Jun 28 2010

Game Poem 26: The Leaves Will Bury

This game is for a few players, somewhere around two to five. You will need a pen, and twenty or thirty small pieces of paper to write on. The players will choose someone, a person that they all know, or create a fictional person that they will all come to know. Either way, the players will choose the name of the person and write it on one of the pieces of paper.

Working together to inspire each other, and to prevent duplication, the players should each write down a number of facts about the person, one per piece of paper. Note their birthday and their age, write about their appearance, what color their hair and eyes are, how tall or short they are, what their skin is like, and so on. Add more details, one per paper, about their personality, what they liked, what they hated, how they talked, how they laughed, whether they seemed bitter or cheerful, if they always complained or always smiled, what kinds of things they believed in, and so forth. Talk about and write down things surrounding them, their prized possessions, the people that they loved and despised and tolerated, how you all know them. Note down what kind of car they drove or what kind of bike they rode, what their favorite books and movies and games and music were. Add anything that comes tom mind, until you have twenty-five or thirty facts about the person. Take all of the slips of paper, and shuffle them roughly into a stack that everyone can reach.

This person has recently died, and you have all gathered together because of them. You will play a scene as yourselves that takes place at or just after the person’s funeral. Players should talk about the deceased respectfully, but not necessarily mournfully; everyone is allowed their own feelings and perspective about their late acquaintance. Reminisce as you wish, discussing what the person was like, using the details written on the pieces of paper as reminders, trying to work most – if not all – of the elements that you’ve written into the conversation. After a few minutes, no more than five, the conversation will end, and you will all finish up, give your regards, and say goodbye to each other.

Years pass. The players should take turns picking out and discarding slips of paper, until about a quarter of them are gone. You may wish to get rid of the less important details first, but that is your decision. Tear each of the discarded papers in two, and let the pieces fall to the ground onto their grave.

The second scene takes place several years after the person’s death. Each player will play themselves once again, only much older this time – possibly nearing the end of their own lives. You have all come together again for some special reason – decide why amongst yourselves – and the conversation will inevitably drift to the topic of your old deceased friend. Talk about your former acquaintance for a little while, using only the details that still exist on the remaining pieces of paper. You may remember something of one of the facts that was lost, but you will be unable to bring it to mind. After a few minutes, the conversation will turn to another topic, and the scene will end.

Years pass. The players again take turns picking out and discarding slips of paper, until only about half of the original pieces of information remain. Tear each of the discarded papers in two, and let the pieces fall to the ground onto their grave.

The third scene takes place many years later. Each player will play someone from the following generation, someone who lives on after the player’s own death. Perhaps a child or a grandchild, or a student or a young friend who is now grown. Decide why you have all met now, and have a conversation that begins with someone recalling an old friend of their parent or grandparent or teacher or whatever you choose. You will all have some kind of connection to this person in some way, but you will only be able to recall the facts that exist on the remaining slips of paper. You may try to recall the other details, but you will fail. The conversation will soon return to more present topics, and the scene will end.

Years pass. The players once more take turns picking out and discarding slips of paper, until only a few remain. Tear each of the discarded papers in two, and let the pieces fall to the ground onto their grave.

The final scene takes place at a much later date, perhaps a hundred years or more in the future. The players will each play someone who was associated somehow with their previous character; again, decide why you have all gathered together. One player will bring up the deceased person in passing, and the others will discuss their life with some amount of curiosity. Again, only the few details that exist on the remaining slips of paper may be used, and again, the conversation will inevitably turn to another topic, and the scene will end.

Years pass. The players take turns tearing each remaining piece of paper in two, letting them fall to the ground onto the grave. The players will have one last conversation, as themselves, on any topic, but will not mention any of the facts from any of the discarded pieces of paper, except perhaps the fact that they knew someone once who died. Nothing else about the person may be recalled. Inevitably, the conversation will go where it will, and the players will realize at some point that the game has ended. Leave the fallen papers where they lie until someone decides that it is time to clean them up and throw them away.

Jun 19 2010

Game Poem 25: Danse

The Danse requires at least three players, but will greatly benefit from more – try it with a half dozen, at least. In addition to a number of players, you will also need several regular six-sided dice, approximately twice as many dice as there are players. One of the dice must be of a different color than the rest, preferably one red die among a number of white dice. The players may also wish to each fill a glass to drink from as they play.

The players will take on the roles of the hosts and guests of a lavish party, an extravagant affair that takes place within the walls of a grand mansion while a plague sweeps across the country outside. However, as you may well know, and will surely learn, death may not be held in check by iron gates and stone facades, nor by purses full of gold and goblets full of wine. This will be the tale of how even the noblest fall to the pestilence, and the reaper takes his due on all men.

One player will take the colored die – we will assume that it is red from this point – and give it to the person who will play the host of the party. In doing so, introduce yourself to the group – tell them your name, your title if any, and what your relation is to the host, familial or otherwise. Describe your manner and your station briefly, and describe how you came to be invited to this most exclusive of festivities. If you are related to the host, tell us how, and what your feelings toward your kinsman are; if you are a dear acquaintance, or a partner in business, or a lover, or a cherished old friend, provide whatever level of detail that seems proper to the relationship. When the first guest has finished, someone else will take another die – one of the white ones – and give it to them, introducing themselves similarly. Once they have made their acquaintance to the other partygoers, another guest will give them a white die of their own, and make their own introduction, and again and so forth, until finally the host hands the last guest a die, and at last properly introduces themselves to the gathering, and bids the revel to begin in earnest.

