Free RPG Society: Lasers and Feelings Review

On a recent episode of The Shrieker Podcast, I reviewed Lasers and Feelings, a wonderful little game by John Harper at One.Seven Designs. It was built to play short Star Trek-esque adventures. Supposedly it was inspired by the song Lasers and Feelings by the Double Clicks, which surprises me a bit since the song, at least judging by the music video, is about a super villain rather than a space opera. Regardless of the idea's origin, the game is a fun, solid, easy to understand game with broad appeal and accessibility.

The author, John Harper, should be a familiar name to anyone with a taste for RPGs that expands beyond D&D and Pathfinder. He is currently working on Blades in the Dark, an urban theif-y Powered by the Apocalypse game, that was backed by nearly 4,000 people on Kickstarter. Prior to that he created some wonderful and freely available games including Lady Blackbird, one of the most well known microRPGs, which will definitely be reviewed by the Free RPG Society later.

Lasers and Feelings is a delicate exercise in constraint and simplicity. The entire game fits on the single side of a standard 8.5 by 11 sheet of paper with large enough font to be easily read and enough wiggle room for pleasant layout and graphics. The characters are equally elegant, consisting of two descriptors and a single number that divides a scale of 1 to 6 into lasers ability and feelings ability. When a character attempts something that could go horribly wrong the GM declares whether it takes a successful lasers roll (requiring technical expertise) or a feelings roll (using the character's interpersonal skills) and the player casts up to 3 six-sided dice, depending on how prepared the character is for that action. A roll is successful if it results in a number that on the correct side of the scale (lasers or feelings) and the total number of successes determines the outcome.

That may be hard to parse so lets break it down with an example. Bossa Nova is a dangerous pilot (her two descriptors) and she was created with a 3 on the scale. To succeed at a lasers roll (like flying safely through a field of astro-mines) she'd count die results that are under 3 (1s and 2s). If she is attempting something that needs a feelings roll (like provoking an enemy captain into a premature attack by talking smack about his momma) she'd count die results over 3 (4s, 5s, and 6s). Bossa Nova is a pretty balanced character but she has slightly better odd of succeeding at feelings rolls.

What happens when Bossa Nova rolls a 3, you ask? What happens when a die result is right on the number that divides the scale, that is neither on the laser nor the feelings side? Well, dear readers, that is my favorite part of this game. That roll result is called LASER FEELINGS! When a player gets laser feelings they are allowed to ask the GM a single question that must be answered honestly. Players love this result because they get a sneaky insight into the GM's wicked plans, which should be a nice advantage for them. Really, though, the GM benefits from laser feelings the most. My experience is that the questions asked by the players indicate pretty clearly what they feel is the most exciting direction the game could take. Laser Feelings essentially tricks the players into writing their own plot twists. Now, clever GMs have been allowing their players to steer the story for a long time but Lasers and Feelings builds it into the game mechanics, making it possible for even dullards like me to do it.

Above all else, Lasers and Feels is easy to run. There are few numbers to keep track of. the Laser Feelings rolls steer the story for you, and that's not all. Every game begins at the same point (Captain Darcy is out of commission in a medical pod) and the ship has built-in flaws chosen by the players that complicate things if the game hits a lull. There's even a brief random plot table.

The game does come with some limitations. It has no mechanic for character advancement and does not lend itself to on-going campaign play if that's what you're looking for. To be clear, this is not a weakness, it's just not what this game was designed for. It is perfect for spontaneous pick-up games, such as when a groups normal GM misses a week (as was the case both times I've run it). Similarly, it isn't a highly tactical wargame. You can't break out your miniature starships and use Lasers and Feelings to simulate space combat. Also, I mentioned on the podcast that the game probably works best when all the players are familiar with Trek tropes. Phil Vecchione, on the Misdirected Mark Podcast, disagreed with that. He contended that the game slides easily from Star Trek to Battlestar Galactaca or Firefly. This may be true. However, the players still need some shared fictional foundation for the game to run as smoothly as possible. I'm sure Phil would point out that that argument hold true for RPGs as a whole; they function on genre emulation. Being as short as it is, Lasers and Feels doesn't have much text explaining what an RPG is or how to play one. I imagine it would be a bit difficult for a group to figure out if no one at the table had experience with other RPGs.

All in all, I can't praise Lasers and Feelings enough. It's single laminated page has earned a permanent place on my game shelf, it's PDF a spot on my phone. If you're looking for a short, light game that almost runs itself, I award it 5 pews out of 5. If you want to hear an actual game, the One Shot Podcast has recorded a couple excellent actual plays and She's a Super Geek played it with the Double Clicks.

Ouch, right in the laser feels...

Ouch, right in the laser feels...