Stay, Still

A freeform larp by Heather Silsbee

Content warnings: Post-apocalyptic setting; brief mentions of domestic abuse, alcoholism, and suicide on the About the Leader and Character Cards pages.

You need:

  • 4–6 players + 1 GM
  • 2–3 hours
  • A chair for each player, and one for the GM if they would like one
  • A pen for each player
  • 3 tokens of the same color for each player
  • 5 tokens of a different color
  • 2 small opaque containers. Two different colored dice bags would work perfectly
  • 2 or more note cards
  • 1 printed copy of the rules. Different sections will be passed around or handed out to players.

To Begin the Game, the GM Should:

  1. Read the rules in their entirety, including the How to Survive section, and be ready to answer any questions the players may have.
  2. Have an emotional safety tool in place, such as the X card, and explain that any player can stop playing at any time without questions or judgment if they are feeling uncomfortable.
  3. Arrange the players’ chairs in a circle around a small table or other surface. If the GM needs a chair, it should be placed away from the group, but close enough to listen in on any conversations the players are having.
  4. Place the two containers on opposite ends of the table. Write “Stay” on one of the note cards and “Go” on the other. Place one of the note cards next to each of the containers.
  5. Cut or tear apart the character cards. Keep them for now.
  6. Distribute 3 tokens of the same color to each player The GM should keep the 5 different-colored tokens in a separate location—somewhere they can access them quickly, perhaps in their pocket.
  7. Pass around the following intro text and take turns reading the passages. It’s okay that not every player will get to read a passage. The others will contribute to later tasks.

You have survived together for 1 month now. Although, you can’t really be sure about time anymore. When it happened, there was chaos and you were all separated from your loved ones. Some of you watched them die. Some of them just got lost in the chaos, but are now as good as dead. None of you had met each other before the world went to hell, but now you are each others’ only support system. 

You found The Leader shortly after the rest of you met up. You were all lost and confused, with no direction. The Leader gave you that direction. He seemed to know what he was doing, like he could actually live in this world. He didn’t seem to have any weaknesses. And he was willing to put up with all of you, as long as you listened to him and didn’t do anything stupid. He was a blessing at the time. Now you’re not so sure.

Over the past month The Leader has gotten you out of countless deadly situations. But he’s probably led you into just as many. You’ve all been watching and learning from him and each other. Although he would never admit it, each of you plays a crucial role in the group. Some provide necessary services like medical care, some are entertainers—now crucial to resist falling too deep into your depression—, some provide emotional or physical support in other ways. You used to think you couldn’t survive without him. Now you realize that he can’t survive without you.

And you’ve grown tired of it all. You’re tired of your ideas being ignored. Of the expectation that you must always be grateful and he must never be. Of his insistence than you be dependent on him for every need, without taking too much. You have seen a few glimpses of his vulnerability, the rare moments that make you realize he’s really only human. But more often see his calculating nature that makes it hard to remember that sympathy. It might be time for a change, a big one. It might be time for him—or you—to go.

  1. Give the About the Leader sheet to the players. Have them fill it out and give it back to you.
  2. Give the How to Survive section to the players and let them read it among themselves. Meanwhile, read the How to Lead section and completed About the Leader sheet to yourself. When you are done with the About the Leader sheet, give it back to the players to reference during the game.
  3. Randomly distribute the player cards. Have the players read their card and make sure they are comfortable playing that character. If not, redistribute the characters until everyone has one that they are comfortable with. If that isn’t possible, create one or more new character concepts on the spare note cards.
  4. Once everyone has a character, have the players choose their names and preferred pronouns, if they haven’t already. The players should then go around the circle and briefly introduce themselves, adding more detail to the written concepts if they would like.
  5. Start the game. Everyone should be in character for the duration of the larp.

How to Survive 

(Player Rules)

Stick with the people who will help you survive. Abandon those who won’t. Be smart. Don’t lose yourselfwho you are now or who you were. Take opportunities when they present themselves.

It is the end of another long day of surviving and you are all sitting around a campfire. The Leader rarely leaves you alone long enough to talk to each other, but lately you have all taken advantage of those brief, rare moments where you are sent off in pairs, or the leader has to relieve himself, to check in with each other. Most of you have expressed discomfort or disappointment with The Leader. Some of you really fear him. You all agreed that it’s time to have a real conversation about the future of your group. You have to decide whether to stay with The Leader in the hopes that he will continue to help you survive, or abandon him in the night, taking the risk that you can all make it together on your own. Whatever you decide, you agreed to do it together. You’re family now.