The Danse is to be played out in a series of rounds. Each round commences with the player who holds the red die, so the host of the party will begin the first round. This first player describes what they are doing at the party at this moment. (If the players have drink, they may take a sip from their glass as they do so.) Now, close to the beginning of the festivities, the revelers’ activities will be primarily light and gay – dancing merrily, flirting and gossiping, telling amusing stories, taking advantage of the banquet that has been laid out before them. Do not take a long time to recount your folly; let your description be brief but rich in detail. The other players may raise their glasses as well, and cheer those exploits that they find pleasing.

Now, the current player will roll their die. If they roll a two, three, four, five, or six, then he or she may continue on blithely, and play passes to the person sitting on their right. The next player will describe their behavior at the party similarly, and cast their dice when they have finished as well. Play continues on this way until someone rolls their dice, and a one appears.

If on your turn, you throw your dice and any should come up a one, then the plague has found you. You will be silent for the rest of the game. Drain your glass, and give your die (or dice) to any single player. That person will tell the others how they found you among the revelry, where in the mansion your body lay and how death has ravaged you. This news is, of course, troubling to all those gathered, but there is nothing but to carry on, so the player with the red die will describe how the corpse is disposed of (discreetly, of course), and they will pass the red die to any other player, and take a new white one from the supply to replace it.

A new round now begins with the new holder of the red die, and each player will take turns recounting their actions at the party and rolling once again, until death claims another. At this point, you will notice, some players will be rolling more than one die on their turn, and more still will be rolled as the game wears on – this is simply the nature of things.

Play continues this way, with party guests (and, inevitably, hosts) succumbing to the epidemic, emptying their glasses and passing their dice on, describing more and more desperate acts as the night progresses and the company dwindles. Polite conversation turns to bitter accusations and recriminations, innocent flirtation becomes outright lechery, and the normally refined enjoyment of a simple meal may degenerate into an orgy of gluttony and inebriated debauchery. Any deeds that are described by any of the players should be treated as fact, regardless of their consequences, but they party guests must remain inside the mansion, and may not take the lives of any of the other guests outright – that is the sole purview of the pestilence that stalks the halls of this doomed revel.

Eventually, there will be but two that remain, and then one. The last surviving player will continue to describe his or her actions alone, rolling their copious supply of dice each time, until they too succumb to the plague. When the final partygoer has met their end, set all the empty vessels and dice aside. The party is over, and death has won the game again, as always.

Jun 11 2010

Game Poem 24: The Knight, the Rogue, the Princess, and the Dragon

The Knight, The Rogue, The Princess, and the Dragon is a quick little story-telling game for four players. Take the face cards and aces from a deck of regular playing cards, and distribute them to the players, so that each player has the Jack, Queen, King, and Ace of a suit. Each player should shuffle their four cards and place them in a pile face-down in front of them. For the purpose of this game, we will refer to the cards as the Knight (the King), the Princess (the Queen), the Rogue (the Jack), and the Dragon (the Ace).

Starting with the youngest player, take turns flipping over the top card of your stack until someone turns up their Knight. That will be the starting player. If any of the other players have not turned over a card yet, they should do so now, so that everyone has at least one face-up card showing. The starting player begins the story by holding up the Knight and saying something like, “Once upon a time, there was a brave (or rich, or young, or ambitious, or proud) Knight…” They may describe the Knight however they like, telling the other players what he looks like, how he behaves, or what he thinks. Just take a sentence or two to do this, and then hand the Knight to one of the other players. That player puts the Knight card that was given to them face-up under their draw pile, and continues the story.

To continue the story, the new storyteller takes the card that they have turned face-up in front of them, and proceeds to tell how the Knight encounters or interacts with that new character. For example, the Knight may know the Princess that the new storyteller has in front of them – describe her as beautiful, or as a tomboy, or generous, or vain, or lonely, or how she loves cupcakes, or perhaps she is the Knight’s sister. Or, if the new storyteller has a Dragon in front of them, they may tell how the Knight heard an old tale about a rich dragon sitting on a pile of gold in his cave, or he may meet a tiny baby dragon stuck in a tree, or he may have to defeat a dragon to rescue his King, or the dragon may be his steed, or anything! A Rogue may be incorporated into the story by having him try to trick the Knight somehow, or rob him while he sleeps, or maybe he wants to become a knight himself somehow. The new storyteller’s card may even be a second Knight, in which case they may either further describe the original Knight, or tell more of his past adventures or his motivations or who he serves, or it may be another actual knight in the story who he meets, or who he has fought with, or who is is friend, or his captain, or his rival. Any of these things – or anything else the new storyteller may think of – are wonderful ways to continue the story.

Once the second player has added their piece of the story, and how their card connects with the Knight at the beginning, they then take their character’s card and give it to another player, just as the first Knight was given to them. The new storyteller takes that card and puts it face-up underneath their draw pile, and if they don’t already have a card face-up in front of them, they must turn over a new one now, and continue the story in the same way. The Princess told him this, or the Rogue attacked the Dragon sneakily, or the Knight challenged her to a game of chess, or the Dragon flew off with something valuable, or anything that you can imagine. Play continues this way, with each player adding a new bit according to the card that they have showing, giving that card to the next player, until every player has used all four of their cards in the telling of the story. (Make sure not to pass your character card to a player that has already used all four of their cards!) Eventually, all the players will wind up with a pile of face-up cards that have been given to them by other players, and there will be one player holding a character card, with nobody to give it to after they have added their bit to the story.

This last player should place their final character’s card face-up in the middle of the table. You should have a relatively involved little story spun out now, but how to end it? Well, as the final card is played to the table – this will become the “story pile” – that player may begin to wrap things up, telling how that character has succeeded in whatever they need to do to get what they need in the story. Maybe it’s a Knight card, and he has retrieved the queen’s necklace from the Dragon’s swamp. Or perhaps the Princess has finally trained the Dragon to be her new pet, or the Rogue has become the new king. Maybe the Dragon has even managed to eat all of the other characters at this point!

