Is piracy killing the gaming industry?

Blackened Hearts: A pirate (mini) LARP

Estimated reading time: 13 minutes

Editor Alexander likes to play mini-LARPs. He recently got involved in the American mini-LARP Blackened Hearts Tried about pirates and their greed for gold. You can read here whether he and his players had fun and why it wasn't because of the rules.

Once or twice a year I am drawn to it IFOL, an event that is primarily about mini-LARPs, i.e. small and relatively short LARP scenarios that usually do not require any large props. In preparation for my last one IFOL in February I thought about offering a game again. over Drive-thru RPG I found Blackened Hearts, an American mini-LARP in English by Matthew Karabache. 8–15 players and two and a half hours of playing time, everything has already been worked out and I don't have to invest a lot of working time? That sounds great, and I'm happy to spend some money on it too.

At Drive-thru RPG I am currently paying "Pay what you want" with a recommended price of 5 USD. So paid, downloaded, unzipped and read. After the game, I sat down again with a lot of my players and we criticized them. What was good? What not? What works for us Germans? What not? Where do I still have to invest work as a game master, and where can I simply get what I get for my money? I would now like to tell you a little about my first run from Blackened Hearts ran what we enjoyed and what not.

Table of Contents

The story - of pirates, gold, swindles and curses

The Black Kraken is a typical pirate ship. On her last booty tour, she fell into her hands with the Urca de Lima, a Spanish treasure galleon that, thanks to a storm, was only a shadow of itself. After a long and hard fight, the galleon now belonged to the pirates of the Black Kraken, and with a lot of gold and even a few new crew members, it goes home to Tortuga to drink, whore and do whatever pirates are still up to Drift ashore.

The captain is in a good mood, so he already distributes a few pieces of the booty, Spanish gold doubloons, among the crew, and with the exception of the crew who have to operate the ship, celebrations are arranged. After all, there are only two hours left to Tortuga, what is going to happen there?

So you play for your "honestly" earned doubloons, or trade with or steal from your pirate buddies and maybe try to implement one or the other of your own plans. There are tons of rumors floating around. Rumors about treasure maps, about a mutiny, about cursed gold and about love stories and pirate legends. Which of these come true, which are true and which are not, that is up to the players. Because this is where the “story” ends, which is much more of a setting, a stage for what the players make of their characters

So that you can have fun with this game, it should be mentioned that you are more of a Pirates of the Caribbean-Style should be expected as one Black Sails-Style. Since I didn't clarify this beforehand, some fantastic elements did not go down well with the players, as they OT assumed that these could not exist in the game and were just superstitions.

The characters - From superstitious Spaniards and one-armed chefs

And here we come to what this game is all about: the characters. 15 in number, and each of them is lovingly worked out, with a short description, a long description, an obvious part and a secret part, goals that the character has and explanations of how he feels about the other characters. And, what I found particularly beautiful and therefore would like to emphasize, the players are free to choose which gender they choose for the characters. The names were deliberately chosen to be neutral, and the short “Note on gender” is so funny that I don't want to withhold it from you

"Are you a woman or a man?" "I'm a pirate!" "Okay ... yes, but what are you wearing?" "Of course Spanish gold doubloons!"

And that says enough about the subject.

But what kind of characters are we talking about here?

  • We have Captain Avery Whitman here, for example, who has commanded the ship for a year and has led the ship and crew through a long dry spell.
  • We also have Lupe Barbero, cabin boy on the Urca de Lima, who switched to the Black Kraken and above all is afraid of an ominous curse that is supposed to lie on the gold that the Urca de Lima transports.
  • We have Tanner "Mad" Morley, the ship's doctor, who tortures everyone present with gory and bloody descriptions of his operations.
  • We have Harper "the black corsair" Lindley, a pirate legend whose sword and pistol handling is unbeaten.
  • And we have Henri “Hellcat” Holmes, the navigator, who has a short fuse and does nothing but curse all day but is loyal to everyone he calls “friend”.


And of course we have 10 other characters that I don't want to list here. It should also be said, as already mentioned above, that each of the characters has more depth than what the short summary can and should show. Different characters and their goals are also interwoven to create play and conflict.

For those who are really interested in running the game, I'll share a few sample secrets and shortcuts in the spoiler box below. For those who think they want to play the game themselves, however, I strongly advise against reading it and thus depriving yourself of the fun of the game.

However, it is precisely these links, in addition to the greatest potential, that are also a great crux of this game. Depending on how many people are playing, not all characters are occupied, and this means that some connections are nowhere near. This in turn means that the game master must consciously adjust the selection of characters in advance to the number of players in order to either be able to play on certain plot strands or to take them out of the game.

