Critical Play #2: Lovecraftian Shorts


I played Lovecraftian Shorts, a GM-less roleplay game for three players. 

This is a narrative-based game; the theme is three characters going on an adventure together. During the game, players make up a story collaboratively by taking turns describing the story’s scenes. Dice rolls and the players’ own storytelling abilities determine the outcome of the story.

Since this game is not well known, I have included a description of its procedures and rules before my Comparative Analysis.


  1. Players create their characters.
    1. Although this is optional, players are encouraged to decide character aspects such as names, backstories, and hobbies. These aspects do not affect the game besides helping with the players’ storytelling.
  2. There are three rounds; each player has one turn in each round. Each turn represents one scene in the story that the players are building together. On each turn, the following steps occur.
    1. The player whose turn it is (we will call her P1) chooses a title for this scene (e.g. “The Monster in the Attic”). 
      1. The other players may help her with this. 
    2. P1 then narrates the scene. The scene must include an obstacle (e.g. “The monster is attacking!”). 
      1. The scene must connect to the other scenes of the story so far. 
      2. P1 may control all three of the characters.
      3. Other players may veto actions that P1 narrates for their characters.
      4. Other players may suggest events for the scene, but P1 may veto them.
    3. P1 then rolls a 10-sided die to determine whether the players can overcome the obstacle. 
      1. If the value of the die is greater than or equal to 8, the characters overcome the obstacle. P1 narrates how they do this (e.g. “Sarah lures the monster into a box and traps it!”).
      2. If the value of the die is less than 8, P1 or any other player may use a Bonus (see Bonuses section at end of Procedures/Rules )to bump up the score to 8.
      3. If P1 has no sufficient Bonus, and the other players cannot or will not contribute their Bonuses, P1 fails her turn.
    4. If P1 fails, she must take a penalty.
      1. If this is her first penalty, she may choose between Insanity and Wound, both of which result in -1 to her future die rolls. Players must incorporate P1’s insanity or wound into their narrations.
      2. If this is her second penalty, she must add the penalty she did not choose for her first penalty. Her cumulative die penalty is still -1; players simply must now incorporate both penalties into their narrations.
      3. If this is her third penalty, she must narrate how she dies a heroic death. She is now out of the game. 
  3. The game ends after nine rounds, or when all players have died.


Each player receives three Bonuses. Each Bonus can be used once throughout the game (on the player’s own turn, or any other turn).

  1. Occult item: adds 3 points to a die roll. The player narrates how an occult item (which can be anything they make up on the spot, such as a magic mirror or enchanted dagger) allows them to overcome the obstacle.
  2. Mundane skill: adds 2 points to a die roll. The player narrates how a human skill (e.g. shooting, climbing) allows them to overcome the obstacle.
  3. Love or desire: adds 1 point to a die roll. The player narrates how a strong motivation, such as love or desire, pushes them to overcome the obstacle.

Comparative Analysis

Mechanics –> Dynamics –> Aesthetics (Fun!)

The foremost mechanic is players’ ability to invent anything they want for their scenes. This produces a dynamic of players building on one another’s ideas to generate elaborate stories. This creates the aesthetics of Fellowship (players engage with one another’s ideas) and Narration (each scene adds to the story, resulting in a cohesive plotline).

Another mechanic is that players do not (necessarily) play as themselves. Rather, players place themselves in situations different from their real-life ones; this creates a Fantasy aesthetic.  

Next, players may use their Bonuses to help other players. This creates a dynamic where players may help one another at a detriment to themselves. This dynamic is intended to strengthen the Fellowship aspect of the game. However, as I explain in the Insights section, I do not think this aesthetic is successful.

Finally, players overcome obstacles by rolling dice, and then may apply bonuses to bolster their results. This produces a dynamic of uncertainty, and thus suspense, in overcoming obstacles. This creates a Challenge aesthetic (although, as I explain in the Insights section, I find the Challenge aesthetic weak).

Graphic Design

The only resources needed to play this game are three players and a die. The die is not included in the game; my partners and I used Google’s d10. 

Thus, there are not many elements of graphic design in this game. In the rule book (which I found on Amazon), however, there are several illustrations of potential scenes (e.g. Fig. 1) that are intended to serve as inspiration. The characters and situations in these example scenes are quirky and vague, and they serve to stimulate the players’ imaginations, thus bolstering the Fantasy and Narration aesthetics of the game.

Fig. 1: An example of a scene illustration in the rule book

Abuse Handling

One possible abuse is narrators killing off other players’ characters; this abuse is handled by the rule that players may veto actions that directly affect their characters.


This game attempts to grow its Fellowship aesthetic by allowing players to use their Bonuses to help each other. However, if a player P fails a turn, only P is penalized. Thus, there is little motivation for other players to use their Bonuses to help P.

In our game (Hitched Without a Hitch), we incentivize group collaboration through “bouquet” points. We will pay attention during playtesting to whether players are motivated to contribute to the group goals.

Also, I found Lovecraftian Shorts too easy. Each player P only has three turns, so P must fail all of her turns to die. Because of P’s bonuses, even if no other player ever helps her, P has only a 10% chance of dying. When my group played, nobody died (and we only used two bonuses between us). Thus, the Challenge aesthetic was not compelling. 

In Hitched Without a Hitch, players occasionally roll dice against each other; the higher roll wins. Thus, both players have an equal chance of winning these rolls. We will pay attention during playtesting to whether these obstacles are appropriately suspenseful (and thus fun).

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