VVelvet Noir Design Document
Welcome to Velvet Noir
“I've always been fascinated by the complexity of how to deal with the realities of racism, anti-semitism, homophobia, and classicism in a historical-fictional game where you don't want to sensationalize or support those behaviors, but you don't want to sweep them under the rug either. This is a world where people come together to huddle away from the storm of oppression. All of that hate and vileness kept on the other side of a narrative wall. That hate is "Out there" always threatening to bring our inclusive space down.
And yet, despite this, they experience the ridiculousness of knowing that people create a place like that, while still finding reasons to kill each other and tear each other apart inside of it. It seems like a messy, tragic, beautiful thing to create. The idea that it's a part of the equation seems groundbreaking to me. In many ways, it's those very pressures, that oppressive cloud overhead, that makes finding the oasis of light where the clouds part, that much more precious.” - Shaheen Rogers, Staff Writer
The Goals of our Endeavor
Velvet Noir is an American freeform, campaign game about oppression. It takes place in a fictional setting heavily informed by the very harsh realities of what happened in the 1920s United States. We face those realities head on and have hired writers from many cultures affected by that history to tell their stories through this history-adjacent fantasy world. With Velvet Noir, our goal is to give people a place to learn allyship for disenfranchised people, explore the realities of oppression as told by writers from those cultures, and learn that the struggles of humanity never really stop - even in an oasis of liberal freedoms. We have hired creators Brenna Beattie, Victoria Lai, Samara Metzler, and Shaheen Rogers to write the stories of their cultures in this history-adjacent setting. They have sculpted factions for the players to join as allies or members. Our writers remain as lead cast and drive the direction of the story while designer Ericka Skirpan provides the setting. It’s the whole team’s hope that people step away from this game having learned something about themselves, the world around them, and voices who often aren’t heard in the gaming community.
It is 1928. In the City, the morality movement and conservatives have won. Anyone not born a straight, white male is looked down upon as some inferior "other.” While there are still pockets of defenses, places where people can be themselves, those pockets are few and far between. The soaring stock market has given rich, white capitalism its heyday and the Morality Movement has turned traditional religion into a weapon. But most people depend on money from the city for survival, making escape an impossible dream.
The Farm, a country estate and illegal distillery, stands in opposition to the City. The Rossi-Davis family are a group of queer gangsters who reached too far, climbed too high, then lost everything for unapologetically being themselves and having ambition. Never wishing to see others go down the same road, they have offered a place of refuge, peace, and support to gangs populated by other cultures the City tries to pretend don’t exist. Be it because of the color of their skin, their religion, or their sexuality, there are so many other factions struggling in the City who could not survive if they lost their place. They have no rural estates to which they can escape. The Farm is their escape. It’s a place they can come together, make peace treaties, work out reparations for lives lost in the City, plan on how to fight the monied, conservative forces on the urban streets, or just have a good time. However, everyone has their Darkness -- even the Farm. Two years ago, something happened just beyond the family’s estate -- it’s the reason the conservatives don’t wish to touch it. The Bureau cleaned it up and according to public record, nothing ever happened. But the Families know different. The local police know different, and the civilians have heard things no one should ever know. Even in a place of peace, the Darkness creeps through everyone. No one can find true escape.
Where, When, and How Can I Play?
Events will be held somewhere in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, or Maryland three to four times a year. All dates, ticket sales, and game site addresses can be found on the Velvet Noir website. Ticket prices are not yet confirmed but will be between 50-100 USD depending on site, time of event, and possible add-ons. A game zero (final playtest) is scheduled for May 18th in the Philadelphia area and tickets will be on sale soon. Most games will be full weekend games with the following schedule:
Friday Night Workshops: All of Friday evening will be dedicated to mandatory all-game workshops, faction building workshops, and black box improv scenes. The players will be guided in these exercises by their faction leaders in order to build deep, trusting, and intense interpersonal connections within their factions but also across factions. Blackbox improv scenes will allow players to naturally explore the history of their characters or important events that may have taken place between games.
Saturday Daylight: Saturdays are where most the action happens. Game starts between 9-10 am with a light in character breakfast and ‘arrival’ at the Farm. Action scenes start in the afternoon and the daylight hours are dedicated to faction and territory roleplay of the mundane sort. Once the night comes, however…
Saturday Night: The Darkness creeps in. Saturday nights are a time of heightened emotions and heightened risks. Characters hear back about violent actions which have taken place in the city, the Darkness is on the edge of everyone’s consciousness, the in-character booze is flowing more freely, and jazz music with dancing fills the space of the Farm. The nights are a time of joy, romance, betrayal, and quiet horror.
