Mar 202009

A little LARP for the Little Game Chef 2009 at Story Games.
Available only as a print-ready version (for reasons which will become obvious upon reading): Download a print-ready version

  3 Responses to “The Sea Worshippers”

  1. From feedback:

    Thanks for the feedback on The Sea Worshippers.

    – Ironically perhaps I don’t see this as at all immersive.
    Not everyone thinks engaging real-world skill or acting counts as immersion. But I think that’s all it takes, because I don’t also include the (muddier, more subjective) “willing suspension of disbelief” metric that others apply. But then again, I do boffer LARPs, so I may have a definitional bias.

    Also the end stakes are pretty low for a one-shot deal. One in seven dies? Big deal, I’ll roll those dice.
    So you wouldn’t be driven to be the least burned (exempt)? I guess I also took the theme too much to heart (what tribe can afford to sacrifice all but one, for a “standard” single-victor game conclusion?) and I play a LOT of Looney Labs games with single-loser structures. Heck it HAS a single victor: the exempt.

    And why “roll a die,” when you could use your actual skill at, oh, kitten-tossing?

    Whispering the secrets seems rather out of place: having screamed “I am not worthy!” at the top of my lungs, it’s quite a jump to reveal something personal: “By the way, I’m afraid I slept with one of your cats in a drunken moment”*.
    I must clarify the text, then, because you only scream IANW is you are in the process of burning a Trait–the time it takes you to say it is, literally, the burn timer; and the (lack of) air you have left limits you further, if you have to blow out the character sheet. It also informs the other players that you are taking a burn (folks might want to dog-pile, to make you the most burned, or they might start to notice who hasn’t done much worthiness screaming, who is likely the least burned).

    If you tell a deep dark secret, you DON’T have to perform a burn on any trait (avoiding a Head Trait Burn to get out of the challenge, or avoiding risking a Trait to retry).

    So, although there’s a sense of investment in the game, there’s little sense of being immersed in a fictional world or a character.
    Would it help if I ‘hung’ more on Heart of Hearts, like a motivation for choosing that person, which in turn become another way they could let you Burn your Heart out? For example, I could choose Andy becasue “he’s such a nice, out-going guy” and then be able to Burn the HoH out if (a) he Challenges me, regardless of outcome or (b) he does something un-nice or retreats antisocially from my approach? Put another way, the HoH stuff is supposed to fuel a bluffing element… and adding a Reason for HoH could provide another vector or motivation to behave “in character,” in a particular way, to provoke a reaction that allows a Heart Burn.

    (Any other game have “Heart Burn” as a headding? Hmm? Hmmm? …Didn’t THINK so….) 🙂

    It’s interesting. The secrets put me off playing. I like the player-on-player challenges, though.
    Better be good at the former, then, so you (a) don’t have to Burn and (b) thus don’t end up having to resort to telling a secret on every lost challenge after your sheet is burned out. You being put-off because of the secrets makes ME want to play it even more–work out of that comfort zone, bub.

    (Hey! Can I get a bonus point for bringing in a mechanical element which BREAKS the character immersion, because one tells a real-life secret?) 😉

    The character generation lacks a “gut” part for some reason, so the characters don’t have any appetites. This sort of reflects my main complaint, which is that the real-life part of the game steals the show and makes the fiction rather irrelevant.
    Would the idea of a (fictional) Reason for someone being one’s Heart of Hearts help this somewhat? My HoH is, in a way, an in-character weakness: you can’t Challenge (i.e. be proactive against) him or her, and you can’t vote to sacrifice him or her, until you’ve been Challenged. So it could also be an in-fiction “escape valve”–pick a behavior the other CHARACTER must exhibit, to break the HoH link… which makes for a metagame of trying to portray a character out of your own player type (which is what most folks would guess you’d do, to free them from HoH).

    And that’s got me thinking…. maybe the HoH is a reall hook–maybe it needs to be determined “in-character” during a preliminary (no-Challenges) phase, which allows for a lot of Survivor-like allegances and faking out others by acting one way in the prelim and another way (but NOT the opposite–the person who has you as HoH might be Sicilian!) once in-play.

