Friday, April 15, 2016

Building the apocalypse out of your own fears

It is after the end. Civilization has collapsed. Everything has fallen apart. Your fears are all around you, threatening to destroy you and everything you hold dear. Yet, somehow, you keep clinging to hope and keep on trying to keep on moving forward.

The Last One is a post apocalyptic horror RPG designed for two players, one who will play the last one and one who will play the other, the cruel world that will to its uncaring best to snuff out the last one and their hope.

In addition to being designed for only two players, the Last One is also a short form, designed to be played out in seven scenes. It is also almost entirely narratively driven but has a fairly tight structure for that narrative.

The player begins by coming up with three fears, a hope, and a safe house that is the end goal for the last one. The other will use these things to come up with the world after the end.

An important idea is that the fears shouldn't be the fears of the character. They should be the fears of the player. Personally, I find that a big, bold idea. It's pretty obvious that the guy who designed The Last One wanted to make sure that it was an emotional gut punch to the player.   

There are two kinds of scenes in The Last One, After Scenes and Before Scenes. As the names suggest, they are either set before or after the apocalyptic event that ended the world as we know it.

In the seven scenes that will make up a game of The Last One, the After Scenes are the odd-numbered scenes. They are also the ones that have crucial choices that will impact the last one on their journey.

You see, both the player and the other are dealt seven cards at the start of each after After Scene. When the player wants to make a critical action, the player and the other lay one to two cards face down and simultaneously reveal. High card wins and that person gets their way.

It will always be the decision of the player to make a choice. The other cannot force them to make a choice but if the player chooses not to make a choice, then the other determines  the consequences of not making a choice. If you decide to not do anything when someone starts shooting at you, the consequences can be pretty extreme. I 

After three choices have been made, the other will resolve the scene and bring it to an end. The other isn't allowed to kill the last one or destroy their hope until the seventh and last scene. Every horrible thing short of killing them is fair game, though.

The even-numbered scenes are flashbacks that explore who the last one is, how they handled the end of the world and why their hope is important to them. There are no choices or other card play but the other gets to ask three tough, probing questions.

While the flashback scenes might not allow the other to do any harm to the last one or their hope, they definitely help with the whole character development and role-playing part of the game.

There are a number of things that I like about the Last One. In particular, I like how there is a lot of freedom while there is still a tight structure. The end of the world could be through disease or nuclear bombs or zombies or something else. The player's hope could be their child or lover or dream of freedom or their pet cat. And, of course, the fears can be anything.

At the same time, all of that will be explored in seven scenes that use the choices and questions to pace the scenes. Sometimes you need a framework to get the job done. 

At the same time, making the game all about the player's fears might be a bit much. That might cross the line between fun and engaging and go into disturbing.

I will admit that my absolute first choice for a short form or game for two players is Baker's Murderous Ghosts. It has a very interesting structure that definitely keeps the tension circling in upon itself, one way or another. The card play in Murderous Ghosts feels like it's much more tightly connected to the narrative. Plus, the danger and the horror are more immediate and visceral.  

The Last One explores horror in a completely different genre and fashion. With the flashback scenes, it becomes a more thoughtful and reflective way to deal with horror. Still, it is nice to have options and different views.

I do have to make one more note about The Last One. Each page was thematically  decorated with splatters the blood over the black lettering. Maybe it's because I'm colorblind but it was really hard for me to read.

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