Sunday Denouement: Sundays are a time for rest, recovery, and quiet healing. Characters spend time processing what happened the evening before or sleeping through their pain. Players are encouraged to sleep in if they have a long drive home and do what they need for self-care: be that roleplay or out of character rest. Short debriefs will be offered at the end of each game and then a collective clean up starting at 1 pm.
NPC Shifts: NPCing is not mandatory for Velvet Noir. We want any player who cares to enjoy their game fully to focus specifically on their characters. However, we also acknowledge that sometimes story will need a few more hands on deck than just our staff. So, any player willing to NPC for us will get a 10 dollar discount on their ticket per NPC hour they are willing to do, up to three hours. These ‘shifts’ will normally take place one on Saturday afternoon and one Saturday after dark.
Some games may take place on a shorter time scale or Saturdays only. These events will come at a smaller cost and the basic schedule above will be truncated with 1-2 hours of workshops at the top of the day and then immediately diving into the action.
I’m Privileged, Can I Play This Game?
Yes. In fact, you should most definitely play and are vital to the experience. After all, Velvet Noir isn’t just about being othered, and doing crime. It’s also about being an -accomplice- to being othered and doing crime!
That is to say, we want you here, and in doing so we hope you learn about being an ally: Specifically, being an ally to marginalized people in a space that they control. This is a game about drama, horror, crime, weird stuff, and being othered. In many ways, we sincerely hope that you can learn from the experience that many marginalized people already face every day, in that you may for the first time be a minority that is on the lower end of the power index within the play space.
To be clear, this larp would not be true to the genre without hard boiled detectives, cops on the take, and many other classic tropes that might be traditionally be held by people who at the very least appear to be heteronormative. These characters are vital to bringing this world to life, and as long as you are prepared to be a proper ally in and out of character, and are interested in doing some learning, there is most certainly a place for you at this game.
Furthermore, we recognize that you might be interested in doing some exploration of marginalization in a more intimate way. While we do not support ‘tourism’ so to speak, there will be opportunities to work with our writers to find a way that respectfully portrays a character with an identity that is wholly different than your own. This too is part of Velvet Noir, and we’re excited that you’re interested in exploring these often times difficult or delicate subjects in a way that empowers and unites us as a diverse community that is striving to be better than what has come before.
Our Gaming Principles
Player Before Game.
As a person, you are more important than the experience itself. While we appreciate immersive role play, we encourage you to tend to your self-care ahead of anything else. Please head to an out-of-game space to make sure this happens.
React to Everything.
When in doubt, react. Tell a story and wing it. Furthermore, don't expect someone to react to your actions the way you think they will. Be immersed and react, telling a realistic story with your actions– rather than getting caught up in a competitive rules discussion or ignoring them outright.
What you see is what you get.
What you see is what you get. Everything you see in the world is generally what it appears to be by glancing at it. A rope is a rope, and a wall is a wall. While there are props made of modern materials, you shouldn’t have to use too much of your imagination to make it work.
You are a character, not a sheet.
You are not a character sheet, but rather a persona with motivations and ambitions. While some of our games have some basic character advancement, it's mostly about acting and roleplay.
Play to Lift/Lose
React to your fellow cast member’s actions in ways that make them appear more impressive or ceding the spotlight to another character. In our game cultures, having better stats isn’t what’s more important: the real accolades go to the players who consistently tell compelling stories and involve others in the game world.
Be creative. Combat is rarely the primary focus of our games, and we are interested in telling stories full of drama and emotion, allegory and metaphor. Be different with us, and try something new.
Calibration, Consent, and Safety Mechanics
The Look Down: You may go out of character or opt out of a scene by using the “look down” mechanic (originally developed by Johanna Koljonen and Trine Lise Lindahl.) To perform it, shade your eyes with a hand, while bowing your head. This means you are tapping out, even if you just don't want to engage with what’s happening in front of you. When using this mechanic, it will not be held against you in any way. A player should not follow after someone who has decided to use the look down, but continue the scene as if nothing happened. If you need further support after using this mechanic, please come find a staff or a member of the lead cast to assist you.
The Check In: Take time to check in with each other. Flash the 'OK' sign at chest height to prompt your scene partner to take stock of themselves, and give you a read on how they're feeling using the following symbols:
Thumbs up means 'Ok, continue.'