But this is not the end! All of the players may now look at the card on top of their face-up pile of cards that they have received from the other players, and if they can play a card on top of the story pile that beats the card that’s currently on the top of the stack, they may add something that allows their card’s character to reverse their fortune and achieve their desires instead! The cards beat each other in the following manner:

  • Knight slays Dragon
  • Dragon captures Princess
  • Princess charms Rogue
  • Rogue deceives Knight

These are not necessarily strictly the actions that happen in the story when one card beats another, but they are just a handy way to remember which card beats which. Of course, if you want to use those elements in the story as the end twists and turns, please, feel free to do so!

Eventually, there will come a point where none of the players are able to play one of their cards onto the story pile. Or perhaps all of the players decide that they like the ending as it stands, and do not wish to play another character card, even though they are able to. The player who laid down the last card on the story pile  may finish up the story with a sentence or two, wrapping it up with a moral or a happily aver after if they wish.

Of course, that may not be the true end of the story, but just the beginning of the next one…

Jun 4 2010

Game Poem 23: Accord

You will need at least three or four players to play this game, but more is better. Try playing with up to a dozen or so, and see what happens.

The players begin by getting into a circle. Choose one person to be the starting player. They will take a deep breath, and start humming or singing a single steady note, holding it as long as possible. It doesn’t matter what the pitch or tone of the note is, as long as you can keep it going steadily for a little while. As the first player begins to sound their note, the next player to the starting player’s left will start to breathe in deeply, and when they have inhaled fully, begin to sing or hum a second note. This second note may be the exact same note as the first one, it may be shifted up or down an octave, it may be a note that is in harmony with the first one, or something totally not in harmony at all. Again, it doesn’t matter what the second note is, as long as it is steady, and can be maintained for a good while. When the second person begins to sing or hum their note, the next person in the circle should begin to breathe in deeply, and when they have taken in all the breath they can, begin another note, in the same way as above.

Listen to the chord that you have created. It may not be part of a scale, or in harmony, or whether it is beautiful or ugly, but it is your chord nonetheless. Do not stop. As the third player makes their sound, the next person should begin to breathe in, and then sing their own note, adding to the chord. And when they begin, the next person will breathe in and sing, and the next, and so on.

Hold your notes as long as you can, but if you run out of breath, that is totally fine. Just sit and listen until your turn comes around again. As the chord progresses around the circle, there may be more people singing at some times, and fewer people singing at others. Maybe the chord dwindles to just one or two singers. Maybe everyone is sounding their note at once, forming an impromptu orchestra of voices. All of these things are perfect.

So, as each person begins their sound, singing or humming or whistling or whatever they can do to use their breath to make a note, the next person in the circle to their left will breathe in as deeply as possible, and when they have filled their lungs completely, they will begin to form their sound as well, each person adding to the group’s chord. And as players run out of breath, their sound drops from the chord, changing it once again. Around the circle, all the way around, until it becomes the starting player’s turn again.

When the chord reaches the first player once more, instead of singing a note now, they should listen to the music that the group has created, draw in a deep breath, and begin telling a story, in first person, that the sounds inspire in them. It doesn’t matter what it is about, just let the group’s chord enter your mind, let go, and say the first thing that comes to you. What is the music like? Can you think of an adjective that describes what you are hearing? Does it remind you of the notes from a popular song, or the score from a movie? Doe it make you think of a group of animals, or machines? Just open your mouth, and begin with “I was…” or “I am…” or “I always…” or “I never” or “Once, I…” and let the rest of the words just flow from there. Your story should be short, just a few sentences, not more than the duration of a few breaths. Maybe you can even tell it in one long breath. When you have finished, just wait and listen to the chord.

As soon as the first player begins telling their story, the next person in the circle, on their left, they should begin breathing in again, and continue by singing a new note, maybe a different note than they were singing before, or maybe the same one, with a different tone to it, or perhaps the exact same thing. Whatever feels right. They will continue singing over and along with the storyteller, holding their note as long as they can, and letting it end when it needs to. Again, as before, as one person begins their note, the next person breathes in, and when they have taken the deepest breath they are able to, begin their new note as well, and so on, around the circle as before. The chord continues and changes and grows and shrinks and evolves as the storyteller finishes their tale, and when they have finished, they may join in the chord again, as well.

When the storyteller ends their story, let the chord continue to live and change for a while, breathing and singing around the circle, until someone else feels like it is time to begin a short story of their own. They will breathe in and begin their brief first-person narrative, as the next person breathes in and continues the chord with their own note, and around again, until they have finished and rejoin the chord again, as the first player did before. This may happen any number of times. Hopefully, every player will have an opportunity to add to the story at least once, and if they feel like it, a player may be the storyteller more than once, but you should take care to make sure that everyone who would like to narrate has a chance to do so.

Once everyone who fells like they would like to tell their story inspired by the music has done so, the game will begin to end. When everyone is done telling their story, the chord will progress around the circle at least once more by itself, and then someone – perhaps the first player, the initial storyteller – may signal the end of the game by simply breathing in and letting their breath out in silence. Pay attention to the person on your right as they end, and when they finish their role in the group’s chord, breathe in and do the same, exhaling silently instead of singing a note. Eventually, the next player in the circle will do the same, until the last person finishes their sound, and everyone is silent. At this point, all the players should take in a deep breath together, and release it, and the game has ended.

May 28 2010

Game Poem 22: Book Club

This is a game poem for any number of players, but is probably best for somewhere around three to six, give or take. You will all be playing yourselves as you already are, so that part of the game should be fairly easy. You and the other players meet weekly for a book club meeting, where you spend the week all reading the same book, and then get together to discuss it. Since this game is an isolated incident, however, you will just have to pretend that is the case. Further, since nobody has been reading the same book over the past week, you will have to invent it.

