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Loose Ends

by Daniel Stelzer profile and Anais Sommerfeld


(based on 2 ratings)
2 reviews

About the Story

As a fledgling vampire, you’ve been ordered by your elders to investigate a murder and clean up any loose ends. A simple enough task—until you discover that you might be a loose end yourself.

Game Details


1st Place - IntroComp 2023

Entrant, Main Festival - Spring Thing 2024


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Number of Reviews: 2
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Trading favors, May 13, 2024
by Mike Russo (Los Angeles)
Related reviews: Spring Thing 2024

(I beta tested this game)

So far in this festival we’ve seen games that seem to be about politics but aren’t (Potato Peace, Pass a Bill) and games that seem to be about politics and are (Social Democracy, Dragon of Steelthorne sorta); Loose Ends completes the set, being a game that doesn’t seem to be about politics but actually 100% is (I suppose there are also a bunch of games that neither seem to be nor are about politics, but that’s a singularly unedifying line of inquiry). It’s about vampires, you see, but not just any vampires: these are the Kindred of the tabletop roleplaying game Vampire: the Masquerade, which can be played in a variety of styles ranging from angsty personal horror (…or so I’ve heard) to superheroes with fangs (definitely played in a few campaigns like this), but always foregrounds the complex web of relationships, feuds, and factions that dominates the endless unlives of the titular immortals.

The game does a good job of letting you slowly wade into the deep end of the pool, though. You’re a newcomer to town who gets hired for a classic Vampire task, a Masquerade cleanup: some chump of a vampire’s revealed their supernatural powers to mortals, leaving witnesses and evidence, and it’s up to you to preserve the secrecy of undead society by seeing to the requisite disappearances and threats. The early stages of the game therefore unfurl as an investigation, as you follow the schmendrick’s tracks and try to figure out exactly how big of a mess has been made. But it doesn’t take long to realize that, again in classic V:tM style, the job isn’t on the level and by nosing around, you’ve inadvertently put yourself into grave (groan) danger. As the game progresses, gameplay shifts from finding evidence or persuading witnesses to strategizing about trading favors: there are a wealth of characters representing a wide number of factions, most of whom hate each others’ guts, and sharing resources, information, or promises with some of them will help unlock secrets, or lend you mundane or supernatural aid. It all comes to a crescendo in a final conflict that turns less on whether you’ve sussed out the mystery than if you’ve made any allies who’ll care enough to keep you from getting squashed by a bug.

The interface does a good job of helping you master the array of options and information at your disposal; each night, you’re given a choice of locations to visit, and also the chance to review your resources and what you’ve learned. Gameplay largely proceeds via standard choice-based gameplay, but with clearly-marked places where your choice of focus attributes and vampire powers unlock new options. When it comes time to offer a favor, you always have a chance to back down and change your mind; likewise, while the game does have an overall time limit, it’s fairly forgiving and runs partially according to the rules of drama rather than a strict clock. As a result the game feels quite fair, even as the social-engineering puzzle it presents can be quite challenging to navigate.

The characters are a highlight, brought to life by evocative prose and well-chosen dialogue. They tend a bit to the stereotypical, if you’ve played the tabletop game, since most stand in as single representatives for their faction, but they’re all well done, and there are some who stand out as individuals, like the freethinking university professor or the alchemy-dabbling painter and her making-a-series-of-bad-decisions lover. And I’d imagine they make the cavalcade of political groups a little easier to navigate for newcomers to the World of Darkness, by personalizing the factions – in fact overall I think the game does a good job of explaining itself and not presupposing prior knowledge of the setting (if anything, I might have wrong-footed myself through my familiarity with older versions of Vampire: in my first playthrough, I caught wind of the hideout of a Sabbat cabal. Seeing as they’re a sect of vampires whose cruelty and fanaticism are so extreme that I’m struggling to come up with a plausible real-world analogy, I steered well clear. But when I visited them in a subsequent save-file there was just a tense conversation waiting for me, reflecting I think that the Sabbat have been toned down in recent editions).

I can still see Loose Ends not being for everyone: the web of information and relationships is tricky to navigate successfully, and if you’re interested in the personal-horror aspect of vampirism, your thirsts will largely go unslaked – there’s no existential angst here, and heck, feeding on the blood of the living is mostly something that gets taken care of in a perfunctory paragraph between chapters. But if the idea of trying to use your wits to survive jaded immortals’ games of feint and counter-feint, look no further.

