Game System

The Dark Door seeks to avoid a complex or strictly applied 'game system', preferring not to bog down our games with too many rules and regulations. Instead we apply more of a philosophy to running games and just use common sense and the impartial judgement of the referee to decide the outcome of most events. Given that our games are set in the 1920's, rather than a fantastical other world or a far-flung future, a complex system of rules becomes unnecessary and experience has shown that this works fine. Equally, we feel that too many rules can mean game play is constantly interrupted as players seek the referee's decision on the outcome of a given action.

That said we do have a few basic rules in place to ensure fairness and some kind of continuity between games. In keeping with our approach to games, and with the exception of those relating to generating new characters, you should not expect these guidelines to be strictly applied and the referee will often use their discretion.

Referee

The referee is in overall charge of the game. Their role is to guide you through the game, decide on the outcome of events, co-ordinate the Non-Player Characters (NPC's), and provide a link between the crew (background workers,NPC's and monsters) and the game play. They may also describe any events that it is not possible to actually portray in a LARP setting, acting to some extent as a narrator. In Dark Door games the referee will adopt the persona of a neutral character in order to blend in with the game. However, the referee's role means that role-playing the character is secondary to making "out of character" decisions and giving instructions, so they may often drop their character's personality during the game.

In addition to deciding the outcome of an event or the use of a skill, the referee is also there to answer any questions you may have during game play. In turn the referee may also have instructions for the players, some they can just simply say without concern for others overhearing, while from time to time the referee may wish to take a player to one side or hand them a note to read. All other players should of course just ignore such activity. The referee will do their best to be fair and balanced in all their decisions, though it is not always possible to please everyone. It is essential that everyone accepts a referee's ruling even if they would have favoured another outcome; otherwise the game will soon fall apart and be ruined for all concerned.

Crew Members

As well as the referee and players, Dark Door games also involve volunteers who portray the Non-Player Characters (NPC's), the monsters, and provide back room support (preparing food, running errands, etc.) all of which is intended to ensure our games run smoothly and are entertaining for all concerned.

During the course of normal play you will usually only encounter crew members who are "in character". The Dark Door prides itself on the principle that you will not even know crew members exist unless you encounter them as an NPC or monster. Crew members who are not in character will go to great lengths to remain hidden so as not to ruin the atmosphere of the game. This will often mean taking the long route to a destination to avoid a group of players, or hiding out until it is safe to move on. In the very rare event you do run into an out of character crew member they will indicate their absence from the game by raising their right arm in the air, then scuttle away and hide shamefully. Please simply ignore them and carry on as usual.

The Area of Play

Before the game begins the referee will advise you of the area of play in which the game takes place. Often, the game will be played on private land and it is essential that you do not enter areas the owner does not wish to be used, or wander onto other land where no permission has been given to do so. Equally The Dark Door will also exclude areas on safety grounds or because they are occupied by crew members and their equipment (often called the Crew Room). Such areas will be marked accordingly.

Toilets and bathrooms are considered out of bounds for game play. Therefore you can use these facilities without worrying about being pounced on by a zombie!

During the course of normal play you will usually only encounter crew members who are "in character". The Dark Door prides itself on the principle that you will not even know crew members exist unless you encounter them as an NPC or monster. Crew members who are not in character will go to great lengths to remain hidden so as not to ruin the atmosphere of the game. This will often mean taking the long route to a destination to avoid a group of players, or hiding out until it is safe to move on. In the very rare event you do run into an out of character crew member they will indicate their absence from the game by raising their right arm in the air, then scuttle away and hide shamefully. Please simply ignore them and carry on as usual.

Game Calls

The Dark Door uses a small number of standard game calls intended to communicate instructions to a wide number of participants (players and crew alike) in a quick and unambiguous way. Most are purely used to control game play while a few are there for safety purposes:

Time In

Only the referee can make this call. This is called at the start of game play to confirm that the game is in session. Once called all players should thereafter adopt their character's personality. Time In lasts until Time Freeze or Time Out is called (see below).

Time Freeze

Again, it is only the referee who can make this call. When heard all players must immediately stop what they are doing and "freeze" as though the passage of time has ceased and close their eyes (you may of course place your foot on the ground if you are in mid-step!). Players should not communicate with each other during Time Freeze. The referee will call Time In to indicate that normal game play can resume at which point you must continue as though no interruption ever occurred. This call is used when it is necessary to make changes mid game (for example if a creature it summoned into the midst of the players, this allows the Crew Member concerned to enter the area of play in full costume during the Time Freeze period.)