Make some coffee or tea for everyone to drink, maybe lay out some snacks or sandwiches, and gather together in a comfortable setting to discuss your book of the week. The organizer should welcome everyone and thank them for all showing up this week. Ask if everyone managed to read the entire book – everyone should say, yes, they did. Ask if people enjoyed it – each person will express their general reaction to the book, before getting into the details. Once everyone has made their grumblings or satisfied murmurs, you may set to the meat of the matter at hand.

The organizer should pick one person and ask them to read the name of the book aloud to everyone present. The title can be anything, from a single common word, to a longer phrase with a subtitle. It can be anything, but of course, it is preferable that it not be a book that already exists, to your knowledge. Once the title is spoken, everyone nods assent, and the person who named the book should call on another person to name the author. Again, the author’s name can be anything, male or female, or a pseudonym of indeterminate gender.

Once everyone has agreed that is indeed the author of the book with the given title, the player who named the author should ask another for a brief synopsis of the plot. Build off of the title, giving the most obvious details that spring to mind. Name a character or two in the story, describe them a little bit, tell the other book club members what their goals in the story were, and what kinds of obstacles they had to overcome. Tell them what kind of resources or relationships they had at their disposal to deal with their problems, and decide whether they achieved their ambitions or not, and if their character was changed in any significant way in the process. Of course, this is all an awful lot to expect one person to invent on the spot, so if you have trouble thinking of something, or find yourself hesitating, feel free to call on another player to fill in the gaps for you. Likewise, if you see one of your fellow players faltering, do jump in and help them out with some details. The most important thing is to declare with conviction what the book was clearly about in the simplest way possible, and to all immediately agree with each other when filling in the outline of the story.

Once the basics have been laid out, the organizer may go around the circle of readers and ask them each to describe something in the book that particularly stood out to them, or spoke to them in some way. Again, if you’ve been actively engaged in the creation of the story and characters, you should be able to easily build off of what has already been established, and just say the most obvious thing about the book that would interest you the most. Talk about an especially evocative description or passage in the book, or a message that you felt the author was trying to communicate through the reader. You may have been struck by an outstanding character monologue, or an unexpected turn of events in the plot. Whatever you say will be fine, as long as it flows easily from the fiction that you have already created together. Remember that what has been said already by any player is now a true fact about the book; do your best to not contradict or argue with things that have already been established. You may express a differing opinion about something in the book, of course, and a theoretical argument may very well develop between people who came away with completely different viewpoints!

Once everyone has had their turn telling what they enjoyed or disliked about the book, the organizer may wrap up the meeting by asking if anyone else has any final comments or questions. If you wish, you may decide together what book you will all read together next time. Otherwise, after fifteen minutes or so – or after everyone has finished their drinks and snacks – the game is over, and the meeting is called to a close. Happy reading!

May 21 2010

Game Poem 21: We Are The Only Ones Left

This is a horror game for two players. You should play at a table, somewhere quiet, where you can turn the lights low enough to still read and write, but just. Both players should know that they are in the midst of some kind of widespread attack of hysteria and violence. It must be a disease, a disease that causes normal people to go mad and kill, without hesitation and without mercy. Worse, it causes those that are murdered to rise again and continue to kill. The cycle of killing and reanimation has gone on for days and days, and in those days, the two of you have found a safe haven here, in this room. You sit quietly, listening to the screams outside. You know that these people, the infected, these… things, they are attracted to noise and movement, so you wait, patiently hoping to ride out the storm. Surviving, but for how long?

To play, find twelve pennies (or any kind of coins), six index cards or pieces of paper to write on, and one pen or other writing implement. Divide the coins and writing material evenly between the players, six pennies and three cards each. Take turns with the pen writing down the names of friends on the paper; make them people that you both know, if possible, but definitely make them people that you are fond of, or attached to in some way. After the six cards or papers have names on them, turn them face down and mix them up, and place them somewhere nearby. Place the pen in the middle of the table when you are finished. The pen is now a revolver, a gun with one bullet remaining inside. Either player may pick up the gun at any time and use that bullet to destroy a single monster, should one make its way inside. It may also be used to kill the other player, if necessary.

Once you have set everything up, allow a few moments to pass, and let the quiet settle in. Eventually, one of the players will say to the other, “So. We are the only ones left.” The other will slowly look around, maybe listen intently to whatever noises they may hear, and after a few seconds respond, “I think so. Maybe. Probably.” For the entire course of the game, be sure to speak in a low voice, almost a whisper. Any louder, and the things out there may hear you.

After this brief exchange, the players will sit in silence once more for a full minute. There is no need to use a watch or a timer – simply count to yourself slowly in your head. One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Six. When the minute has elapsed, one of the players should draw one of the pieces of paper with a friend’s name on it, and look at the name. The player should then say to the other player, “Wait. I think I hear something. That sounds like [the friend] out there. Is that them?” Pause again for a moment, then bang loudly and sharply on the table with your fist two or three times. Allow a few seconds to catch your breath and listen again, and bang your fist another time. Pause once more. Bang. Bang. Bang. Then, silence.

The person who heard their friend outside the door is certain that they are alive, and in need of rescue. Each player should now take a coin in their hand, and begin to discuss – very quietly! – whether the wretch out there is still human, or if it is a beast, come back from the dead to find and make them one of the murdering things. At some point, each player will flip their coin and place it carefully under the paper containing the friend’s name. The player who chose the name may look at their coin before slipping it under the card or paper, but the other player must not know what the result of either coin flip was.

After a brief, intense deliberation, the players must decide whether or not to open the door. You probably should not take more than a minute to do so, for if you do, and your friend is still alive, they may not be for long. The player who did not select the name from the pile must decisively end the exchange by pounding on the table again, at which point both players must immediately fall silent. If one of the players chooses to open the door, they must now stand and say, “I am letting them in.” If neither player does this, nothing happens. Put the paper with the coins underneath to one side until the end of the game. The players will continue to silently wait.

