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Shogun review
steveh123steveh123 28 Feb 2020 19:46
in discussion Hidden / Per page discussions » Shogun

My review of Shogun is here: Shogun


Shogun review by steveh123steveh123, 28 Feb 2020 19:46

I've since covered this in more detail in this post on my blog: Crime and Punishment in Freeforms


I have since learned that the brothel was a victim of the reduced player numbers - originally there was to be a brothel with lots of girls, which would have made it more interesting.

However, I think the issue about the character conflict still holds, and it's something I'm paying more attention to.


by steveh123steveh123, 12 Aug 2015 16:19

A review of the run of the game I participated in:

Here are some extra bits created for the game: a soundtrack of tornado noise, and an advertising poster in various formats. All from CC licenced material and so free to use.

Extra material for Small Town Folks

Thanks to Idiot/Savant for these.


I'm barely awake again, and already Steve's posted a detailed analysis. I'll have to step up my game.

Since I had the good fortune to play in those games you missed, I'm throwing in my comments:

  • The Saga of the Lost - a very promising game of Vikings, bloodshed, sagas and mythology. It felt like a nice (and easily playable) new take on a familiar style of storytelling. Would love to see run.
  • Burning Orchid - a beautiful game about intimacy. I've rarely felt so immersed in character's internal lives, and never seen a workshop game so immediately ready to run as-is. (Special thanks to Roger, for all those little bits of character interaction and body language that made my game click so well.)

Organising the games is always tricky, especially where player numbers are concerned - it's easy to design games that exceed the available playtesters. And it's essentially impossible to guarantee that groups write games that playtest well opposite each other.

I'm not sure there *is* any good solution to this problem; every year is going to be different. I'd love to hear some ideas about how to handle player shortfall - I'd suggest that any writing team that's going over 12 should be expressly warned to prepare the playtest, if not the final game, to be missing some characters.

- Daniel

P.S. Foodle was *great* fun to GM. As was that entire game; my thanks again to all players.

Post-Peaky comments by TynamTynam, 27 Apr 2015 20:37

I posted a link to this review on the UK-Freeforms Facebook group and I was challenged on my use of the word "fun" in criticising the larps. I didn't defend myself very well, but Petter Olsen, in an unrelated post on the UK-Freeforms mailing list, put it much better:

"As I see it, there is a different feeling in the Nordic groups and in the Nordic LARPs. While there are exceptions to this, it seems to me that the Nordic LARP writers and players take LARP more seriously. My limited experience with UK freeforms (25-35 games or so) is that while there may be angst, drama and conflict, they are mainly written for fun and entertainment; at least you're supposed to look back on them after they have finished and think "That was fun!". From my even more limited experience with Nordic LARPs it is quite often the other way round there. The main goal is often the learning, the experience, the immersion; not the entertainment. Fun may occasionally be had, but as a sort of side effect."


Nordic Larps, and fun by steveh123steveh123, 30 Nov 2013 14:26

Larps from the Factory has made me think about how we publish the Peaky freeforms. Here are some thoughts, mainly around the model of how we publish our games.

  • Larps from the Factory is very good value at 23 larps for 15 euros (pdf).
  • Larps from the Factory is much prettier than our books, but they had help from a publisher. (However, the downloadable material is nothing to get excited about in terms of layout.)
  • The games aren't perfect. Cafe Rene has, from what I can see, only been run once. Oh Dear! We Seem To Have Run Out of Time needs characters adding. So the games haven't necessarily been extensively playtested - they're presented as the games that were run.
  • I like the idea of rules that explain how the players are supposed to behave, not purely mechanical stuff.

So we could change our approach and present a volume of games from Peaky. The purchasable bit would contain the instructions and the stuff that the GM needs, while the downloadable stuff would be the character sheets, handouts and so on. (I think I'd hide them behind a password rather than make them available to the world, however.)

I think a key lesson is that not everything has to be perfect. We tend to be perfectionists, wanting the games to be the best they can before releasing them into the wild (and I’m as bad as anyone). But Larps from the Factory shows that it doesn’t need to be like that. So we could, for example, just tidy up the games (correct blatant errors and the like) and put them out there for the world to enjoy.

That should lead to a quicker turnaround as the games won’t need so much work. And of course we’d only do that for the games that we’re not planning on developing further. If a game is getting developed, then develop away!

(I don’t think I’d fill the book with just the stuff we haven’t developed. Like Larps from the Factory, it probably ought to be a mixture.)

It would also be nice to make beautiful books, but that requires better design skills than I have.

I can envisage publishing a collection of 10 freeforms for about £15 as a pdf. I think that has promise and is worth discussing.

(And if we include the US Peaky, we’ve written 50 games since Peaky started in 2001!)


