None but the Brave

It’s been a quiet night so far in the Elmridge fire station. The members of Red Watch are chatting, playing cards, drinking tea and attempting to relax. But the peace won’t last…

None but the Brave takes a look at bravery and heroism under extreme circumstances. When the flames are raging, who can be relied on? Can you even trust yourself?

A brave decision

I wanted to design and run another Nordic-style larp at Consequences, building on what had happened at The Outsiders which Cat Tobin and I ran there last year. This time round I teamed up with the excellent Traci Whitehead, who I’d done stuff with before on What Happened in Blackpool, who’d played in The Outsiders, and who is great to work with as well as being highly creative and thoughtful.

The theme word for this year’s Consequences was ‘Heroic’, so we decided to create a game that explored the nature of heroism – specifically, the aspect of bravery. A group of firefighters felt like a good subject – people who, for a range of personal reasons, put themselves in physical danger and at psychological risk to help their fellow-citizens. The relationships between the individuals who make up the team would be interesting to explore – ideally, mutual respect and trust; but human beings aren’t always quite like that…

Firefighters, being brave

Fire in the hole

Because we wanted the game to be as immersive as possible, we set it in the fire station mess room, which we could fairly well simulate in the playspace available at Consequences (a kitchen and lounge area). We wanted an actual firefighting incident during the game, but realized this would be impossible to simulate: so we did it as a big meta-technique (or maybe you’d call it a meta-scene, as everyone was involved).

So the game was effectively in three parts:

  • the intro (a quiet night at the station, which players could use to explore and express their personalities and interrelationships);
  • the firefight itself (the big meta-scene);
  • and the aftermath (mostly about how people had responded to the threat of the fire and to the need to perform capably while in fear, and how the experience had changed people and their attitudes towards one another).

No smoke without

We’re going to publish the whole game when we’ve finished processing the tweaks needed from the Consequences run, so I won’t go into great detail here. Just a few things that might be of interest:

  • The firefight was complex both technically (creating sound effects; making heat and smoke without setting off the alarms or overly discomfiting the players) and game-design-ically (inventing a mechanism that had the right mix of physical and psychological demands both of individual performance and of teamwork; structuring it so it didn’t take too long; finding a balance between player control and the random hand of fate). And it wasn’t really possible to test very much of it in advance. Fortunately Traci had a brilliant idea for the core mechanism, but even so we were somewhat relieved when it all ended up working pretty well.
  • The game was preceded by a workshop in which the players developed their characters around the skeletons that we’d provided. This went pretty smoothly but took a little longer than it should have, and we had to cut some of the planned activities. Need to get better at timing workshops! On the bright side, though, it seemed to do a good job of preparing the players for the game.
  • We ended the game too quickly, cutting the aftermath short. The players had gone very quiet and it felt like they were ready to finish. But actually I think they were just emotionally battered from the fire, and they would have liked a bit of recovery time and to settle some more issues. This misreading was entirely my fault, and could have been avoided if I’d thought of asking if they wanted to stop, rather than assuming it. I must learn from this mistake.
  • We were going to use a pair of walkie-talkies for communication, and they’d tested out fine earlier in the day: but when we demoed them during the pre-game workshop, we managed to pick up the (puzzled) site security. Rather than try to channel-hop to dodge the guards, we scrapped the idea and just used voice, so as not to run the risk of walkie-talkie use in the game getting disrupted. Next time a closed PA system might be better.

Playing with fire

We had a great mix of players – some who’d been in The Outsiders the previous year, some very experienced chamber larpers who were trying their first Nordic-style game, and some people from other areas of gaming who hadn’t done much larping at all. There was a lot of lovely generous play, and the range of experience and confidence among the players interestingly interplayed with the range of experience and confidence among the firefighter characters.

Mixing it

Here’s a Mixing Desk graphic for the game (click to make it bigger) based on the revised Mixing Desk of Larp:

Mixing Desk for None but the Brave (click to make it bigger)
Mixing Desk for None but the Brave
(click to make it bigger)

What next?

Like I said, we plan to publish the script for the game. I’m not sure about running it again, although I guess it would be fairly easy to do so if there was demand for it. But anyway we’re going to write something new together next, for which Traci’s already come up with a wonderful theme and setting, and which will be even better and more exciting, of course 🙂

Ooh, here’s the original post I wrote about this when the idea first came up.

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