To open the door and see what waits outside, the other player must say, “Okay.” They will then take the card or paper with the name on it, and reveal the coins underneath. If both of the coins are showing heads, the person banging on the door was indeed a living person, and you have saved them from almost certain doom! Greet them quickly and quietly, tell them to sit down and be silent, and do not speak to them again. The two players will return to waiting. However, if either of the coins came up tails, the thing outside was indeed a murderous creature, and it bursts inside! Both of the players must let out a scream at the horror! If they have not yet used the gun – the pen, as above –  one of the players may pick it up and yell, “BANG!” This will kill the monster, and you will be safe again, for the moment. The gun, however, may not be used again. Be sure that the door is secure once again, sit back down, and wait.

If the players are unable to stop the creature, it immediately kills both of them, and the game is over. You may flip coins for the remaining slips of paper, and reveal them all to see if there were any humans left alive, but it does not matter, because they will all be dead before long.

One player does decide to open the door, and the other player may simply let them, or they may vehemently disagree with them. If one player is dead set against the other letting whatever is banging on the door inside, they must pick up the gun that sits between them, point it at the other player, and declare, “I swear to god, if you touch that door, I will shoot you.” (Note that if the gun has already been used to destroy a creature that was let into the room, shooting the other player is no longer an option.) If the standing player then changes their mind, they must sit down, and the game will proceed as if nothing happened. Put down the gun, and wait. However, if they move to open the door, or take the paper from the coins, the player with the gun may shout, “BANG!” and murder the only other human that they know to have survived. Even if you have rescued one or more of your friends friends, they will not say anything at your action, but the game is still over at this point. You may again flip coins for the names that have not been chosen and reveal the rest to see what other things may have been outside, but you now know that there is at least one monster in the room.

If, after all of these choices have been made, both players are still alive – either you have decided not to open the door, the person at the door was uninfected and harmless, and nobody shot anybody – you will again turn to sitting and waiting for a full minute, counting silently to yourselves. This time, it is the other player who will draw a slip of paper with a name on it, pound on the table, and insist that someone they know is out there. Flip coins again, placing them under the name, discuss quietly, and make your decision as before. If you wish, you may even bang on the table before drawing, but this might well startle the other player, so do so carefully.

After going back and forth this way six times, either letting the banging at the door go away or succumbing to curiosity, the players will spend one last minute is complete silence, looking at one another and counting to yourselves in your heads. When this minute has elapsed, you may both stand up. The game is over, and you have survived. Congratulations. You may now look at the coins under all of the names of the people who you did not let in. Again, if there are any with two heads showing underneath, they are in fact other survivors – or, were, as by now they have most likely been taken by the monsters, murdered and left to rise again to kill others. One way or another, without a doubt, those friends are still out there, seeking other victims. But not you. Not this time.

May 20 2010

Game Poem 20: Monsieur Praslin’s Candy Shoppe


Kind old Monsieur Praslin is the proprietor of the greatest candy shop in town. This is not only on account of his superlative sweets, but because he is given to distributing free sweets to children who come to him with tales of what good little tykes they have been. That, and sometimes he is not as sharp-eyed as he used to be, and is not as quick to notice if little hands grab an extra handful or two! However, the finest and most coveted confectionery of all, the famous Praslin’s Praline, it sits upon the top shelf, and can only be obtained by the youngster who proves to be the most upstanding and precious among his or her peers – or the one who shows the most moxie and swipes more than their share!

This is a game poem for up to six players – the more the better! – who will play the parts of the children of the town. They have gathered at Monsieur Praslin’s Candy Shoppe, as they do every day, hoping to get their little fingers into his box of pralines. The children have no money, so they must ply friendly old Monsieur P. with their sweetness and good deeds. The candy is divided into four tiers: Praslin keeps the penny candy in the case up front, the finer sweets on the bottom shelf, the more elaborate chocolates and such on the middle shelf, and way up top is the shelf that holds his renowned pralines. For the game, these will be represented by four pools of different types of coins: a bunch of pennies for the penny candies, nickels for the bottom shelf, dimes for the middle shelf, and a single shiny quarter for the pralines at the top.

Play begins by one of the children turning to the person on his or her right – they will be playing the part of Monsieur Praslin for the moment – and telling them about something nice about themselves, or something good that they have done recently. Perhaps they were kind to an animal, or did well in school, or treated their siblings or parents especially nicely today. Whatever it is, M. Praslin will commend them for it – “What a good little girl!” – and let them take their choice of one of the penny candies. The player then takes a penny from the pile representing the front case and puts it in front of them. What kind of candy is it? Tell us! Now the person who just played Monsieur Praslin takes their turn – they tell the player on their right about their virtue and courtesy, and receive a penny for themselves. Play continues around like this until each of the children has spoken of their merit and received their first piece of candy.

Now, Monsieur Praslin may be a soft touch, but he is no fool. Once a little one has a bit of candy in their little hands, it takes a bit more to get him to hand out another. Again, going around the circle of children, each player may attempt to sweet-talk Praslin into giving them one more from the case of penny candy, but they will need their friends to back up their claims of goodness. For each penny that a player has in front of them, they must convince another one of the children to aver that the even greater worthiness that they claim is indeed the honest truth. So, if young Thomas has managed to get two pieces of penny candy already, and claims that he brought a hot meal to the old woman on his street who lives all alone, two of the other players – perhaps Fredrick and Yvette? – must raise their hands and swear that Thomas is in fact the little angel that he would seem to be.

