Lasers & Feelings Game Wrap

This week I finished a 3-shot of the excellent one-page RPG Lasers & Feelings by John Harper. L&F is not exactly meant to tell a story that's longer than a one-shot, but I wanted to challenge myself and try something different.

The Goal

After playing a couple one shots in different systems I wanted to try something a little longer. I also wanted to try to bring some seriousness into the story, as we often tend to strike a comedic tone around my table. But I still wanted to run zero-prep and with extreme ownership of the story for all involved.

I decided to go with Lasers & Feelings as the system, because it's extremely simple and short. I've played two one shots with it already, but those had turned into extreme comedy. That was fine then, but I knew I'd have to put in some effort to keep this story from spinning out into hilarity.

The Setup

I planned three sessions. We ended up with me as facilitator plus three players in the first, minus one for the other two sessions. Using CATS I set expectations. Mainly to have the possibility of heavier topics like war, slavery, violence and oppression. And also for the three episode story structure of:

The Story

Reading TTRPG stories of strangers can be boring, so feel free to skip to the end, as I've got some takeaways there.

Episode One

Aboard the ship Golem we've got our three main characters:

Consul Kiev sends an urgent message to this crew to investigate the planet Zeta3. The Alliance—a much smaller association than the powerful Consortium—has been buying more iron than they are allowed and it's suspected to be at Zeta3.

The crew arrive on Zeta3 and are greeted by Zen, an important figure of the Alliance. They are shown the iron working facility, which—at first glance—seems to be in order. But with the help of a distraction by James, Bog and Reistrud find a secret second level below ground where weapons are manufactured. But James cannot keep up his distraction long enough and decides to, with the words “This may not be diplomatic.”, give Zen an uppercut and knock him out, but not before Zen manages to fire his pistol which wrecks some critical systems of the facility causing a chain reaction that will lead to a huge explosion in a few minutes.

The workers of the facility start escaping through the escape pods which fling them onto a neighbouring moon. The crew decide to save Zen as well by putting him into an escape pod. They enter individual pods as well and make it back to the Golem.

James realizes the journalist has clipped the uppercut from his live stream and it's gone viral. Reistrud whispers coordinates and a time to Bog before disappearing through time.

In the credits a creature twice as big as a human with super-human strength is teased.

Episode Two

While the relationship between the Consortium and the Alliance is still strained nothing could be done about it, as James could not be trusted and has overstepped lots of lines with his violent outburst. For this he's also been relieved of his office and his status as a citizen of the Consortium. He's fled to Doron, a planet controlled by neither fraction full of criminals and fugitives. Six months have passed and he's tried to use his diplomacy skills to work his way up to find a way off the planet.

And we re-join him six months after the events of last episode as he's trying to buy a space ship that's still registered with the Consortium when the hangar is attacked by rebels. Simultaneously, the roof caves in as the Golem crashes into it.

This is the place and time Reistrud had given Bog. She jumps out of the Golem, running through the battlefield and grabbing James on her way. They can't make it back to the Golem, but instead get into a random ship on the hangar. They lift up and flee to the dark spot on the planet. They instruct Golem's AI to follow.

Out of immediate danger they land in the freezing wasteland of Doron's dark spot to switch back to the Golem and get off planet. While walking between the two ships they break into the ice and find a tunnel system. Following it down into the warmth they find it lit by torches and finally end up on a balcony overseeing a ballroom.

In the ballroom there's 21 pairs of Alliance civilians dancing to some music dispensed from 4 stone statues. At the far end a priest is performing a sacrificial ritual at an alter. James remembers rumours of a “Syndicate Z”, a secret subgroup of the Alliance rumoured to be here. The sacrificed creature seems to confirm another rumour: A Grobgron—a humanoid, but twice as big as a human.

Unnoticed by the folk inside the ballroom Bog and James make their way around the top floor and reach the central communications room. While Bog calls for help from the Golem James goes through the past communications and finds out that important people from the Consortium as well as the Alliance have had secret meetings here and seem to be cooperating in the shadows. Consul Kiev among them.

While James found out about this widespread corruption and secret cooperation he was unwittingly sending a “Reply All” message into space with his mumblings to himself.

Golem promises to pick up the two, but for that they have to get into the centre of the ballroom. Of course, the statues come alive and try to stop the two from reaching the Golem. They're partly successful as only Bog makes it back and James is captured.

