Aug 10 2010

Game Poem 30: The Winter Hunt

It is winter. You are the Siverati, a tribe of people who have lived here since the First Ages. This year, there was a sickness that struck down many of your number. Winter arrived early. Food has been in short supply, and game is scarce this season. There are few of you left. Spring will come in four weeks. In four weeks, the sun will return. If you can survive the winter, the rivers will thaw, and those who remain will have plenty to eat. Still, the game is scarce this winter. To rely on the traditional ways of hunting will mean certain starvation. The tribe’s only recourse is to return to the old ways, to enter the Dream.

To play the Winter Hunt, you will need a fair-sized group of people. Five to eight hunters would be ideal. If there are fewer than five players, each of you should play two hunters apiece. To play, you will need four coins for each hunter. There are a few areas of concern, places that the coins will move in and out of. The first is the tribe’s food supply. Put one coin for each hunter into the food supply. Each of these coins will feed one person for one week The second area is the hunting grounds. Put one coin for every two hunters in the hunting grounds. These first coins will each stand for one small animal. The final area is the draw pile. Put all of the remaining coins in the draw pile. These coins represent only potential.

To begin the first week of hunting, each tribesman will take one coin from the food supply, leaving it empty. Since there is so little game in the hunting grounds, some of the hunters will need to enter the Dream to ask more animals to come to you. Without discussing who will take which role, each player will decide whether their hunter or hunters will hunt or dream by secretly choosing heads or tails on each hunter’s coin. When all have decided, everyone will reveal their coins at the same time, place their coins back into the draw pile, and the Dream will begin.

The dreamers, if any, must decide how many animals they will call upon, and how large they will be. The dreamers must form groups of one, two, or three. Each group of dreamers will describe the game that they wish to summon to the hunting grounds. A single dreamer will call small game, snow rabbits or squirrels. Two dreamers may call something larger, perhaps a wild pig or a deer. Three dreamers will be calling the largest game possible, something the size of an elk, something that will feed many tribesmen well. The groups of dreamers will throw their coins in turn. As long as one dreamer in a group throws a head on their coin, the animal that they have summoned will appear in the hunting grounds. Place the successfully summoned game into the hunting grounds by placing the single coins down, or stacking the coins in twos and threes. Successful groups of dreamers must tell together how the game answered them, and agreed to enter the hunting grounds. Unsuccessful dreamers must speak together to tell how the animal that they asked to come to them refused the call.

Now, if there is game to be had, the hunters will take their turn. Again, the hunters will go out in groups, this time of any size. A single hunter may go into the hunting grounds alone, or all the hunters may go in one large group. In turn, the groups of hunters will tell which game they will seek. Whichever animal they wish to hunt, that group of hunters must throw their coins and reveal enough heads to match the size of the animal. A single hunter may throw one coin to bring back a small animal, or a half-dozen hunters may band together to bring down a three-coin moose – a grand feast for those who hunger! Whatever the size of the band of hunters, if they do not throw the necessary heads to succeed in their hunt, they must each tell the tale of how they failed to bring back food for the tribe. If they are successful, though, each hunter must each tell the story of their skill and bravery as they bring the game back to the tribe’s food stores.

A small one-coin animal will add three coins to the food stores. A medium-sized two-coin animal will add seven coins to the tribe’s stores, and a large three-coin beast will add fifteen coins to the food supply. Clearly the larger game are more difficult to bring back successfully, but the risk may well be worth it. It is possible, of course, that there are no animals in the hunting ground this time. In that case, tell the tale of how the hunters sit around the dying fire, perhaps cursing the Dream for abandoning them, or pleading with it to send them just one small bird to quiet their growling bellies.

At the end of the hunt, the tribe must eat. Each hunter must take one coin from the food supply, if possible. If there are not enough coins to feed every hunter, the tribe must decide in some way who will eat and who will starve. If a hunter starves, they die, leave the game, and must describe their fate. Do they lay in their beds until they are too weak to awaken, or do they walk into the snows, never to be seen again? When a hunter eats, they must tell tale of their meal, how it makes them feel, to eat when others do not. They must tell of the thanks that they give to the animal that surrendered its own life for theirs, and they must tell of the thanks they give to the Dream, which brought them everything that they have.

When the consuming of food and the fates of the dead are dealt with, a new hunt must begin. Each surviving hunter will again decide whether they will hunt or dream, and secretly set and reveal their coin. The coins will be returned to the draw pile, the dreamers will dream, the hunters will hunt, game will be caught and eaten, and some will likely starve to death again. This cycle will take place four times, until winter breaks, and the sun returns to the land of the Siverati. If any of the hunters have survived, they will find fresh game again in the spring, and their tribe will flourish once again. If all of the hunters have starved to death, then all of the Siverati have returned to the Dream once more, perhaps to be reborn again one day.