But what of the better candies, the ones on the higher shelves behind the counter? What of the fudge bon-bons, and chocolate turtles, and maple snowmen, and sour spotted frogs? Well, as you might rightly guess, a child can turn in a number of lesser candy to “purchase” the greater ones. A player may turn in five pennies to the shop to receive their choice of sweets from the nickel shelf, they may trade ten cents worth of candy for something from the dime shelf, and if they manage to scrape together twenty-five cents worth of confections, they can achieve the apogee of treats, the Praslin Praline! The first child to do so wins the game, of course, but they may very well need more than the help of their friends.

Firstly, you will notice that with a maximum of six children – for that is all that can fit inside Monsieur Praslin’s small shop – even with the absolute cooperation of all present, a child may only be given up to six free penny candies, and even that seems like an unlikely proposition. And, of course, the same rules apply to the candies higher up on the shelves, only more so! If a child already holds one or more pieces of nickel candy, they must receive the testament of two of their little friends for each of them if they are to be given another! And if they are lucky enough to be given a sweet from the dime shelf, then four of their chums must back up their goodness to be presented with a second, and even then, they had better have a story of saving the local schoolhouse from burning down, or something of that magnitude!

So what is a hungry child with a sweet tooth for molasses and pecans to do? Well, as we all know, children are often not as honorable as they claim, and if they sneak an extra piece of candy now and then, what’s the harm? In short, players may steal candy from the good-natured old man. Any time that Monsieur Praslin turns or bends over or climbs his little ladder to get to a shelf of his wares, each child may attempt to help themselves to a bit from that shelf or lower. To do so, a player declares which shelf they are trying to pilfer from, and then throws all of the coins that they have collected. If there is at least one head showing on one of their coins from that shelf, then they may take a new piece of candy from that shelf! (Clearly, if they have no coins from a given shelf, they may not steal from it.) However, if no heads turn up on a coin from their declared shelf, they must discard every coin – of any kind! – that came up tails, and put them back into the piles. And, of course, suffer the disappointment of Monsieur Praslin, as he had thought you so honest and true.

Play continues around the circle, with the children spinning taller and taller tales of their benevolence and munificence, telling tales that verge on the heroic, all the while filling their pockets while the kind old shopkeeper has his back turned. The moment that someone has collected twenty-five cents worth of coins, they may declare that they have bought the coveted Praslin’s Praline! At that point, all of the children pour out of the front door of the shop, only to return the next day for more complimentary treats.

Don’t eat the pennies!

May 19 2010

Game Poem 19: Gotcha Covered

This is a game poem for at least three players – it should work well with up to six or seven. As a group, choose some kind of fictional large-scale issue that you’d like to resolve together. Something like rebuilding a village after a natural disaster, funding and building a museum, getting a group of fourth-graders ready for a big concert, or overthrowing an oppressive totalitarian regime. Something that would make a great feel-good summer movie. You’re going to be trying to accomplish that thing, helping each other out along the way.

Everyone should be sitting in a circle, roughly, either on the floor or around a table, and everyone should be able to reach all the other players. If you have to stand up or move around to do so, that’s fine. All the players should put their hands down next to each other, so that they create a big ring of palm-down hands. Anyone can start the game by moving one of their hands out into the ring, tapping the table or the floor, and saying, “I’m going to start by…” and stating what they are going to try to do, what small step they are going to take to start solving the large issue in front of the group.

Things are not that easy, however. Now, another player must say why that action is difficult or dangerous. For example, one player may put their hand out and say, “I’m going to start helping out the village by digging a well.” Now another might reply, “Unfortunately, the ground here is dry and rocky, and it is difficult to dig.” When an obstacle is presented like this, the first person should say something like, “Well, I guess I’ll need some help, then.” and turn their hand over, so that it is facing palm-up.

To overcome the difficulty that has been presented, another player must come to the first player’s aid. They do this by knocking softly on the playing surface, and placing one of their own hands palm-up on top of the hand of the player in need of assistance. They then say what they do to overcome the problem that is preventing the completion of the task – “No problem, we can build some digging machinery, and use animals from the village to drive it.” – and then turn the two hands back over again, palm-down on top of each other. Progress has been made!

Continue this way until there are no lone hands left on the table. There should be a good tangle of two-hand stacks right now; take a few moments to sit quietly and contemplate the good work that you have begun.

From here on out, things become harder. Stacks of two or more hands may be used to attempt an action that will help resolve the overall problem, just as single hands did in the first part of the game. A person who has their hand on the bottom of a stack may announce that they are doing something larger to that end, like, “I’m going to try to convince the people in town to help build a wind farm!” Again, another player must say why there might be a problem with that – “But there are oil interests in the area that have resources to oppose a wind power operation.” – at which point the entire stack turns over, so that the initiator is on the top, palm up. And again, someone must announce that they will help by taking their hand off the top of another stack, knocking, putting their hand palm-up on the others, and offering their solution: “We convince the oil companies to buy shares in our windmills, so that they profit either way.” Then the whole stack flips over palm-down again, one deeper, with the new helper on the bottom.

Now, this leaves a lone hand out on the table (or ground) again. This is no longer an active, helping hand. From this point on, when someone leaves the top of a stack to help a palm up stack (or to resolve a block, explained shortly), that lone hand becomes a fist, or a “stone”, some very concrete thing that blocks the progression of the players’ efforts. As long as there is a stone on the playing field, the large-scale issue will not be able to resolved. When your hand becomes a fist, narrate a very strong impediment to the players’ goals, and leave your “stone” out for everyone to see until someone takes care of it.

