I’m on a study project to improve my understanding of roleplaying games. To this end, I already have two reading projects, A Game Per Year and An Adventure Per Year. This is the third, with the goal of reading or playing 52 games made in the last few years. Originally I considered making this “A New RPG Per Week” and that’s where the number 52 comes from, even though a weekly schedule is probably not within my abilities.
The coronavirus pandemic presents significant challenges to roleplaying. In the spring, pretty much everything was moved online. I didn’t have a lot of experience with online play so I tried to find ways to run games remote while retaining something of my style.
Thanks to the positive developments in the corona situation in Finland, most of the games in which I participate moved back to physical space during the summer. Still, we have to cancel all the time when someone has a mysterious cough or was tangentially exposed to a corona case.
The roleplaying scenario Four Lovers, by Jason Morningstar and Lizzie Stark, is a fine design but it also feels like an attempt to grapple with the realities of roleplaying in these conditions. How to make a scenario that’s not only playable online but actively uses the affordances of online play to create a unique experience?
The game is set in a historical Venice in the time of pestilence. Four nobles have been quarantined in the Doge’s palace, unable to physically meet each other. However, love and lust cannot be denied and for some, marriage is a question of life or death.
The characters send each other messages through the servant Moroso. At times, they can also converse through the windows but of course everyone will hear everything that’s said.
The play is broken into different segments which govern the tools for communication available to the characters and players. Sometimes the game runs on voice chat, other times text chat. It’s a clever device introducing variety into the experience and staving off the stress of prolonged play over remote voice and video.
The challenges of our times converge with the minutiae of an individual scenario’s design in an interesting, thought-provoking way. Perhaps because things are depressing enough already, Four Lovers is a flirty, lighthearted game in which people find a way to reach each other despite significant hurdles.