Thumbs down means 'No, stop.'
A wavy hand means 'Not sure. Ease up.'
If anything but the thumbs up is given in response to the check in, the scene should be paused and the checking in player should inquire as to what further assistance the other player needs. Whether it’s just a breather, or the other player needs to step out for a while or get to staff, the player’s emotional health takes priority in that moment. A player can use these symbols at ANY TIME, they do not have to wait for the check in, especially in moments of distress to indicate they need OOC assistance. (These mechanics were originally codified into their current form by Maury Brown, Sarah Lynne Bowman and Harrison Greene for New World Magischola and you can read a longer version of them here.)
“Listen here!”: This phrase is meant to open the door of consent negotiation without breaking the flow of a scene. Whatever statement follows “Listen here!” is an action that character intends to take and needs to be responded to in a way that indicates if the other player consents to that action happening or is not interested in that play. An example would be someone saying: “Listen here, if you continue talking like that, I’m going to come over there and knock your drink out of your hand!” Now, the other player can respond a few ways. If they want this to happen OOC but their character is against it, they can flash a brief thumbs up and scream: “You wouldn’t dare!!” If they don’t want it OOC or IC, they can respond: “Don’t you touch me, I ain’t givin’ you the time of day!” As long as the responding player makes their OOC wishes clear, then the offering player can continue with the scene appropriately.
“Lay Off”: Sometimes a scene doesn’t need to be completely cut, but is getting too intense for a player’s preferences. If a player finds themselves in a scene that they wish to de-escalate, they simply need to state a firm: “Lay off!” and that is a sign to the other player to dial the intensity back a notch or two. The scene doesn’t have to stop, but it helps both players calibrate before scenes get into an unhealthy space.
Cut: At any time for any reason, if a player feels too unsafe to continue a scene (or recognizes a safety hazard like someone nearly tripping over a cliff) ‘cut’ may be called to cease all action. The player can then remove themselves from the scene or ensure the physical safety hazard is cleared.
All characters must be pre-created prior to coming to any given Velvet Noir event. While players will have the freedom to create their own characters, they will be guided in doing so by a Google form provided upon registration. This form contains essential guidelines and information needed by the staff to ensure the players are put into a faction that is a good fit and they are interested in playing, but also to be certain that characters all handle delicate cultural issues respectfully. Because Velvet Noir deals with heavy themes of oppression and representation of real world cultures, the team is dedicated to ensuring every character portrayal is respectful and not appropriative in any fashion. The cultural writers have the final say over which characters fit in their faction and will work with players to ensure characters are portrayed respectfully. If a cultural writer feels a character or player is not a good fit for their faction, it is not up for debate. Staff will work with the player to see if they can fit more comfortably in another faction or with civilians, but due to the delicate themes of our game, not all characters OR players will be a good fit for Velvet Noir events.
A Character’s Soul
(Mechanic inspired by the playing card mechanic written by the staff of Pandaemonium Larp, HLGCon 2018.) While there are no traditional character sheets in this game, each character does have a “soul.” That soul is composed of three cards and their character archetype written on the back. Character archetypes have mechanical effects that interact with the Territory metagame and may represent your character’s recent background. No one gets to see your character type unless you wish to share it. However, the soul cards are different. They come in three themes written at the top of each card: Love, Other, and Darkness. Each theme corresponds with a different question and should be answered by the character in no more than 2-3 words. Poetic distillation to the essential theme is key to these cards.
“What do you love?” This represents the one thing your character loves and is dedicated to more than anything in the world. It is the thing that the Darkness and the City cannot take from your character. Even if it’s a person and they are killed, that love remains. But it might be a passion for work. It might be religious beliefs. It might be a code of honor. It might be your favorite story. No matter what, what is the love that sustains your character in the darkest hours.
“Why are you Other?” Everyone on the Farm has been othered in one way, shape, or form. Maybe it’s your sexuality, the color of your skin, or whom you consider your friends. It’s hard to distill oppression, but this card represents the first thing any outsider from the City would use to consider you lesser. If you are playing a generally privileged individual, please speak with your faction lead about the best way to write your Otherness respectfully.
“What is your Darkness?” This is your breaking point. The place in your character’s soul where they have done something awful. The secret shame that keeps them up at night, which they haven’t even told their families. Everyone has a bit of Darkness in them, distill yours to a few words.