The only way to make a blocking fist go away is for someone at the top of a palm-down stack to sacrifice themselves to do so. At any time, a player may remove their hand from the top of a stack and cover the fist with it, saying how they dissolve the block. So, if someone becomes a fist, and says that “An unexpected hurricane crashes ashore, knocking down towers and further befouling the water supply.” someone may peel off the top of another stack and respond, “The disaster attracts the attention of neighboring peoples, who were not as badly hit, and are able to help rebuild.” (Keep in mind that if you jump off of a two-hand stack to resolve a block like this, the hand that you leave alone will become another block itself.) Once the “stone” is taken care of, both the fist and the resolving hand are removed from play – place them behind your back, and carry on.

Play will continue in this manner, helping each other by building larger stacks and taking care of blocks when they arise, until there is only one large stack of hands remaining, with no unresolved fists in the play area. When this happens, the overall issue is finally taken care of, once and for all. The person with their hand on top of the stack “wins”, and they have the opportunity to speak for a short time and describe how the village is saved, or the performance goes splendidly, or the evil duke is toppled, or whatever goal you have set for yourself is completed decisively. After the initial wrap-up, they take their hand off the top of the stack, and then each player with a hand below them gets to add a smaller detail as they remove theirs, until the stack is gone, and the story is ended.

However, if there are only fists remaining, and there are no stacked hands left to take care of them – or nobody is willing to resolve them! – then the larger matter is left unsettled, and the players as a group have failed. The players with fists on the table may open them one at a time, describing how their failure has caused a ruinous end, until there are none left. Better luck next time.

May 18 2010

Game Poem 18: First Impressions

First impressions, indeed...

This is a game in which you play fantasy adventurers at a speed-dating style dungeon party hookup event. Everyone is looking to form up with a party to go adventuring, ransacking some old ruins, storming a wizard’s tower, rooting out a goblin encampment, what have you. Going out to kill monsters and take their stuff. You can’t do that kind of thing alone, of course, and hanging out at Ye Olde Tavern has become a drag, so here you are. First Impressions is ideally played with an even number of players, but if you have an odd number, one player will just be sitting out for a couple of minutes before jumping back into the rotation. All you need to play are a timer, some paper and writing implements, and a bunch of counters or tokens, like pennies or glass beads.

Give each player pen and paper, and a number of counters equal to half the number of players, rounded down if necessary. So, in a game with six or seven players, each player should have three tokens. Next, sit down together, and have each player  quickly fill out a character sheet. Write down your adventurer’s name and gender at the top of the sheet – it can be anything, so don’t think too hard about any of this! Okay, now everyone needs to write down what class they are – everyone choose one from the following list, each class may be used exactly once, no duplicates:

[ Warrior | Priest | Wizard | Rogue | Hunter | Knight | Barbarian | Shaman | Monk | Bard ]

If there are more than nine players, make up some more! (And get comfortable, because you might be here a while…) Next, everyone write down what race you are. It’s okay if people duplicate here, but there should be a good mix of fantasy races in the group. Choose from the following standard list, or have fun and create new ones:

[ Human | Elf | Dwarf | Hobbit | Half-Orc | Dark Elf | Gnome ]

To finish up making your character, quickly make up and write down three last things: where your adventurer hails from (Amanoth, Garraton, Bloodmoor, Glenvale, Derbyshire, whatever), a special item or ability that your character possesses (the flaming sword of legend, a seat on the duke’s council, the ability to drink an ogre under the table, etc), and a great deed that you have done or something that you might be known for (banished a demon lord back to hell, swindled the thieves’ guild, led the king’s army to victory, kept last season’s crops from blight, and so on). Again, these can be anything, so don’t take too long to write these down. It should take less than a minute or so for everyone to make their characters, so just throw down the first thing that springs to mind, super-cool or not, and make with the speed-matchups!

Okay, so here’s how the dungeon crawler speed-dating works. Form up in two lines, so that everyone is paired up with another random person. If there’s an odd adventurer out, they can make themselves useful by keeping time for now. Depending on how many people you have, set the timer for two minutes or so; if you’re short on folks or feel like a longer game, go longer – with a whole mess of people, keep it around a minute. When the timer starts, go! Say hello, introduce yourself, and get to know each other. Ask the other person what kind of quest they’re looking to get in on, what their favorite weapons or spells are, how they like to split up the treasure, where they got that fantastic longbow, do you have a nemesis? Be as charming and interesting as useful-sounding as possible. You might want to jot down a few notes while you’re talking, but try to focus on the person you’re speaking to. You only get one chance, and it doesn’t last long! When the ending timer goes off, thank your partner, and move one person to the left. If you’re the one sitting out, rotate in – if you’re moving out to the oddball slot, grab the timer and start it a-tickin’.

Once every player has had a chance, however brief, to get to know everyone else, the speed-dating part is over, and it’s time to make judgements and see who gets to go delving with who. Remember those counters that you got at the beginning? Find the adventurers that you felt the best connection with, and give them one token each. You can only express interest in about half of the other players, so choose wisely! Once everyone has split their professional affections among the other adventurers, go around and see who has the highest number of tokens – that is clearly the new party leader! If there’s a tie among two or more, co-leaders are totally kosher. The new head honcho may then select adventurers to join the party at their discretion, one at a time. If they choose to join up, great! If not, move on. Once you have collected a number of adventurers equal to half of the total players (rounded down, again), you’re done! Go forth and start plundering!

And for the unwanted leftover players, I hear that there’s a shady-looking elf sitting at one of the tables in the back of the Green Dragon Inn…

Super Exciting Bonus Throw-Down Alternate Ending!

Sometimes, you don’t find adventure – adventure finds you! Before you can see who has how many tokens and who is the prom king or queen of this adventure squad, the door bursts open, and a bunch of bad guys swarm in! Take like ten seconds to quickly decide as a group what kind of adversaries you’re now faced with – rampaging orcs? disgruntled dragon-men? drunk and/or surly bandits? a gang composed entirely of the characters’ nemeses? – and get to brawling!

