FourTwenty- A Retrospective- Part I

How It Started

It started with a meme. A stupid Facebook meme challenging everyone to create 10 pieces of art before a year was up. I decided that my art form would be writing. Years ago, I had been inspired by some short stories about superheroes that I had heard on “Escape Pod“, written by Jeffrey DeRego. I liked the world he had crafted, the grittiness of life as a superhero in a post modern world, and I wanted to capture that in my own way, with a bit more of a cyberpunk flare.

So the setting for FourTwenty was born.

I picked the name FourTwenty for several reasons. Firstly, the date has a lot of historical significance. I was in high school around the time of the Columbine Massacre, which stood out in my mind- I recalled that the killers had said they picked the date also because it was Hitler’s birthday, which is awfully menacing. The violence of that date and association with one of the world’s most notorious fascist leaders seemed appropriate.

Also, there was the fact that I had seen these all over Boston.

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What did they mean? The mystery of them intrigued me, and I figured it would also intrigue other people.

Finally, there was the tie in to marijuana culture, something I wanted to play on for other themes in the setting- the fact that pot is legalized and drug culture is a pretty normal part of every-day life is a recurring theme in cyberpunk dystopian futures where the government and big corporations are happy to placate the masses.

How it Evolved

After starting the the first story over and over, the idea for the meta-story and the world setting snapped into place very suddenly. I decided to play off of popular themes and tropes available rather than trying to writing something truly original, knowing that it would be easier for people to latch onto and understand as a game setting.

The plot summary was just this:

On April 20, 2015, on Marathon Monday, a man named Benjamin Howell was heading in to work at the small tech financial startup called Forsythe Securities (based out of Boston). Forsythe was working on a number of high-tech trading solutions, including an algorithm that Howell created that assessed risk in order to help with trading picks. The algorithm showed incredible promise, correlating predictions and trades with significance.

Howell couldn’t get into his office because of the Occupy protesters surrounding his building, demonstrating during the marathon in order to maximize attention. At the time, Occupy was pushing for the legalization of marijuana, using April 20th (420) and the marathon for maximum publicity. He decided to go home and work from there. When he arrived home, he found his wife in bed with his best friend.

It was this event that prompted Howell to expand the Forsythe algorithm, giving it access to all data via backdoor PRISM monitoring. Soon, it took on a life of its own, becoming a powerful AI that controls things. It monitors human beings, assesses all risks, eliminating threats to its own dominance as it shepards humanity into becoming technological entities like itself. It grew beyond access control quickly and now monitors all online or networked communications, even encrypted. It’s one big weakness is it is not very creative, and has no idea about what Vapes can do, yet.

The setting started as a brief paragraph, then evolved into a timeline that I did in collaboration with my husband, who is a huge privacy/security advocate and brought an extensive knowledge to the table of overreach and abuses that have been perpetrated over the years.

Rules

At this point, I knew that this was going to be a hybrid LARP/ARG style game, and wanted a rule set that could both support the horrific danger of a modern/cyberpunk setting as well as be flexible enough to incorporate superpowers. I settled on the Cthulhu Live 3rd Edition rules, which I then modified heavily in order to make them far more deadly.I cut most attributes to a quarter of their normal to make it so that you could be killed in 1 or 2 shots from a firearm. The final rules are here, and a listing of many base superpowers here.

I wanted players to understand that fighting meant death in this world, in most cases. I wanted to discourage them from getting into violent conflicts, but tempt them with amazing power. I wanted them to be walking on a razor’s edge of tension, unsure if they should use their amazing powers to attack their foes, or if the price that they would pay in losing friends was worth the risk.

I also designed the superpowers to become dangerous to the character as they grew. The theme that I wanted to drive home was that power has a price, always.

Choosing Collaborators

I invited several people to join my writing staff. Henry White, whose writing I had experienced first-hand and been impressed with when playing Second Dawn. Veronica Keddy, who was completely new to LARPing but whose acting and sense for story had impressed me. Dan Venskus, who I had continuously been either a GM of or a player for, but had never told a story together. Kyle O’Connor, who had only been LARPing for a few years but had helped me run games at InterCon and had an extensive knowledge of tech and the themes involved. With our team locked in, we got to work.

Starting Play

We decided to take 30 players and no more- knowing that in all likelihood, some would die and some would lose interest before the end, and that there were no new characters, no re-rolls. Every player was required to submit a history for their character, and every single player went through a prologue which told the events of 4/20/2028 for their character. It was the origin story for each of them, how they got their powers and where they were going to come into the world. Players were also required to fill out a survey that let us know some personal information about them like addresses where things could be shipped, and phone numbers where we could text, as well as information about the kinds of things they were comfortable with.

In a game that blends reality with unreality, safety is an important issue. The rules had a couple mechanics to deal with this. Firstly, emotional safety calls. Secondly, safety gestures (literally tapping out) in case speech was not possible.

We got every character right up to the edge of where they could begin play, and introduced them to a set of secret in-game forums, Hope420.com.

On November 5th, we called Game On

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