Episode Three

Bog commands the Golem to return for James, but Golem refuses as a meteoroid is quickly approaching. Someone unhappy with James' message had flung it at the origin of the signal. The command centre ordering this strike was quickly blown up itself and a front formed between Alliance and Consortium.

James had, of course, survived and 2 weeks after the events of episode two made his way to a moon of Doron where he sent a signal to Bog and the Golem with the request to meet at his own childhood home on Marango.

Consul Kiev, in charge of the Zeta system had trouble mobilizing his troupes for the war at his door and thus required higher ranking soldiers to whip civilians into shape to fight at the front. Bog among them. When she got the message she immediately deserted and made her way to Marango.

James had a harder time travelling through the war torn system and while hitching a ride met another envoy, Ellie, who recognized him. She'd been the reason why he had been thrown out of his first school and felt she owed him one so she promised to set up an audience with Prince Delphi, ruler of Marango and a rank up from Kiev, but still below the King of the Consortium. Ellie could obviously not set up the audience for James, but instead opted to set it up in her own name.

James and Bog meet up and pick up a book from James' father who had been an army general. They travel to Delphi's palace and enter her throne room under the guise of Bog being Ellie and James being her guard. They're shocked to find Kiev in there demanding military support from Delphi. When he becomes suspicious of “Ellie” for messing up some ritual she strikes him down unconscious.

Delphi recognizes James and turns out to be sympathetic to their cause. She explains that the Alliance and Consortium are two sides of the same coin. The Alliance was conceived as an external threat to keep the people in the Consortium submissive and docile. And while not everyone holding important offices on either side might not know this there's enough people in the know for her to be powerless, even with this knowledge and the power of being one of the twenty Princes.

Bog finds a manoeuvre in the book they brought and they use Kiev's equipment to send the command to both sides to regroup at a rallying point. This causes both fronts to retreat and cease fire for the time being.

The Conclusion

The Play-by-Play

Episode one was pretty much what I'd hoped. We had established some religious themes, the Consortium vs Alliance conflict and gotten to know our characters while still telling a pretty classic Lasers&Feelings story. I was surprised and excited that a silly minor detail (James' body cam) would turn out to enable far reaching consequences for that uppercut in the end. While originally only one of the players was up for all three sessions this unexpected cliff hanger motivated the other two (one successfully) to try and make it to the other two sessions as well.

In episode two it took a while for me to find a plot, but once the characters were in the cave and I had Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom in my head we got the ball rolling (puns not intended). Syndicate Z and the Grobgron were also ideas of the players when I asked them about rumours about Doron's dark spot. The “success with complication” for looking through the PC and leading to the “Reply All” was another incredible cliff hanger. And that player later even sent that voice message into the group chat making us hyped for the finale.

For the third episode I had different ideas of where we could go: Another breaking-James-out-of-trouble episode, delivering a document, infiltrating the enemy or stopping the war. After choosing the last option we quickly got into the flow and established a lot of James backstory through his home and the meeting with Ellie. We had a short hiccup when the PCs asked Delphi how to stop the war. She should've known since she was the answer to the Laser-Feelings-question “Who do we need to talk to to stop this war?”, but she couldn't stop the war for multiple reasons. First of all, I can't have an NPC deliver the resolution to the plot to the PCs. Secondly, the rest of the story was too realistic for Delphi to have a simple solution like killing the King or Kiev, or offering a truce or whatever else. Instead she gave the PCs information on the conflict and we together came up with the solution described above. I was happy with that since it's just a good short term solution to stop people dying, but does not also easily resolve everything wrong with the Consortium or even just this conflict.

The Learned

Overall, what surprised me most was how my view of the Consortium shifted. In the beginning they're just the employers of the PCs as per the rule page. It then was contrasted with the much smaller Alliance which it kind of also ruled over by regulating their trade and weapons manufacturing. Then it turned out they had at least some corruption going on with Kiev working both sides. And only in the moment when I as Delphi finally said it did I myself realize that the Alliance is a creation of the Consortium.

While I was expecting some challenge in telling a compelling and cohesive story in this system, I did not expect to have to describe and solve corruption in a (seemingly?) democratic organization.

The End

Overall, I'm immensely happy with how this turned out. I did indeed hit all the goals that I'd set myself when planning this mini-campaign. I ran with zero prep and it was incredible to find out the story simultaneously with my players. And tonally we also stayed exactly where I wanted to be: A serious and challenging story, but still lots of funny breather moments and quirky characters.

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