Time Out

This is another call that may only be made by the referee. It is used to indicate the end of a game session and in the course of most events will only be called when the whole game is finished. Dark Door games do not have any rest periods where game play ceases and the players can drop out of character, even during a full weekend game players and crew alike will be "in character" for the whole duration. Clearly people need to sleep at some point and to be allowed to eat without constant interruption by game events (the crew and referee not least!) so it is to be accepted that if you wish to sleep at night that you will be left in peace should you choose to ignore any events occurring during small hours (though we do not make any promises that you won’t be disturbed by the sounds of activity from those players who will continue play). We would however ask that players do not abuse the “do not disturb a sleeper” rule during normal daytime hours and reserve the right to treat you as fair game if you choose to lie or go to bed mid-afternoon, even if this means ambushing you in a bed room.

Drop

This is the final referee only call we use. It may be communicated to individuals or groups. On receipt of this instruction you should simply drop to the ground and lie still until the referee gives you a further command and, usually, an explanation of what has happened to you!

Man Down

This is a safety call and can be made by anyone. It is used in the event of a suspected injury. Upon hearing this call game play ceases and you should again stop what you are doing. Unless you are trained to provide first aid you should not be tempted to crowd the injured party as this will just cause confusion and prevent those who can assist gaining access. In the event of injury any First Aider attending assumes control of the situation and you are asked to comply with their requests and instructions. Once the situation has been accessed, and if it is appropriate and safe to do so, Time In will be resumed.

From time to time additional game calls may be added for use in a particular game, as suits the game organisers and referees. You will be advised of these by the referee during the pre-game briefing.

Using Skills

All player characters will have selected at least four specialist skills to use during game play. While a player is given a free hand in selecting appropriate skills for their character, any skills chosen are only acceptable at the discretion of the referee. The Skills chosen do not represent the only abilities of the character concerned, but rather they reflect the key skills and knowledge they possess and other day-to-day skills are assumed. Skills are rated using one of four descriptive skill levels: Basic, Good, Skilled and Expert. These are used as a guide for the referee as to the character's knowledge or ability within that chosen skill.

The actual interpretation of what this enables the character to do with the skills is then left to the judgment of the referee and previous approaches applied on other earlier games will be an influence. By way of example, taking three of the skills listed under “Suggested Skills” (see Game System; Designing a Character), based on previous games and discussions these skills might be approached in-game as follows;

Medicine

  • Basic - First Aid and stabilise a wound, may keep a dying person alive with constant attention till better help arrives.
  • Good - Field Medic can patch up general wounds enough to get someone moving.
  • Skilled - General practitioner can provide good care, diagnose illness and disease and provide treatment.
  • Expert - Surgeon/Specialist can treat wounds more quickly and instruct others to give them First Aid during treatment.
  • Lock Pick

  • Basic - X4 time requirement for that of expert.
  • Good - X3 time requirement for that of expert.
  • Skilled - X2 time requirement for that of expert.
  • Expert - May pick a lock at a time set by referee with uninterrupted work, the more complex a lock the longer the time.
  • Occult

  • Basic - Basic knowledge of folklore - must study texts to know more.
  • Good - May competently perform a ritual as laid out in a text, good knowledge of folklore.
  • Skilled - Well versed in occult knowledge - knows ritual form very well.
  • Expert - Very well versed knowledge, can instruct others in performance of rituals, has excellent ritual focus.
  • Sometimes the decision about which Skill Level is required will be decided when the game is being planned. An example may be where it is decided in advance that the lock on a certain door may only be picked by a player character with a Pick Lock skill level of "Skilled". If no player character possesses a Pick Lock skill at this level another means of gaining entry will need to be found. Alternatively, an ancient Latin manuscript may be in such a poor state of preservation that it would have been decided that an "Expert" Latin skill is required in order to read it. Alternatively many situations will present themselves that were not pre-planned and the referee will then make a decision on the spot should a character wish to make use of an appropriate skill. Balance, fairness, and the greater interest of all the players and the game will be the referee's guide.

    The absence of a skill does not necessarily mean a task cannot be attempted as many skills are to one extent or another common to many people. Most people will, for example, have some knowledge of history though this will not be of a specialist nature. The purpose of having specified skills is that even with an easily performed task or with matters of common knowledge there are those who through practice or training will excel and so character skills will be used to reflect this. The presence of a skill therefore means that anything difficult, obscure or out of the ordinary connected to that skill is more likely to be known or successful performed by that character. Some skills and knowledge are of course not a part of common day-to-day life and require specific training to carry out, for example performing surgery, and as such only where such a skill has been specified on your character sheet would you have any chance of successfully performing such a task.

