“Beyond Words”

[The roleplaying games] I like most tend to be termed ‘surreal’ in their approach; some parts feel real, some imaginary; others symbolise greater truths. It doesn’t matter too much to me if the game has a GM or not, or labels itself a ‘story i130408170137363367game’ or as part of the Old School Renaissance; what matters to me is the generosity of spirit of those taking part. Trust is everything. I like the approach taken to this issue by the Nørwegian Style, a movement prevalent in the roleplaying scene in and around Norway until a couple of years ago.

Some generous and interesting thoughts over on the British blog A Kingdom Is.

Read the whole thing here.

Cat Wizard

C_W“You press “go”. Three other avatars start blinking dully on the screen. Looking up, you see three other faces peering over their bus seats. Looking around, trying to identify the other wizards. Your eyes connect. Finally one of you, a woman in her late twenties with a snake pattern tattooed on her neck, gets up from her seat. Approaches you, waves at the others. She leans in, smelling of cigarettes. “Are you ready to do this fucking thing”?

Cat Wizard is a roleplaying game about a renegade app and its maverick users. The app is banned from app stores in its current incarnation, but is still downloaded and put to use by those who want to affect change in themselves and the world. (…)”

Download the game here (PDF).

Cat Wizard won the competition Båtsj today. It had a setup similar to Game Chef: make a playable roleplaying game in a week.

As one of the authors, together with Trond Ivar Hansen, I must admit I don’t really think we delivered that. But it’s a nice concept sketch, with some good ideas we might develop further someday.

It’s the first time in a couple of years we’ve had a competition like this locally. Michael Stensen Sollien ran the R.I.S.K competition for about ten years, the last time was in 2013. It resulted in some of the earlier games you find on this blog, and created a good creative buzz in our tiny community of game designers.

Båtsj, this year’s new competition, was hosted by Christine Vean and the Facebook group Rollespill.info. 6 games were delivered by the deadline. By way of comparison, the recent international #Threeforged contest had 102 contributions. And the annual international Game Chef now runs parallel competitions in several languages.

For Båtsj, the games could be written in any of the Scandinavian languages or English. The winner, Cat Wizard, happened to be one of two English contributions. The other one was Bunker 13 by Wilhelm Person. The experienced Swedish game designer has promised he’ll develop the concept further in the coming months. Check out his contribution here.

It was fun and frustrating to try out this kind of challenge again, and I really liked the buzz it created in our teeny tiny scene. Just like the good old days.

Event cards for A Depressive Game of Swedish Realism

An Itras By hack

You draw an event card when the game master instructs you to do so. You, as player, interpret the card. If you interpret it wrong, the game master will take away your character sheet and write some illegible numbers on it.


Forgot to take your pills? One of your character’s diagnoses kicks in. Describe how it affects the situation.

Silence is a blessing. Words seem meaningless. You could talk, you just don’t want to.

Norra Begravningsplatsen. Photo: Pelle Sten (Flickr/Creative Commons).

Norra Begravningsplatsen. Photo: Pelle Sten (Flickr/Creative Commons).

Normal. For the rest of the scene, your character has perfectly normal reactions to everything that happens.

The State. The character receives some unpleasant news from the government (e.g: via mail, sms, radio, or newspaper). What is it?

Divorce. Some relation in the scene is broken up. What is it, and what will the separation cause?

Mediocre. One of the characters or NPCs present in the scene has a mediocre quality, something she’s only sort of adept at. Describe what it is.

Defender of the People’s Home. Your character’s ambivalent loyalty to the social democratic ideals of the Swedish welfare state prove to be an advantage in this situation. How?

Alone in the crowd. You feel overlooked, grey and insignificant in this situation. Give us an inner monologue.

Understood. For the remainder of the scene, everyone will be quite understanding of the character’s actions, no matter what she does (it’s due to class, childhood, culture, circumstances, etc).

Bullying. Is your character the victim or one of the bullies?

Ace of Base. Some nice pop music makes you briefly forget your troubles. You may turn on music, dance, smile, sing along. When it’s turned off, everything will be worse than it was.

Photo:  Sigfrid Lundberg (Flickr/Creative Commons).

Photo: Sigfrid Lundberg (Flickr/Creative Commons).

The drug. Some drug affects a character present in the scene. Which and how?

News. The media tells of a person, place or event the character is intimately familiar with. What are the news?

