Posted on October 8, 2009 by spikexan
It’s been too long since I took part in Live Action Role-Playing. It was the mid-nineties at Egyptian Campaign in Carbondale, Illinois. The Southern Illinois University’s Student Center was the perfect setting for a session of the Masquerade. There were outdoor and indoor sets.
Hectic Narrators bounced all around in attempt to keep the action controlled. It was a great night, but I’m reasonably sure there wasn’t a story to speak of. Yeah, I recall a handful of werewolves being found dead outside the building. There was also something about the Prince being mad. To be honest, the game was an excuse for the largest number of gamers at the convention to cut loose and have fun. After reading City in the Sand, I have to wonder how much better that night would have been with a story underlying everything. I guess I should say a “good story that people were interested in” underlying everything. City in the Sand takes an interesting bit of cinema’s history and applies a little Vampire bite to it. It’s a wee bit more successful than the Sci Fi Channel’s attempt to do the same thing (minus vampires) with Sands of Oblivion.
White Wolf really can’t get away with lousy layout. When you establish expectations for your projects, you can hardly undercut yourself. Each of the four files within this PDF package are treated to the Vampire: the Requiem layout. Skulls lurk in the corners. Sidebars are fenced in with iron wrought. There is a little bit of blood red fonts scattered throughout the text to get your attention. Fonts are otherwise readable, but not drab. We’ll call it stylish. The graphic artists are keeping with their successful theme. The character sheets for this LARP look really good and are plump with information.
Artwork is a rarity in these files. We see a picture of the monster. There are some graphs, but not much to distract from the details. A picture may be worth a thousand words, but it turns out that several thousand words is still worth more. I didn’t need artwork in this. As it turns out, the creative minds behind this project felt the same way.
What about the writing? If the layout is a given and artwork is a no-show, then everything must bank on the writing. First, let’s talk about what the four files are in this PDF package. The main file is the game itself, a fourteen page set-up to a story about a forgotten Hollywood set. The second file is a nine page primer for new players. Third is thirty-eight pages of character sheets. The fourth and final file is ten pages of reference sheets. Considering that the new player primer and reference sheets may have to be printed multiple times, storytellers may want to charge admission to this game to off-set printing costs. Yep, I’m still seeing no printer friendly options despite all my “helpful” suggestions with my reviews.
I find the story intriguing because it taps upon a time in Hollywood when it was still fascinating. Many of the Kindred feel the same way, ushering in the story. The thirty plus characters in this adventure (a social/mental adventure with next to no physical altercations) are a properly conceived and diverse mix of film makers, lawyers, criminals, veterans, and more. This packet is meaty in its brief span, but sticks to all the parts it requires. Too much story will never be followed by a cast of three much less thirty. Broad strokes. No railroading. No Whammies.
The new player’s primer irks me a little bit because new players may likely be overwhelmed by this intense booklet. I realize that many LARPs take place at conventions (this very PDF was born out of a SoCal GenCon convention). I also realize that, because of this, the Storytellers and Narrators don’t have time to babysit new players. Nobody would want to rehash this information multiple times. The first four pages of the booklet are things the players need to know. There may be a few too many examples of various Tests, but that would basically trim it down to three pages of hard core information. Pages five through nine are full of good information, but I’m not sure it’s required for newbies. Give the new players the younger kindred and let them learn through the game. It’ll stick with them longer that way.
The reference sheets and character sheets are required reading of course. The cheat sheets are handy little guys. The character sheets are split between the cold stats and some personality/background information about the character. I think the materials on these sheets are extremely helpful to players.
This adventure is quite different than what players would get sitting around the table for a typical RPG. I’m a social gamer, which is one reason why I’m inclined to enjoy LARPing. It’s the same theory as Halloween–come as you aren’t. What better way to meet new people than pretend that you’re somebody else? It’s a tried and true method formed in taverns centuries ago.
This social-heavy adventure is laced with a good story and plenty of entertainment for competent Storytellers to keep running for a night’s game. I’m offering these scores to City in the Sand:
Layout: Four out of Five Dice (Vampire’s layout is one of White Wolf’s best, but not its
Artwork: No Score
Writing: Five out of Five Dice (Good stuff. The new player’s booklet may be guilty of
information overload, but at least it’s interesting information)
Overall: Four out of Five (Great Adventure)
Review by Todd Cash