The Blackwood Charter mixes immersive entertainment with an escape room to create a weekend-long, puzzle-solving Event. Focusing on the narrative, Blackwood brings guests in as investigators of a decades-old mystery, hoping they can solve the case before the world at large is negatively impacted. The Charter is headed up by the elusive Executor, who only speaks to the investigators invited to the property, but Haunting had the opportunity to speak with The Blackwood Charter’s mouthpiece, Daniel Gale-Rosen, about the Event and what guests can expect during their weekend with The Charter.
The Blackwood Charter team was brought together by their love of escape rooms and immersive entertainment. After attending many escape rooms with their currently undefeated group, and creating puzzles for friends and family, they decided to try their hand at an “official” experience of their own. Gale-Rosen explains that The Blackwood Charter has “consulted with many leaders in those two fields, from puzzle designers to creators of at-home escape experiences, to immersive theater producers and writers. The Executor is the in-story head of The Charter, who guides the experience from afar, and gives the investigators the background they need to succeed.”
Their first foray into a professionally produced escape room, The Blackwood Charter is an ambitious “weekend-long, immersive, story-forward, escape-room experience. Set in the present day, you are a group of investigators tasked with determining what happened during a mysterious event 100 years ago (or so), and stopping its repercussions from affecting the world at large.”
Despite the incorporation of the supernatural, Gale-Rosen explains that The Blackwood Charter is more an adventure story than a horror experience: “The majority of what happened occurred many years ago, and participants are dealing with the aftermath, rather than the direct events. However, there are definitely spirits hanging around, and it’s part of the experience to find out why.”
Designed to appeal to all types of participants, the puzzles within The Blackwood Charter “can require anything from a good musical ear to a good sense of direction, and the best groups tend to have a multitude of varying skill-sets. A kind heart, and a desire to understand other people never hurt anyone either.” Gale-Rosen continues, “We ask for full groups to take part in the experience, but the 8-10 is not a hard-and-fast rule. It’s the size we’ve found has the best experience, but we can adapt to larger and smaller groups as needed.”
The narrative in escape rooms can sometimes get lost in their limited (typically 60-minute) time frame. The Blackwood Charter, however, wants to highlight their story by giving guests the weekend to explore and dive even deeper into the how and why of the world they have created. “This balance between story and gameplay is the biggest thing borrowed from cinematic-style video games. Additionally, broadening the scope of the game, expanding out to not just a series of rooms but a full house, grounds, and more, allows players to explore a new environment in an ‘open-world’ style. Similar to video games, there will eventually also be more cinematic set-pieces involved at certain points in the narrative — you could consider these real-life cut scenes,” Gale-Rosen explains. “In terms of the plot line, the story is certainly influenced by the world of Lovecraft, a bit of Myst, and just a dash of Doctor Who as well. It’s a totally new story, but the elements involved can tie it back to those other sources.”
Due to unforeseen circumstances or late arrivals, players are welcome to start their weekend of mystery with a low-key Friday night cocktail hour (complete with a resident mixologist) and light set of puzzles that “are tied to the narrative, but they’re more self-contained, providing context to what’s about to happen, rather than setting people off immediately on their journey.” Blackwood’s locations are chosen “specifically to give people a fun time, even when they’re not directly involved in the story or gameplay.”
Saturday, after an included breakfast, “the game is afoot. The experience proceeds at the player’s own pace; hints are available as needed via a Charter representative that will follow the group, but are only given if asked for. We’re looking to make this a story-forward experience, so the only time limit is that the experience is completed by the end of the weekend. However, past groups have generally finished somewhat after dinnertime on Saturday evening.”
So far, the only actors involved are The Charter members that are keeping an eye on the group’s progress and aiding as requested. They “have a wealth of knowledge on what happened before, previous investigations, and other pieces of information that may be useful. However, there may be other voices and communications from non-physical parties throughout the experience. Most of the story is revealed through these interactions and through the puzzles themselves; we are also looking into ways to deepen the acting presence in the near future.”
The location, chosen by The Charter team based on the number of participants and schedule is “generally fully open to the guests. There are particular sections that are revealed throughout the weekend, giving a new experience every minute. We have a number of places on offer that all give an equivalent experience.” In every location, though, “the main way of maintaining safety is the ‘don’t be stupid’ rule. There will never be a need for participants to endanger themselves in order to continue the story, and so common sense covers a lot of ground. However, our Charter representatives are always around to make sure no one gets into a tight spot.”
The Blackwood Charter’s main goal is to encourage people to participate in the real world around them, and connect with others in person. “We want The Charter experience to be as close to a real-life video game as we can make it. As technology gets more and more advanced, we want people to find a different way — not VR, or better graphics on a monitor — to experience something together. While we, of course, use technology within our experience, it’s focused in a different way. We want people to feel the excitement, the adrenaline of finding things out, whether it’s pieces of the story or the clues to the next puzzle.”
Gale-Rosen continues: “Real-life experiences bring people together, and let them learn not just about themselves but about how their friends and family perceive them. New stories are hard to find, and to be able to be a part of one will be an experience people will not soon forget.”
“At the moment, the experience is very much still evolving. However, at a certain point, this chapter of The Blackwood story will be relatively static. That being said, there are already plans in the works to expand to additional experiences, with new (but related) stories, locations, missions, and puzzles. We’re already planning out our ‘Blackwood Cinematic Universe,’ as it were, so stay tuned.”
We definitely will, Daniel!