    Skills will also be required to operate certain specialist types of equipment. Where a character has a piece of equipment that would have required some kind of special training or experience to use they must have the appropriate skill selected to do so. An example may be medical or scientific equipment, or even perhaps professional radio and photography equipment. It is not usual to allow purely physical type skills (e.g. Hide, Dodge Blow, etc.), as these are difficult to portray in a LARP setting. Unless the player concerned is actually able to perform the physical skill for real it would interrupt the game play while the referee explains to everyone present that a certain player skulking in the undergrowth in full view cannot actually be seen as they have a Camouflage skill, or that as another player has a Dodge Blow skill, a particular sword strike did not actually hit them even though it clearly did!

    Where a character survives a game they will receive bonus skill token, which will then allow their character to grow and develop over time. Full details of how to apply skills to your character, how the skill levels are calculated and how to use “skill tokens” is provided under the separate guide to Designing a Character.

    Sanity

    Sanity is central to of The Dark Doors game system. Throughout the course of a game a character's Sanity Score will be used to record their slide into insanity. The starting Sanity Score represents the strength of a character’s mind – the higher the score the better as this means the character is more resilient to the effects on their mind of the various horrors they will encounter. When a player character encounters a horrific event, being attacked by a nightmare creature, reading macabre books and parchments or taking part in an arcane ritual, sanity points will be deducted. Starting Sanity Scores can range from a maximum of 20 down to a minimum of 8, but during game play it can be reduced all the way down to zero. Should your characters Sanity Score reach zero, your character will be deemed permanently insane and become an NPC acting under the direction of the Referee. While a character with a zero Sanity Score may still go on to finish the game physically unharmed, it is taken that they must then spend the rest of their lives in a psychiatric institution and so cannot be played again.

    Full details on how to calculate your characters starting Sanity Score is provided under the separate guide to “Designing a Character”.

    Using Sanity

    We operate a player lead approach to insanity whereby players are asked to create their own insanity as part of the character background and to then keep a track of their Sanity Score during the game under the direction of the referee. The intention is that players will choose an insanity that is appropriate to their character and which they will enjoy role-playing. We also hope that this approach minimises “battle boarding” for sanity loss. Players begin by setting their own starting Sanity Score and then creating an appropriate insanity as part of their character creation. The insanity the player chooses must be expressed with “low”, “medium” and “severe” levels in mind to represent a staged deterioration as their Sanity Score drops (see “Designing a Character” for more guidance on how to approach insanity levels).

    Whatever your characters starting Sanity Score, the total is then divided into equal quarters for the purposes of sign-posting the appropriate level of insanity to role-play. For example, if the starting Sanity Score is the maximum 20, then it will be divided into 20, 15, 10 & 5 point stages, while at the other end for someone with the minimum starting Sanity Score of 8, this would be divided as 8, 6, 4 and 2 point stages. Any loss within the first ¼ of your Sanity Score leaves your character is unaffected, but if your Sanity Score drops within the 2nd quarter stage and you will start to suffer the first “mild” level of your insanity, down to the3rd quarter stage and you suffer the “moderate” level of your insanity and then within the final quarter stage you suffer the “severe” level. Even at this final stage your Santy Score can continue to drop until you reach zero and become permanently severely insane.

    As you can see, a Player Character with a higher starting score, and therefore a more resilient mind, would have to lose more Sanity Points before reaching each stage than someone with a lower Sanity Score. For example, a Character with a starting Sanity of 20 would have to lose 5 Sanity Points before suffering a mild insanity, while a Character with a starting Sanity Score of just 8 points would only need to lose just 2 sanity points before suffering the same a mild level of insanity. The referee will indicate to you when to deduct Sanity Points and how many, it is then for you to follow the guidance above to know when to start displaying symptoms of the appropriate level.

    Differing approaches will be used in-game to enable a player to track their Sanity Score, which can be as basic as a sanity “score card” or something more elaborate that will also have an IC role in the game to help keep the game atmosphere going. The approach being used will be advised to you as part of the pre-game information and explained in the pre-game briefing.

    Weapons

    In the Dark Door a character may only bring along a weapon if they have “purchased” the use of that weapon type, and any applicable ammunition, by expending Skill Tokens when generating their character and have indicated this on their character sheet. In the interest of game balance the maximum number of weapons and/or additional ammunition re-loads a player can have is limited to 5. The rules concerning Weapon Use only apply to purpose built weapons whose main design or use is as a means of fighting and inflicting (imaginary!) bodily harm, such as guns, knives, swords, etc. Impromptu “weapons”, such as shovels or cricket bat’s, etc. that are not designed or intended to be weapons, but which can be used as such if the need arises, are not subject to these restrictions. All weapons, including “impromptu” ones, must be physically but safely represented during the game. They must also work adequately in order that it will be clear to all concerned that the weapon is being used, for example guns must make a recognisable gunshot sound – preferable by firing blanks – and physically require reloading with “ammunition” (whether with caps or blanks, etc) in order to comply with rules concerning ammunition restrictions. Please also refer to the comments under “Combat” and “Safety” below for guidance on “LARP safe” weapons and the safe use of blank firing guns.

