death on the gambia in 2019

I recently ran Freeform Games’ Death on the Gambia at Geek Retreat, in Leeds, UK. Although we played it in the cold back room of a boardgames cafe, everyone got into their characters and from what I can tell had a great time.

(Disclosure: I am a co-owner in Freeform Games and I wrote Death on the Gambia, which was the first game we published. So while I’ve tried to be objective, please take any shameless self-promotion with a pinch of salt.)

Preparation

Death on the Gambia took took me a couple of hours to prepare. I printed the character sheets double sided in booklet form.

For the items and telegrams, I printed those on thin card using my inkjet printer. (I have two printers - a black and white laser that will print double-sided that I use for most things, and when I need colour I have an inkjet.)

I then followed the instructions when packing everything into the character envelopes.

Money: One thing I did differently was the money. I’d seen another group simply blew up the money graphic rather than use the cards as provided. So I thought I’d try the same. I just took the graphic and printed that directly, using the Windows Print function (four to a page of A4).

As you can see from the photo below, I think that came out rather well. (I could have cut them a bit neater, I agree.)

Name badges: I didn’t use the name badges within Death on the Gambia, but instead brought stickers and a Sharpie, and asked the players to write their character name on a sticker. (You can see the effect of that in the photos.)

publicity

The hardest part about the game was getting enough players. I had decided to run the game for a group of live action roleplayers (larpers) in Leeds. They had set up a Facebook group and had met once in the Autumn, which I couldn’t attend. However, despite having over 100 members, we only managed to scrape together a 6 or 7 sign ups. So Daniel (my co-organiser) and I widened the net and asked others to join.

We eventually ended up with 10 players, which is a nice number for Death on the Gambia.

I hope that now that we’ve successfully run this once, this style of larp will be more familiar and next time we run a game it will be easier to get players. (I’ve always said that with an interactive murder mystery party that the trick is to get people playing once - after that they’re more likely to want to play another game, particularly after a good game.)

(Note that if you’re running a party for your friends, this is less likely to be an issue as you will already know who you want to invite.)

Casting: I cast the game a a couple of days before the game, casting most of the players who had signed up. I left a couple of people back just in case we had a last-minute drop out (and there was one no-show, so that was a sensible precaution). 

Those we had cast we sent the character booklets so that they could read them in advance and prepare their costuming. (There was a bit of costuming - not much.)

Casting tip: One thing I did when packing the envelopes is that as well as writing the character name on the envelope, I also put the character order. So the main group of 8 characters had 1-8 on them, the ninth I wrote #9 and so on. That made it very easy to remember who to include and who to leave out when I had an extra person arrive on the day.

Gender balance: Unfortunately we only had one female player. Luckily Death on the Gambia has a lot of gender neutral characters, but that still meant that two male players played female characters. I checked with both of them in advance, and they were happy to do this.

starting Death on the gambia

We started the game about 30 minutes after handing out characters. This allowed everyone time to arrive (there were one or two latecomers), read their characters, ask me questions, and get a drink. I ran through the standard instruction, the basic rules, and then asked everyone to introduce themselves - then we were off.

during the game

First half of the game was quiet for me as everyone was sizing each other up, and trying to work out who was friend and who was foe. After the halfway mark, things heated up and I was called to oversee several combats - most of which were unsuccessful. (Our game should have been called Scuffles on the Gambia rather than Death on the Gambia!)

In overseeing the combat, I had with me a printed copy of Freeform Games standard rules for combat, which I found easier to refer to than leaving through the Death on the Gambia instructions. And I know the game!

The game finished on a climax - just as the Christabel arrived in Bathurst, two of the characters tipped another into the river just as the policeman arrived brandishing his pistols. At that point, in the spirit of a movie serial, I announced that the game was over and that the scene would be resolved in the sequel.

wrapping up

I kept wrap up quite brief, as I knew that players had buses and trains to catch. I asked everyone to explain who they really were and what they were really up to. And that’s what we did.

From what I could tell, everyone enjoyed themselves during Death on the Gambia. I think a few characters had one or two quiet spots (and I will revisit those characters to see if I can improve them a little). But how an interactive murder mystery game plays out depends so much on what the players do that a quiet spot is, if not inevitable, often very hard to predict.

Hopefully next time it won’t be so hard to get players!

Click here to learn even more about Death on the Gambia.

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