In my shadow


Maja H. Kvendseth


A GM-less story game about grief, anger, fate, and ugly truths. It is also a game about suicide. This game will, through five acts and forty scenes, render five different phases in the life (and death) of a person – our Main Character – and those whose lives were touched by this person.


In my shadow

HolmCon & R.I.S.K.: Trends in Norwegian game design

At this year’s HolmCon (the sixth in a row, my, we’re getting old, time flies etc), there was too much to do. Everyone felt like they missed out on some great stuff, because there were too many cool new games.

Okay, let me repeat that. Too many cool new games. Produced locally.

It used to be that a new Norwegian game would cause quite a stir in Norwegian gaming circles. Even if you’d never played Muu, and it wasn’t in the shops, and it wasn’t your sort of game at all, you’d have heard about it, because it was… well, Norwegian. But now? I can’t even remember the titles of all the new games being presented at this year’s HolmCon. And that’s just crazy, because I’m obsessive about these things.

Luckily, the internet is my friend. Here are the games:

Kjærlighet i volvenes tid (love in the time of the shamaness). A game by Jason Morningstar and myself (Matthijs), based on the Archipelago rules. A shakespearean setup of rivalry, love, lust and magic in Viking times.

Alexandriavariasjoner (Alexandria variations). Based on Jon Bings famous books from the seventies about the library spaceship Alexandria. The designer Anders Nygaard didn’t make it because of illness, but interesting bits have been leaked on the internet.

Lykke (happiness). Tomas Mørkrid decided to explore the more positive sides of life in this game, through long and short scenes from the entire lives of everyday people. Death is a possible ending – but a positive one, apparently.

L’Esprit d’escaliér (spirit of the staircase). All about the “I should have said…” phenomenon – on the way down the stairs after an encounter, you come up with the perfect retort. By fresh designer Aleksander Rødner.

Drømmernes Selskab (The Society of Dreamers). A game full of ritual and dreams, exploring the nature of the mnemosites – creatures living in people’s dreams, and sometimes outside them. A red wine hippie structured freeform game by yours truly.

Morgenfri (morning free – a word play on “sorgenfri”, sorrow-free). A traditional fantasy RPG with an extensive setting, by Maja Kvendseth, a self-proclaimed traditionalist and anti-freeformer who likes to run impro workshops for freeform hippies.

Jegerne (the hunters). What White Wolf’s “The Hunter” should have been like. Presentation and playtest of this new design by Erlend Bruer and Lasse Lundin resulted in an extensive feedback session.

Livet, døden, havet og kjærligheten (life, death, the ocean and love). Possibly the strangest new game, which sadly didn’t get played, I think: These four contestants meet for a race, and the players are sports commentators rooting for their favorite… and betting their reproductory organs. By Martin Bull Gudmundsen.

In addition, there were several scenarios in various stages of freeforminess: D’Aubainnes By, using Itras By rules for Over the Edge; Døden er bedre enn Baronen, about the horrible (and real) Baron von Ungern-Sternberg; Pølsekonspirasjon, or sausage conspiracy, involving real sausages and T-shirts (which are banned at HolmCon); and Jakten på tidsmaskinen, inspired by the “Invisibles” comics.

And, finally, the R.I.S.K. games. Of the 15 new games this year, I believe five were played at HolmCon, and all of them were discussed – briefly or at length. The winner will be announced tomorrow.

So, what trends can we see in Norwegian game design?

