“The world always seems brighter when you’ve just made something that wasn’t there before.” – Neil Gaiman
Hey everyone, Jessica here.
We are officially at the “morning after” of our first Alpha Play-Test. A windy rainstorm hit the park shortly after we started the opening scenario (rather fitting, given what we were running), but within an hour the storm subsided and the weather became a lot more manageable. The game was well received, and the play-testers were hungry to learn more about the system and setting. Play-test #2 is less than 4 weeks away, and Jei and I are already fleshing out the next parts of the game that we want to share with our play-testers and community.
Among the excited reviews, there were two pieces of feedback that we received that touched us deeply. One participant said that our game “was the best thing to happen to gaming since dice”. Another shared how they had been struggling during the week, and that focusing on their character costume during the week was what gave them comfort. These compliments are a bit difficult to emotionally process, as they have opened our eyes to the impact that gaming can have on its participants. We feel even more internal pressure to not mess up this project.
Symbolism in Storytelling
Storytellers use symbols and metaphors to make complex concepts understandable and palatable to their readers. An example of this is C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia. Some see the books as a whimsical children’s series. Others see the layers of religious symbolism within and use the books as teaching tools.
We hope for the same with our LARP system – for some to use it as an escape and a way to have fun, and for others to be able to use the setting to glean insight (or teach others) on cultural and social issues. Here’s a few examples of the use of symbolism within Sidereal Sanctuaries:
The Title Itself (and Logo)
According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, sidereal is “of, relating to, or expressed in relation to stars or constellations”. In our setting, the Covenants were meant to be guiding points of light for Humanity (even though humanity occasionally strays) as they created their own Reality. The Remnants, who exist as reminders of those Covenants, are meant to be pinpoints of light in a bleak world. One thing we are actively working on are glyphs for each of the 7 playable Archetypes. The design goal is for the glyphs to be interlocking so that you see a hexagram (6-pointed star) when they are combined. The “opposing” archetypes (Death/Time, Flora/Fauna, Light/Dark) will appear on opposite ends of the hexagram.
The use of “sanctuaries” for the spaces where Remnants congregate and find home is also very intentional. Part of this pulls on the American concept of sanctuary cities (places that limit cooperation with immigration laws). Reality sees Remnants as unwelcome elements that need to be removed. Sanctuaries are built in areas of the Sidereal, where the universe has decided that Reality does not have as strong of a hold. Likewise, the culture within a Sanctuary (which we look forward to writing more about!) is one of acceptance and inclusion. While we expect some mild interpersonal conflict due to differing ideologies, Sanctuaries function based based on an ideology of inclusion and accessibility.
Technology as Privilege
In the world of Sidereal Sanctuaries, all technology runs the risk of malfunctioning when the user is under stress. We conceptualize this in the game using a metric called a “Technology Score”, which is a percentage chance that the technology will function as intended. For non-Remnants, the Technology Score is affected by whether their physiological or security needs are met. This means that those who have difficulty meeting their food/shelter/health needs or who feel like they are in danger due to oppression (race, sexual orientation, etc.) will have a lower Technology score than those who are financially secure and feel safe within their community.
Someone who is struggling to decide between paying for food, medication, or rent may find that their stress leads to their car breaking down, which puts them in an even bigger financial bind as they are suddenly unable to get to work. Buses in impoverished areas aren’t as reliable because the collective stress of the occupants cause vehicles to break down faster. Meanwhile, someone in the suburbs who is dealing with social or self-esteem based stress won’t see their tech break down as often. Those that do often have access to anti-anxiety medications, which (temporarily) fix the issue.
This mechanic carries over to Remnants, where starting characters begin with a 75% chance of technology working while they are under stress. Prodigies get a 5% bonus on their Technology Score. Characters with the Technologist Calling get a 5% bonus on their Technology Score (which stacks with the Prodigy Archetype bonus), and they can spend Focus to retest a failed/botched Technology Score. Not only do they have a higher chance of success, but they also have a safety net of sorts to help shield them from failure.
Manifestation as Awareness
Manifestation is the moment when a Remnant’s truer nature is revealed to them. They go through an experience similar to that of their “inner voice”, but distinct enough where they realize that the thoughts are not completely their own. Sometimes, elements of a Remnant’s identity (like gender) will more prominently surface. Manifesting not only causes a Remnant to become aware of parts of themselves that have been suppressed by the world, but they also start gaining the ability to see through some of the lies that society has taught them.
Keepers as Institutions
During the first Alpha Play-Test, we introduced a major antagonist: the Keepers of Reality (or “Keepers” for short). To pull a reference from The Matrix, Keepers are like the Agents. These are individuals that Reality itself has conscripted to enforce the status quo. They are designed to be very difficult to take down in combat. In addition, Keepers have several powers, one of which is to cause humans (including Remnants who haven’t manifested) to fall into a state of calm complacency and apathy. This allows for a Keeper to walk into a public space, target a Remnant, and leave without causing widespread panic and outrage.
During Alpha Test #1, our play-testers took part in an opening scenario where a Keeper assassinated an apothecary at a flea market, and everyone present saw the event as “tragic” but otherwise moved about their business. Once we went through the Manifestation scene, the characters started to panic, as they realized how complacent they were to someone being killed in cold blood in front of them (some had gone as far as to dump the body outside). We had forgotten to take a moment to clarify that detail, but were pleased when we saw that the players did not need that guidance.
Just the Beginning…
The examples I gave are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the symbolism within Sidereal Sanctuaries. We hope that you continue to join us in our journey, and that we see you at one of our upcoming play-tests.