The Bloody Forks of the Ohio is a tabletop indie RPG set in the Ohio Country in 1754 -- a moment of historically vital importance. What happened there was the proximate cause of the Seven Years War, a minor fight in the woods between a few hundred men producing a global conflagration that involved all of Europe's Great Powers and warfare over three continents -- North America (where it was known as the French and Indian War), Europe, and India (where France still contended with Britain for control of the subcontinent).
The history is this: three powers -- the Iroquois, the French, and the British -- all claimed the region. The Iroquois had survived mainly by playing the British and French against one another, but their hold over the region was tenuous; the Delaware and Shawnee who settled it owed ostensible allegiance to the Six Nations, but were not themselves members of the Iroquois confederacy, and not inclined to take orders from Onondaga (the Iroquois capital). The previous year, soldiers dispatched by the governor of Virginia had built a small fort at the confluence of the Ohio, Monongahela, and Allegheny rivers (a place we now call "Pittsburgh"), but the French, discovering this intrusion into what they considered a part of New France, set them packing, and built Fort Duquesne, a considerably more robust fortification.
A "story game" is a non-digital roleplaying game with a set of rules that are designed to encourage improvisational roleplay leading to a narrative experience. We've reviewed a number of story games over the years, but today will instead talk about game poems.
What, pray tell, is a game poem?
Poetry differs from prose in that its purpose is concisely to evoke imagery, emotion, and epiphany, not necessarily to tell a story (although telling a story is permissable). A game poem, like a story game, is a form of improvisational roleplay within a rules structure, but it is intended to last for a short period -- no more than an hour, surely -- and its purpose is to evoke imagery, emotion, and potentially an epiphany, without necessarily creating a coherent narrative.
Here are some examples:
1. Playing 20 Questions with Cthulhu, attempting to discover how you may summon him and re-establish the dominion of the Great Old Ones over earth -- that is, do some physical action, such as crossing your eyes, that the Cthulhu player chose at start of play -- with the extra rule that each time you learn something about the ritual, a word, chosen by Cthulhu, is erased from your mind and may not be used by you again (or can be replaced by gibberish). [The Sign of the Great Old Elder God From Beyond]
2. One player is chosen as John (or Jane) Galt, who has chosen to withdraw from our decadent socialist society and become wholly self-sufficient. Each player in turn poses a challenge to John Galt, going down Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs but narrating a specific instance in which Galt might be expected to rely on another human being; Galt must try to explain how he can be self-sufficient even in the face of this challenge. [Going Galt]
3. The players are three old men in an old age home. They all hate each other, and have known each other for years. Each has a reason to want to try to kill each other. Each complains to each other about some real or imagined slight in the past, until one shouts "That's enough!" and uses a power peculiar to that character to try to kill another player. [Three Old Men]
4. Two players are people who have just seen each other on the subway, and have fallen into love at first sight. Three other players are the Drunk, the Businessman, and the Friend. Players take turns narrating what they do and say. The non-lovers' purpose is to introduce complications. After 10 minutes, one of the lovers must get off the subway, and the game ends. [A Moment on the Subway]
As in any game, the outcome and path of the exercise are unknown a priori; so much depends on the improvisations of the players. Yet, as with story games, a set of coherent rules are used to guide the improvisations of the players -- and if the end-goal is not necessarily a coherent story, it is, as with written poetry, an emotion, image, or insight. The distinction between game poems and "acting games" is, in fact, slight -- except that acting games are intended primarily as training in improvisation, as an element in becoming a better actor, while game poems are intended primarily as improvisational amusement, with improvement in improvisation a perhaps desirable secondary effect.
As such, game poems are another example of the ongoing impulse to marry tabletop roleplaying and theater, an impulse exemplified also by the story game, the indie RPG movement, and the jeepform.
If you roleplay, in fact, I think it would be worth your while to investigate game poems, find a handful you like, and play them. In particular, I can see the utility of using one as an icebreaker before beginning a longer session of a more conventional RPG.
The setup of The Visitor is that of a sitcom; starfish-like aliens have come to Earth and the US government is in contact with them, though their presence is secret from the public. They have demanded that one of their number be permitted to live with a normal American family to learn more about humanity.
Sweet Agatha is an ambitious product in many ways. It's a two-player, limited scope, narrativist RPG; it's a literarily ambitious attempt to marry themes of love and loss to an interactive product; it's a beautifully designed (from a graphic perspective) product that gets destroyed in play.
Misspent Youth is a game of youthful rebellion against authority. As with some other indie RPGs, like My Life with Master, almost everything about the game's setting and conflict is produced through collaborative negotiation among the players and GM. The givens are these: There is an Authority against which the players are rebelling. The players are all friends, between the ages of 12 and 17. And there is some science fictional aspect to the setting. Other than these, almost everything is up for grabs.
Out on the frontier, a group of religious pioneers struggles to make lives for themselves. The Faith faces freezing winters and blazing summers, but the greatest threat to their survival comes from within. You play one of God’s Watchdogs, tasked with holding the faith together in the face of sin, heresy, and demonic influence. The Dogs ride from town to town rooting out pridefullness and false doctrine, exorcising demons, dispensing justice, and keeping the Faith together. Their word is both law and gospel, but with ultimate authority comes ultimate responsibility.
My Life With Master is as seminal a work in the history of tabletop role-playing games as Frankenstein was for literature. It's a game designed around not a narrative, but a dramatic scenario that you act out, producing your own unique narrative. From a game designer's perspective, it's something that must be studied, it's something that must be played.
Most roleplaying games are, of course, exercises in a form of wish fulfillment: playing someone who has adventures more interesting than our own calm lives permit, and often someone who commands fantastic powers. Rare indeed is a game that casts you in a role no sane person would wish to occupy: like, say, that of a slave in the antebellum South.
Planned Parenthood sure made a strange choice of developer to do their advergame supporting awareness of abortion services. I could imagine Persuasive Games doing something a bit low-key, or maybe some more blase company doing an economic game that reinforces the value of Planned Parenthood's clinics and counseling. But choosing Messhof, creator of You Found The Grappling Hook and FlyWrench, that was a risky move. The result is the most bizarre advergame ever created, one that doesn't seem to particularly touch on any issues directly related to abortion, much less municipality.
...when you Log In or Register. Gives you the ability to post to the forums and your own blog; to rate games and receive recommendations based on your ratings; and to bookmark games for later reference.