    And you get cool situations where one person my be the HoH for several other players. 😀

    I have difficulty imagining how I’d play this game and care about the fiction while strategizing in the competition – the situation and setting are threadbare, it seems to me that the fiction is there just to allow the guy to participate in this competition. Or perhaps it’s a LARP and the enjoyment is supposed to come from funny accents or something.
    Again, i use a different meaning of immersion that you do; and so , yes, it’s a rules-light LARP. If one played in a boffer LARP that was equally rules-light, one would still see acting and very immersive play (frightened alone at night, etc) even though there’s NO setting per se (i.e. bog-standard high fantasy). The only exception is utter-rules-light “fest-style” battle games, which have very little acting beyond bellowing and reacting to the blow that puts you down (or to all blows).

    Anyhow… yeah, “sea” and “midnight” were tacked on–could have replaced with “volcano” and “noon” without changing much of the color of the game at all (i.e. none). Well, except the sacrifice by immersion in high tide bit.

    But, you know, this is what *I* call immersion: portraying a character (even a stick figure or a stereotype) and actually moving about and really DOing things to play that character (other than push resources around a table or roll dice–such “RPGs” seem more like board games than even the thinnest-setting LARP).

    Yeah, just a BIT defensive… but I feel a bit like I lost points for doing what the competition said: show what I think makes immersion. But, hey, I’m a System Doesn’t Matter (and Design What Doesn’t Matter) proponent, so I should be glad two out of three judges on this site “got” where I’d hung the immersion hooks and what I’d left to the portrayal (Monopoly has an utterly defined “setting and situation,” and yet I’ve never “role-played” while playing it).

    All that said–thanks for taking the time to write anything about TSW. I’d really appreciate responses or follow-ups for the few questions or redesign ideas I have above. Sorry so long….

  2. Reply by Eero Tuovinen:

    I have no problem with your having a different idea of immersion; it’s just that I didn’t get this idea from the game text, and neither did I see how the text supports this sort of immersion. What I do see, though, is that were I to play this game with my friends, I would be pretty focused on the terms of the game of Horse – what are the rules, how can I win, who can I win, that sort of thing. Seems to me that this utterly defeats the fiction in importance. It’s like playing football and pretending to be impressing a king with our display. Can be done, perhaps, but why isn’t just plain football fun enough?

    So I wouldn’t say that you lost points for a wrong definition of immersion – rather, you lost points in my eyes for not writing the text in such a manner that I would have understood what sort of immersion you were looking to achieve. Compare with Qualia, which is something I couldn’t imagine liking personally, but which left me with a robust theory of immersion (the sort it espouses) as well as tools for working with it.

    But it’s basically true that I have little experience in this sort of roleplaying, so there’s no need to take my opinion as anything but misinformed. Not everybody needs to like everything.

    As for your suggestion: yes, having some fictional backstory would definitely improve the chances for the players making decisions based on the fiction as opposed to the rules of the elimination game. Some sort of character history in general would be good; flashback rules (backed up by some sort of mechanical rewards for using them) would help even more. The fictional situation in the game is pretty bland as is, but it could be made to work if the characters stuck in it had relationships or personal history that came to the foreground through the proceedings. As it stands, I don’t see in the game anywhere a spot where the fiction actually has an impact on the proceedings. It’s merely a flavour element, just like in a boardgame. Not an inherent problem for the game’s quality, of course, but it doesn’t make this much of a roleplaying game.

  3. Critiques at


    The assigned critics still have lots of time, but I saw some games down at the bottom of the list awaiting some feedback and decided to give them a look.

    Sea Worshippers struck me as a bit focused on its schtick, the burning of the character sheet. As a contest entry the innovation has surprise going for it. As a regular game, it’s not enough to sustain interest. So, what could be done to give the game a bit more?

    The premise of the game sets up an interesting conflict. The human sacrifice would be surrounded by a great deal of ideology pushed upon them to accept their fate. At the same time, they don’t want to die. That struggle could be really interesting. The other direction would be to make the game a bit more of a beer and pretzels game, not completely wacky, but lighthearted. The game mechanics already work a bit like chicken (I dare you!), which fits well with this approach. I suspect the latter approach is more what you were going for anyways.