It was very interesting writing a game for the first time, and several excellent ideas came out of the post game discussion. I have to say that I agree that keeping the game 'character sheet light' while giving the players more guidance is an excellent aim, and adopting some of the mechanism for doing so from Blackpool feels like an excellent idea. I like a game where I get to build the character rather than being given screeds of stuff to read through, and certainly for a short game, this feels like the right way forward. If we ever develop it into a full weekend long game, obviously a great deal more characterization and a lot more background will need to be given, but in a 3-4 hour game, adding a few more players, some more tasks, and a mechanism for them to develop their own characters quickly, we could have a great deal of fun. And one of the first things I want to do in that direction is feed the rumours in one at a time rather than dish them all out in the packs, and get the letters delivered during play rather than at the start.

Tym and I have already discussed several ways of adding characters, and the three three of us writers already have a modular element in the wings that will make an 'expansion pack' easy for larger groups. We already have plans for the re-write, so anything you can add to that from the notes you took in the debrief will be very welcome, Steve.

As a player, I didn't find the lack of characterization difficult, but that may have as much to do with my personal preferences (I love the way I get to build my character for PD's Empire, for example, where I get to choose a nation, then a job, and then a specialty within that job, and then get to do things because of that job and that nation, and because of which group I join within my nation and within my speciality: I get both to write the history of the character and then build them a career path, but it does take years!) and partly from having helped to write it so I knew where we were going with it. Being allowed to have some input on my character's preferences, loyalties, history and personality is a Good Thing for me. I know it doesn't suit everyone, but that's why we develop different games with different philosophies.

And Blackpool was a blast!

by Kate DiceyKate Dicey, 30 Apr 2013 08:25

Those both sound like excellent and simple ideas for adding depth and interest to Venice – much better than spending a load of time writing character detail and turning it into a more 'normal' freeform.

Part of our intention in What Happened in Blackpool was to give some autonomy to players, to make them feel they 'owned' their characters rather than havng been dictated to. We designed that first, then had to think up a game skeleton that would work underneath it. You're in the opposite position — you already have a good game skeleton that has shown itself working well. So you're ideally placed to give players a thoroughly fulfilling experience by providing mechanisms like these for them to put flesh on it via their own decisions.

Good ideas by Mo_EpicMo_Epic, 29 Apr 2013 19:34

Yes, although to be fair, I think the problem was with the revolution minigame rather than the tape map itself. (In the UK the revolution had it's own problems, unrelated to the tape map.)


The Tape Map by steveh123steveh123, 15 Apr 2013 20:08

In a different run of this game, I heard several complaints about the tape map during the revolution minigame. While playing a real-space board game sounds like a good idea, in practice, for those individuals who are guarding areas and thus not moving around, this seemed to be an epic waste of time.

Be careful to remember if you design a mechanic that involves the whole game. I think it's a good idea to have a peak of action, but not every player necessarily wants to watch everything go down, especially if they are in a war game, and don't have combat skills.

Response: Tape Map by blipblopblipblop, 14 Apr 2013 23:11

I know that some authors write all their plots in bullet format (my Step 2 above) and then splice them into the characters.

Then once they've done that, they write their character information in one go. The advantage of that is that you can give the characters a consistent voice.


Another way of doing it... by steveh123steveh123, 25 Jan 2013 20:39

I played this one at Grand Tribunal 2012 in Cheltenham and had a good time. My pet hate in Ars Magica freeforms is Tribunal based games, where a strong Aegis of the Hearth prevents any spell casting and it can all too easily become an extended committee meeting. Mark's game avoided these pitfalls, and while fairly bloodless and political, proved highly entertaining. Hope to see this run again. ~CJ

Enjoyable game by cj23cj23, 21 Aug 2012 17:25

Oh and using track changes doesn't work well if you have someone using open office or a Mac

by queenortartqueenortart, 28 May 2012 10:19
  1. Make sure your tech works (including printers) on Saturday morning- don't wait till 2100 saturday night to install printer drivers - you would think after 12 years I'd have got this one sorted!
  2. Decide how you will handle version control before you start writing which leads to:
  3. Decide what format you will save things in (rtf, word (and what version))
  4. Sort out web access, think about Dropbox, Google Docs etc
  5. Decide on how you will write character sheets second person / third person / mixture
  6. Get your character sheets filled in as bullet points to get them written - you can write loving prose later on
  7. When it comes to playtests suck it up and play what you've given. Let other people make mistakes. Ignore the plotholes you could drive a bulldozer through, but give nice feedback
  8. Behave like adults around other people, they are all as tired as you are and tempers may be short

Steve added to my email

9. Receive comments and constructive criticism with good grace.

by queenortartqueenortart, 28 May 2012 09:33

I'm not sure I agree with Graham's tip about the number of characters in a game. At least, not for a first Peaky.

