I’ve ran some LARP campaigns in my days, and that has left me with a severe allergy to players who have ideas on what their characters could be doing between the game sessions. I try to keep my free time as “game-free” as possible, but I do acknowledge that I need to keep the players invested in the games during downtime. In New Horizons, I have discovered a nifty tool – Google Drive’s forms. I’m using them to write “electronic love letters” to my players between games.
What’s a Love Letter?
The term “Love Letter” is Apocalypse World slang. I can’t find its origin, but one ur-example is Hatchet City with its set-up. The typical AW Love Letter is a short description of a situation that has happened before the current session, followed by a related Move.
You followed the clues gathered so far to the Elysium and there one Ravnos bastard called Spirit Boy was indeed selling your sire’s heart. Roll+Generation:
10+: choose 3
7-9: choose 2
6-: the Storyteller chooses one
- You manage to get your sire’s heart back.
- You don’t fly into Frenzy and slaughter the Ravnos emissary.
- You aren’t left owing a Major Boon to the Nosferatu Primogen for covering your ass.
Also, while there, you discovered that Damien isn’t actually a Caitiff, but belongs to one of the Seven Clans. Which one?
This structure gives a great bang to the start of a session. You’re right there now. Shadow’s coming out of his Frenzy, being soothed by the ancient Nosferatu who has managed to keep the situation from getting out of hand. And now.. what do you do?
And How I’m Bastardizing Them?
After the first session of the Alpha Team game, I wrote actual Love Letters. Not good ones, but that’s because they were wrong to the +H context. I don’t really want to start the sessions with a racket. It’s a slow, creeping team horror game with calm normal people. But I wanted to keep asking the important and difficult questions that Love Letters give the opportunity to.
Now, I have been using a post-game questionnaire (on Google Forms) to ask things from the players.
It has some voluntary recap questions. Something like “with a couple of sentences, describe what happened at the airport?” They remind the player of what happened, and I can spotlight things like the presence of a shadowy enemy or a certain NPC with them. Even if a player doesn’t answer it, they still return to the game for a moment.
The important, mandatory questions have to do with the direction of the group. Multiple choice questions like “From these three cities, where would you like to go to next?” The answers allow me to take the game where the players want me to take it (from the choices I’ve provided to them, of course)
And of course, open feedback. Feedback’s is important, especially in a game with lots of new elements. Criticism, rules suggestions and happy thoughts are all appreciated.
But none of these sound like the Love Letters I mentioned earlier. No hard choices anywhere.
The Love Lettery Stuff
In situations where a player character starts a session in a pinch or if a player misses a game, I’ve used the form to ask more personalized questions. They’re related to what’s at hand and set up how the next game begins.
The meeting was boring as you imagined, but at least you got some juicy gossip there. Now as you’re returning to the team, you know the following… (choose two)
- The Valkyria guards are out for blood (if you don’t choose this, you know instead that the Valkyria people really just want to talk)
- There is a hacker at the event who is planning to expose your company as the evil you are (if you don’t choose this, you know the hacker is there, but targetting your competition)
- The main researcher is a former +H employee and is holding a grudge against you (if you don’t choose this, you know New Horizons has actually headhunted her and she’ll be joining you in a few months)
- The Valkyria know that all of you were at the site of the accident (if you don’t choose this, you know that they only know of the two people they saw at the site)
That’s a fairly good example of a personalized question. It steals from the basic idea of a Love Letter in that it gives the player a running start. Their character has arrived late because of the meeting, but bring important intel.
There is no randomization, and in fact, the method of choosing comes from Durance (that’s currently on sale via The Bundle of Holding) where you get to choose something good, but have to give up other good things and end up with the opposite of them instead. The character returns with accurate intel, but only half of it is good news. The hard choices are always very hard indeed.
Choose Your Own Adventure…?
This is something that I’m just starting to explore. The possibilities with electronic forms that redirect themselves with your answers are much greater than what you can do with a simple paper that contains some text and a Move.
When we last saw you, you were in the shower. Suddenly something is wrong, and you feel like… (choose one)
- … the walls are caving in on you.
- … there is someone else in the room with you.
- … the room temperature has dropped by several degrees.
And if they choose the walls caving in, we can give them a follow-up question about running in a hallway, instead of one about finding themselves in a room with a ghost, or an axe-murderer. Or an axe-murdering ghost.
It requires more work, but it is actually possible to build questions that are a lot more complex and base themselves on things that the player chooses.