Each round of combat goes like this: Everybody picks a partner super quickly, like one-two-three-go. If there’s an extra person left out, sorry, you fall to the intruders. Take a sentence or two to narrate your demise and quietly bow out. If you’re paired up, compare the number of tokens that you each hold.

If the two players hold different numbers of tokens, the person with the lower number is taken down by the bad guys – again, take a moment to tell the entire group how you go down fighting. The player with the larger number of tokens survives, but at a cost – remove a number of counters equal to your partner’s number, and describe how you battle on. (So, say, a wizard with five tokens allies with an archer holding two. The archer is devoured by flying monkey-gators, and the wizard fire blasts them out of the air, but is left with only three tokens afterward.) If, however, you and your partner have the same number of tokens, you are well matched, and both survive the round. Tell the others how you kick ass, and the two of you will go on to the next round as a single monster-stomping duo, with a strength as a unit that is equal to each player’s individual strength. (So you’ve got a barbarian and a bard both holding three tokens; next round, they’re treated as a single character (a bardbarian?) holding three. Get it? You will.)

After each group has figured out who lives and who dies, start another round, and continue going on like this until there is only one character left, or you’ve wound up with an elite super-group of baddie beater-uppers. Pay your respects to your fallen comrades, and try not to step on their bodies on the way out the door – to adventure!

May 17 2010

Game Poem 17: Turtle, Turtle, What’s My Name?

“Turtle, Turtle, What’s My Name?” is a light game to be played when four dear friends have gathered in the parlor for an evening’s entertainment. Each of you will play the part of a character from the beloved children’s books of the celebrated author, Timothy Roberts. Do not fret; it is not necessary that any or all of you have intimate familiarity with his stories or the delightful talking animals that dwell therein. Simply follow the instructions herein carefully, set out some tea and sandwiches, and you and your party guests will be ensured a grand time.

Select three of the players to portray the characters from “A Splendid Day Out With Flopsy and Mopsy”. These three players will pretend to be the turtles from the story! One of you will be Flopsy, one of you will be Mopsy, and the third will play the remaining turtle, the discovery of whose name comprises the entire point of this game. The remaining player with take the role of Banger the rabbit (from “Banger Makes A Hash Of It And Other Tales”), the mischievous hare who plays the trickster, making trouble for everyone else and getting in their way.

As stated above, the essence of this game is for Flopsy and Mopsy to discover the name of the third turtle, while Banger endeavors to prevent the same. To begin, the player who has taken the part of the unnamed turtle must choose an appropriately whimsical name for himself or herself, and write it secretly on a slip of paper. You may now commence to play!

Each of the turtle players must abide by certain rules, and behave as they imagine that a speaking tortoise might. Their speech is slow and deliberate, but exceedingly polite. Be sure to turn your head carefully towards the person whom you are speaking and look them in the eye thoughtfully before making your statement. Statement, indeed, for as a tortoise, you may never ask a question! Turtles may only make simple statements or declarations, one which you might conclude with a period, if you were to write it down. Turtles speak in a plain and straightforward manner, saying what they have to say in the most brief and direct way possible. They may address each other by name, when known, and offer the usual pleasantries when appropriate.

As noted previously certain additional rules and restrictions apply to the manner of speech of certain of the characters. The turtle whose name is not known to the players at the beginning of the game may never speak his or her own name under any circumstance! The other players may not simply ask their name, but must deduce it through cleverness and persistence – qualities that are surely to be admired in any proper gentleman or lady. Further, the characters of Flopsy and Mopsy are quite respectful of one another, and must speak in turn, one after the other, even if another character has spoken in the meantime. That is, after saying their sentence, the players who speak for Flopsy or Mopsy may not talk again until the other has had their turn. What good manners!

As all of the characters being played are already well acquainted with one another, the conversation may begin as any meeting of companions might. “Good morning, Flopsy.” “Good day to you, and you, Mopsy.” “I expect we will have lovely weather today.” “Indeed, I believe you are correct.” “Perhaps we will picnic in the buttercup field this afternoon.” And so on. But what of Banger?

Although charming in his own naughty way, Banger the rabbit does not display the same good behavior that our turtle friends exhibit. No, indeed! The player who takes the role of Banger may speak whenever he or she wishes, and may even rudely interrupt one of the turtles while they are saying something. Banger may say anything that he or she pleases, within the compass of common propriety, naturally. Whenever the mischievous bunny does something to be a pest, or disrupt the civil intercourse in which the others are engaging, or otherwise befoul the intentions of the other characters – all in the interest of fun and playfulness, of course – the three turtles may collectively sigh and exclaim together, “BANGER!” After being so admonished, the rabbit player must remain silent for a short period before engaging the others in conversation once again. Remember that all of these animals are the best of friends, and while he is a rascal, Banger does not intend any harm or ill will towards the others. It is simply in his nature to be a scamp!

Keeping all of these things in mind, continue play-acting as your chosen characters. The turtles should take their time in slowly unraveling the mystery of the anonymous tortoise’s name, Banger should continue to make a nuisance of himself, and everyone should take care to make sure that everyone is included in the conversation in a way that brings them enjoyment. One player, presumably the host, should keep an eye on the clock or take note of his timepiece, and begin to lead the other players towards the end of the game after fifteen minutes or so. As the animal friends bid each other a good day, if they have deduced the name of the third turtle, they may say it as they part company. “Good morning, then, Flopsy!” “It was a pleasure as always, Mopsy.” “We will see you this evening, Marmalade.” If the turtles have not figured out the name, or have guessed the wrong one, the player may show the others what they have written on their slip of paper, and everyone will have a hearty laugh at their confusion. Lastly, as always, Banger the rabbit should make one final smart quip, at which everyone will exclaim in exasperation, “BANGER!”, and laugh together once again.