(For Even, on the occasion of his 35th birthday. Dude, we’re getting old).
In this game, you explore life in an occupied building or area. It’s part collaborative world building, part role-playing. I think it should be a fairly short game, 2-3 hours is probably fine. You should have at least three players, probably no more than five.
You take turns being game master, who sets the scene, plays non-player characters and describes what happens in the setting.
Let’s find out what kind of squat this is!
We’ll use one of those mind maps for support. Break out a piece of paper, preferably large.
It’s good if you have some different colored pencils, put a regular pen/pencil will do fine. By all means doodle a bit as you’re writing.
Draw a bubble in the middle. Choose a player to name the squat. She can pick a name from this list, or make something up: Eden, The Rock, Gehenna, Shangri-La, Christiania, Blitz, Ratkeller, The Ship, Sweetness, Everway, Mordor, College of Wizardry, Z, Occupation Y, Hellfire Club, Zig-Zag, Last Train, Furiosa, The Cave.
Then each player picks a word from the list below, or makes up their own: concept, resources, conflicts, scarcities, external threats, joy, ideology, style, architecture, groups, people, culture, drugs, religion, rumors, geography, history.
When you’ve chosen a word from the list, draw a bubble on the mind map, put the word in it. Connect it to the bubble in the middle with a line.
If the group feels you need a couple more words to work with when everyone has chosen theirs, add them.
Then take turns where every player expands or explains the concepts on the map. Say a little bit about your addition, but don’t spend too much time on it. Expand the mind-map with new lines and words as you’re talking.
Example: Liza starts with a bubble labeled “history”. She says: “the squat has its roots back in the sixties, when some hippies occupied this run-down worker’s housing area by the river, that previously belonged to the factory but was now owned and neglected by the City”. She draws a couple of lines from “history” and writes these keywords on them: “60s”, “city-owned”.
Do a few rounds until you have some feeling for the squat, the setting.
Some general guidelines:
- Don’t get into arguments over the elements. Just accept whatever is added, and work with that.
- Build and expand on each other’s ideas.
- Keep the core theme of the game: “the squat” at the back of your mind. It could be a fantasy-squat or a sci-fi squat if the group wants to, but try to make an effort to match your ideas to whatever is already established.
- It’s probably better to be a bit boring than too weird.
- It’s not a competitive game.
Make up some characters.
I suggest you collaborate doing that, too. You could take turns again, Saying “I’d like to play a…”. Then the others can come up with some additional suggestions, if they think of anything. The player of the character has the final say in what suggestions are used. Don’t get into drawn out arguments. Try to accept and build on whatever is suggested.
Some concepts you can use (or make up your own. Remember to adapt them to the established setting): veteran, hobo, addict, artist, snitch, spiritual, sell-out, punk, hippie, writer, magician, hang-around, criminal, tourist, juvenile, wannabe, mother, father, child, leech, gardener, monk, ascetic, trainer, lunatic, joker.
Name the characters, something fitting the setting. Define some traits. E.g: age, gender, outlook, ideology, goals, methods, strengths, challenges. Giving them some less pleasant sides or some life-struggles will make them more interesting to play.
Make up some relationships for the characters
You’ll probably want to use a new piece of paper for these. One method: write down bubbles with the names of all the characters in them. Take turns suggesting relationships. You can make up relationships for any characters, but the players of these have the final say. Work together, talk it over, collaborate. Draw lines connecting the characters as you establish the relationships.
Some suggestions: friends, lovers, ex, family, rivals, conspirators, fascinated by, admires, distrusts, feels close to, annoyed by, amused by, looks down on, depends on, works with, worships.
You should also populate the squat with some non-player characters. You can use the same process for these, but I suggest going into less detail with them. Stick to core concepts and stuff that will generate interesting scenes, like goals, relationships (also to main characters), and weaknesses. You can also make up NPCs during play (whoever is GM has the primary responsibility for this, but she can ask for suggestions or delegate).
Now we find out what happens in the squat
Everybody makes up 2-3 scene suggestions. Don’t tell the others. Write down a couple of sentences on a piece of paper, fold it in half. It should be something that will help whoever game-masters the turn run the scene. A starting point. It should be brief, but suggestive. Probably related to a conflict. It’s good to use the relationships, characters, NPCs and setting-elements you have established together.
- Character X & Y are discovered by character Z doing something they shouldn’t.
- A boring communal meeting is coming to an end as someone makes a disturbing revelation (what is it?)
- Someone shares a secret with a character that could threaten the squat. But the character has a loyalty bond to this person. What does she do?
- Carnevale. Some kind of party where all the rules are upside-down.
- Outside threat: some external threat against the squat. How is it dealt with?
- Artefact: a strange object from the squat or areas past is discovered. Is it valuable? Dangerous? Can it change people?
Don’t go into too much detail, don’t explain how the scene will be resolved. Focus on dilemmas and challenges the characters have. Don’t try too hard to come up with something clever. Just use whatever first comes to mind when you look at the setting and characters in front of you. It’s fine to have some calmer scenes, too, where we get to know the characters a bit better and see their relationship play out.
Fold the scene suggestions in half, put them in a pile or bowl.
You will take turns being GM. The GM sets the scene by picking up a scene suggestion at random. If it inspires you and feels right, try to expand on that. If not: put it back and choose a new one, or make up a scene of your own. As GM, you have several things to support you: look at the relationship maps, review the character descriptions, look at the mind-map with the setting elements the group has defined.
- Try to incorporate some of what has been previously established (explore conflicts and relationships further, re-use areas, revisit NPCs).
- Define who’s in the scene. It doesn’t have to be all the characters in every one of them. If a player’s character is not present in the scene, she can play an NPC instead.
- If you’re stuck, maybe you want to ask the player’s questions and incorporate their answers? E.g. “why is your character so worried today?” “What has been the main issue with the food lately?” “What’s the nasty rumor about?”
Keep the scenes relatively brief. It’s better to end them too soon rather than too late.
When the scene ends, the GM-function passes to the player to the left. If the group wants to, you can use some symbol to wear or place in front of whoever is GM.
You play as long as you’re having fun. Again, it’s probably good to end sooner rather than later. I’m thinking 2-3 hours tops could be good for this game. If you run out of scene suggestions, you can take a break and make up some new, or the GM can just frame the scenes based on what has happened previously. It’s perfectly fine to take small breaks between scenes for toilet, cigarette or even some food. You can use this time to think things over if you’re GM. You can also discuss a bit among yourself: how many scenes should we play from this point, or content of the stories/ideas for dilemmas the character can face. Don’t do debating society, however. And don’t pre-plan too much. A big part of the fun of these games is playing to discover what happens, not enacting a script.
I’m not sure the game needs a “resolution mechanic”. I think most of the action can be worked out in conversation. The game master is the final arbiter during her scenes.
If you want one, you can print out the resolution cards from Itras By (not the chance cards).
Or you can just use a 6-sided die where 1-3 means “shit result” and 4-6 means “good result”.
Thanks to Graham for coming up with the contest.
There are several inspirations for this game. I can’t remember half. Some from the top of my mind: Apocalypse World, Archipelago, Impro, Play Unsafe.
I might do some tweaks and adjustments after playtest, but I’m fairly confident it should be playable as is. Consider this a first draft. Or a hashcan.