I just got back from one of my favorite events of the year, a game day in which 50 or so folks gather at a state park, sleep in unpowered cabins in the woods, cook communal meals in a camp kitchen, and game constantly for about four days straight. It was exactly what my soul needed after an exceptionally terrible week (reasons I don’t want to go into).
Anyway, while there are usually some traditional games at the game day, there are always some unusual ones. I wanted to share a couple of my new favorites, and ask if folks know of other awesome ones.
KIDS ON BIKES: This is very much the “Stranger Things” RPG.
The dice rules are nothing special IMO, a basic dice-rolling game, but I played it with one of the creators, and the initial setup for a one-shot is wonderful. We chose from some very loosely-fleshed-out archetypes (brutish jock, weirdo loner, slacker, scout, funny sidekick, etc.), and the GM described the setting in very loose terms, then started asking us questions:
-What time of year is it?
-Where do you like to hang out in town?
-What time do your parents expect you home?
-What rumors do you know about town? (This one was great)
Then it got into the personal questions. Each of us chose another character and then said whether we liked or disliked them, then answered a random question, e.g., “What would it take for you to forgive her? What secret are you keeping for him? Why do you care about him more than he cares about you?”
These questions did a beautiful job at shaping relationships during the game, making us a lot more group-focused than goal-focused, which can be a difficult thing to accomplish during a one-shot.
Finally, during the game, a ton of stuff was under player control (“What does this room look like? What secret way is there to gain access to the complex? I don’t know whether your mom calls the school. What do you think she does?”), but the best thing was the single supernatural character that a story like this must have: players collectively controlled this character. There were something like 10 traits (2 secret supernatural traits revealed later on), and these were passed out to players: “Gentle unless provoked,” “Scrappy fighter,” “Loves animals,” “Afraid of middle-aged men (especially in suits)”, “Communicates only in gestures and grunts,” etc. When the semi-NPC communicated with a PC, someone would tap a trait they thought appropriate, and whoever controlled that trait would play the NPC for that interaction.
It definitely helped that I played at a table full of spectacular gamers, but it was also a tremendous story/character-focused game.
Microscope is barely a game, but good lord was it fun. It’s almost a four-hour writing exercise, in which you cooperate with the group to create an historical period and populate it with characters and events. Roleplaying enters into it in fascinating ways.
In the beginning, you establish your elevator pitch: “Let’s do a Children of Men thing, where humans stop having babies,” we said. You set the start and end to the historical period: “It begins when people stop having babies, and ends when the last human on earth draws their last breath.” You all contribute one or more things that you either want in the story (“Strong AI! Warfare! Aliens!”) or things you don’t want (“Cloning! A cure! Uplifted animals!”). You create some eras within the period (“The Collapse”, “The millennials take control”, “The Arrival”).
Then you put one person in charge of a round, who establishes a theme for the round (“Space travel!”). Then each person gets to create a new period, or an event within a period (“The bombing of the world’s top embryogenetic research facility by zealots”), or a scene within an event that answers a question (“Why did the facility get bombed?”)
It’s these scenes where roleplaying happens: whoever created the scene sets it up and suggests some characters that must appear (“Judith Ryan, the pastor the terrorists send in to pray with the mothers in the moments before the bombing”; “A health care provider”) and some characters that must not appear (“Anyone with a gun”, “Elon Musk”). People choose a character, or make one up, and then everyone roleplays through the scene until the scene creator decides the question has been answered.
Obviously this is a game for people who like worldbuilding. I was fortunate enough to play it with people who knew how to hit some pretty powerful emotional beats, and after four hours felt like I’d just read a crackerjack novel. So fun!
Those are my longwinded recommendations, anyway. Curious if others have played these games, or know of some other relatively new games that are worth playing.