Keep it in. Characters and NPCs may not express their emotions or cause a scene.

Stasis. There is no change in this scene. Everything will remain the same. There is no interesting conflict, relations and resources will remain the same as they were.

Cancer. Cancer has somehow affected a character or NPC in the scene. How?

Hangover. Someone in the scene, maybe your character, has a strong hangover. How does it affect them?

Bad Childhood. Why is the childhood trauma of one of the characters or NPCs in the scene triggered?

Joppe is dead. Someone dear to the character passes away. It could be a pet, a person or something more abstract, like hope.

Microinjustice! Something slightly unfair happens. E.g: someone helps themselves to the last piece of cake without asking if anyone else wants it.

Death. Your character dies. There is no afterlife.

Next installment: Knald! Cards for a Game of Danish Hedonism and Voluptuousness.

Not the Travelling Circus Manifesto

Originally posted on Snarglebarf:

The Circus will change with every show, in every new location it appears.

Will there be boffer weapons? Will there be a black box? Will there be formalized rules? Will there be an attempt to create a 360 degree illusion, or could a pen symbolize a rose? Maybe, maybe not.

The Circus travels far and wide. Tanzania, Palestine, Russia, Czech Republic, North America, Brazil, even the Nordic countries are frequently visited by this colorful, ever-changing spectacle. Everywhere; learning, changing, adapting, playing, challenging, creating, getting to know, partying, laughing (sometimes crying too).

It learns from local traditions, shares its own traditions freely: acts, tools and tricks.

You can never know for sure who belongs to the Circus. Maybe that businesswoman who just passed you on the street is a member. Maybe your shrink? You’d be inclined to think that dreadlocked neo-hippie juggling on the square would know, but he turns out…

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Tales by the Fire

A game for 3-5 players, the stone and the fire.

You are hunters. It is 30.000 years ago. You have walked all day without spotting prey. You are tired and worried. You must tell tales by the fire. 

Prehistoric cave painting at the  Petta kere cave in the Leang-leang Prehistoric Park (Maros regency in South Sulawesi, Indonesia).  These hand stencils belong to the Mesolithic  Toalean ( Tolian) culture (6000BC to 500AD). Photo:  Sanjay P. K. (Flickr/Creative Commons).

Prehistoric cave painting at the Petta kere cave in South Sulawesi, Indonesia. These hand stencils belong to the Mesolithic Toalean (Tolian) culture (6000BC to 500AD). Photo: Sanjay P. K. (Flickr/Creative Commons).

The fire can be represented by a simple candle. If you are outside in the woods, you can build a fire (if the season and local laws permits). 

If you need food during the game: no processed foods. Fruit, berries, dried meat, nuts. There is no cheese or bread. If you need drink, there’s water in a stream nearby.

Give each other names. Names foreign to your own tongue. When you are given a name, explain what it means.

You are hunters. Far from home. Back there, those who cannot hunt and those who have other responsibilities wait. This winter, they depend on your safe return. They are all the other human beings you know of.

Language is new, it has great power. Be careful what you say, which words you choose for the tale. It’s better to wait for the right words than to babble like a stream. Words create ripples, like a stone cast in a lake. They conjure images. Bind spirits. Wake powers.

There is taboo. There is the sacred. Be careful, but brave.

If someone uses the wrong words, make sounds. Hiss. Grunt. Maybe you have to shout or roar, to drive the badness off.

If the right words are used, nod and smile. Say “mm”, “oo”, “aa”.

Pick up a stone from the ground. Whoever holds the stone has entered the tale. This takes great courage. You are the hunters. You are brave. The stoneholder keeps her eyes closed while telling the others what she sees. But the others are not passive. They make sounds. Ask questions.

The stone is passed on to the next hunter when the time is right. Take your time telling. This is important.

Remember you have walked all day, and not spotted prey. Remember there is terrible darkness on the horizon. Remember that the whole of human society depends on you.

Nude Woman (Venus of Willendorf), c. 28,000-25,000 B.C.E., Limestone, 4 1/4" high (Naturhistorisches Museum, Vienna), photo: Steven Zucker  (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Nude Woman (Venus of Willendorf), c. 28,000-25,000 B.C.E., Limestone, 4 1/4″ high (Naturhistorisches Museum, Vienna), photo: Steven Zucker
(CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

The hunter holding the stone closes her eyes. You begin humming together, to let the stoneholder enter the tale. Finding the same frequency. Adding sounds. Using vowels. Humming. Then the song dies down.

