The Elf archaeologists are saying hurtful things about your skeleton

This is a short game for 1 passive and 1-4 active players.

You will be the passive player. You play yourself. Lie down on the floor. You’ve been dead for 1000 years.

The other players are elf archaeologists. They have dug up your skeleton and are investigating it. They’re free to say and do whatever they want; walk around the room, prod you, talk about you.

The game consists of the elves saying hurtful things about you, based on deduction and speculation. You just lie there and take it!

The game ends when all the archaeologists have left the room to go on their lunch break.

Three encounters with yourself by means of guided and alert meditations in a natural setting

I’ve got a virus, and spring is coming, so here goes the head.

The title of this game is because I tried writing something atmospheric, but it ended up being pretentious and clichéd, which would prevent people from understanding what the game was about.

The idea is simple. Do this:

– Go outside with two friends. Be sure to dress right for the climate; you need to be comfortable.

– At some point, one of you will guide one of the others in an encounter with the supernatural.

– Then go to a new place. A new person will be the guide; the previous guide will have an encounter.

Okay. So what’s an encounter?

An encounter means that you get into a headspace where you, for a while, believe in something that isn’t there. You imagine a forest creature, for instance. You talk to it. You feel its presence. As you touch the bark on the tree, you feel how it manifests itself.

At the same time, it lives inside you, because everything we see is made from something we carry within us. We’re part of a big channel of energies and modes of being, and here, you allow the expression of one of them through your imagination and interaction.

Your guide will mostly ask you questions, and encourage you to see and open up.

What’s the supernatural?

This will be some form of natural spirit or force, for instance: a water nymph, a stone spirit, Crow or Coyote, a huldre, etc.

Any more tips?

Play slow, and take it as it comes. Don’t expect anything huge or mind-blowing. You’re just letting some stuff out, some stuff in, breathing. Let the mood guide you.

Identity Poems

You all know about role-playing poems, right? They’re tiny games made to be played in about 15 minutes, often to explore a specific concept, emotion or atmosphere. They’re an excellent vehicle for experimental design – and for design that helps players experiment.

At Solmukohta 2012, I ran a small series of identity poems. These games don’t use fictional characters; they use you, the player. Your history, your identity – these are the playing grounds.

I’ll give a short description of them here. For several of the games, this is the first time I even write down the rules.

3 of me

Based on a previous design, this game is about how we construct the narratives of our own identity; we tell ourselves the stories of our lives, as if we had only one such story and only one identity that was always present or destined to emerge.

Each player gets a challenge from another player, for example: “Tell us how you’ve always been such a weirdo!”, “Tell us how you lost contact with your true self”, “Tell us how you were always a success at what you did”. The player then selects three real events from their life that support this identity, and narrates them. Play passes on to the next player. Ideally played in small groups, so each player can get several challenges; for a group of 3, set aside 20-30 minutes.


About living with labels. You play yourself, exactly as you are. Somehow, you’ve acquired a label – a psychiatric diagnosis. Another player decides on a diagnosis, and sets a scene for play (for example “In the grocery store”, “At the library” etc). A third player plays out the expectations you feel, be it from yourself or the world around you; they follow you around and whisper in your ear. “Hey, you know autists would have a lot of trouble with this disorderly behavior!” “Paranoiacs would certainly see significance in that the number 23 came up again right now.”

This game was very uncomfortable and frustrating – which is great, it only lasts 15 minutes and is made to illustrate a point. When playing, I got really angry at my label, and having to fight it the whole time.

Fast Forward

A mellow, strong and potentially fruitful game. Pick two players to play out real people in your life – family, friends, colleagues. Play out a realistic scene, perhaps instructing them as you go along – “my dad would say this and this”, “my girlfriend tends to be more so and so”.

Then, play out two more scenes – 10 and 20 years in the future. The same people are in it; however, you or the group may decide to remove one of them.

After you’re done with your life, it’s someone else’s turn.

This is not a short game, as it turned out. Set aside at least one hour, probably two. Also, it might be interesting to play more than just three scenes, and to discuss between each scene what had happened or could happen. The game wasn’t strong as in “emotionally wrenching”, but more in the sense of “makes you stop and look inside yourself and think for a while”.


Play out a scene from your past – a fight with your mom, the first time you met your boyfriend, whatever. Instruct other players to be the other people present. Then, replay it, and let the other players give you traits, attitudes, tell you what to do. See what happens.

We didn’t get to play this, too little time. It might be intense, I don’t know!


This is a previous design, not tried out before. I wasn’t present while people played, and didn’t get to talk to them afterwards, so I have no idea how it went!

The Bechdel Test: A roleplaying poem

This is a simple roleplaying game to be played in about 15 minutes.

1. Decide on a movie you all know pretty well. Preferably a mainstream movie, at least the first time you play.

2. Pick two or more female characters from that movie.

3. Roleplay a scene – one you create yourself! – where they talk together about something other than a man.

Repeat 1-3 with a different movie.

This game takes its name from the Bechdel Test. It’s a fun exercise in fleshing out characters, and – hopefully – in creating believable female characters in any medium.

Old Dogs

You lift the iron, feeling the weight of it in your hand. Familiar but distant, dusty memories starting to stir.