Jul 23 2010

Game Poem 29: Mask

This is a game that will accommodate any number of players, but will likely work best with a smallish number; definitely not less than three, probably no more than five or six. To play, you must create a mask. The mask will be constructed from a single piece of letter sized white paper (8.5×11, or A4). Just draw two simple eyes – just circles about the size of quarters – about halfway down the page, so they’re  as far apart from each other as they are from the edges. The mouth will be a straight line drawn about halfway between the eyes and one of the short edges, just straight across, as wide as the eyes are apart. Do not poke or cut out the eye holes. You don’t need to attach a string or rubber band to hold the mask on anyone’s head – players will just hold the mask up in front of their faces when they want to use it.

Choose the most shy player to wear the mask first. That player will hold the mask in front of their face for a few minutes, and play the character that emerges. Everyone else will play as themselves. To begin, give the mask a simple gender-neutral name, like Sam or Alex. One of the players will greet the mask, and say hello. “Hello, Sam! How are you?” The player wearing the mask is now “Sam”, and will respond as such. When wearing the mask, the player should respond slowly and smoothly, without twitching around or making any quick or sudden moves. When someone talks to the mask, the mask should unhurriedly turn to face the person and respond naturally, in a voice that fits the mask. So, the mask will turn to look at the person who greeted them, and say hello back. All that is happening now is a regular conversation, just normal everyday chit-chat between the players and their new friend, the mask.

The conversation with the mask will last for a couple of minutes, and then someone will say goodbye, and the person who was wearing the mask will hand the mask to another player, and as they do, tear off a small piece of paper from the corner of the mask, and roll it into a small ball. The new player will hold the mask in front of their face, and play the same character. (So, really, there will be a number of “characters” in this game equal to the number of players, plus one: everyone playing themselves, and the character that emerges from the mask.) When the new player has taken on the role of the mask, someone should greet the mask again (“Hello, Sam!”), and you will have a short conversation again, only a couple of minutes. When the conversation is done, say goodbye, and a new player will take the role of the mask. Make sure that whenever a player takes off the mask, they take a small piece of paper from the corner of the mask, and roll it into a small ball. Also be mindful of who you are handing the mask to – try not to give it to the player who just handed it to you. You will do this a few times, just talking to your new friend, and taking turns between the all the players playing themselves, and playing the character of the mask.

Eventually, maybe after switching the mask between players three or four times, shortly after one of the players takes on the role of the mask, just after someone says hello to the mask character, one of the players will say, “I have to tell you something.” Then they will say the name of the person who is currently wearing the mask, and they will say, “…They mean to do you harm.” The mask can react to that revelation however they like, but remember that they should still be making slow, gentle movements, and they should still be using a voice that is appropriate to the character of the mask. Let this conversation go however it goes for another minute or two, and then say goodbye and pass the mask to another player.

Have another conversation or two, until at some point, one of the players will say, “You know…” And then they well say the name of the person who is currently wearing the mask, and add, “They mean to help you out.” (This person cannot be the same person who intends to do the mask harm, as you may have guessed.) The mask can react to this announcement however they like, but remember to maintain your steady movements and the voice of the mask. Continue the conversation for another minute or two, and then say goodbye and pass the mask to another player.

Eventually, the mask will be ready to confront the person who intends to do it harm. It should make sure that it can see both the person who wants to harm it, and the person who it knows will help it. When the mask is ready, after the players say hello, it can ask the person who intends to hurt the mask why they want to hurt them, what they intend to do, and so on. The mask can react to them however they wish, but this will be the last time that the players talk to the character of the mask. This time, when the player who is currently playing the mask takes the it off, you will determine the ultimate fate of your new friend. Each player will give the small paper balls that they have collected to either the person who will harm the mask, or the one who will help it. Whichever of the two has more paper balls will get their way – in the case of a tie, the person who had the mask last will decide the winner. Once the decision is made, that person – the helper or the hurter – may do whatever they want with the mask, save it or destroy it. After that, the character of the mask is gone, and the game is over.

Jul 7 2010

Game Poem 28: Public Trust

This poem is a game intended to be performed in front of and with an audience. It should run about ten minutes, give or take. Any number of people can be in the audience – the more the better – and it should be performed in a space where people can stand up and move around a little bit. The presenter just needs to read the following rules out loud to the players in attendance, and if they want to and are able to affect the stereotypical “poetry slam” pacing and cadence in their presentation, so much the better.