For your first Peaky I would create a game for the other writing groups (and the cook). That way you know exactly how many people you're writing for, and everyone gets two games to play on the Sunday. Everyone also gets to see their game run (even if they don't actively GM it) - a key part of the learning process.


Having just finished revisiting The Highgate Club, here's the post-Peaky writing process as I see it.

1 Collect all feedback
2 Agree workload
3 Improve game
3a Go through the feedback and beef up the existing plots
3b Create new plots
3c Enhance the weaker characters
3d Create new characters
4 Proofread plots
5 Assemble character sheets and other files
6 Print
7 Playtest again!

1 Collect all the feedback

This usually consists of a mixture of run-time notes, and direct feedback from players. If you're lucky, players will email you with their thoughts.

As far as Peaky goes, the best place for getting some of that feedback is simply talking to people on the Sunday evening.

2 Agree workload and decide how you're going to manage the files

Before you can start improving the game, you need to agree who is going to do what. Who is going to tackle which plots or characters? You also need to decide who is going to resolve any disagreements. At some point you will disagree, and if you can't come to some kind of amicable arrangement then someone needs to have the authority to decide.

In my experience, what tends to happen is that one person will take the lead on improving the game and they will drive in the process. They then become the de facto leader.

(If you're not going to get involved in the post-writing process, you must let go. If you're not putting the effort in to improve the game, you don't have a right to criticise if the game moves away from your vision. It's bound to change - that's the nature of the rewrite.)

If you're doing this as a group, you'll need some sort of collaborative working tool. There are lots of options - from wikis to googledocs to hosting shared files. Just choose something that you're happy with as a group. You will need some kind of collaborative working tool because as you edit one plot, you'll realise that you also need to make an amendment to another plot - which means you'll need easy access to the files.

The other thing that's really, really useful is some kind of deadline. If you don't have a deadline, it's easy to put everything off. But having a deadline for when the game needs to be ready (such as an upcoming convention you've committed to) really, really helps.

And with a deadline, I put in place a series of milestones by when things needed to be completed by, so that we knew we were making progress.

As far as The Highgate Club goes, I took the lead. We used Googledocs, although that wasn't perfect (one of the writers had to create a new account just for The Highgate Club as his existing account didn't work for some reason). Our deadline was Consequences, about 6 months after Peaky (so we had to get a move on).

3 Improve game

If you have followed the Freeform Writing Process in creating your freeform, then I recommend going back to the plots. I find it much easier to improve a game and plug the holes by working on the plots rather than tinkering directly with the characters. Amending the plots makes it much easier to make large changes to characters - and it also makes it easy to weave new characters into the game.

(Note - if you didn't use freeform writing process, this might not work. I'd love to hear about your approach!)

Change log: I also recommend encouraging that everyone follows the discipline of updating a change log - a journal of the amendments made as the rewriting progresses. This is because it's not always clear what changes have been made, nor why. At Peaky you can just shout across the room to find out why someone has made a particular change - that's not so easy post-Peaky, and a change log is one way of managing changes.

Here's an example of one I set up for The Highgate Club.

  • Date: 6 June 2010
  • Who: Steve
  • What: Edited P02 Circle Elections.
  • Why: Gave the inner circles more responsibilities so moved a couple of characters around. Added a schedule for when elections happen. In part addressing some of the comments in the feedback. I've also added some ritual/ceremony to the proceedings
  • Date: 26 May 2010
  • Who: Steve
  • What: Amended the intro text on setting to make it clearer that everyone is weird (or "special") somehow.
  • Why: See Kath's feedback (also some of Helen's).

I've split the different types of improvement into four:

3a Beef up the existing plots
3b Create new plots
3c Enhance the weaker characters
3d Create new characters

They can happen in any order (and probably take place at the same time).

3a Beef up the existing plots

It's a rare plot written at Peaky that doesn't need some kind of beefing up or expanding. The approach I take is basically this:

You can use the feedback to identify weak areas in plots as well - but do treat any feedback with caution. Just because something didn't turn out as expected doesn't mean that it was badly written - it may just have been how that game was played.

3b New plots

Sometimes need to add a new plot, sometimes because things become obvious as the re-write progresses. For example, in The Highgate Club it made sense to have a joining-the-club plot to cover when people joined and how they joined, and another plot for where the club's collection of weird artefacts was held.

New plots are written in the same way that the original plots were.

3c Weaker characters

Something I rarely have time to address at Peaky is sorting out the weaker characters. Post-Peaky, there's no excuse.

For The Highgate Club we've been using the trusty plot matrix. You can read more about the plot matrix in the Freeform Writing Process

3d New characters

It's always easiest to add new characters at the plot-writing stage when they can be incorporated into the existing plots in the same way as the other characters.

We added one new character in The Highgate Club. There were lots of ideas for adding more, but we ran out of time before the next run.