All tales begin by asking the stoneholder: “what do you see?” She need not answer at once. Maybe the question has to be repeated by you all. In one voice. Imploring, begging. The tale is important. It will help the hunt.

As the stoneholder relates, the other hunters may ask questions. “Where are you?” “Why did…?” “Who enters?” “What does it say?”. The stoneholder may or may not answer, taking her time telling.

The stone is passed to the next hunter when the time is right.

During Tales by the Fire, beings and spirits from the tale have been known to escape, and enter a hunter who holds no stone. It is rare, but it happens. The entity will speak with the hunter’s tongue. Grin with his mouth. Stare with his eyes.

These beings have great power. It is important to listen and treat them with respect. Until they have said their piece and are ready to leave.

Tales by the Fire is dangerous, but important to the hunt. It is something we must do.

The tale is over when the fire burns out, or when one of you decides it’s time to put out the fire.

Inspired by: What is a Roleplaying Game by Epidiah Ravachol and recent conversations.

Thanks to Torgny, Vivian and others for feedback.

Photo:  Craig Kohtz (Flickr/Creative Commons).

Photo: Craig Kohtz (Flickr/Creative Commons).

Welcome to Nørway

Photo: Snarglebarf

Photo: Snarglebarf

On this site, you’ve found an eclectic sample of Norwegian role-playing games, game poems and blog post in English since 2007.

Over the years, a lot of posts have accumulated. It can be a bit confusing: where to begin?

Here are some suggestions.

Reader favorites

These are some of the most popular games on the site, simply based on all-time clicks recorded:

Archipelago III, and predecessors
A popular GM-less game of collaborative story-telling, utilizing some innovative mechanics. Layout and everything!

Zombie Porn
Zombie Porn is a GM-less role-playing game that asks the question: “How far are you willing to go to survive in the undead entertainment industry?”

Until We Sink
An instant classic in the tiny Norwegian indie developer’s community. A surreal murder-mystery, GM-less, cards directing play and giving some instructions.

Blog posts

Photo: Snarglebarf

Photo: Snarglebarf

Role-playing poems
A brief text introducing the concept of role-playing poems, 15 minute games anyone can write and play!

Status in small communities
Some thoughts on the nebulous force of “status” and how it works in tiny creative communities like ours.

A dark game-like meditation on love. Or money. Or something else.

Some thoughts on making a collaborative storytelling game about sex.

Short games

A Trip to the Moon
A calm, friendly game to be played out as a bedtime story.

Fiction – a flexible freeform framework
The outline of a freeform game you make from scratch with your friends, with a few tools, rules and suggestions to help you get started. Can be used as an add-on to Play With Intent.

Going Galt
A critique of Ayn Rand’s “philosophy” in role-playing format.

Don’t Read the Comments
A short game utilizing the comments section of various online media for content.

Photo: Snarglebarf.

Photo: Snarglebarf.

An anti-plot immersive exploration which may have the potential to be one of the most frustrating, or magical, role-playing experiences of your life.

Role-playing poems

Identity Poems
Sort of an existentialist take on the role-playing poem format.

The Bechdel Test
Play female characters from movies talking about something other than a man!

A Pebble
“A role-playing poem that takes on the issue of abortion.”

If you prefer print, the Nørwegian Style anthology (2009) is still available over on Lulu (15$), presenting 17 of these games.

Miss your favorites? Have experience with some of these games you’d like to share? Feel free to drop us a few lines in the comments.

Impressionist role-playing

Photo: .christoph.G./Flickr (Creative Commons)

Photo: .christoph.G./Flickr (Creative Commons)

Re-reading some of the games on this site for another post I’m working on, I stumbled over Matthijs’ “Qualia”, a Game Chef contribution I’d completely forgotten about. It seems it was inspired by an improvised, short session I ran at HolmCon in 2006. I remembered taking some notes from the session, where I tried to formalize some of the procedures used, and looked it up on the old web forum we used to frequent. Here’s the translation:

Impressionist role-playing

– Lasts between 20 minutes to a couple of hours at the most.
Emotion, intuition, empathy, collaboration and mood takes precedence over rationality, planning, considering, competing and coherence.
– There is no conflict system. You don’t prepare scenarios in a traditional sense. It’s not important that there are conflicts or goals in the game. The aim is to, together, create moods and chains of association with both traditional and more experimental role-playing methods. It’s a kind of a role-playing jam.
– You agree on some mood or theme you’d like to bring forth or create allusions to.

bob_dylan_desire600The game master says: «I’d like to play a game slightly inspired by the Bob Dylan-record «Desire»: Romani, tarot cards, Northern Africa, starry nights, wind in the palm trees, golden jewelry. The players present their suggestions and associations. You agree on something.