Showing Your Soul
These cards should be kept on a player at all points in time. Once a game, a player can ask another player to see their card and gain a glimpse into their soul. If that happens, pick one at random and flash it to the player. The Storytellers/Darkness can always ask to see all cards at any point in time, as the Darkness can always see into the depths of a character. However, a player can opt to show pieces of their soul to another player at any point in time. It’s recommended to show a piece of a character’s soul during scenes of high drama, deep emotion, or vicious truth. When a player is flashed another player’s soul-card, they know that whatever that character is discussing is a truth that goes deeper than simple conversation. It’s a way of showing complete trust or utterly raw vulnerability to another character.
Lastly, sometimes pieces of a soul is destroyed. If your character has gone through a change so vicious that they consider a piece of their soul to no longer be an essential part of their being, that card is to be destroyed. The card can be destroyed publicly, a dramatic show to the surrounding people of a character literally falling apart, or in a private corner as that character rips away a part of themselves which was essential to their being. Once a card has been destroyed, the player should find an appropriate time to bring the pieces to story staff, discuss the changes in their character, and make a new card of the same type that was destroyed. This time can be after game or well after the scene -- no one should break their dramatic moment to rewrite a card. The character can walk around for hours with only two pieces of their soul and will definitely feel that loss during the time it is missing.
Requesting Player Plot
It is the policy of Entropic Endeavors that players DO NOT HAVE to give any attention to games between events. The game is at game. However, we also wish for players to be able to request the kind of plots they want to see and communicate to staff future plans, so story can be written around player goals. Therefore, players can put in requests for plot by writing communications during an event to be responded to the NEXT event. These communications won’t always turn out the exact way a player pleases, and the more open ended a character leaves it, the more room staff has to create an interesting story. A player should only send one plot-request communication per event and include as many people as possible in the story. Here are some examples of how these communications could be formatted:
A character sends a letter home to their mother explaining how they plan to go into the Darkness with several others of their family and this is a good bye incase something goes wrong.
A cop sends a report back about suspicions they have over a Bureau agent and their intention to interrogate them the next time they’re all on the Farm.
A character writes in their diary about how angry they are with a certain gang and how they’d like to set up a confrontation just outside the Farm.
A telegram is sent back to the Family in the city asking for more drugs to be sent to the Farm so the character can host a party.
Combat in Velvet Noir should be fast, dirty, and violent in character while being safe, narrative, and clear out of character. Consent is the first rule of combat, always. Making your hits big, dramatic, slow, and ensuring that every hit tells a story is the second rule of combat. Many combats will be pre-negotiated between the participants. If a combat is pre-negotiated, the players can draw it out as long as they please, make whatever safe stage combat contact they’ve BOTH enthusiastically agreed to making, and tell the scene without mechanics. But those scenes must be fully negotiated before hand.
If a character comes at another character with an unnarrated attack and that PLAYER does not wish to be in combat, the player has two options:
They can thumbs down in order to indicate they do not wish combat at this time, but are fine continuing the scene.
They can use the “Look down” to completely bow out of the scene without question.
However, if both players are up for non-negotiated combat, characters can attack each other without warning. The system for non-negotiated scenes is as follows:
Landing Hits: Always give lead time before attacking another character, enabling them to tap out or thumbs down as needed. This also means that attacks should come from a place where the defender can see you coming. Never aim at the head, neck, or groin. Swing your weapon theatrically with drama and gravitas, touching your weapon to your opponent without force. Any weapon that is to make contact with the body in a unnegotiated way must be made of safe foam or latex. For looks and genre, we recommend clubs, foam ‘brass knuckles’, bottles, heavy cups, or other street fight appropriate blunt weapons that can be foam sculpted.
Shooting Guns: Never aim at the head, neck, or groin, and only use only Velvet Noir approved firearm props. (Further information about firearm props to come. We are still testing safety on a few models.)
Getting Hit: When someone hits you, react! It HURTS! Scream, cry, or stumble dramatically. You can probably take a punches before going down. However, if you’re shot or stabbed, you should be stumbling and bleeding out all over the furniture. If you’re hit again? You’re either dead or unconscious; the choice is yours. In short: First hit: injured but still fighting. Second hit: you’re down. If it’s by a blunt weapon, you’re unconscious. If it’s by a knife or a gun, you’re dying and someone really needs to get a doctor.