(An aside, my experience from The Highgate Club is that if you let just one person do most of the work, it's then very hard for others to contribute meaningfully as they don't know what's going on in that person's head. Even with the change log, it's not easy. So you may need to accept that one person is going to do most of the work and live with it. If you can't accept that, then you need to make sure that you're actively contributing so that you don't get left behind.)

4 Proofread plots

Once the plots are complete, they need proofreading. Here are some tips for this:

  • Proofreading needs to be done by other people - it's very difficult to proofread your own work.
  • As the proofreaders will often have been on the original writing team, they should expect changes. During editing it is inevitable that the plots will twist and turn away from the original work (hopefully whilst retaining the original intent).
  • If a proofreader spots a small or obvious mistake, they should just correct it. (If you're using some kind of collaborative tool then you can track those changes anyway.)
  • If a proofreader spots something tricker, then they should go back to the author and ask.

This stage doesn't have to take too long - we allowed a week for The Highgate Club.

(And I have to say at this point Googledocs was brilliant for this.)

5 Assemble characters and other files

Once proofreading is complete, then you can start assembling characters and other files. This is done exactly as in Peaky - copy the relevant section from the plot file and paste it into the appropriate file (character file, or contingency envelope file, or whatever).

(It's a bit of a drag to this - I look forward to the day that someone knocks together something that will do this bit for me!)

Once that's done, review each character to make sure that their character sheet flows properly. You may find that a little bit of rewriting is needed to make the character sheet flow. You may also find that plot information is contradictory (eg a character may need to be in two places at the same time for two different plots). As a result, you may need to revisit the plots to sort out any inconsistencies.

(It's best to do this now, while you remember. Otherwise you run the risk of forgetting to amend the plots with the result that for the next iteration of the game, you have the same problem.)

Once you've assembled the characters, another round of proofreading doesn't hurt.

For The Highgate Club, this is the list of files we had

  • Character sheets
  • Information sheets (of different sorts)
  • The cast list
  • Contingency envelopes
  • GM Handouts
  • Timeline
  • GM plot summaries
  • Items
  • Name badges
  • Currency

6 Print

One of the nice things about Googledocs is that you can print directly from it. It's fine for most purposes. If you need complex layout, or weird fonts, then you'll have to export everything into some other software. But for most freeforms, Googledocs should be fine.

The only things that didn't work were the item cards and name badges - so they had to be sorted out outside.

7 Playtest again

As I'm not attending Consequences (I will get there one year, I promise), I handed over the files to those that were running the game.

But, once we get feedback then we'll return to step 1 and start the process again.


This is a tip I wrote for our authors at Freeform Games

Writing Goals

Goals are simply a list of objectives for the players to try and achieve as part of the murder mystery. You should aim to give each character at least four goals.

Goals follow the background information in our character sheets, and should reinforce and re-emphasise that background. A goal should never introduce something new.

(In our older games, goals sometimes referred to information that was provided in a character's Other People section. That's because the layout of the character sheet had the Other People appearing first. Now that the goals follow directly on from the background, anything that you want to include as a goal must be in the background.)

Not everything in a character's background needs a formal goal. In particular, goals are only stated if the character is expecting to resolve them during the party — you should not include goals that will only become apparent during the course of the game (even though they might be achieved anyway). An example:

The Sheriff of Nottingham's sworn enemy is Robin Hood. However, because the Sheriff doesn't know that Robin will be present at the Silver Arrow Competition (setting for "A Mediaeval Murder"), that goal isn't listed on his character sheet. So the Sheriff's character sheet needs to be written such that if he were were to discover Robin at the competition, he will quickly realize that he should try and arrest him (even though he doesn't have that specific goal listed). This might be done by, for example, at the end of the background para that talks about his enmity with Robin "… you would dearly love to arrest Robin Hood, if only you could catch him. But so far you have never had the opportunity to lay your hands upon his thieving carcass."

If, on the other hand, the Sheriff of Nottingham had good reason to expect Robin to be present at the competition and was planning to arrest him, then that would be a suitable goal. The background might say "… your informant told you that Robin would be here at the competition, in disguise", and then the goal would be "Arrest Robin Hood: find out which of the competitors is actually Robin Hood in disguise, and arrest him."


  • Goals should remind/reemphasise why a character is present at the murder mystery.
  • Goals must be directly relevant to the event
  • Goals should not include life goals, unless the character is present expressly to try and achieve those goals.
  • Formatting: Goals should be formatted with a summary in bold, followed by a sentence or two of explanation. (A bit like this bullet point, in fact.)


Writing Goals by steveh123steveh123, 28 Jul 2010 19:51

I think these count as costuming - or possibly just props…

Anyway, for the right freeform, these are awesome:


Passport notebooks by steveh123steveh123, 10 Jun 2010 18:10
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