– The players are by turn asked to describe their characters, in reference to the theme/mood you agreed on. When the next person describes her character, she’ll also tell us if she is somehow related to or connected with some of the other characters.

Håken describes Fatima, who every day sits on the beach baking bread. Magnus describes the English pilot who’s lived here for ten years, since his plane crashed during the second world war. He eats Fatima’s bread. Matthijs describes Fatimas father.

– There’s a game master, who on one level directs the game fairly tightly, and on another level gives the players almost completely free rein. He sets things moving, but listens to the players all the time. Sometimes, he’ll establish the scene, at other times he’ll ask the players: where is your character now? What is she doing? What does she see? What are you thinking? The game master has sort of a privileged function, but uses it to inspire and kickstart his fellow players. The guideline is what feels right then and there, and whatever whims and fancies strike the players.

The game master says: Fatima had a dream tonight she wishes to share with the pilot. It’s up to Fatima to relate the dream. The game master says: A card comes blowing along the beach, landing next to the pilot’s hand. What does it look like? The game master says: you find something by the plane’s wreckage. What is it?

– The game master makes sure everyone gets to participate, or that they’re happy in their passivity. This requires attention and empathy.
– The game master and players will often dwell on details.

Photo: Antonio Chinotti/Flickt (Creative Commons)

Photo: Antonio Chinotti/Flickt (Creative Commons)

A crab moving in the sand. The sparks from Fatima’s fire, ascending towards the sky. The smell and sounds from the ocean.

– This kind of dwelling is a challenging part of the method. It will primarily be brief (in real time). You don’t want long monologues from the game master, but rather activating the players and grooving together.
– The scenes are spotty, not necessarily connected, based on whim and associations that happen during the game. They’re first and foremost related to theme and mood, not action. Characters can also be replaced as warranted. The same player doesn’t have to control the same character throughout the whole game.
Accepting the ideas of others. You’re mild, accepting. The players are encouraged to take initiatives in the fiction. They don’t compete for attention. Trust the game master will help distribute attention and steer the improvisation to shore. If a player says something it will more likely than not be true in the fiction. What the characters do is accepted and used. What the players say is accepted and integrated.
– The game master distributes control over secondary characters and other elements in the game world after his own discretion and the needs of the fiction. One player could be asked to describe the dreams of another character, control some of the people in the other character’s memories, or be asked to create and control secondary characters as the need arises.
– You don’t address things outside of the game. The players are in an imperturbable dialogue with the fiction and each other, nothing else. This is kind of a collective meditation/visualization. The intensity the game format requires also causes it to be a relatively brief experience in real time.
Free association. If an occurrence in the game, a dialogue or description gives the game master an idea, he should try to chase it and see it through immediately.

Fatima’s father is talking to Fatima about her mother. The game master cuts to the same beach 20 years earlier. He describes Fatima’s mother, recently bathed, dressed in a silk gown on the beach. He asks the player Barbro, who just showed up, to portray the mother and ask what she says. Fatima’s father speaks with Fatima’s mother about Fatima’s grandmother. The game master cuts to a new scene on the beach, 20 years prior to this again, where Fatima’s grandmother is speaking with Fatima’s father. Barbro is asked to play Fatima’s grandmother.

– The players are also encouraged to associate freely, but their narrative rights are not as wide-ranging as those of the game master. The idea with having one guiding director is to preserve the harmony of the game.
Cut tightly. Even though the action is dwelling and slow, the singular scene will often be brief. The game master manages this, and cuts to new scenes whenever he feels it’s right.
Surprising angles. The game master is open for new thoughts on the content of play, in addition to using traditional techniques like time jump, player control over secondary characters, dream sequences, cut scenes and tight cutting.