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The Broad Wore Fangs, May 10, 2024
by JJ McC
Related reviews: Spring Thing 24

Adapted from a SpringThing24 Review

Played: 4/4/24
Playtime: 1.75hrs, (Spoiler - click to show)Stayed in city, joined a faction

For as big a horror fan as I am, vampire-fetishism has never been my bag. To the extent that I have any tabletop RPG history it would be more Call of Chtulhu than V: Masquerade. Despite leading with its inspiration (the latter), I was very pleased with the smoothness Loose Ends got me up to speed on the deep background of factions, norms and abilities. Trickle feeding lore as it was needed was so much more engaging than a massive infodump would have been.

I was positively delighted that gameplay and story owed a lot more to Noir Detective than RPG sourcebook. Like a lot of great Noir, it uses a very specific political and social backdrop to inform a more-than-appears mystery, with a hard-boiled, out-of-their-depth outsider player-detective. It also seems to be a pretty deep implementation, supporting a variety of play styles. A handful of selectable skills and abilities seem to permute the player space in a nicely customized way.

It is a choice select mystery. This is a challenging paradigm for mysteries, as without careful curation, even simple absence/presence of options can provide unearned or mimesis threatening cluing. Loose Ends is not perfect here, but it is pretty darn good at it. Its biggest compromise on this front is marking options that may hold information with icons. It acts as a stealth hint system, that often wasn’t needed due to well-connected chains of clues. In one case though it did generate a repeat visit I might not have otherwise bothered with. I think on balance its value as a soft ‘director’ outweighs its downsides.

In addition to enabling a variety of player capabilities, the work also seems to enable a variety of player motivations and story paths. With diligence you can solve the (pretty cool) mystery, but what you DO with that solution seems to be up to you! That’s just nifty. It leverages Telltales’ ‘X WILL REMEMBER THAT’ mechanism to great effect, rewarding player choices with faction alignment that potentially changes the levers of power in the city. (Sidebar: Is there a more important narrative-game innovation in our lifetime than that pregnant phrase? I guess barring folks old enough to have seen the genre invented in the first place.)

My biggest quibble with the game is its lack of state awareness. Many times throughout the game, stock location descriptions include objects that have been removed, refer to dialogue that is no longer relevant, or concatenate game state text in jarring ways. In its most egregious artifact, it allows recovery of clues that have been destroyed. Below is an intrusive example:

(Spoiler - click to show)"[...] Lucille freezes—then a spasm runs through her body as her control of her own nerves is severed, muscles and tendons moving as Varkonyi directs. With another gesture he shuts down a bundle of nerves, sending her sprawling to the floor. For a moment she can do nothing but twitch, but with effort she staggers back to her feet.

"Lucille stays close to your side, watching and waiting for the right moment to strike—and then she finds it. In a split second she’s right in the middle of everything, laughing wildly as she whirls around in a flurry of steel. Another split second and she’s thirty feet back, covering your advance."

I have some forgiveness for these kinds of artifacts and even so, the work had enough to push itself past my ‘just ignore it’ threshold.

The only other off note for me was the denouement. As these things do, it kind of summarized the net effect of your choices on the ultimate outcome. I was unpleasantly surprised to see my choices showed me aligning with a faction I had no intent of aligning with. In fact, I had deliberately attempted to preserve faction-free independence throughout the game. I suppose some combination of my final actions and who I chose to ally with swung the algorithm on me, but I was not expecting it.

So yeah, slightly sour ending but engaging through its runtime for sure. Here's the big twist though: the authors have since updated the game, seemingly addressing many of these issues! I can only report my own experience, but assuming they did as good a job on the updates as the base game, they likely turned a 4-star experience to a 5-star one!

Mystery, Inc: Shaggy, though a strong argument for Velma too
Vibe: Vampy Noir
Polish: Textured -> Smooth?
Gimme the Wheel! : Absolutely my version of this project would try to polish its state awareness as a first priority. I think I would also try to soft hint faction alignment implications to give a little more player information and influence on the outcome. To the extent this was done... backseat driving works ya'll!

Polish scale: Gleaming, Smooth, Textured, Rough, Distressed
Gimme the Wheel: What I would do next, if it were my project.

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This is version 3 of this page, edited by Draconis on 16 May 2024 at 7:46pm. - View Update History - Edit This Page - Add a News Item - Delete This Page