This poem is a game. Your attendance implies your consent to take part as a player here.

The game is simple, and in that simplicity we will find meaning together. This is not about me, the reader, this is about every one of you, individually, and as a congregation of intelligent, insightful, and delightful people who share a common interest in learning about yourselves and the world around you, and having a hell of a good time while you do it.

All you have to do for the next couple of minutes is follow the instructions that I read, and see what happens. All you have to do for the next couple of minutes is trust me, and trust the people in the room around you, let go, and have fun. Without you, this is just going to be some jerk up here reading a bunch of stuff, so come on.


First instruction. Everybody who’s not standing, stand up. You can’t play the game if you’re not standing, and if you’re not playing, everyone’s gonna see that you’re not a player, and nobody likes a grumpy greyface. See, I told you this was gonna be simple. Hang on now players, it gets better from here.

Second instruction. Find yourself a partner. We play this game in pairs, so couple up and get yourself into a twosome. Try to make them someone you don’t know, someone you haven’t seen before, someone you don’t know anything about. If you have to move, move, but watch out for other folks. If you know everyone here, congratulations, player. Hook up with someone nearby. If there’s not enough to go around, and you find yourself the odd man out, come on up here and I’ll be your buddy. Everyone all set?

Third instruction. Partners, grab a hold of each other’s right hands. You can just hold them in a simple handshake, or you can go palm-to-palm, tangling your fingers up like one of you is leaving on a train. You can curl them up like you’re about to get into a thumb war – but you’re not – or you can grab each other’s wrists or forearms like you’re young boys playing at being indians. Any way you do it, get comfortable and hang on tight. Don’t let go, because the next part is where it starts to get real.

Fourth instruction. Every player, listen to me. Using your left hand, and while being as respectful of your partner’s body as humanly possible, take something that belongs to them. Nice and slow, take it easy, but just take it. Don’t puss around and grab their bottle of beer or the glass they’ve been drinking out of. Take their glasses off of their face. Take their wallet, take their phone. Take their necklace, take their little black notebook full of scrawled poems and mash notes. If you have to, and you can do it without letting go, take one of their shoes. Any one thing will do, but if it’s something valuable objectively or personally, and you can hold it in your hand, all the better.

Everyone got something? Good. Fifth instruction. Sounds easy, but it might not be. Just stand there for a minute. Look each other in the eye. Don’t look away. Who is this person? They’ve got something of yours. Something that you probably don’t leave the house without. Something that you pat your pocket to make sure you haven’t lost while you’re out having a good time. Something that you might curse and swear and stomp around about if someone walked into your house and walked away with. But there they are, just holding it like it was theirs. Look that person in the eye. Don’t look away. But don’t worry, because we’re all friends here. Or, if we’re not friends, we are at the very least members of a civilized society that do our best not to do each other wrong, at least, not when anyone’s looking, anyway. Look at that person. Do you trust them? Are they gonna take your stuff? Treat it bad? Drop it, break it, mess it up? Look at that person that you’re holding on to, who’s holding on to a piece of you. Who are they? Are they like you, wondering the same thing? What are they going to do next?

Sixth instruction. Let go. Hold your partner with your gaze, don’t break eye contact, but let go of their right hand, and they’ll let go of yours. Keep looking. There they are, standing there with your stuff. You’re not holding on to them any more. Maybe they’re a little bit further away from you than you’d like. Hang on for just a few more seconds. Keep looking at each other. Who is that over there? What are they going to do next?

Seventh instruction. Turn around. Face away from each other. What are you feeling now? You can’t see them, you can’t feel them, you probably can’t hear them. What are they doing? What are you doing? Look down at the thing that you’ve taken from them. Do they want the thing that they took from you more than they don’t want to lose the thing that you took from them? How valuable is it to them? How valuable is it to you? Would they walk away with it? Knowing that you’re right behind them? Knowing that everyone else here can see them? Do you still trust them?

Eighth instruction. Close your eyes. How about now? Just be still for a minute, here. Are they still there? Do you feel like you need to open your eyes? Like you need to turn around and look, just to make sure that they’re still there? Like you want to take a step backwards, and “accidentally” bump into them, to let them know that you’re still there too? Drop all of that. Are you straining to listen to what’s going on in the room around you, to listen for some small sign that your partner hasn’t walked away with your wallet, with your phone, with your shoe? Would they really do that? What would you do if you turned around and they were gone? Forget about that for a minute. Just hang out here with your eyes closed, breathe, and relax. You’re all good. Just a few more seconds.