    The suggestion that avoiding a challenge could result in the player revealing a personal secret may seem like a way to get people invested in the game, but because that secret does not necessarily relate thematically to the game it actually pulls people out of the game instead, or makes them not want to play altogether. Still, some sort of dare between players could fit.

    Thanks for the feedback.
    I am thinking of a couple of things to make more “character” than Traits and a (ATM) arbitrary Heart of Hearts: Say why someone else’s CHARACTER is your HOH; if that players acts contrary to this Reason why, then you may Burn out your Heart of Hearts, whether he or she has Challenged you or not.

    I think that amps up the bluffing aspects of character portrayal (act in a way designed to provoke a badwrong responses, freeing you from HoH limitations) AND it makes people act as characters out of their type (e.g. if we all know you portray tough-guy characters a lot, we can pick Reasons like “he’s so timid” or “he’s such a gentleman” and then get out of the HoH limitation when you do your typical thing).

    Yes, telling a real secret breaks immersion a bit–glad you caught that. Because you know you ARE immersed when you have run out of *fictional* things to risk Burning and you’re starting to have to tell *real life* secrets. Man, you wish you were still “in-character,” talking BS about how being “strong like a gorilla” gives you a reason to retry a Challenge, not having to tell a secret just to get OUT of a failed Challenge. How many secrets have you got, and to whom will you be willing to tell them (which are the only folks that you are “safe” to Challenge)? Immersed in your own, real-life relationships!

    Is it “immersed” in a fictional space? No, not really… was that required? No, not really–no One True Definition of immersion was applied (or else they’d choose the synonym which more-completely means that single connotation). I don’t mean to sound defensive (too late, I’m sure) but I am not trying to make a “emo, indie, dirty-hippie, NAR” game (and, thus, I didn’t win at SG–no surprise, but no matter either). I don’t need a “struggle” between ideology, loyalty, and self-interest. Rather, I’m trying to make more of a parlor LARP meets make-your-own character game (rare for small-scale LARP) in which one DOes most “conflict resolution” rather than STATs it out or spends out-of-fiction resources in some manner.

    Thanks for taking the time to read and give your impressions!
    David Artman

    Critque of The Sea Worshippers

    It seems clear that The Sea Worshippers aims to acheive immersion by focusing the players on real-world competitive tasks and social maneuvering. It looks rather like Survivor: The LARP.

    The primary strategy for immersion is parellelism. The characters must prove themselves to their fellows, and so must the players. Concrete tasks that result in acute embarrassment if failed serve to keep players focused on the trials and dire consequences that their characters face on the island. Keeping both challenges–the HORSE mechanic is simple, immediate, and grabby–and consequences–burning the character sheet is an extreme design choice, but it fits with the straightforward, concrete nature of the game–tactile and social provides an excellent parallel between the imagined and real worlds.

    A potential hinderance to immersion is that the players will likely be facing challenges that can be staged in the modern world, while their characters face fictional challenges appropriate to an isolated island tribe. This cognitive disconnect could prove jarring and strain the sense of immersion. Players will need to focus on “I need to do well at this challenge, but not SO well that I offend other players, AND I need to keep in mind what fictional challenge my character is facing.”

    Also, it seems like there will be little development of the game’s fictional content. I imagine the real world competitiveness and maneuvering will quickly overwhelm the vaguely delineated island tribe color. An avenue for development might be to dump the island imagery entirely and make this a real-world or alternate-reality game.

    Groups also tend to form pecking orders quickly. You might have an obvious loser well before the time limit is up, which won’t be much fun for anybody.

    I liked how you saved space by making the heads gray and allowing them to overlap the text. Clever!

    You mention a game potentially taking four hours. I doubt it would take half that long. Since challenges only ever involve two players at a time, I imagine several will be running at the same time.

    The character sheet, particularly the palm trees, are very cool. I found myself wishing the body diagram were more Polynesian-themed, though.

    Personally, I liked the spunk and simplicity of The Sea Worshippers. However, I’ve got to wonder if a game about ostracism is really worthwhile.