The problem is that The Leader is always watching and listening. You can’t speak openly. God only knows how he would react to direct confrontation, but you’re pretty sure it wouldn’t end well for you. You will decide as you’re sitting around the fire tonight, but you have to be cunning about it.

Storytelling 

To start the game one player should initiate a conversation with the other players. They are now the Storyteller. They will begin to tell a story about their hopes and dreams for the future. The story can take any shape they want. It can be a far-fetched narrative heavily cloaked in metaphor, like a fable. It can be a recounting of an actual dream their character had. It can be a prayer that the group will find more food tomorrow than they did today. Or anything in-between.

The important thing is that their story has two meanings. To The Leader’s ears, they are just telling a frivolous tale or anecdote. In reality, they should be using their story to assert their opinion on the decision that needs to be made. Should the group Stay or Go? Each player should strive to use their story to convey their point of view on The Leader and the correct decision. It’s also okay to waffle between the two options during your story. Your character may not yet be sure how they feel. When a Storyteller feels they are done with their story, they should somehow make this clear to the other players, either verbally or with an obvious gesture. It is then someone else’s turn to be the Storyteller. You don’t have to speak in any particular order. Take your turn whenever you get inspired to tell your story.

As the Storyteller is speaking, the rest of the players should be thinking and voting on the decision. If you feel particularly convinced by one of the Storyteller’s points, place one of your tokens in the appropriate container on the table. You can only cast one vote during each Storyteller’s turn. If you aren’t ready to cast a vote during one person’s turn, it’s okay not to vote that turn. But each person only gets one turn being the Storyteller and if you don’t use all three of your votes by the time the last Storyteller has finished, you sacrifice your remaining votes.

Stay Still

Although the Storyteller is giving a monologue of sorts, the other players should feel free to make comments or ask questions during natural pauses in their story. This is a good way to try to clarify the Storyteller’s point of view or help prompt a player who seems unsure how to continue their story. The Leader may also make comments or ask questions, and you should interact with them as your character normally would.

The Leader is always watching and listening, and so are many others. There are other travellers on the roads, some of whom make the leader look like Mother Teresa by comparison. You can’t let on that you are talking about The Leader, or your plans. You also can’t raise your voice or openly argue without alerting one threat or the other. If you fuck up, The Leader will say “Stay still,” “Be quiet,” or some variation. At that point, you must all stay silent for 30 seconds and The Leader will place one token of a different color into the “Stay” container. If you can’t be smart enough to stay quiet on your own, maybe you do need The Leader to watch over you after all. During those 30 seconds, you should feel free to continue to use facial expressions or hand gestures to communicate.

Storytelling Tips

Try to incorporate your character’s traits as well as any facts that have already been established about The Leader—such as those on the About the Leader sheet—into your story as much as possible. You can also reference the other stories that have already been told. That should help other players understand the points you are trying to make. Also, feel free to make assertions about the setting during your story. The setting and “the event” are intentionally left vague so that the players can make it their own. If you would prefer a little more stability going into the game, you can decide on some basics about the setting as a group right now.

The End

After all players have had one turn being the Storyteller, the game ends. One player should then count the tokens in each container. If there are more tokens in the Stay container, the player says “We stay,” and you all go to sleep, continuing the status quo. If there are more tokens in the Go pool, the counter says “We go,” and you all sneak out together in the middle of the night while The Leader is sleeping, hopefully moving toward a more constructive future. If the pools are split evenly, The Leader will notice your discontent and will keep a closer eye on all of you from now on. You missed your chance.

How to Lead 

(GM Rules)

Control with masculine dominance. Make them realize they need you. Don’t let them be alone. Don’t ask them what they think. They don’t know what’s actually best for them. The best choice they made was putting you in charge.

Your most important task as the GM is to facilitate the players’ safety and the characters’ discussion when it seems to be lagging or getting out of hand. Here are some ways you can do this:

  • If a Storyteller seems to be having difficulty with their story, interrupt with questions or comments that might prompt new ideas.
  • If one character seems to be dominating the conversation to the detriment of the others, call them away from the group for a minute or two and ask them to do some menial task. (This may be useful when a Storyteller is taking much too long with their story, or if another player isn’t letting a Storyteller get their point across.)
  • Give the players appropriate space by occasionally wandering away from the group for a minute or two, seemingly out of earshot, perhaps to investigate a possible threat or collect wood for the fire.
  • If the players do something that warrants a “Stay still” interruption, it is usually better to wait a minute or two for the players to react to the situation before you make your move.
  • Try to be aware of the players’ emotional states during the game. If a player seems to be particularly uncomfortable with your actions or those of another player, do what you can to deescalate the situation. That may also mean stopping play for a time to let people cool down.

