This report contains all the spoilers.
I recently ran Luka Rejec’s 2021 Halloween one-shot Let Us In for my club, the Games Gang. This is a beautiful risograph chapbook printed in orange and black, and our experience of the game lived up to the beauty and vibe of the design. I run a lot of one-shots in this club, frequently using an unfamiliar system - we are trying to play through my large and ever-growing collection - and I always come away thinking I could run the game a lot better the second time. This game is somewhat of an exception; although I did make some fairly major errors, it felt very successful on the first go, and I think that is largely attributable to the game’s thoughtful design. The overall experience was one of steadily increasing tension turning into desperation, dwindling hope in the face of snowballing danger, and unexpected survival after giving up completely.
To prepare, I assembled the playlist provided by the author on the back of the book - with the exception of Phantasmagoria “Poziv U Raj” which I could not find. I read through the book a few times, and I read the author’s “The Lastlands Metasetting” article on his website. I downloaded and printed the character cards and the map, which were included when I bought the book on Exalted Funeral. I lit a dangerous number of black candles, and we were ready to begin.
As instructed, I read the characters’ descriptions to the players, leaving out their motivations and abilities, and asked the players to choose, then handed out the character cards. I love running games with few or no rules, so I was happy to stick with the “d6 Know Resolution” system outlined in the book, which is simple enough I can reiterate it here: roll 1d6; low is failure, middle is success with complication, high is success. Adjust the failure/marginal/success boundaries depending on whether the character is competent at the action, add +1 or +2 as appropriate to circumstances and tools. For me, that’s all the system I generally need, and I think my choice to stick with that rather than try to use a more elaborate rule system to run the game was part of the reason it was successful.
A. chose to play Elmena, the Relative; E. chose Amata the Friend; N. chose Banya the Driver, and T. was left with Yasha the Guide. They took a moment to read their characters’ motivations - I had instructed them that they may or may not wish to share them with the group - and their actions. These actions are like special abilities with a limited number of uses that allow the otherwise ordinary characters to be heroic or at least cinematic in key moments. Having just two actions and a few simple motivations, and really nothing else to look at on the character card, really helped the players to stay focused on the fictional situations and to make decisions from their characters’ points of view, rather than looking to the character sheet for answers, which made the experience more fast-paced, more tense, and more fun.
I handed Elmena the letter from her aunt Vira printed in the book. (Actually I forgot to print the letter so I read it aloud, but it would have been better to hand it to her.) The letter ominously states “…ignore the previous letters. You do not need to come and take us home. Everything is alright….” The contents of the “previous letters,” like much in this game, is left to the imaginations of the players and the referee - an extension I suppose of Rejec’s “anti-canon”/“metasetting” philosophy, which lends itself particularly well to the horror genre.
I then read “The Arrival” aloud; I don’t normally read boxed text verbatim as it is harder for players to absorb compared to paraphrasing, but Rejec’s text is too good to paraphrase:
A distant dog howls; a pack answers. The eyes of sheep glint in the headlights’ glare as the Matador autogolem turns down the gravel drive. Pale dust sparkles on the teal machine. The black gate, topped with razor wire, stops the vehicle. With a fizz, an orange floodlight comes on. With a whine, the electric motor pulls the gate open. The autogolem stirs and rolls inside.
The sleek, modernist mansion slides into view, its front door ajar. A dog begins to bark. The gate closes behind.
At this point, I instructed the players to roll on the Flashback Table - another neat example of the game’s fill-in-the-blanks narrative style - meant to represent things the characters noticed earlier on the drive - the results my players got included “The thermal plant is dark despite the chill” and “Row of farmers gazing at the heroes’ autogolem in unison.” I described the key elements of the scene again - gate closed, dogs barking, orange floodlights, front door ajar, then started the playlist with “People Are Strange” by the Doors. (This is not the first song on the author’s list, but the game text states that “People Are Odd” by The Other Doors is playing on the radio in the opening scene so I started the playlist here and set it to repeat so the first six songs would play after the last song.) As the music played, the creepy action began: a group of people appeared at the gate, speaking and moving in unison, and asking to be let in.
I have the type of players (is there any other type?) who will spend as much time as I let them debating every decision, even during the most acute emergencies, to which I typically react by escalating the situation, to provoke action. This dynamic would cause this particular game to spiral rapidly into a futile-feeling disaster (in the fiction) that came dangerously close to feeling too impossible for my players to have fun. This was primarily due to two factors: first, the author’s repeated description of the enemies (the post-humans, called po-hus) “surrounding the mansion” - which I took logically to mean there must be quite a large crowd of them, on the order of one hundred, which quite resonably made escape seem nearly impossible to my players; second, I completely forgot that when the po-hus touch the characters and deliver their nematocysts that move their victims one step closer to losing their identity, the players get to roll to resist the effect - so every time the characters were touched, they moved one step closer to merging with the hive mind, which meant that one of them fell victim very rapidly when conflict eventually began, and that scared the crap out of everyone. As I said, the feeling of futility created by these two factors did not completely derail the game but it teetered on the edge between, tense-but-fun and hopeless-and-frustrating.
Back to the opening scene: my players’ characters spent a long time in the driveway discussing what to do - whether to go into the house with the door mysteriously standing open, what to do about the crowd of people asking to be let in, etc. They sent Yasha the local guide to talk to them, and he was able to honestly plead lack of authority to open the gate for them. The po-hus’ unison speech and movements were unsettling but did not cause them immediately to be taken as a grave threat, which was perfect. As the characters stood around talking, a baseball was thrown into the driveway, and the creepy townies all asked in unison if they could come in and get the ball; when it was tossed back, they all made a catching motion while the nearest one caught the ball without looking, robotically - this was enough to cause the players to move their characters into the mansion.
My portrayal of the po-hus and their behavior was determined by a series of d8 tables provided in the book; I never rolled on any of these tables, but I referred to them for ideas for specific attributes and actions, and I also used them as a general guide to extrapolate further traits and behaviors, which I hope is the spirit of the metasetting approach.
As the players explored the mansion, they had the same map as me - the interior of the house was not mapped out; there was simply a list of the rooms on each floor. Elmena, being the occupant’s niece and heir, would presumably have a fairly complete knowledge of the layout of the house, so the players could just name which rooms they wanted to visit, and the dreary dungeoncrawl vibe could be dispensed with, creating a more cinematic experience.