    Matthew SB

    Feedback for The Sea Worshipers

    I’d like to preface my feedback by saying I have not played in a larp, so some of my feedback may be reflecting an inaccurate understanding of how that form plays out.

    The Sea Worshipers seems to be a moderate scale (6+ players) larp with a focus on involving the players’ own person in the play. The game makes the destruction of the character sheet with fire part of game play, which is a nice visceral touch.

    The initial situation feels surprisingly flat, given that death is on the line for one of the characters by the end. The expectation that at midnight we’ll be choosing someone to sacrifice is punchy, but I didn’t feel enough of a connection to the tribe or their social context(?).

    Writing traits on corresponding body part shapes on the character sheet is fairly evocative, and brings to mind the idea that these traits actually reside in the body part in question. At the same time, I think some focusing guidance might be needed in trait select. For example, with a minimum of 12 “arm” traits in the game, those being descriptors of [strength, dexterity or tool making/use], I would imagine there would be a fair bit of overused trait descriptions. I would suggest character creation be done as a group activity, so the groups creativity and encouragement will make for more dynamic traits. The spaces are large enough that it may be worth writing in a sentence recalling how the trait helped one of the other tribe members, which might give the characters some valuable relative positioning.

    The Heart of Hearts caught my attention; I was quite taken with the idea that each character has another tribe member they hold in their secret heart. Especially with the potential of that trait being burnt out and the dramatic repercussions therein. The actual use of the Heart was a little disappointing: not being able to challenge them is not a bad start, and burning out your heart if they challenge you is OK too. But this Heart of Hearts seems like it should be a much bigger deal than just not being able to challenge or vote to sacrifice the character. And burning out the Heart does not have any implied repercussions in the game, other than now being able to vote for your former heart. I would definitely suggest looking to make that feature more integrated in the system. For one thing, there is a slim possibility that two characters will have each other as their Heart of Hearts. This case is not covered in the rules at all, and in a strict following may not even be realized since they will never challenge each other and don’t otherwise reveal their Heart. Perhaps there could be a special victory condition for this case?

    Initially I wasn’t very taken with the challenge structure, taking the HORSE analog at face value. The example challenges don’t help much, two of them being pretty much the same physical act of HORSE, the third being a task that will always have one winner and one looser(fastest to drink something). The rules might want to be clearer on the nature of the challenge, if it needs to be something both sides can fail or not. I see a lot more potential, however, when imagining actual challenges in play. Each player will be trying to angle for challenges that favor their skills and abilities, be those physical, mental, social, whatever. I like the burning of traits, but can’t imagine anyone electing to instead tell another person one of their deepest darkest most embarrassing secrets. Anything anyone is going to choose to reveal to keep from burning part of their character sheet in a one-shot game is *not* going to be a secret all that deeply held, I think. The secret telling combined with the challenge making puts me more in mind of “Truth or Dare” than HORSE, really. I’m not convinced that is a bad thing, really. There might be more traction with instead of having the loser maybe reveal some allegedly dark secret, if instead they have to submit to a Truth challenge from the winner, like in Truth or Dare?

    It is unclear what is occurring in the game in the four hours between character creation and voting, besides challenges. Presumably there is milling about, eating, talking in character and lots of sex? Maybe it isn’t needed to mention any of that in the rules, but the rest of the game seems conspicuously absent.

    The one part of the game I’m not that into is the voting at the end of the game. The previous four hours of play have been focused on challenges, and whether or not to burn your traits. Then in the end game it seems all that was without a purpose. The challenges that were presented as being to curry admiration don’t have a system effect other than burns on the sheet. And burns on the sheet have barely any system effect either. The character with the fewest burns has immunity, but otherwise the burns are only used as a tiebreaker in the vote for who dies. Perhaps the main game rules are a fake-out, with the important part of the game occurring in-between challenges and in the reactions players have to the challenges other players use to get advantage.

    The focused small scale larp aspect of the game is somewhat appealing, to my non-larp self. If I felt more confident how the game actually played, I could see getting six peeps together and try playing How to Host a Sacrifice.