The air tears at your lungs, the forest rushing past, feet and arms pumping as the skis carve the snow; muscle remembering, but protesting after all this time.

Your arm describes a wide arc; eyes rushing over the surface, measuring, placing. A bit of wobble in the line, but every new stroke is a little more confident.

Why did you even stop doing this to begin with?

Oh, yes…

In this game poem, you portray old friends who have come together after a long time. You used to meet to do something. You were good at it, but as time went by, you stopped. Now it is time to shake the dust off your old skills.
You can choose any skill; cricket, art photography, nuclear physics, highway robbery – anything goes. But it helps to have at least one player in your group who knows one or more aspects of the skill in reality.

Start telling each other how you prepare. Roleplay how you greet each other, unpack your equipment, making small talk.

What you have come together to do takes about 15 minutes. Play out the conversation taking place while you do it. At any time during the game, a player can point with two fingers on one of the other players. That means that the other player’s character has made a mistake; he can try to excuse it by blaming the equipment, or admit that his skills are a bit rusty, that he might have forgotten some parts of how this is done.

The game is over whan you have:

-Found out why you stopped doing your thing
-Found out why you are meeting again
-Failed or succeeded in the task you came to accomplish.

Optional bonus rule: If a player gives another player a double thumbs up, it means that the other player’s character has displayed a glimmer of old greatness.

A pebble

This is a role-playing poem that takes on the issue of abortion. If that’s not something you want to read, please don’t.

A pebble

For a man, a woman and a small group of co-players – one to three, at the most.

The man plays a woman; the woman plays a man. They’re in a relationship. The woman in the relationship is pregnant. This is signified by a little, black pebble the player puts under his shirt. The playing area is a nearly-empty café.

The man and woman are discussing an abortion, trying to be rational about it. The players should follow the motivations and emotions that appear in them along the way.

As the man and woman talk, the other players – one by one – can tap the table, quietly, to indicate they want to speak. They will speak as a potential future of the child. Five years old, or an adult; successful, joyful, in pain, in horror.

The man and woman should pause while a child player speaks, but then go on as if nothing had happened – the characters are not aware of the presence of the future children in any way; only the players are.

After fifteen minutes, the man and woman rise and leave the restaurant. The other players remain for as long as they want or can.

Two poems

Two role-playing poems today, because it’s just that kind of day. They’re quite different in tone – the first one personal and potentially disturbing; the second grotesque but silly.

Matthijs Holter

A poem for two players. An audience is okay, but they have to be quiet. The players should know each other quite well.

The players portray themselves, as 80-year-olds. They’ve lived a long life. Now they meet by chance, two old people in an undefined place. It’s snowing. The snow grows deeper as they talk. They talk about themselves, each other, their lives, their situation. The snow.

During the fifteen minutes of this game, each of you (the players) should do the following at some point:
Give the other player a loss. During their life, the player has lost something very dear to them, something they thought they could never do without. A wife. A child. Their memory. Their ability to do something they love. You will decide what they lost, and bring it into the conversation.
Example: “Freddie told me Greta passed away. Was it long ago?” “I read about the accident the other day. I was wondering why you didn’t play the violin anymore.”
Give the other player a gift. The other player has achieved, gained or been given something wonderful, something they thought might never happen, something they’ve secretly – or not so secretly – longed for. A huge fortune. The ability to bear children. A mission in life. You will decide what they gained, and bring it into the conversation. (I’m guessing this might be even more of a sensitive issue than the loss). You’re not a mind reader, so don’t worry if you don’t hit the thing they want the most; but try to make it something you think they’d really, really want to happen.
Example: “Kinda surprised to see you without your wheelchair. Guess the doctors fixed you up, huh?” “Rita told me the weirdest thing, said you had a vision or something. So you got religion now?”

After fifteen minutes, the game is ending. The snow is so deep it’s impossible to move. Stand in it for a minute, face up towards the sky, feel the snowflakes covering your face.

Good night, darlings
Matthijs Holter

This is a game for two or more players in a space with boundaries – a room with doors, a circle on the floor or similar. One player is a creative person – game designer, writer, film maker, composer, whatever; pick something that all players can understand or relate to. The others are darlings – parts of the creator’s latest work – parts that she really liked, even loved, but that she now sees have to go. There should probably be at least three darlings.

Start the game by having the creator gather all her darlings. Each of them will introduce themselves. “I’m that REALLY COOL opening scene with the car chase!” “Hello, I am the fabulously complex dice pool system.” “My loving creator, I am the silence between the three last notes, the ones that make everything doubly dramatic”. The darlings all think they’re great, important and wonderful.

Then the creator must kill them, one by one. She will explain to them why they have to die, and then kill them by her method of choice. Softly? Brutally? Coldly? While crying? Of course, they don’t want to die! They plead for their life. Maybe they try to hide or run. The creator has one special power: if she shouts “STAND STILL WHILE I KILL YOU” at one of the darlings, the darling can’t move. It can still cry and accuse and plead, though.

After all the darlings are dead, the creator will walk around the room, petting each of them on their head and whispering soft goodbyes. After that, the game is over.

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

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!)