Fatima’s father is resting in the hammock. It strikes the game master there must be many smells around him. He instructs Matthijs (who plays Fatima’s father) to briefly describe some of the smells in the hut. He asks the other players to make short statements about associations Fatima’s father has as he notices the various smells.

– The game master ends the game in a fitting way whenever it feels right.

Suggested experiment: play an impressionistic role-playing game with a soundtrack. Try to let the story and moods work in harmony with the record. It should probably be something without lyrics, or with words the players don’t understand. The challenge here will probably be the music not responding in accordance with the player’s actions, and the shifts in tempo on the album might crash with the tempo in the game. Worth a try.

Revisiting this nine year old text was sort of interesting. I didn’t work more in this direction, at least not in a structured way, but I think I’ve internalized some of the principles and methods. Some of it seems screamingly obvious, some methods and ideas very traditional. I don’t know. It was nice to see again.

The post fostered some interesting critique and feedback on the webforum back then, all in Norwegian, alas.


A concept sketch

For our local version of Game Chef, my friend Martin (co-author of Itras By) once designed a game called Sex. I played it at HolmCon, and found it to be a strange and anemic experience. But I liked the core idea: to make a collaborative storytelling game about fucking.

I’m sure there are a number of freeforms that already deal with this, but of the top of my head I can only think of Martin’s game, Jonas Trier-Knudsen’s 600 and Tobias Wrigstad’s Gang Rape. The latter two look at negative aspects of sex; the absurd alienation of a record gang-bang attempt in the porn industry (inspired by Chuck Palahniuk’s “Snuff”) and rape. I guess  you could say rape is more about violence than sex, but it’s a related topic.

I’d like to see a game that was more about the everyday interactions of sex, both the positive, quirky, tricky and weird. But not “gruesome”.

I think I’d like there to be some kind of facilitator/GM function. I also envision some cards feeding the game. Maybe scenes. Maybe topics.


May I?
Would you?
Be gentle
Be rough
Should we…
Please don’t

I think the actual intercourse is the core theme of the game, but it might also be interesting to deal with some of the immense amount of stuff “around” sex. The rules lovers make for each other, the negotiations you enter, conditioned cultural responses, forbidden desires and taboo subjects.

Sex is one of the most powerfully emotional things we do. I’d like the game to enable both giggles and laughs, but also more profound interactions. It could be a two-player game, but I think the intensity of that would be a bit too much for my tastes. I think three is a good number, with one player serving as facilitator, giving cues and hints, cutting & establishing scenes, describing setting and other stuff besides what the characters do.

I don’t know if I’d use pre-written characters, I think maybe the players can workshop some sketches, loosely based on themselves or people they’ve had sex with. Maybe you just play one single intercourse, maybe there are 3-5 scenes total. I think it should be a brief game, 2 hours tops. I read somewhere that the average intercourse lasts 11 minutes? I don’t know if that’s supposed to include foreplay, but I guess some people are skimpy on foreplay.

From 600, I’d steal the warm-up exercise where the players talk about “the weirdest porn they’ve seen”, but I’d change it into “relate some sexual experience they’ve had”. Maybe one positive and one funny? Taking turns to describe? There should probably also be some trust-building exercises. I think it’s a non-touch game, strictly verbal “sitting around a table talking”. Semi-larping like in “600” was maybe good for that game, but also very awkward.

I seem to recall “Gang Rape” (I never played it) having a rule about looking into the victim’s eyes as she narrates what your character does to her body? Some variation of that might work, but I’d like the characters in this game to have agency and for the sex to be completely consensual (but part of the game might be figuring out what you actually want and how to relate that). But eye contact is good, and maybe playing around a bit with who’s actions the players get to describe. Or that could be one of the cards: you describe what your partner does, he/she describes your reactions, or some similar weirdness.

I’m not particularly interested in making it “educational”, but I think you could learn stuff from such a game, or that it’d foster some kind of reflections.

I think it should be voluntary whether you play a man or a woman, whether it’s gay, heterosexual, group sex or something else. But I believe the intensity will increase with “close to home” play, riffing of your own experience and body.

Would I play it? Yes, I think I’d like to. Like many “intense topic” games, I don’t know if it’d be ideal with “random awkward nerd at festival”, but if we design it the right way, I think it could be robust enough for that to work as well.

Will I actually design it? Not sure. But you could, if you want to.