Reading Group: Laaste Døre (Locked Doors)

Johannes Busted has started a reading group with the purpose of reading and reviewing scenarios from the online repository, Projekt R’lyeh. To me, this is quite a brilliant endeavour, with both altruistic and selfish perspectives: the altruistic is that it will make accessible some of the scenarios of the somewhat unapproachable R’lyeh. Unapproachable, because if you don’t know the games, it can be hard to know which game will be interesting for you to read. Also, it may kickstart a discussion of what constitutes a good scenario, something that is always worthwhile. The selfish perspective is this: that I get an incentive to read some scenarios, and someone to point me towards interesting games to read. It is eeexcellent!

What follows, then, is my review of the first scenario, Laaste Døre (“Locked Doors”) by Thomas Munkholt Sørensen – an oldie from 1994, chosen by Johannes. According to its Alexandria page, it won an Otto for Best Handout.

I have considered how to review the games so that it will be easy for me to do, and be of some use to the reader. I have decided to do it very systematically, dividing it up into a number of questions: “What is it?” (a brief description of the game), “What are the aesthetical qualities of the game?” (a fluffy description of my thoughts on the game as art – pretentious? Moi?), “What can we learn from this?” (what should gamewrights, and maybe players/gms as well, learn from this scenario?), “Who should play this?” and “What issues could I foresee with this game?”

And so, without any more ado, i give you…

A review of “Laaste Døre”

What is it?

Laaste Døre is a game about a group of people who are being made into scapegoats by the byzantine goverment of “the State,” the country in which they live. They are locked inside “the Department” until one of them confess to having comitted the theft of a certain, classified document. The game consists of the players trying to unearth each other’s secrets and save their own hide. Meanwhile, strange things are going on inside the building. The game quotes Kafka as a major inspiration – and it shows! The dehumanizing workings of the government come across as as inhuman and horrifying as a good, lovecraftian terror.

What are its aesthetical qualities?

I find the game to be quite an interesting read. It dumps the players into a dilemma with neither an easy nor a desirable exit, and provides the GM with means to keep up and escalate the creepy feelings the scenario lives off.

Also, the many strange occurences and the circuitous logic of the “Government” provides a surreal experience. In spite of this, the game will still seem like a coherent narrative to the players.

Apart from all that, the game document in itself is a very nice read. Nicely laid out, and with many apropriate pencil drawings, the language of the words themselves take you into their universe, making the GM feel it before even adding players. Very nice.

Who should play this?

Relatively experienced players and GMs are required for this game to succeed. The GM needs to be able to keep a very light grip on – or even let go of – the reins, and only intervene when the dynamics of the group require it. The players needs to be able to do intrigue, but should play, not to win, but to enjoy the bittersweet nectar of futility. If you’re playing this scenario, and your game has winners, you’re doing it wrong.

What issues do I see with the game?

  • The game has a very rudimentary system, with three numbered stats: the character’s loyalty to the state and their personal integrety are set on a scale, so that the sum of the two will always be 10. The character’s willpower represents their selfpreservation drive, and is supposed to be used by the GM as a way of forcing the players into gradual meltdown – a kind of safety valve against wrong players, I guess. However, the system doesn’t really explain what the effects of the system is supposed to be. How does one cave in? Why not just roleplay this – if you have a player who needs this to tell him his character is falling apart, can he play the meltdown anyway? And what are the effect of canges to your Loyalty/indviduality? The rules make no explicit explanation of this, and leaves you to work it out for yourself.
  • The game provides the Gm with inspiration for two kinds of little notes to slip the players – memories and suspicion. I guess it makes sense to ask the GM to write out suspicions themselves, as they can then take into consideration what has been going on in the particular instantiation of the scenario – but why not make preprinted handouts of memories that could just be cut out and handed out?
  • I’m not sure if the players will be able to figure out what the story of the game actually is. There is a detailed story in the GM section, which is the real story of what is going on. I don’t think the players will be able to piece this story together in play. If not, it’s a shame. I know that in some games, it’s best to keep players (and characters) somewhat in the dark, in order to rack up suspence. I just don’t think that is neccesary in this game.
  • The game asks the GM to set up the room as an imitation of the main location of the game, and encourages you to do things in semilive. It still has some scenes that are definitely to be done in a traditional P&P style, and it never discusses how, and when, best to go from one to the other. A luxury issue, I know – but still.
  • The game is apparently intended to run real time. But I think it may be stretching it a bit that this game is set to run for six hours. I’d say four to six. On the other hand, if the game is forcibly halted after six hours…

What can we learn from this?

