Justice Playthrough #96: black mass

What if Pixar, but 17th century puritan witchcraft?

Page 15, Game 27: black mass by will jobst

In Black Mass, players will be taking the roles of Lydia and Catherine, a girl and young woman (respectively) in 1690 Salem. They’ll be fleeing into the woods for the titular black mass, where they’ll discover … something.

What are they fleeing from? What are they going to discover? That is, of course, what you’re playing to figure out.

If you’re familiar with the indie games scene — or, if you’re bouncing through a gigantic pack of indie games at random without actually playing them because fuck it the world is ending and what else are you gonna do, but yinz may or may not relate to that one — that description probably gives you a pretty clear vision of what the game is like. Something small, just a few pages, that gives a few broad outlines and leaves the bulk of figuring out the game in your capable hands.

You would be wrong. So completely, utterly wrong.

Even cutting out the illustrations and Kickstarter thank yous, the rulebook is easy 50 pages’ worth of material. This game is very highly structured, and the book walks you through all of it.

For starters, just what kind of “witchcraft” are we talking about here? The game suggests playing in one of three fundamental “modes:” basically, you’re either talking full-on broomsticks and boiling cauldrons shit, historically accurate psycho-drama, or some combination of both being used for some blood-on-the-snow horror.

From there … remember how I specified that you’ll be playing Catherine and Lydia? And are you still confused by my throwaway Pixar joke in the cold open? No matter how many of you there are playing the game (and one of you will be acting as the GM), you will be controlling these two pre-defined characters Inside Out style.

Each of you will choose from one of the nine personas defined for each of the two girls. Perhaps you will be Catherine’s love of music, and Lydia’s tendency to creepy-whistle. Or Catherine’s fondness for secrets, and Lydia’s relationship with the woods. You’ll take turns “driving” at various stages of the game — and the game has very well-defined stages.

You’ll also use a Tarot deck to figure out what’s going on, with cards that compliment and/or conflict with whatever persona you’re currently inhabiting. You will assemble the cards at various stages, and you will tell a complete story.

This game intrigues me. Not enough that I would want to put a group together to play it (post-pandemic), but it’s such the polar opposite of so many games I’ve encountered. The focus is comically narrow, down to specifying the names and ages of the two girls at its heart. But the game explores that topic with intense structure, and clearly has a ton of work and thought behind it.

The end result is something unique and intriguing. I don’t know that I’m into it enough to put the work into manufacturing an opportunity to try it, but I’d take that opportunity if it happened by. Very cool game.

But will this game be as innovative?

Page 45, Game 9: The Stars Whisper by Wheel Tree Press

“A LARP for 8 to 12 players that asks: what do stars talk about as they shine into the void of space?”

Oh, you know, star stuff. Hydrogen burn rates, gossip on who’s gone supernova, that sorta thing.