Ninth instruction. Open your eyes, and turn around. Smile at your partner. Take their right hand again. Just look at each other for a minute. I know you want your stuff back, but just stand there for a minute longer, looking each other in the eye again. That wasn’t so hard, was it? To give up your stuff to a stranger for a few minutes, to let them hold on to it, to turn away and trust that they would treat you like they’d like you to treat them? That wasn’t so hard, was it? To forget about being cool and interesting and unaffected for a few minutes, give up any number of things that you could be doing by yourself, of your own free will, and do a bunch of stuff that some person reading off a bunch of instructions told you to do, for some reason, or for no reason at all? You could be checking your text messages, or pretending to be interested in something on the wall, or getting yourself another drink, but instead, you gave yourself up for a few minutes, and did something new, something unexpected, something that you’d never normally get to do by yourselves, and probably won’t do again any time soon. You let your own stuff go, and gave your time to someone you’ve probably never met before, someone you probably don’t know anything about. Was it worth it?

Tenth instruction. Let go of your partner. Hand them back whatever you took from them. You don’t need to put it back in their pocket or back on their face, but make sure they get it the same way they had it before. Thank them for playing with you. Shake hands again if you feel like it. The game is over, and you all won.

This poem was a game, and it was for every one of you. Have a seat. Thank you.

Jul 3 2010

Game Poem 27: Achilles’ Heel

Achilles’ Heel is a game for two players – one will play a super-powered hero, the other their nemesis. Choose who will be the superhero and who will be the supervillain, and quickly choose names for your new personas – Captain Fantastic and Doctor Midnight, for example. Find ten cards or slips of paper to write on, and fifteen pennies or tokens of some kind. The hero will quickly write down ten things on the slips of paper, numbering them from one to ten. (Obviously, the players may collaborate on the ten things if the hero is having difficulty coming up with them.) The things may be objects, actions, places, emotions, anything. Two of these things will be the only weaknesses that the hero possesses – otherwise, they are completely and totally invulnerable.

Place the ten slips of paper into a hat or a cup or some container where they may be pulled from randomly. Both players will take four pieces of paper from the container, note down the numbers of the items that they pulled, return them, and mix them up well. The things written on the two slips of paper that were not chosen represent the hero’s vulnerabilities. Everything else will be useless as a weapon against the hero, but each player only knows what four of those things are, so the vulnerabilities still remain largely unknown.

Once the setup is complete, the players will engage in a series of five “episodes”, which will culminate in a final battle between the hero and his nemesis. In each episode, the villain will randomly draw two of the slips of paper from the container, and present a brief scenario where the hero must choose between two situations or outcomes that involve the elements drawn. So, for example, if the villain drew “radiation” and “fear of birds”, they might describe a scenario where they must disable a nuclear reactor that the villain has rigged to blow, while the nearby city is being attacked by mutated crows. Alternately, they may combine the two pieces – the reactor may be protected by the giant, twisted birds.

Once the scenario is laid out, the villain will take a number of coins from the supply and divide them between the two elements. In the first episode, they will only take one, in the second they will take two, three in the third, four in the fourth, and five in the fifth. So, in the initial episode, one slip of paper will have one token next to it, and the other will have none; in the final episode, they will have zero and five, one and four, or two and three. The hero will then choose one of the situations indicated by one of the slips of paper to attempt to resolve.

If the thing on that paper is one of the ones that either of the players chose during setup, the hero is invulnerable to that thing, and they succeed in saving the day all around! The hero takes the coins from that item, and the villain takes the coins from the other. The superhero may now quickly describe exactly how they thwarted their arch enemy’s diabolical plans. For the purposes of narration, assume that the hero has whatever powers necessary to do what needs to be done – flight, super strength, laser eyes, telekinesis, whatever. The day is saved!

If, however, neither player has the chosen element noted down, the villain has discovered one of the hero’s weaknesses, and the hero fails to foil their evil deeds! The villain takes all the tokens from both pieces of paper, and narrates how they used the hero’s vulnerability against them, incapacitating them long enough to execute their nefarious plan – this time! The hero is not completely defeated, though, and will return in top condition to fight the forces of darkness once again in the next episode…

After all five rounds have run their course, both players will have a number of coins in front of them. There will be one final episode that will decide the fate of the two mortal enemies once and for all. Decide together how and where this ultimate battle between good and evil will take place, and then, starting with the hero, each player will put forward one token and narrate an action, either telling how they attack the other player or defend themselves or react to the last action. Eventually, one player will run out of tokens – that player will be defeated, and the victor will describe how they put an end to their adversary for good. Will Captain Fantastic stop his fearsome foe’s fiendish machinations for all time, or will Doctor Midnight extend his shadow across the entire world? Only you can decide!

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.