Getting Fixed: After you’ve been hurt, you should get fixed up by someone who knows what they’re doing. Until this happens, you should role play suffering and stumbling around in pain or shock. You won’t die unless you consent to it, but your character doesn’t know that and the severity of the injury should be given respect by the urgency of how your character needs a medical professional.
Velvet Noir is as close to reality as historical-fiction can get, so death is rather permanent. There are no magical resurrections and no coming back as a ghost. If a character dies, that character has ended. However, no one can die without their consent. Even if you have been shot, if you do not feel like your character’s story is over, you do not have to die. The bullet miraculously missed vital parts and your character can make a recovery. We still recommend that character have permanent damage and scars from being shot, but it’s not an automatic death. You die when you feel that character’s story is over.
Character death is encouraged. It might be the end of that specific character’s story, but it is not the end of the player’s story. When a player opts to allow their character to be killed, they will be given a slightly deeper glimpse into the universe of Velvet Noir. There are a few other character options which are opened to players whose first character has died. We don’t encourage anyone to rush their character’s death, but understand that taking a character arc with a beginning, middle, and ending with death will enable you to create more in depth story for yourself and others.
On May 18, 1926, a massive explosion of light was reported near a countryside Farm owned by the Rossi-Davis crime family. Initially, people said it was the family’s illegal stills blowing up. The family was known to be run by a pair of intimately involved women and wasn’t very popular with the City sort, even for illegal booze, so it was no surprise that someone finally bombed their goods. But no fire was ever seen and no call came in to the local fire department. Eventually, a unit from the local police were called out to the supposed site of the explosion, a field and forested area about half a mile off the farm. However, they never reported back after going off radio. Even their car was never found. A reporter went out the next day and went missing as well. Anyone or anything that went near the site just seemed to disappear in the two days following. A day later, the area was swarming with black cars; the Bureau of Investigation had arrived and all locals were banned from entrance. The Rossi-Davis family was suspiciously quiet about the matter, but most agreed they were simply happy not to lose the Farm.
A year later, and most people act as if the incident never occurred. The City’s police force, having tried to get information time and again, were banned from ever even approaching the site. The higher ups insist nothing ever happened and all records have been purged from the filing office. The local newspaper has nothing in their archives and any journalist asked gets suspiciously tight lipped before finding excuses to leave. The locals, the civilians, and those with their ears to the ground know something happened and the government cleaned it up, but no one has a real guess as to what.
In Velvet Noir, the Darkness serves a few purposes for the greater game design. While it stands as a clear analogy to the darknesses within humanity, it is also meant to be a story mechanic to help engage players with a form of mystery plot outside of the territories and personal relationship games. Players will be empowered with rituals and guidance to run their own Darkness scenes even as their characters have no clear power against what lies beyond the Farm. No character is obligated to interact with the Darkness, but it is another narrative element on the table for players interested in adding elements of personal horror into their game.
Interacting with the Darkness
When night falls at the farm, the Darkness is ever present. While it never creeps up to the close fields or the house, it feels like a creeping weight on the back of a character’s neck or someone constantly hovering over a character’s grave. While the organizers may, on occasion, run forays into the Darkness for the characters, players do not have to wait for staff to explore what lies in the Darkness. Staff has written two methods by which characters may delve into the mystery of this setting. One method is more freeform and meant for players who are used to telling stories themselves or wish more freedom in their exploration style. The other method is more set, ritualistic, and guided for players who wish clear mechanics to help shape their roleplay. Neither method is the right or wrong way. As long as players keep the following truths in mind as they explore the Darkness, they are ‘doing it correctly’.
No one should go alone. A group of at least four is ideal to make it back out of the darkness, but more can be taken as needed. Any more than ten and the characters never manage to find the Dark but loop back around to the farm, having gotten lost.
Exploring the Darkness should be horrifying. It is not an undertaking to do lightly or often. The more often a player explores the Darkness, the more common place it comes and the horror begins to wear off on a meta level.
No character comes back unscatched from the Darkness. Sometimes the injuries are physical, sometimes they are mental, sometimes both. By agreeing to go into the Darkness, a player is agreeing to allow their character to be damaged in some form.
The Darkness mechanics are about supportive roleplay. Be a genuine, creative, dynamic storyteller for your companions in the Dark. Try to give as much roleplay as you receive. While the Darkness is horrifying in character, the Dark scenes should be built out of player generosity, trust, and a play to lose spirit.
(Further mechanics will be released on how to interact with the Darkness after more playtesting in late April.)