Valley of Shadow is set in a noir-style prison. It explores topics such as hopelessness, the cycle of violence, powerlessness – but also love, forgiveness and mercy. All the characters are members of a mobster “family” who got into a hopeless situation – partly through a fault of their own; partly because of an outside influence. Each of them will have their greatest enemy in the game – and together they will walk a thorny path full of blame, violence, guilt… and in the end, perhaps, even some degree of forgiveness?
At night, the prison falls silent and the characters return to their cells; to dream of a better life, in which they avoided their greatest mistake and did not choose hatred. The dream scenes will use blues dancing as a platform of communication, and they will tell a much lighter story of the golden youth of the jazz era and their one true love.
The game will not be divided into nice and gloomy scenes: the dream scenes will still explore sorrow and anger and the prison will include moments of happiness. However, the prison game will be clearly centred primarily in a melancholic atmosphere, while the dream scenes will always bear a certain energy and carelessness.
You will find detailed information about the game’s design in this document: Design Document.
The following text is only meant to introduce the key points of the design.
As we mentioned above, the game actually has two different stories with two separate story arcs. The first one is the story of the characters as individuals – lowly mobsters in prison – portraying key scenes from their lives. This story will be played in the way we usually play larps – through theatrical roleplaying, including verbal play. Its main themes are hopelessness and the characters’ reflection on the lives they’d led. These scenes will then have their dream intermezzos; danced scenes, which tell a story from the characters’ dreams; a story of hope and happiness that the characters dream about while in reality, they’re waiting for their deaths. The main focus of this story is love; a romantic arch of overcoming your weaknesses to be with the one you love. These two stories and the scenes in them serve to highlight the contrast between what is and what could have been.
Alter egos and anchor couples
Every character in the game is played by two players. These two players sign up together as a pair and one of them has to be a follower, one of them a leader for the dance. These two alter egos see each other as best friends, or maybe two manifestations of the same personality; two voices in one head. Their story and position in it are the same; they share one name and one fate. Any conversations and interactions between these alteregos are, therefore, basically the character’s internal monologues and the players can use them for sorting through their thoughts.
In the workshops, each couple of players will find another couple (meaning one other character) that they will have a key relationship with – their anchor couple. In the real story, the characters in this couple will hate each other, while in the dream story they’ll love each other.
The structure of both the prison and the dream stories will be given ahead: we will give you key scenes that all your characters will go through. These scenes will create the overarching story framework for your characters: we will give you the order, setting, and very basic content or atmosphere of the scenes. They will form the essence of the characters’ dramatic arc; the most crucial moments from the characters’ lives. The players will then co-create content for their characters in these scenes during the workshops. All this means you will know from the beginning how your characters will end and the game will not work with secrets or surprises; it will be transparent.
It then follows that the whole game will be co-created by the players to a great extent. We will give the players some unchangeable setting and structure elements, as well as very basic character archetypes. The players will get to choose their archetypes in the workshops and then develop them together, creating their background and their story.
The alteregos will always create the character and its story together, often in collaboration with their anchor couples.
Part of the game’s content will be expressed using Blues Vernacular Dance. However, we do not expect our players to come to the game knowing blues dancing at all – quite on the contrary; we will have several workshops where we will teach you a form of blues that will allow you to play our game, from scratch.
What is blues? It’s a very grounded, relaxed, rhythmical dance, inseparably connected to traditional African American blues music. The main focus on blues is not on memorizing complicated steps and figures; instead, blues is about contact, listening to one’s partner, improvisation, musicality, and rhythm. It is very easy to learn the basics of blues – if you can take a small step to the side and shift your weight, congratulations, you can (sorta) do the basic step of blues. You can dance blues in any age and it’s not very physically demanding. One of its main principles is that the leader and follower are equal partners, who both have agency and can contribute to the communication.
Blues is also a very social dance – it’s common to switch partners a lot or even switch dance roles within one dance. Anybody can dance with anybody else, regardless of gender, dance role or dance ability.