Peaky 2013, Venice, and What Happened in Blackpool

Steve Hatherley

For me, Peaky 2013 was the best Peaky for a few years. Possibly even Best Peaky Ever. Not everything went according to plan (we had three late drop outs) but we pulled through in spite of everything.

Our writing group consisted of me, Kate Dicey and Tim Norris and we wrote Venice. We had help from Debbie Hollingsworth on the Friday night, before she dropped out Saturday morning.

Most Peaky games are written for small numbers of players, typically 10-12. That’s a function of the size of Peaky – with 30 writers we end up with six groups of five writers each. In order to play all the games on Sunday we end up with games running simultaneously which means that there are only about 10 players available to play your game. (We’ve talked about how to overcome this, but it’s not easy and ultimately results in a group that doesn’t run something, which may be frustrating for some.)

Anyway, I’ve wanted to write a bigger game for a while. In 2011 and 2012 I co-wrote Pirate Island and Trick or Treat, two 30 minute games that everyone played. They were a mixed success. Successful in that the experiment worked and we achieved what we set out to do; but the games didn’t suit everyone as they’re not “proper” freeforms with characters. But they made me wonder whether it was possible to write a bigger game using some of those techniques.

So this year Kate, Tym and I wrote Venice, a game where five powerful families rule sixteenth century Venice. It’s a game of arranged marriages, politics, secret societies, and star-crossed lovers. We wrote it for 15 players, aware that we would either have to play some of the characters ourselves or somehow combine some for the Sunday run. (With another writer or two we could easily have written it for 25 players, but we didn’t have that number available to us.)

Venice is not a game with deep characterisation: it had almost none. Partly that was because it wasn’t that sort of game but also because with only three writers we didn’t get to do as much characterisation as we might have. I don’t believe it needs deep characters (it’s a game of politics and negotiation), but it does need a bit more than we had time to write.

(One advantage of this type of game is that it’s quite easy for the writers to play. There weren’t that many game secrets – everything else is about negotiating to get the goal you want. So Kate and Tym played while I was the GM, and I believe they had a great time.)

I ran the game and from what I can tell most people were occupied for a full 90 minutes before it ran out of steam and I wound everything up. I’m very happy with how it played, particularly given that we only had three writers.

However, the family feuds didn’t work. Each family had two allies, and two rivals. As with Romeo and Juliet, we didn’t explain what the feud was about. As a result, the feuds weren’t that important to the players and we didn’t much of a sense of rivalry. I’ve found that this is fairly common in freeforms as the player’s desire to cooperate often overwhelms rivalries and feuds built into the game background.

After our game we played Mo/Cat/Traci/Heidi/Ali’s experimental game What Happened in Blackpool which I can only describe as Fiasco/Hillfolk for freeforms. It was fabulous, pretty much GM-less and I hope they don’t change it. It was also very thought provoking and made me think of two simple ideas that I would like to try for Venice.

More personal feuds

The first thing I’d like to do is get the players to personalise the feuds. The way I would do it is this:

  1. After everyone has read their character sheets, gather everyone together in their houses.
  2. Give them a couple of minutes to think of reasons they might hate their rivals.
  3. Starting with one house, get the head of that house to publicly state “I hate the Montagues because…”
  4. Then the head of the Montague house states, “I hate the Capulets because…” (which may be related to the first reason, or something completely different).
  5. The Montague house then states their feud with the other family.
  6. Continue until we end back up at the Montagues.

This means that feuds are publicly declared – everyone knows what they are. The players are also committed because they’ve decided what those feuds are, and can roleplay accordingly.

I’d be very interested in seeing how that would change the game.

Loyalty cards

One of the problems of this kind of freeform is trying to prioritise your goals. Characters will have to juggle between personal goals, family goals, society goals and position goals. So what we tried in Venice was loyalty cards. We gave everyone one of the following loyalty cards, the idea being that when their goals were in conflict, the loyalty card would override everything.

My inspiration for this is this line by Tywin Lannister in Season 1 of Game of Thrones: “It's the family name that lives on. That's all that lives on. Not your personal glory, not your honor, but family.” I’ve only rarely seen that expressed in a freeform, and it’s something I wanted to capture.

Here are the loyalty cards we used:

  • Your primary loyalty is to your family: people come and go but the family endures. All other goals are secondary to ensuring that your family does not lose its status in Venice.
  • Your primary loyalty is to another player (you decide whom – write their name below): you would willingly sacrifice everything for them.
  • Your primary loyalty is to yourself: all other goals are secondary to ensuring that you rise to the top.
  • Your primary loyalty is to Venice: families and people will come and go, but Venice endures. All other goals are secondary to ensuring Venice’s safety and prosperity.

(You might note that there isn’t a secret society loyalty card. That was deliberate: I’ve noticed that secret societies in freeforms often trump all other loyalties and rivalries, and that was something I wanted to avoid.)

The cards were a mixed success. We assigned them randomly, and the players didn’t always fully appreciate what we were trying to do. That’s not their fault - we didn’t explain it properly.

So inspired by What Happened in Blackpool, this is the approach I would try next time:

After the feuds have been announced, give each house the following loyalty cards:

  • Your primary loyalty is to your family
  • Your primary loyalty is to your family
  • Your primary loyalty is to another player
  • Your primary loyalty is to yourself
  • Your primary loyalty is to Venice

Each player in turn chooses one card from their pool of cards, with the stipulation that the head of the house chooses last and MUST choose loyalty to the family IF no other member of the family has done so.

Then, once they were all chosen I would have each player declare their loyalty publicly – I would get each player to say who they were playing and their loyalty. (Those choosing another player need not name the player, to preserve the anonymity of the star-crossed lovers.)

I think that would mean help encourage loyalties – if other people know that I am a Family man then that should affect both how I treat them and how they treat me.

I have no idea what impact these two changes would have on Venice. But I’m dying to find out.

Article by Steve Hatherley.

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