It is 1928, the kulaks are starving by the millions, and the collectivization of agriculture is proving to be a disaster. Careworn by his awesome responsibilities, our beloved leader, Comrade Stalin, wishes to have a pleasant evening with the other valiant leaders of the CCCP, and be told a folk tale similar to those he was told in his youth. Naturally, Comrade Stalin being who he is, at least one of the rest of us will be executed before the evening is out. And try to stay off the subject of agriculture.
Stalin's Story is a short indie RPG, of the tabletop/live action variety, that is played out on two levels: On the first level, half the players are actors, acting out the story, and the other half are courtiers, trying to curry favor with the Soviet leader, trying to sabotage the play that the actors are performing (lest they curry favor with Stalin and perhaps be appointed to some position of power that might otherwise go to you) -- and, of course, trying to avoid being shot. On the second level is the folk tale itself. The "story" is invariant -- the dragon will be slain -- but the outcome for the players on the top level may vary greatly from one session of play to the next.
The story itself is based on the theories of Vladimir Propp (author of Morphology of the Folk Tale); he found that Russian folk tales are essentially recombinations of a handful of common elements. During Stalin's Story, players play "story cards" with these elements on them; a system of numerical order, along with text saying that some must follow others or are blocked by others, restricts when and which particular cards may be played. When a card is played, the "actors" play out the story, improvising as they wish, so long as they present the story element described on the card.
Comrade Stalin -- one of the players, or perhaps you might consider him the gamemaster -- may break any rule, stipulate any new rule, and may in fact order any of the other players to do anything -- at any "level," in fact. That is, if a story element displeases him, he may dictate to the actors what they must do; similarly, he may instruct the courtiers to do anything, because displeasing the great leader of the international proletariat has dire consequences. Indeed, he may also dictate at the "zeroth level" -- that is, in the living room where the players are gathered, they must obey Comrade Stalin. Does he want the comfy chair? Does he want a glass of tea? Best comply. (There is a stop-gap; a player may quit the game to avoid having to obey, if he really objects to Comrade Stalin's instructions -- presumably his character is hauled off by the OGPU for interrogation.)
To put it another way, this little indie RPG, designed by the author of The Baron, a text adventure reviewed here previously, is an odd and imaginative combination of Paranoia and Once Upon a Time. And looks to be equally entertaining.