    In Dark Door games it is generally accepted that, as in real life, anyone may pick up a knife or gun and use, and so this applies to character who have not previously selected the use of this weapon when generating their character. In the “real world” there would be nothing to prevent them from doing so and so it would not then sense for us to do so in a Dark Door game. It will be assumed, however, that as no Weapon Use has been previously allocated the character will not be skilled or proficient in the use of the weapon in question and so any referee rulings on the characters use of the weapon will reflect this lack of skill and experience, e.g. many guns shots may simply miss their target, or the character will not know how to re-load and then prepare the weapon for firing. It should also be noted that the use of the weapon in these situations applies for the duration of the game in question only and therefore should the character survive they will not be allowed to retain the use of the weapon for future games, unless they then utilise the bonus Skill Tokens they are awarded for surviving to buy the use of the weapon (see “Surviving Characters” below). Full details on how to allocate weapons and ammunition to your character is provided under the separate guide to “Designing a Character”

    Safety

    By its very nature, taking part in an LARP game can involve intense physical activity and it is to be expected that there will be a fair bit of rushing around and jostling, especially during combat. As with contact sports (Rugby, Football, Basketball, etc), for example, it is quite possible to do so without causing injury so long as everyone uses their common sense and keeps a level head. While a small amount of light "grappling" is acceptable during attacks by monsters, it is not appropriate to resist aggressively, nor for the attacker to respond in kind. If an attacker takes hold of a player it is to be assumed that any "in game" injury that can occur has done so instantly, so it is too late to resist. Additionally, it is also to be assumed that all non-human assailants are stronger than the player characters, so there is no point in "putting up a fight". If this principle is borne in mind then there is no risk to anyone.

    “LARP Safe" foam rubber and latex weapons only may be used in combat. All blows must be "pulled" and only a light tap is needed to register a hit. No blows to the face, head or neck are allowed and are therefore discounted and will not be deemed to have inflicted any in-game injury. Replica guns are allowed on Dark Door events, though if they fire "blanks" they must not exceed .22 calibre. They must also comply with the law. It is important to understand that such guns can cause powder burns and permanent damage to hearing if not used responsibly. You should not fire them near to anyone's head, and ideally you should keep them at waist height. You must be vigilant as to the presence and whereabouts of other participants when using them to avoid any risk of injury.

    At the end of the day, safety is a matter of common sense and being aware of the consequences of your own actions and vigilant as to the well being of others around you. We each have a duty of care to other the game participants, and also to anyone else who may happen to wander into the area of play, and we must all regulate our actions to ensure the game passes safely.

    Player Character Deaths

    As is appropriate for a game set in the Cthulhu Mythos, the deaths of player characters are common. In fact it is not unknown for games to end with the demise of all the player characters, and certainly you will usually see only a few survivors remaining when "Time Out" is called. For most players that attend out events it is not about surviving, but the taking part! If you are informed of your character's death by the referee you will be required to retire to the "crew room" where the crew reside when not in the area of play. You will then have the opportunity to "monster" should you wish, adopting an appropriate costume and acting under the referee's instructions. Any “dead” players must first report to the referee to seek instructions before joining the crew team and it is important for the smooth running of the event that those instructions are followed carefully.

    Alternatively you may prefer to sit out the remainder of the game and perhaps have a cup of tea while discussing the events of the game with the crew members and other "dead" players.

    Surviving Characters

    A character may well survive a game of course, and if so they can then make a reappearance at a future event. In this case the characters Skills, Sanity Score and Weapons Use will be carried over. Players will also be allocated bonus Skill Tokens by the referee that can then be used to increase their characters Skill Levels, or even to allocate a new weapon or additional ammunition as required. However, a characters end of game Sanity Score cannot be increased except where the referee has awarded a discretionary Sanity Bonus, so it is often the case that your character will begin each new game with a somewhat weaker grip on their sanity. Having updated your character’s skills, weapons (and, if appropriate, their Sanity Score) your character will then be ready to face future challenges, perhaps a little bit wiser from their past experience – though next time they may not be so lucky as to survive!