Sex

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.

Examples:

Negotiation
May I?
Would you?
Please
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.

Indie Spring Festival: With Norwegian games!

Check this out: https://bundleofholding.com/presents/SpringFestival – for a limited time, you can get a bunch of great games super cheap! And part of the money goes to charity, so you’re saving the world a little as well.

The Norwegian influence is heavy in this bundle. Itras By was first published in Norwegian. Love in the Time of Seið was written by an American and a Norwegian. And the Game Poems are inspired by the Norwegian Role-Playing Poems. (Crossroads was written by a Dane, which means it’s almost Norwegian ;)

So yeah. Run along and check it out!

Night Air

“Evening falls over the siege camp. We’re getting ready to make some money. Quick and sometimes easy. We fuck soldiers and merchants in their tents. Maybe not the best job in the world, but the one we chose under the circumstances.
 
But this is just us getting ready. Talking before we go.”
 
Setup: Describe your character in one sentence. Leave some stuff out to discover during play – your gender, whether you have kids, how you got here or whatever.
 
Play: Talk in character. Talk about practical stuff, emotional stuff, your history, your make-up. Details and chatter.
 
Rule 1: You can talk about anything, except specific men. This is not about your relationships to or with men. If one of you forgets that and starts talking about men, just clear your throats and pretend it didn’t happen.
 
Rule 2: Whenever one of you feels like it, say goodbye to the others and go into the night, off to work. The game ends when there’s only one character left.
 
Epilogue: Close your eyes for a moment. Feel the freedom of walking into the night with the cold air on your face. Take a deep breath, open your eyes. Say goodbye.

 

Deal

1. it is possible there is love. let us pretend there is. but not in this game.
2. you still need love. or money. or something else. you need.

characters
your character wants something. they are driven by it.
they might admit it to themselves.
they might not.
you will play with one other person.
their character also wants something.
you have it.

examples
you want love, to be loved. you work hard and make money.
they want money. they can fake love.
you want to be good. you can provide a house, stability.
they want safety. they can fake that you’re a good person.

the lie
you never, ever, ever say out loud what you want. you never, ever, ever say out loud what you provide.
neither do they.

the scenes
1. you meet. you talk about whatever, do whatever.
underneath it all, the animals inside you sense that the other can provide what you want.
keep on talking about whatever.
do whatever.

2. you are apart.
the need.
you have found someone who can provide.

3. you meet again, and again.
let’s see some short scenes. montage. just sentences, vignettes.

4. now what?
how long do you keep it up?
let’s see some more scenes.
and more.
and more.

5. did you say it out loud?
did you mention it?
what happened?
what happens now?

6. can you live with each other, and with yourself?
this might be a happy ending.
or a redemption.
or splitting up.

7. epilogue
fun! will you fall into the same pattern?
will you break free?
who the hell are you, really?

A history of Archipelago

Archipelago is the most played of my games. Probably because it’s one of the best – and because it’s one of the few that actually have a market potential. Many of the games I make are things that few people are interested in, and fewer actually play. Because, you know, I’m a fucking artist.

I say “my” – and for some years it was just my game; but without Jason Morningstar it wouldn’t be what it is now, as you’ll see from the history below. He’s an awesome guy. We’ve met for about 10 minutes, during which he mostly said “I’m ill and have to go to my room”, or “could you talk to this guy, because I’m exhausted from being ill”. Other than that, we know each other only via the internet.

Aaaanyway. Let’s go.

0. Earthsea

A million years back, I wanted to make an Earthsea role-playing game. I started out a campaign with the basic premise that we’d add rules as we needed them. We ended up with a ridiculously simple “roll 1d6 and see what happens” system for ship combat, I think. Other than that, everyone played several characters, and we more or less took turns focusing on each player’s major character while other people played support. The basic vibe from this game made it into Archipelago, and is still a vibe that lives on in some of my best campaigns. I can’t entirely describe it. I’m not going to try.

Since I and my group had no idea what we were doing (this was probably around 1992), we tried out some shared narrative responsibility and failed pretty badly. At one point, a bunch of NPCs hosed a major character for no reason, and we had no way to stop what was just simple player dysfunction. That problem followed me through several later GM-less efforts, such as Will the Emperor Fall?, which had a memorably stupid playtest session where the main focus was the branded buttocks of one of the characters. I wanted the rules to work, and didn’t want to arbitrarily veto stuff, so I sat there and endured while the other players giggled and made my epic fantasy game into a ridiculous parody. These players are still my best friends, and people I love to play with. They’re still stupid, too.

1. Archipelago

In 2007 I designed Archipelago. I do not recall how. A lot of it just came to me as a result of thoughts that had been going on for 10-15 years, and all of a sudden it just seemed to fit together. I had no idea this would be the game that worked. It did work, although not all the people in the first playtest liked it. I changed almost nothing from first playtest to publication.

Archipelago contained the famous “Do it differently” phrase, which was made specifically to make it impossible for my best friends to fuck up the game. It also contained “More details”, which was based on the writing style of Ursula K LeGuin, author of the Earthsea books. She sometimes jumps in and adds a lot of detail about some more-or-less random setting element, making it appear as if the entire world has depth and detail. She has explained that in reality, she knows nothing more about the worlds she creates than what is written in the books; it’s all just a clever trick. I like that trick, and it works in games.

Players could have ownership of different elements of the fiction. This was done to make sure that things like, for instance, geography or the nature of magic had some consistency – things in GM-less games can get pretty gonzo pretty quickly if everyone can just add to everything.

