Wow, it’s been a very long time since I did a review. Admittedly, I’ve been immersed in running and playing games I’d already reviewed. However, my D&D 4e/Secrets of Cats group has had a few gaps recently where one player hasn’t been able to make it. I usually default to not running when a member of the group can’t attend (it’s just how I’ve always done things – I don’t want any member of the group to feel like they’re missing out) but this time, after checking that the group is OK with it, I’ve been experimenting with one-shots of different games.
The most recent one was Lasers and Feelings, a free one-page RPG from excellent indie publisher One Seven Design who are well-known for producing extremely high-quality short free (or very low-cost) games such as Lady Blackbird and their recent mainstream RPG book release Blades in the Dark, which I adore and will review when I’ve played it. I was absolutely blown away by both the feelings and the lasers of this self-contained little game. It’s perfect for a one-shot and is some of the best fun I’ve had at a games table.
Lasers and Feelings is essentially a ridiculous pulp sci-fi game in the style of Star Trek: The Original Series or Buck Rogers. The setup is always the same: Captain Darcy of the scout ship Raptor is indisposed due to some mysterious ailment, and the rest of the crew is left to try and save him.
Lasers and Feelings includes a random table to guide the GM in the mysterious adventure (and adversary) the crew will be taking on, along with some prompts for the players in making their characters. The system is extremely simple and everything is improvisational within the boundaries of some basic rules: at creation, you choose a number for your character between 2 and 5, with 2 meaning you’re better at Feelings and 5 meaning you’re better at Lasers. Then you roll d6s and try to roll either over or under your stat depending on whether the test is to do with Lasers or Feelings.
Naturally, because it’s One Seven Design, the print out of Lasers and Feelings is graphically gorgeous and the whole production is astoundingly high-quality for a free RPG (not to critique free RPGs on their graphics quality, you understand – there’s just as much value in a basic text document if it’s got good rules and helps you tell a fun story!)
From some very basic randomly-rolled beginnings, my group and I wove a story about a rogue captain trying to use crystalline structures from the void behind reality to take revenge for his family’s death on a planet full of aliens (and Captain Darcy along the way). Looking back, it was that kind of magic that only happens occasionally in RPGs where everything just works to tell a story that somehow fell beautifully into place.
So, it’s a fantastic game for the right circumstances: where your group knows the tropes and cliches of the genre, doesn’t mind a light-hearted game and is 100% willing to contribute to the story, trust everyone involved and support one another’s roleplay. I’m really lucky to have multiple gaming groups that do this. I could also see Lasers and Feelings being an excellent way of introducing story gaming to a group that is a little more focused on crunch. They only have to stick through one session, but it gives players permission to start shaping the story and establishing elements themselves. A GM with a less experienced group might have to keep a tighter rein on narrative control, just to ensure that nobody dominates, but honestly, everyone in our group really wanted to see what happened to the other characters and got very invested.
I probably wouldn’t run Lasers and Feelings for more than one or two sessions, because like Lady Blackbird, it isn’t really designed for that. I enjoyed a lot of the stories we set up (the sexy alien engineer had a secret relationship with the Captain, the bold space explorer managed to establish himself as trustworthy enough to become the Lieutenant of the ship, the cold android pilot had an emotion chip installed by a cute alien tech) but I also felt they didn’t need a huge amount more exploration. It was a beautiful little vignette without needing to spin out into a full series. The mechanics lack depth, but they also do exactly what they need to for the story, so that’s not really a complaint – honestly, part of the thrill of running Lasers and Feelings was how well the mechanics flowed to support the narrative. Helpful if you’re anxious about rules or game flow!
My one suggestion is that the GM takes a couple of moments before play starts to think about how to frame the first scene. Lasers and Feelings throws you right into the action, whether it’s in the middle of a fight where Captain Darcy has been taken out or tense discussions between the senior members of the crew about what to do next, and having some initial thoughts on who’s next in the chain of command and how to get the characters to introduce themselves (as in the first scene of a TV show) will help if you’re worried about improvising it. But alternatively, you might want to leap right into it – if you do, ask your players questions to support your improvisation and build that first scene together. It really flows from that point on, but coming to that first scene cold can be difficult.
It’s a very quick starter for a con game or an evening when you don’t have your whole group available. Highly recommended for a silly, fun game of space exploration, thrilling adventure and sexy aliens.
One Shot Podcast ran a two-parter of Lasers and Feelings