I met friends Candace and Unique at our biweekly Indie RPG Night, but a few hours early. We’ve started a tradition of trying to make it early, if possible, and get some bonus gaming in. This also lets us explore some games with lower stakes, and possibly smaller player numbers. For example we used this time slot in the past to run a game of Star Crossed.
At this particular session, we talked about a few possibilities, but decided on Lucian Khan’s Dead Friend, which I had printed out earlier that day, in case of two-player RPG goodness. In this case, I ended up facilitating the game for Candace and Unique, and it was a fantastic experience. I will say how easy it is to play or facilitate this game. I had never read the instructions before, but we just read it as we played, and - being someone who loves cheat sheets and simplified instructions - this game just does it right. It’s got ritual movements and phrases and steps that are outlined perfectly, and can be played off the cuff without prior preparation. I’m impressed.
A carnival summoning
The game starts with setting a scene (we went with 1950’s carnival in rural Kansas), and creating the characters. The two players separately, and eerily, came up with the names Lilly and Lolly… already a creepy start. One player plays The Living - the person who will summon, the other plays The Dead - the one being summoned.
You choose on of a number of frameworks, and we went with one where the Living is trying to bring the Dead to life, and the Dead trying to kill the Living. In our case, Lolly was simply trying to be together with her living friend, and there was nothing inherently nefarious about the motivation.
The players in this case were great, each having some unique personalities and role playing methods, and the story just unfolded beautifully. Like some well-formed story games, there are a ton of great scene prompts, and an order of operation that just slowly reveals the setting, other characters, and eventually moves you towards the death of the main character and the motivations that drive them both. The end was creepy, and dark, but also sort of moving, and filled with frienemy love.
One aspect I enjoyed was when a player needed time to think of how to approach the scene. The game invites silence during these times, and it very definitely informs the mood to sit there and allow the seance to feel creepy and still.
Another great aspect to the game was the nature of the exposition. Scenes did not appear to be role played back and forth in dialog… instead the game allows one player to take control of the narrative - without inviting any dialog from the other player - until they are done and then it goes back to the other. We stuck to this format even in the final scene when the two are reunited, as the instructions seem to preserve this structure. It worked exceedingly well in making the two characters really isolated from each other by this huge barrier between life and death.
Although I didn’t technically play the game, it was fully satisfying just to watch it unfold, which says a lot for an RPG. Now I just can’t wait to play!
I can’t really think of anything I’d improve with this game, other than trying to ensure a great setting (the Game Haus Cafe had background noise and too much light). If you are playing this face-to-face, I highly recommend setting the mood, if possible. Tea lights, a dark room with no interfering sound, phones put away an on silent. It will definitely elevate the game to the next level.
The game is pay-what-you-want with a suggested cost of $3. It’s a steal!