  • No dice. Right now, it doesn’t seem like most people are using dice much; even hardcore traditionalists are experimenting with freeform, card interpretation and the like. There are a few exceptions, of course (Morgenfri and some of the RISK games), but in general, freeform is the rule.
  • GM decides or GM-less. In games designed to be run by others, we often end up going GM-less. I think probably half of this year’s designs go in that direction. Freeform GM’ed games being run at HolmCon tended towards the “GM decides everything” style – the GM selects techniques, owns the scenario (although he/she usually solicits and uses player input), sets the situation, resolves the climax.
  • Pick a theme, any theme. This is an anti-trend: It’s hard to see any connecting theme for the various settings being written and run. Some are absurdist, some silly, some social realist, some supernatural, some based on literary references. What we’re not currently seeing is ground-breaking new settings – there’s little real world building, and what little there is seems rooted in well-known fantasy tropes (albeit modified to fit the authors’ tastes).
  • Play, don’t publish. Ask this year’s designers whether they’re planning to publish, and they say “I hope so, maybe, when it’s finished”. There’s no rush to get things out there – they want to play, replay, discuss, hone, polish. After this year’s HolmCon, there’s extensive redesign and rewriting going on.
  • Refining personal vision. Some designers seem to have decided to stick with what they know, and do it better. They’re experimenting within their paradigm – there are enough techniques in their toolkit that they don’t need to acquire new ones right now. The focus is on finding the ones that fit.
  • We don’t all have to like the same thing. A common comment in this year’s R.I.S.K. is “probably an interesting game, and it looks like it might work, but it isn’t really my thing”. Whether it’s because a game is too traditional, or too hippie-feely-story-gamey, or too personal, or too Hollywood violent, people are getting used to seeing beyond their own ideas of what a game has to be, and looking at the games that are actually there.
  • We’re influencing each other. Your game uses my mechanisms. Your way of playing affects how I (re)design my game. We’re swimming in a sea of each other’s ideas right now, and it’s getting very hard to remember exactly who came up with what when. We’re not stealing like ravens – we’re more like kids sitting at a big table sending each other crayons to draw with. “Hey, I want that shiny gold one!” “Pass the black, please?”

If you have any questions about the games, or anything in the article – or if you just want to say something – please feel free to comment!

The Orc in the Well

This role-playing poem is playable in many forms – including two-player and forum variants.

There’s an orc sitting in a well. It can’t get out. The orc looks up at the sky. A bird flies past.

You, the players, will take turns telling this orc’s story, from different points of view. The game lasts 15 minutes. It covers approximately the same amount of time in the orc’s life.

When it’s your turn, you narrate something. You can do a short or long narration, whichever you like. You have to choose between narrating the EXTERNAL, the INTERNAL, or something from the PAST. External narration is about stuff that happens to or around the orc. Internal narration is about the creature’s thoughts and emotions. Narrating the past, you can narrate anything you like.

Note that none of these modes focus on what the orc does. It can be about what the orc has done in the past, or what’s being done to the orc, or how the orc reacts mentally… but action isn’t the main thing, really.

Players take turns, starting with the player to the left of whoever explains the rules. The first narration should be external.

After fifteen minutes the game is over. The last narration should be external, too.

Author: Matthijs Holter

The 2009 R.I.S.K. competition

Yesterday 11 candidates submitted their entries for R.I.S.K., a yearly Norwegian game design competition where entrants design a game in one week.

This year, the theme seems to be news and the media, covered by more than a third of the games: “Dagsrevyen” (The Daily News), “Hund bet mann” (Dog Bites Man), “Reality” and “Vi har visst mistet kontakten med studio” (We Seem to Have Lost Contact With the Studio). Some Norwegian game designers are journalists, and others (like myself) talk a lot about What’s Wrong With Today’s Media. Still, though – 4 of 11 games?

There’s also a strong undercurrent of meta-fiction, if you can call it that. “Jon Quixote”, a parody of Don Quixote involving a D&D fan and constant reality twists; “Paradigme”, where players contribute and discuss rules to determine the laws of nature in the fiction; and “Hamartia”, where players are authors controlling Greek heroes from literature.

Interesting stuff, most of it. People seem to be going for the idea and the vibe this year, more than actually playtesting and finishing their games, so there’s a general feel of half-baked conceptual stuff. On the other hand, organizer Michael Sollien is encouraging participants to use the coming week to hone their games and make them shine. Not sure if people will actually do that, since it doesn’t influence the competition results, but we’ll see. This year’s HolmCon will see some hours of R.I.S.K. gaming, though; it’s always fun trying out some of these games, and experience from previous years shows that the competition winners aren’t necessarily the games you remember a year or two later.

(If you can read Norwegian, or just want to look at the PDFs, they’re here.)

Winner of the Role-Playing Poem Competition

This was just posted over at Story Games by Erling Rognli, one of the judges!



