Interviewing J.R. Blackwell – Bringing Zombies to the Masses

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If you don’t already know her, J.R. Blackwell is an extremely talented writer and photographer living in Philadelphia, PA. I have met her several times at various conventions during the last few years. I’m a huge fan of her eclectic art and amazing story telling. I was so excited when I found out that she was starting a Kickstarter campaign for her recently released live action role playing game, “Shelter in Place” being published by Galileo Games. I’ve been intrigued by LARPing since I joined a few vampire LARP games in college and have been looking for a way to get back into it again.

She agreed to sit down with me and talk to me about her passions, her game and the instantly popular Kickstarter campaign that was released on Monday.


Me: What do you do when you aren’t designing LARP games?
J.R.: I tell stories – if I’m not telling them with games, then I’m writing fiction or running around with my camera – but the goal is the same – to create interesting characters and tell cool stories.  My fiction has been published by Escape Pod Magazine and in the Gospel of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. My photography has been on book covers and in art projects. I love taking on any kind of projects that involve storytelling.

Me: For those folks who have never LARPed before, what is it?
J.R.: LARP stands for Live Action Role-Playing, and it’s a kind of gaming where you take on the role of a character and act out what they do. It’s like doing improv with rules. Shelter in Place is a kind of beginner LARP – with very simple rules. I created it to be an “intro” game for new gamers, and people who are interested in LARPing, but need a place to start.

Me: How long have you been LARPing? What was your first LARP experience?
J.R.: I’ve been LARPing for fourteen years. My first official LARP experience was a Vampire game in high school. There are people I played with back then that are still my friends today! One of them,
Filamena Young, wrote the introductory fiction for Shelter in Place. LARPs allow people to fully embody the character – to think about how they would move, eat and speak. Taking on various roles growing up
gave me the opportunity to really walk in someone else’s shoes – and as a result, I think I’m a more empathetic person.

Me: What is Shelter in Place?
J.R.: Shelter in Place is a live action game of zombie horror with a twist. It’s a lot like playing tag – but with zombies.  Players take on the roles of humans or zombies during the zombie apocalypse. The humans have a shelter that they must work together to defend from the zombies. The zombies only have one goal – to eat some brains! All the characters are pre-generated and all the rules for playing can be found on each character sheet. This means that players don’t need to read the whole book to understand how to play the game – all they need to know is what’s on their character sheet.

Me: What was your inspiration for Shelter in Place?
J.R.: During a workplace emergency drill, we were shown how to Shelter in Place – which means going to an inner room in a building and staying there until it’s safe to leave. This can be used for noxious chemical spills or other environmental factors, but when I was doing the drill, all I could think about were that this would be the way my city would handle Zombies and that’s where Shelter in Place was born.

Me: Who can play the game? How many people can play? Recommended Ages?
JR: One of my goals for Shelter in Place was to make a beginner game that would be easy for new gamers to play. Anyone who wants to try surviving the Zombie apocalypse can play the game. Shelter in Place is designed for 10 – 26 players. Players should be able to read their character sheets and tell time. Children who can play and understand board games and who know how “tagging” someone in a game is different than “hitting” will have fun with Shelter in Place.  For large groups of children, I recommend appointing a second person to help manage the game.

Me: How long does it take to play?
J.R.: Shelter in Place is a two-hour game played in two one-hour rounds. Usually with set up, explanation of rules, and a snack break between rounds – the game takes about three hours. During the first round, one group plays humans and the other zombies. During the second round, these groups switch characters so that everyone gets a chance to play something different.

Me: What do players do during the game?
J.R: Players must try to get their characters to survive the game – and it isn’t easy!  Human players need to gather special items that will help them escape and survive, while Zombie players need to work together to
eat human brains.  As the night goes on and more humans become zombies, the zombies grow more powerful, and humans must strategize to survive the night.
Shelter in Place is really all about teamwork. Working together, each team is very strong. Characters by themselves will have a hard time surviving on their own, but characters working together are tough to

Me: What are the twist characters?
J.R.: Shelter in Place is like being in a zombie movie – and every zombie movie has their own twist on things. The twist characters give players the opportunity to add something extra to their games.  One of the twist characters is a vampire. The vampire can feed on humans for their blood, attacking them indiscriminately, or they can side with the humans against the zombies. It’s up to the player to decide what side the twist character is on.

Me: You debuted at GenCon, what was the reception from folks who played it there?
J.R.: GenCon was a great experience. The reception for the game was great. We were sold out every night. Players at GenCon impressed me with how they caught on to the game so quickly, and started to strategize to get ahead in the game. After the games, people were really enthusiastic to hear more about the game, the twist characters, and to hear about how other games I’ve run have gone.

Me: How much are you hoping to raise with your Kickstarter campaign?
J.R.: We hope to raise $2,500 to fund the print run of the book. We are offering lots of rewards including the book, t-shirts, posters, photoshoot – and plushies of Fred, our game’s mascot. (As of the time this article went to press, “Shelter in Place” already had 34 backers, raising nearly $1800!)

Me: What do you plan to do when you exceed your goal?
J.R.: If we exceed our goal, the plan is to print more books, write more games and travel to more conventions to run the game. I’ve been asked to come to conventions to run games for people in their area, and I’d love to do so, but financially, it’s just not possible. A Kickstarter that exceeded our goal would allow me to do just that. It would also let me write more games to share.

Fred the "Shelter in Place" zombie mascot


Want to learn more about J.R. Blackwell? Check out her website.
Find her on twitter or tumblr.
Check out her photos on her Flickr page.


Thanks J.R. for the awesome interview and good luck on reaching your goal!!!

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