Locked Doors can serve as example in a number of areas:

  • Write story text, even if it’s GM’s eyes only metatext, in a language appropriate to the feel of the scenario. This game is mostly written in a language that brings to mind the Kafkaesque universe we’re set in, and that makes it easy to get in the mood. Unfortunately, it breaks it a few times, and that also takes the top of the mood – but mostly, it’s good writing, and worth thinking about when you’re writing you own game.
  • Tell the GM how you imagine he should run the game. The game starts out with a relatively long description of the different roles of the GM – something I’ve sorely missed in many scenarios I’ve GM’ed at Fastaval. I wan’ you to hold my haaand. Very well done.
  • If you want a homebrewed system, fine – but remember to give us very specific instructions about what it should look like in action.

And so, this review is brought to a halt – finally! It’s been underway for many days now, and I’ve even recieved a very gentle prodding from Johannes as to the whereabouts of my review. Well, here it is. Now go play it – and tell me how it works in real life. The game certainly looks good enough to try.

Also read Morten Greis,’ Simon Pettitt’s and Frikard Ellemand’s – not to mention Johannes’ own. I’ve read none of them, as I believe reading other reviews would colour mine – and I want you to read my undiluted opinion. I might go back on it later, when I hear good arguments from the other readers, but for now, I stand by the above – even if it is, alas, not the best I feel I can do, but only the best I had time to do.

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6 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by johs on September 7, 2009 at 8:41 am

    …and that is how a review is done kids.

    Wow!

    Reply

  2. Posted by johs on September 7, 2009 at 8:42 am

    by the way: read Thais Munks review here http://thaismunk.wordpress.com/2009/09/06/lg-laaste-d%C3%B8re/ (in danish).

    Reply

  3. Posted by Kristoffer Apollo on September 8, 2009 at 1:24 pm

    On a historical note, regarding your comments on system, it’s important to note that Locked Doors is from 1994 and not 1995 or 1996. In those days, the Danish con scene was rapidly moving from traditional systems like Call or D&D towards the wave of ‘systemless’ that peaked around the millennium (systemless being a kind of system in itself, of course, but that’s not the point here). The transition stage were scenarios with scaled-down, not-much-used-in-play systems, often using Basic Roleplaying or Storyteller as framework. The simple system in Locked Doors is clearly inspired by the back-then hugely popular Storyteller games. Take a look at the scenario lists from Fastaval, and you’ll see an amazing increase in systemless scenarios from year to year in the 90s.

    I think it’s safe to assume that if Thomas had written Locked Doors a couple of years later, he would have ditched system altogether. Because, as you write, why not just roleplay it?

    Reply

  4. Posted by Kristoffer Apollo on September 8, 2009 at 1:36 pm

    Another note of interest on Locked Doors is that it exemplifies how progress is not necessarily recognized instantly. To me, Locked Doors is one of the scenarios that deserves to be called a classic of the Danish scenario tradition, hands-down, no discussion whatsoever. It’s one of the trend-setting intrigue scenarios, and a political scenario to boot (which you need to consider to fully appreciate it, as Johs has pointed out).

    But note that the scenario only received a single Otto nomination (for Handouts, which it won). Back then, the nominations were decided by gamemasters’ ratings, and it’s interesting that Locked Doors only received that single nomination, while Thomas’ other 1994 entry, the good but much more mainstream Werewolf scenario Welshbury Brook, was nominated in four of the five categories. I think that Locked Doors is obviously the better scenario of the two (even if Thomas himself disagrees :-)), but apparently not everyone fully appreciated it at the time.

    Reply

  5. […] Unik is rather quite unlike any of the other scenarios we’ve looked at in the Reading Group. Locked Doors may have left the resolution of the game firmly in the hands of the players, and the Mirrored […]

    Reply

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