Likewise, the different characters have different start items and skills, but you have to be careful here as well, which items and skills are important or unnecessary for which plot threads. A list of the eight most important characters is provided by the author, but here, too, we noticed that at least one or two links already run nowhere. Probably, therefore, as a game master, one would be well advised to make another effort. To invest time and work and to work out for the planned number of players which characters should be used. Of course, I would have liked to have something like this already supplied by the author, but maybe it will come in a future version.


There is still a really big twist in this game. But that should really remain hidden from all but one player before the game. Lupe Barbero is really right about his belief in the curse. The Urca de Lima was struck by a curse that caused its crew to pound each other out of greed. This curse came from a demon, Macuilcozcacuauhtli, who now resides in the body of one of the crew members and who will continue to try to curse the gold doubloons and thus also tear the Black Kraken to their ruin.

But even apart from this main twist, there is more than enough potential for conflict that can escalate. Be it that the "black corsair" actually wants to stop being a pirate and is only looking for enough gold and someone with whom he can say goodbye to the pirate life, be it the secretly smuggled assassin who has the assignment, the black one Killing corsairs. Or that "Mad" Morley is not a real doctor at all and only tries to cover this up with his stories so that nobody wants to be there when he is doctoring his patients. There is also the possibility of mutiny, and one has to keep an eye on various loyalties and the distribution of weapons.

You see, the characters are very colorful, and everyone can find a lot of game for themselves with their character.

Since this point is primarily a supplement to the previous point (characters), the assessment also applies here that, in case of doubt, the relationships and goals of the individual characters should be checked again for compatibility with different numbers of players

Game material

The ZIP file contains a full-color, beautifully laid out PDF file, in which the game master can find the essentials for the game on 12 pages:

  • an introduction
  • a list with the short descriptions of the characters
  • a checklist to help you prepare for the game
  • a few quick games of chance the descriptions of which can be interpreted to encourage people to play for doubloons
  • an overview of the rules
  • a GM overview of the course of the game with tips and explanations of what the game management should do and when


Another folder extracted from the ZIP file contains the images used for the PDF as well as the link to a Spotify playlist with ambient music. A final folder contains print-optimized documents that are relevant to the game:

  • a list with the short descriptions of the characters
  • detailed character descriptions of the individual characters
  • a few quick games of chance the descriptions of which can be interpreted to encourage people to play for doubloons
  • a GM overview of the course of the game with tips and explanations of what the game management should do and when
  • an overview of the rules
  • Nameplates
  • Item and ability cards (more about this under rules)
  • a questionnaire to give feedback to the author


But apart from that, other materials are needed. The document says that you still need about 288 gold doubloons (I took plastic coins from the carnival supplies for this), 12 six-sided dice and 2 card games (for the games of chance). Ideally, you also need additional bags for the gold doubloons to transport them (as well as the item and ability cards). Optionally, you can also create different props to better display the item cards. In my experience in the game, this last option should definitely be used. It leads to a much smoother flow of the game (more on this in a moment) and promotes immersion more.

I can't say whether this is due to the difference between the American and German LARP, but knowing that Items OT only represented by cards was very counter-intuitive for many of my players. At the same time, props such as sabers, pistols, treasure maps, amulets etc. should either already be available for LARPers or be easy to obtain and create.


There are some rules in this game that seem strange at first glance to us, who are used to the LARP forms played in this country. Others, in turn, make perfect sense, but should still be adapted sensitively by the SL to the respective situation.

First of all, the item and skill cards are mentioned here.

Right from the start, each character has a number of specific cards that show their equipment and skills (magical as well as unmagical). Certain cards only make sense for the character in combination with other cards. So you can have a Spanish letter, but only if you also have the “Spanish” skill card can you get new information from the game management because you can now read the letter. In addition, there are skills like “intimidate”, “theft” etc. which can only be used to a limited extent and which, in terms of the rules, mean that you can look at the opponent's cards or steal one of them. Weapons work in a similar way to a rock-paper-scissors system with counter cards, but otherwise kill instantly. But you can only kill when you have entered the port, otherwise you would not be able to flee (and so you can let the conflicts escalate in the end).

Items as cards don't work well in Germany.

We had our problems with this system. For one thing, it just doesn't look good if you pull out a “pistol” card all at once, point at someone and shout “BANG”. Especially since it is difficult to assess beforehand whether the other person is armed at all. On the other hand, a lot degenerates into a pure process according to rules, which visibly inhibits the role play. The game management is very often asked to clarify rule questions or to provide information, so that the game management can be quite a bottleneck, especially in tricky situations.

The whole game goes two hours before you arrive in Tortuga. Depending on how the game is going, this time can also be very slow and long. Here the game master should be aware that if the conflict is nearing its end and people are otherwise bored, he can definitely shorten this time. It has been shown that short calls (for example from the lookout (IT), how close you are to Tortuga (i.e. the end of the game) are quite helpful for the players.