The first version of the game had a simple resolution mechanic, drawing cards from a standard deck of playing cards. That changed later.

There were veto rules, pretty much lifted directly from Dirty Secrets by Seth Ben-Ezra, which had just come out.

Destiny points were based on the idea that major characters had destinies. The technique of writing them down so people would play towards them was from Eirik Fatland’s fate play technique. The idea of having several destinies, and letting people choose from them, was based on another game where people could choose from suggestions – I think Penny For Your Thoughts, but I could be wrong.

2. Archipelago II

A few people I didn’t personally know played Archipelago I, and gave feedback. (Chris Bennett, Robert Earley-Clark, Willem Larsen and Chris Peterson). That made me think the game might have, as we say in Norwegian, “livets rett” – the right to live. In the summer of 2009 I suddenly decided to make a new version of the game, adding a few elements.

One new element was resolution cards based on impro theatre. These cards, labeled “Yes, and…” and “No, but…” and similar, were something I’d made & tried out for an Itras By campaign in 2007 (for more about the relationship between Itras By and Archipelago, see http://www.story-games.com/forums/discussion/18000/itras-by-and-archipelago-a-love-story/p1).

The other element was fate cards, based on the chance cards Ole Peder and Martin had made for Itras By.

These cards were just thrown in. I’d never playtested them for Archipelago, and I put the game on the internet with no further testing.

3. Last Train out of Warsaw

So I was pretty happy with the game – at least, the way the ritual phrases worked. I’d put some thought into it, and could see how they made groups work better, which was something I was thinking a lot about (I put an essay on group dynamics into Archipelago II). I was a little frustrated that people weren’t immediately picking it up, playing it, and carrying me through the streets on their shoulders while sacrificing goats and wine and chocolate to me, but that’s just how I am. A few people did play it, though, and it started getting a litttttle bit of buzz.

Suddenly, Jason Morningstar posted this on the Nørwegian Style blog:

“I really like the game and would like to hack it in my own directions, and wanted your approval before I started.”

And I went, huh? And sure, and what? And he’d written an entire game, an Archipelago hack with a scenario and ready-made characters. Completely not the generic game I’d made. I tried it out and he put it on the internet.

4. Crazy shit happens

For the next year or two, people started doing stuff with Archipelago. Jamie Fristrom designed his own cards, and made a hack combining Archipelago and James Wallis’ Once Upon a Time. Willem Larsen came up with new phrases, techniques and even ASL signs. Pablo Martínez translated it into Spanish, Maitresinh into French. Anders Nygaard made a Stormtrooper hack. Richard Williams made a game, Anarktica, expanding on the Archipelago rules. And Rafael Chandler made a hack using miniatures and dice. (Yeah, I KNOW!)

5. Love in the Time of Seið

While crazy shit was happening (the exact chronology can be pieced together from the post on Archipelago II, I think), I contacted Jason asking if he wanted to collaborate on a game. He did, and we made Love in the Time of Seið. It was partly based on a movie script I never finished, but I’m not sure if I ever told Jason that; anyway, he and I changed it a lot from its initial premises. He made a very tight web of relationships for the characters, and we made up a lot of cool locations. I think we actually used Google Wave to collaborate, moving to Google Docs after a while. It was very exciting for me working with Jason, who I have a lot of respect and admiration for.

The game had some innovations and changes, especially the use of location cards, the introduction of Themes and Events and theme guides. This was a continuation of the Fate cards in Archipelago II, only tied much tighter into the setting and characters. We also gave each characters some questions to answer, based on the Montsegur technique.

To make things easy, and because we’re such awesome human beings, we give the proceedings to charity. Jason has handled all the practical matters, and did the layout for the game.

6. Archipelago III

In 2012 Jason contacted me. He wanted to make a better-looking, better-edited & updated version of the rules.

We decided to add two new phrases to the official ruleset: “Help”, to get input from the group; and “Harder”, to encourage players to really push where it hurts. Both had been tried and found to make the game more fun. We removed the use of tokens to track location, since none of us actually used that, and we simplified the veto rules.

Jason worked on the resolution cards, adding some, changing others, to make a bigger and more varied set.

7. What now?

We’ve had two aborted attempts at sequels. Now, however, we’ve got a pretty-much-finished game, a sister game to Love in the Time of Seið, which I’m very happy with. It’s sexy, full of intrigues, and has interesting gender-roley stuff going on. We need to edit it more and get design for it, and then we’ll put it out there.

Meetings of the Learned Strawmen

So you thought the Strawmen weren’t real?

That they were fictional beings? Collections of opinions that nobody actually held? Of plans that nobody had actually laid?

You were so naïve.

They do exist. They meet in secret places to lay their sinister plans. To discuss YOU. To find out how to control YOU. To make YOU think and act the way THEY want.

Let’s take a look and find out what they’re up to.

Continue reading

The Patriarch’s Head

 

Image
 
I wrote a short storytelling game based on the mysterious murder of Patriarch Lukijan Bogdanovic. They said it was a suicide at first, but then they never found his head.

 

It’s for 2 or more players, super easy, no prep, takes 10-60 minutes depending on how much people describe stuff.

 

If you read it or try it, let me know what you think!

 

 – Matthijs

Get it here: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1r0zJCxuo8_cy5msWCA1KALecTNpUWrdRXv3az7Epo2U/edit?usp=sharing