also applied to the game mechanics. While the incredibly diverse, customizable array of powers and skills in the character creation guide would have been plenty for anyone to choose from, but The Last Day kicked it up a notch with the Memory Grid. The Last Day is the only LARP I’ve written/GM’d to date where XP was a physical commodity, in this case called Memory Spheres and represented by little shiny beads, that was dropped by fallen enemies and found in the environment and fought over by PCs. PCs could spend their memory spheres to augment their statistics, learn new powers from those that they couldn’t afford to take at character creation, OR increase their ‘Gnosis’ pool. Gnosis points in turn could be spent to unlock spheres on the unlock grid, adding secret, hidden powers–think the skill grid from FF10 (and onwards) only at the end (center) of the grid is the ‘become god’ button. Increasing Gnosis also granted new memory fragments, restoring partial recollection of who the PC was and what had happened to the world. Hence character advancement in the mechanical sense was directly wedded to character advancement in the literary sense.

The setting itself is bizarrely experimental also. Now because of what I just told you, this constitutes a spoiler, but the game’s setting is a bit like a cross between Earthdawn and Fallout, only darker than either, with a mood that is a cross between David Lynch and The Prisoner subtly whimsical, subtly creepy, and subtly surreal. All of the players enjoyed how the game’s incredibly numerous, diverse influences blended into a millieu that was oddly unique. The metagame culture was relaxed, informal, and intimate allowing the in-game roleplaying to be immersive and emotional. There was a distinctly weird, ominous feel to playing TLD, something almost ineffable, that we all really dug, playing in a world so   thoroughly broken and shatttered that anything could happen, and did. For those of you who are Shadowrun fans, The Last Day is set in ‘The Seventh World’, the world after the Horrors have inexorably returned and humanity has turned the world’s surface to blackened toxic glass with orbital lasers and nuclear weapons in a desperate, unsuccessful effort to stop them. The setting of the playtest was Substation Zero, the bleak and blackened toxic, monster filled ruins of an obliterated, abandoned Kaer–although of course, it didn’t turn out to be so abandoned.

Anyway, I have been so busy with Systems Malfunction for the past year and a half that The Last Day and all the playtest feedback I garnered has basically sat on someone else’s shelf collecting dust. I really wanted to play it again–so did most of my beta testers, but there simply wasn’t time. Now that Systems is on indefinite Hiatus, I’ve started looking at The Last Day again. As usual, tinkering with the incredibly complex rules mechanics is a great joy. While I’d almost finished the secret unlock grid, I didn’t complete the eleven other distinct unlock grids for the 11 Archetypes (read: prestige classes) you could unlock.

If you played TLD, this most likely intrigues you!

So I’m having fun adding even more complexity and options, at the same time I’ll be designing a new setting for a second run of playtesting, and making some tweaks to the rules based on suggestions from the first playtest. (An errata post later, maybe.) I’ll probably make even more monsters, too–the game already has too many, but building them is addictive, fun, and easy–the same point buy system used to build PCs works great for it.

I run Systems as a business, but I think I will keep TLD free and informal…it is much too fun to have to worry about anything else but enjoying it.

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