Lacuna Part 1: The Creation of the Mystery and the Girl from Blue City (second attempt) was declared 2006's Most Innovative Game by the Indie RPG Awards. But it wasn't until June of 2015 that I stumbled into this Rabbit Hole of an RPG and lost myself to the mysteries of Blue City.
While searching for story based games, I came across an old Penny Arcade forum post. A user named Alfred R was recruiting for a play-by-post (or sim) and likened this game to Adjustment Bureau, Dark City, The 13th Floor, 12 Monkeys, The Matrix, Inception, The Cell, and Men in Black.
I was intrigued.
My current gaming group seemed interested, so I downloaded the PDF from DriveThruRpg and started reading. And didn't stop until I finished the last page. (It's not a large book, but I don't tend to suck down RPG manuals in one sitting.) My powers of Google were activated and I read everything I could find. I even watched a three hour actual play (that didn't do the game justice).
I was obsessed. It happens.
Why the trip down the rabbit hole? This RPG provides a dark, surreal setting where the players are Mystery Agents diving into the collective unconscious to dispatch Hostile Personalities to the Lacuna. Criminals are then "cured" of their "criminal disease" in order to provide "a better, safer world."
That right there is enough to provide a couple of fun gaming sessions. But the very long sub-title promises the creation of a mystery. And it definitely keeps its promise.
The book is set up by clearance levels. A short intro warns you that this is an experimental roleplaying game, and may not be the best choice for a first time GM. (Agreed!) Then it jumps into White Level (Control, which the GM represents in game) and lays out the system mechanics.
These are easy to grasp- Each Agent will have three attributes (Force, Instinct, Access) which represent different actions within the Blue City. They will roll as many d6's as their score in that attribute (usually 2-4). If they meet or beat an 11, success! Talents and Techniques add dice or create other advantages. And the players are always allowed to re-roll the dice, thus assuring a success- if they want it bad enough.
Enter the heart hate mechanic. Every roll is totaled and added to the Agent's heart rate. During character generation, they're given their resting heart rate, target heart rate, and maximum heart rate. When they arrive in the Blue City, they are at their resting heart rate. When they reach maximum, they must eject. And when they're in target range? They can roll as many dice as they want. Yeah, that really means as many as they want. Of course, they have to add the total to their heart rate.
This is one of two mechanics that work well at building tension in the game. I've only run this twice so far (with the same opening scenario but two different groups). One group all hit maximum heart rate while trying to dispatch the HP. If not for some clever manipulating by the players (that I couldn't help but reward), they would have failed their first mission. Group 2 was still in their target range when they completed their mission, but the other mechanic kept the tension nice and high.
What's the other mechanic? I'm sorry, that's beyond your clearance level.
The book moves from White Level down to Green, the lowest level. Your players start the game as Green Level Agents completing the clearance process to become Blue Level Agents. The game begins with character generation. It took a bit longer in both groups than I'd planned for, but everyone was having fun right off the bat.
If your players have their own book, it warns them not to proceed after the Green level chapter. Herein lie the mysteries. Blue Level provides more info on The Company. Deep Blue provides info on the other tension mechanic, among other things. Black Level provides the history and background of the game's setting. Author's notes and instructions for the GM are interspersed between bits of fiction that read like a novel and quotes from characters who've experienced some of the mysteries of the Blue City.
There is no Wine Level.
Lacuna Part 1 (second attempt) provides a rich, intriguing, completely screwed up setting. It gives you an easy to grasp system with tension builders ready to go. It introduces you to an organization with an "interesting" history. It proposes a lot of questions. Some have answers, some have strong hints, and some are seemingly unanswered.
There is a lot there. But it does leave a lot to the GM. It's been called a "Rorschach for the GM" by many, many (MANY) people in the forums and posts I devoured. There's a lot to play with but it doesn't hold your hand or provide you with a sample scenario. You can run it as a quick one shot without a lot of prep. Or you can obsess like me, watch movies, read old actual play posts, read the book again, try to grasp what you think is going on- and then plan a few sessions, drop hints, seed the story, and see where your players take it. Which may be somewhere you never imagined.
Or I guess you could find some kind of middle ground between no prep and obsession. Whatever.
Bottom Line: If you're open to something different, like the surreal and the weird, and want to play monster hunting Mystery Agents diving into the collective unconscious- send your GM this post and then DO NOT research the game any further. The less the players know, the more fun the game will be for all.
If you're open to something different, like the surreal and the weird, and are comfortable running a game where you and your players are expected to create Part 2 to the Part 1 provided- head on over to Memento Mori Theatricks or DriveThruRpg and download this PDF ($10, as of this post).