Although you can help the game move along in these ways, the most important thing to remember is that the game is not about you.


About the Leader

Pass this sheet around the circle of players. When it reaches you, read the next question aloud and answer it yourself, writing down or circling your answer.

  1. Briefly describe a time when The Leader saved one of your lives.

  1. What is The Leader’s weapon of choice?

Knife            Fists           Shotgun          Pistol

  1. What is the leader’s gender?

Male          Male        Male        Male

  1. How was the leader involved in the death of Raul, a former member of your group?

  1. What was the leader’s former occupation?

Soldier in the military          Police officer  

    Park ranger                   He has never told anyone

  1. Which best describes the leader’s appearance?

Unexplicably always clean-shaven         Scarred and grizzled    

Dirty and unkempt         Neat and bearded 

  1. In his rare moments of vulnerability, the leader talks about…

His best friend, who betrayed him when things got tough       His wife, who killed herself      

His Dad, who abandoned him at a young age       His daughter, who died in the event

  1. What is the leader’s race?

White       White       White      White

Character Cards

Name: _______________________________

Pronouns:________________

A strong-willed former firefighter. Your opinionated nature often makes you clash with The Leader, particularly when he steals your ideas and claims them as his own. But you haven’t been feeling very mentally stable since everything happened and fear that abandoning the leader’s will lead to a more mentally taxing life than you’re prepared for right now.

Name: ________________________________

Pronouns:________________

A parent who lost their only child and the rest of the world at the same time. You started out by isolating yourself from the rest of the group to deal with your grief, but soon found comfort and validation in using your plethora of skills to help others.

Name: _______________________________

Pronouns:________________

A middle-class young person who was being trained to raise kids someday and… pretty much nothing else. You were lost at first, thinking you weren’t capable of doing much of anything in this world, but, with the help of the others—including The Leader—are now discovering skills and interests you may have never known before.

Name: _______________________________

Pronouns:________________

A teenager who is away from their parents for the first time. Finding the leader meant finding a father figure and the safety that provides. You don’t know if you’re ready to give that up. But the other group members respect and nurture your independence in a way that he never will, and that also appeals to you.

Name: _______________________________

Pronouns:________________

An alcoholic and former abuse victim. The other members found you when you were going through withdrawal and helped you through the worst of it. You know emotional survival better than anyone. In some ways, this world has been a piece of cake compared to the old one. Following The Leader is a comfortable state for you, but the others encourage you to leave your comfort zone.

Name: _______________________________

Pronouns:________________

And older adult who has already been through a lot in your life. This is just one more challenge to face. Keeping the leader in charge somewhat allows you to coast by without becoming a burden on anyone else. But you know that all it will take is one minor injury for him to leave you behind.

Game Chef 2015 Designer’s Notes

Stay, Still was born from a personal frustration with a genre I love, post-apocalyptic fiction. Compared to many other genres, I think that post-apocalyptic media has lately actually been doing a great job having diverse, interesting casts of characters and representing different viewpoints. However, it still usually presents these awesome characters as secondary to the formulaic white, cis, male protagonist who is ultimately the one responsible for saving the day. There have been notable exceptions to this rule (see seasons 1 and 2 of Telltale’s The Walking Dead video game, for one example) but it is still pervasive enough to make me cringe whenever I see it. I meant for this game—which admittedly is still very much a first draft—to fully participate in the genre while critiquing that trope and decidedly putting the focus on the characters who would normally be in the background.

I was definitely inspired by the theme and ingredients of Game Chef 2015. I wrote the game for the audience of post-apocalyptic media fans, and really fans of any media, who, like me, feel dissatisfied with the current mainstream works that seem to include us only as a footnote, or in a vain attempt to make the formulaic protagonist seem less formulaic. I was also strongly inspired by the ingredients of stillness, abandon, and dream. The multiple definitions of still figure into one of the main mechanics in the game as well as the title, which is meant to evoke the fact that, in the typical narrative, the totally capable characters in these works will still decide to stay with the white male “leader” even when his decisions have hurt them so much in the past. Even when their dreams can only be accomplished if they abandon the “safety” of the status quo. I didn’t manage to include dragonfly, but I encourage any player to work it into play for me by featuring it in their stories!

If you have any suggestions on how to make these points more clear in my second draft, how to improve the gameplay in general, or if you want to rave about and/or critique post-apocalyptic media with me, find me on G+ at +Heather Silsbee.