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RPG Jam: designing a game

On March 25th a Norwegian game jam for role-playing games started. It’s called R.I.S.K. (Rollespill.infos Intensive Spillskaper-Konkurranse) and it has been going on for several years now. The idea is that you have two weeks to design a role-playing game and make a decent PDF out of it. At the beginning of the jam they give you five words, and you have to use at least one of them in your game. This is to avoid that you start designing the game beforehand. I thought it could be a nice challenge, so I went for it.

The five words

The five words for this year’s jam were:

  1. Feiring (celebration)
  2. Hemmelighet (secret)
  3. Søke (to search)
  4. Vår (spring, as in the season, or our)
  5. Gift (poison, or married)

The one that caught my attention was the last (interpreted as “poison”), but I also used “secret”. The end result was “Mistankens gift” (“The poison of suspicion”), a game about life and forgiveness.

Concept of the game

The game has two main characters: a person who has been poisoned and is probably going to die, and the person who poisoned the first. It’s a game for two players, and each player will take the role of one of these two characters. The game is a succession of scenes, alternating between the poisoner and the victim. The victim’s scenes are meant to illustrate what made the victim’s life worth living, while the poisoner’s scenes are meant to illustrate negative sides of the victim the poisoner uses to justify what they did. The character sheet has questions that can be used as inspiration to come up with the scenes (things like “What did the victim always put before other people?” for the poisoner, and things like “Who would be heartbroken if you died?” for the victim).

Mechanics

I started writing notes with ideas for mechanics and game concept from the beginning of the jam, and soon I came up with some mechanics I liked (I think maybe Wednesday or Thursday?):

  1. Each player has two sets of dice. The first set is called scene dice, and the other opposition dice. Each set of dice has a 1d4, 1d6, 1d8, and 1d10.
  2. Before each scene, the player who is about to narrate it (the active player) will announce what the scene is going to be about. Then the active player chooses a dice from the scene dice, and the other player one from the opposition dice. If the active player rolls the same or higher, the scene will go as planned (highlighting the good sides of the victim, if the active player plays the victim, or highlighting the bad sides of the victim, otherwise) and the active player wins as many points as their own die showed. If the other player rolls higher, the scene will have to have some contrast or shadow of doubt, and the active player doesn’t earn any points.
  3. At the end of the game both players compare their points to a number between 10 and 15 called fate number, chosen by the poisoner player at the beginning and kept secret throughout the game. If the victim reached the number, the victim will survive. If the poisoner reached the number, the poisoner will be forgiven, either by themselves, or by the victim. Once the fate of both is known, both players agree on an epilogue.

The idea was to create some tension between the goals of the two players. Also, I really like the two layers of contrasts or conflicting points of view in the game:

  1. Both players are essentially presenting the same character (the victim) in very different lights.
  2. When they “lose” a scene, the players have to add a conflicting point of view of idea into the scene: poisoners will admit or realise that the victim wasn’t as evil or deserving of death than they wanted to believe, or victims will realise that their lives weren’t as good and positive as they wanted to believe.

The final PDF

To write the rules themselves I used LibreOffice, and to design the character sheet I used Inkscape. I put everything together using pdftk, and used illustrations from the British Library Flickr account, and I’m fairly happy with the final result.

Conclusion

I’m really happy that I participated, regardless of the outcome. I have played the game a couple of times (to playtest it) and I thought it was pretty enjoyable! The feel is fairly close to how I imagined it would be. I have several ideas about how it could be improved, but I’m not sure I’ll have the focus to do so. Time will tell. In any case, it’s perfectly playable as it is, and I thought it was fun both to design it and to play it.

If you want to try it out, you can download the game from its homepage. You need a second player, a printout of the character sheet (also available as the last page in the rules themselves), at least one die of each type (4-, 6-, 8-, and 10-sided dice), and something to write with. It takes about one hour to play so it’s not a big time investment.

Edit: If you’re interested in seeing the initial design notes, including all the ideas that didn’t make it into the game, and the false starts, you can have a look at them: page 1, page 2, page 3, page 4.