Adjudicating the Role-playing Poem Challenge proved to be a challenging task in itself. There are many entries, most of which are very good poems, and the jury did not agree completely at first. Some entries are simply solid pieces of work, although not quite original enough to warrant a Firkløver. Others are extremely innovative, but seem somewhat lacking in playability and fun-factor. We have, as instructed, based our judgements on the requirements of fun, originality and adherence to form.

We have interpreted fun and playability in a wide sense. Interesting, emotionally evocative, thought-provoking, beautiful, and personally challenging are all herein treated as synonyms of fun. In judging playability we have had a particular eye for strong, simple method, clear instructions and realistic timing. Some poems, we believe, stretch out certain moments of interaction beyond what will prove to be fun in actual play.

Originality has been an important deciding factor. We have looked for new method, innovative presentation and striking concepts. Innovative use of well-known method also counts as originality in our view.

Adherence to form is necessarily the criterion most open to interpretation, as the form is recently developed and its boundaries are still being explored. As we see it, the here-and-now experience of moods, situations and relationships lies at the heart of role-playing poems. Too strong focus on developing narrative is usually a weakness of design, in our view, because the limited time-frame constrains the development of the story too much. In role-playing poems, narrative usually works best when it serves the experiential aspect of the poem, rather than being an end in itself. Tight, focused design with a specific (although not necessarily describable) experience in mind is another core quality of role-playing poems, as we see it.

We have selected a winner, and two runners-up. Many more deserve mention; those not among the top three may rest assured that the margins were rather small. The quality is generally very high, and we hope many of these excellent poems see a lot of play.

First runner up:

THE BELIEVERS by Chris Bennett
This poem is an excellent example of using narrative to support experience. In form it lies closer to traditional verbal role-playing than many other role-playing poems, while maintaining a very tight focus. It employs the same soft, suggestive direction of play that has proven highly effective in M. Jakobssons “Until we sink”. The ending is pointed and touching. A solid design all in all, that scores a lot on fun and playability.

Second runner up:

BOREDOM by Lasse Lundin
This poem is drily funny right from the start (“choose the most boring person to read the rules. This is boring.”), while building up its mood at the same time. It employs a strong, simple method (taking turns in suggesting an activity) which supports the main experiential goal of being bored together. It scores a lot on playability and adherence to form. It is not original enough, however, to win.

Winner of the Firkløver bar:

HOUSEBREAKER by Jackson Tegu
A poem that both adheres very well to the form as well as expanding it in a new direction. The poem masterfully balances originality with playability. The use of prose to explain the game works very well. The use of synchronised timing and a phone call maintains a vital measure of interaction, and represents a new design tool that may see further use. The clever use of frantic searching helps maintain the desired state of mind. Most importantly, this poem gives the players a wonderful opportunity to interact with their own everyday lives, and to relate to it from a new angle. Housebreaker is a prime example of role-playing poetry, and a deserving winner among many other excellent poems.

The Role-Playing Poem Competition

We’ve started a competition for Best Role-Playing Poem. It’s pretty simple. Here are the rules:

Competition rules

The challenge ends on June 20. At that time, a jury of Norwegians (picked by me) will select the Bestest Role-Playing Poem.
The criteria will be: Fun, originality, and adherence to the form (bloated monstrosities lasting 20 minutes or more, for example, will have a hard time winning).
The winner will be announced at Story Games, and on the Nørwegian Style website.
The award: A bar of Firkløver, most Norwegian of all chocolate!

If you want to join, send an e-mail with your game to:
matthijs1000 (a t) hotmail (d o t) com

Or if you want to, you can post it at Story Games. (There’s some entries there as well!)

Three poems

Lasse Lundin and Erlend Bruer sent me these three poems!

Tesco Hell is a light-hearted, fast-paced game about walking around in the Tesco store and trying to avoid cursed groceries.

Mystery loves Company is a sitcom-like game about the superheroes Mystery and Company, their kids, and their arch-nemesis Disgusio – master of disguises!

A Trip Through Time Seen Through The Eyes of a Fir Tree is a slow, immersive game about trees telling a story. One of my favorite role-playing poems.

Download them here: