Role-playing-games in 200 words or less
May 11, 2017 12:29 PM   Subscribe

This is the 3rd year of the 200 word RPG Challenge. Here's the winners from 2017 and beyond. But that's just the beginning. There is much, much more inside.

2017 winners:
MECHANICAL ORYX: "You play as a mysterious mechanical beast with magical powers spreading your domain among the peoples who populate the world."

Memories: "you literally burn through the memories of your nursing home patients it becomes harder and harder to relate new stories as you can’t remember the things that came before."

Route Clearance: "You are US Army soldiers tasked with clearing the road between Kabul to Kandahar of IEDs during the invasion of Afghanistan"

2016 Winners:
Time Travel Thaw: "Time Travel Thaw has a really innovative theme - the idea that ice is melting and wiping out what makes you you due to wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey stuff."

Stardust: "Inspired by Neil deGrasse Tyson’s “Stardust” and that one episode of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia where Charlie explains how stars are made."

Deconstruction: "Deconstruction is a fascinating rpg. It’s exploring the power of words. I love using words and misunderstandings of them and how that shapes a culture as a world-building concept. I haven’t seen anything like it."

2015 Winners:
All Fall Down: "Place a lit candle in the middle of the table. This is your campfire. The world has ended."

Escape Pod: "Self-destruct activated. Escape Pod One launching in 30 seconds..."

LOVEINT:"Everyone winds up sleeping with everyone else, then spying on everyone else."

There are hundreds of entries over the three years. You can search for your fantasy desires here.

You can download everything here.
posted by hot_monster (42 comments total) 52 users marked this as a favorite
 
I am almost certainly going to play Mechanical Oryx at some point. It is perfect and beautiful.

But some of the entries, like 29 Days to Spring leave me unconvinced that they are actually a game rather than a poem.
posted by 256 at 12:52 PM on May 11, 2017


Rock, Paper, Scissors, Universe

This game is just like Rock, Paper, Scissors, except for the addition of Universe.

Here are the outcomes for Universe:

Universe is indifferent to Rock
Universe is indifferent to Paper
Universe is indifferent to Scissors

No one can teach you how to throw "Universe".
posted by the antecedent of that pronoun at 1:26 PM on May 11, 2017 [15 favorites]


But some of the entries, like 29 Days to Spring leave me unconvinced that they are actually a game rather than a poem

That's the typical reaction to a lot of these games, to gatekeep them out.

29 Days is two improvised fictional characters talking about their feelings, which is like the very definition of roleplaying.
posted by Sauce Trough at 2:18 PM on May 11, 2017 [2 favorites]


I think there is some deliberate poetry in this, and I love it.

A lot of them seem designed around building kind of intimate experiences and I dig reading and thinking about them, but I don't think I'd have the nerve to play them with my gaming group.

I may be inflicting Trash Pandas on them sometime soon, though.
posted by Phobos the Space Potato at 3:04 PM on May 11, 2017 [1 favorite]


29 Days is two improvised fictional characters talking about their feelings, which is like the very definition of roleplaying.

I don't think anyone would deny that there's roleplaying, but where's the game?

Roleplaying without a game isn't an RPG, it's improv.
posted by explosion at 3:42 PM on May 11, 2017 [8 favorites]


Every game medium has some variant that tries to test how much 'game' needs to be here for it to be a game - see folks' reactions to Gone Home, for instance.

What are the core elements of an RPG? Conflict? Randomization? So does improv, really.

I mean, as far as I'm concerned, all RPGs (even the mainstream ones) are just improv, just within a specific setting.
posted by The demon that lives in the air at 3:53 PM on May 11, 2017 [2 favorites]


Just reading the description of Memories is heartbreaking. I'm not sure I could bear to play.

Among the finalists, All For One, the flipped RPG is interesting: one player, many GMs.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 3:59 PM on May 11, 2017 [2 favorites]


hmmm ... (h/t Stephen Wort)

ANAGRAMANCER (for two or more players)

The ARCANE NAG RAM proposes an obstacle noun. The ANAGRAMANCER must describe how to overcome the obstacle by anagramming the obstacle noun (with an optional adjective, article, or pronoun chosen by the ANAGRAMANCER). Alternately, the ANAGRAMANCER may challenge the ARCANE NAG RAM to make a satisfactory response without any adjective, article, or pronoun added. Continue with different players in each role. Words may not be re-used within the same session. Continue until an anagram is obviously so good it is the winner. House rules may permit or forbid help devices like scrabble tiles, pen & paper, etc.

Example turn:
ARCANE NAG RAM: You are confronted by a CIVET CAT. It looks hungry.
ANAGRAMANCER: With OCCULT VET AID I tranquilize the LOUD CIVET CAT.
posted by the antecedent of that pronoun at 4:08 PM on May 11, 2017 [8 favorites]


But some of the entries, like 29 Days to Spring leave me unconvinced that they are actually a game rather than a poem

That's the typical reaction to a lot of these games, to gatekeep them out.

29 Days is two improvised fictional characters talking about their feelings, which is like the very definition of roleplaying.


Yes, I wanted to say the same thing as explosion now that I'm home. 29 Days is absolutely not a game under any widely accepted definition of the word, and throwing around the term "gatekeep" in response to such an assertion is pretty provocative and confrontational.

There is no fail state, there is no mechanic for determining what happens when an outcome is uncertain, and indeed, there is no outcome that is uncertain. There is only a single action choice to make (how does the American soldier player survive as they take the beach, but they do definitely survive) and it has no meaningful impact on the ultimate impact of the narrative, and only one other choice that even impacts another character in anyway (what the Japanese character says to their brother). Every other prompt is completely internal.

"Key components of games are goals, rules, challenge, and interaction." 29 Days to Spring fails to provide any rules, and I would argue fails to provide any meaningful interaction between the two roles. While I'm sure participants aren't doing this completely separately and are thus the players are interacting, the characters never meaningfully interact. Their only interaction is where they kill each other, and there is no way to change or avoid that fate provided by the game as presented.

It's an interesting improvisational role-playing exercise, at best. And the fact that it is a finalist in a roleplaying game challenge quite frankly damages the credibility of the entire challenge a little bit (for me personally, I wouldn't presume to tell anyone how to feel about the fact that this not-a-game was a finalist in this game-writing challenge). It's not doing what is says on the tin. Nonetheless, I'm looking forward to looking through the rest; all the winners that I read sound like interesting games, and actually qualify as such.
posted by Caduceus at 4:15 PM on May 11, 2017 [2 favorites]


Star Dust isn't a game either, and that actually won last year. Again, it's an improve exercise. The only mechanic affects how long you get to talk.
posted by Caduceus at 4:25 PM on May 11, 2017


ROOM

You wake up alone in a room.

-fin-
posted by goatdog at 4:28 PM on May 11, 2017


I was a finalist in this!!
posted by brecc at 4:28 PM on May 11, 2017 [11 favorites]


I like some of the non-dice pseudorandom mechanics people came up with for these. Matches look popular, the ice cube one was clever. One game states "The starting God is whoever last ate an apple." Can't not love that.
posted by comealongpole at 4:33 PM on May 11, 2017 [4 favorites]


It's an interesting improvisational role-playing exercise, at best. And the fact that it is a finalist in a roleplaying game challenge quite frankly damages the credibility of the entire challenge a little bit (for me personally, I wouldn't presume to tell anyone how to feel about the fact that this not-a-game was a finalist in this game-writing challenge). It's not doing what is says on the tin. Nonetheless, I'm looking forward to looking through the rest; all the winners that I read sound like interesting games, and actually qualify as such.

I disagree with this, because a game is a set of things that you do to make art moments happen together.

But even using the formulation above of games needing goals, rules, challenge and interaction?

The goal is to play the game together and have it be entertaining and emotionally meaningful. The rules are as set out. The implicit challenge is to provide as well-delivered and meaningful a statement or memory as the other player. The interaction is between the players.

Checks out, imo.
posted by Sebmojo at 4:56 PM on May 11, 2017 [7 favorites]


I played a storygame a few months ago where one player was "the colonizers" and all the other players were individuals from the indigenous culture, and the colonizers player was the person who IRL had the most wealth. It was a weirdly uncomfortable discussion, maybe especially because it was a college gaming group and so it was the two of us who were not students, who also knew each other slightly, talking about money and debt and resources. (I ended up being the colonizers, because I own a house.) But it was also a good stage-setting for a game about power imbalances.

Also, I kinda want to try HEAVY METAL WIZARD SORCERERS.
posted by epersonae at 5:03 PM on May 11, 2017 [4 favorites]


"Key components of games are goals, rules, challenge, and interaction."

I think the discussion around what is & isn't a game is really interesting. That Wikipedia page linked to gets to the juicy ideas, imo, just a bit further down.

With tabletop/analog RPGs, the lines are even murkier in my mind. "RPG" gets used as both a catchall for the grouping of similar activities that were born out of D&D and its ilk, and as a label associated with a narrower subset of that group (typically the games that hew closer to D&D-style play).

I'm of two minds about trying to pin down nomenclature for the various things people make in this realm. Greater specificity is so useful when trying to break down what makes a game tick, and to describe it to players — yet labels that push this thing or that thing out of the RPG umbrella absolutely feel a bit gatekeep-y to me. I play all kinds of stuff, though (trad D&D included) so that opinion probably owes more to me being a game omnivore than anything else.

(Disclosure: I submitted a game this year and in past years too.)
posted by mattereaterlad at 5:06 PM on May 11, 2017 [2 favorites]


I would love to play All Fall Down but I'm not letting my gaming group light matches in my house.
posted by maurice at 5:11 PM on May 11, 2017 [4 favorites]


Their only interaction is where they kill each other, and there is no way to change or avoid that fate provided by the game as presented.

Yeah you're right, Street Fighter is totally not a game
posted by oulipian at 5:37 PM on May 11, 2017 [3 favorites]


I think all games need both "play" and rules to be games, as that's how the fun of games happens. Getting from A to B within the conditions of certain rules, for the challenge; and play, for the imagination. All Fall Down is one of my favorites at creating that tension between play and rules. Substantial story creating that directly affects your inventory, with a neat combat system. I'd totally do this with people I trust a whole lot.
posted by Aya Hirano on the Astral Plane at 5:42 PM on May 11, 2017


I feel like, for these games especially, the question of gameness should be obviated: first, because the nature of this challenge naturally encourages elegance and evocativeness over technical specificity; second, because tabletop roleplaying theorists have already been discussing this issue for literal decades; and third, because the question of whether a submission truly qualifies as a game is among the less useful or interesting metrics by which to evaluate it. We can make a fun discussion of it, as I feel we're doing here, but the only real result of this debate is a pass/fail binary outcome, or perhaps a score on some theoretical gameness spectrum.

Better to say something about the substance of these works without worrying about whether they're games at all:

I don't think I'm suffociently comfortable with my understanding of 1920s Japan to actually take on the role of CE. Hell, I'd be hesitant to try CW without doing more reading.
posted by jsnlxndrlv at 5:48 PM on May 11, 2017 [2 favorites]


Sauce Trough, I wanted to apologize for coming at you so aggressively. I only did so because I felt that was a very strong response to accuse 256 of gatekeeping when he was complimentary of 29 Days (in calling it a poem) and simply saying he was unconvinced it was a game. I should have said so in my initial post.

The goal is to play the game together and have it be entertaining and emotionally meaningful. The rules are as set out. The implicit challenge is to provide as well-delivered and meaningful a statement or memory as the other player. The interaction is between the players.

(I'm think I'm coming off more aggressively than I mean to, so I apologize for that. Tone is hard on the internet. I'm aiming for pleasant disagreement, if that matters to you, I just don't really have any longer to spend on this.)

I'll grant that you pointed out the implicit challenge which I had not recognized, and that speaks to my point. I would argue that it fails as a game because the challenge is implicit. Because there is no mechanic for determining whether a given statement is "as well-delivered and meaningful" as another, and no way to settle disagreements as to how a whether such a thing is true. Which is also to say, I am unconvinced that "answer this question" constitutes a rule as such. Star Dust has the same problem. You can assume an implicit voting system for Star Dust and an implicit voting audience for 29 Days, but those have not been provided.

They are, at best, three-fourths of games. It's a game contest. With prizes and everything. I would argue that the winners should be complete, as-presented, games. Of course, that's a subjective opinion of mine; the contest runners may have different values.

After all, the contest as presented is itself similarly opaque as to the criteria for determining the winners, a not uncommon failure of contests of this sort. Does each judge get a vote? Do they have a discussion and come to a consensus about how to rank the games? Does each choose a single game? Everyone submit games they liked and then one person autocratically choose their three favorites as the winners?

Of course, there's nothing about a contest of this sort that requires the method of determining the winner be public to the contestants. That's not necessarily inherent in a contest or game. But there had to be criteria for determining the outcome of some sort. The contest picked winners somehow, but 29 Days and Star Dust both fail to provide the means to do so, if that is indeed even their intended purpose.

Though I suppose if the goal is to have an entertaining and emotionally meaningful time, you could consider the fail-state to be having a non-entertaining and/or emotionally upsetting time, in which case you might argue that you have two complete games as presented. (Though I still think that the implicitness of the challenge means it fails as a complete game.) I suppose it is a personal preference of mine that I think that a fail-state of conflict and disagreement makes for a bad game. That's a subjective opinion of mine too, and the judges may not share it. Fair enough.

Their only interaction is where they kill each other, and there is no way to change or avoid that fate provided by the game as presented.

Yeah you're right, Street Fighter is totally not a game


The game of Street Fighter determines who gets killed/defeated. In 29 Days the scenario presented is that both characters die. Though even that is fairly implicit: "He shoots back into you as you rush, impaling him. Knowing it is the end..." I think it's possible the American might survive. But there's no way to determine that.
posted by Caduceus at 6:03 PM on May 11, 2017


Every roleplayer has a story about 'that session where we didn't roll the dice once, and it was great!' Those sessions are normally highlights, and are inarguably games.

The experience the players have in 29 days would be of a similar order.

So why is one a game and one not; is it because there were a bunch of unused rules?

In that case isn't 29 days just stripping out irrelevancies and leaving the essentials, like you should in a contest like this?
posted by Sebmojo at 6:44 PM on May 11, 2017 [3 favorites]


I entered this contest! I wrote Shopkins Party. Scandalous I didn't win.
posted by chunking express at 7:21 PM on May 11, 2017 [5 favorites]


These are...really great.
posted by turbid dahlia at 7:33 PM on May 11, 2017


...what's a shopkins? They appear to be animated characters; I'm guessing there's some sort of collectible equivalent?
posted by jsnlxndrlv at 7:36 PM on May 11, 2017


I mean if I wanted to be a real dickhead I would grumple and say that many of these are storytelling engines and not action engines (which is what I consider an RPG to be, and by action I mean activity), but I wouldn't do that. They are still really great.
posted by turbid dahlia at 7:38 PM on May 11, 2017


Caduceus, we're cool.

I'm a veteran of a million internet slapfights about what gets to be a game and what doesn't, and a lot of those arguments have the stank of nerd conservatism, where people summarily reject innovative or unfamiliar stuff. So my instinct now is to drop the G-word whenever I hear "this thing that is called a game, and which people play, is not a game."

Also, I gotta say that some of you might be shocked about what theatre people consider to be games.
posted by Sauce Trough at 8:12 PM on May 11, 2017 [3 favorites]


An action engine is also a story telling engine - but instead of the randomness coming from the surprising and exciting interaction between people, it comes from the surprising and exciting interaction between systems.
posted by Sebmojo at 9:01 PM on May 11, 2017


Well, so far jsnlxndrlv is in the lead, with their surprising "Lets do an end-run around the terminology debate and concentrate on the substance" attack. Very much in the spirit of the contest! But others are very close on technical points- this is going to be a nail bitter!

So, are we all ready for the final stage? On your marks...
posted by happyroach at 11:20 PM on May 11, 2017 [1 favorite]


This time we're going to resolve it for good an' all, i feel it in me waters!
posted by Sebmojo at 1:59 AM on May 12, 2017


Inequality

Roll 4d6. This is where you start. This is your number which determines everything.

Each round begins with an Opportunity. Players proceed with the highest numbers going first. The first player rolls 1d2 (a fair coin) and if they roll 1, then the Opportunity is theirs and their number increases by 1. The round is over and a new round begins.
If they fail then the Opportunity is passed to the next highest player.

At any time, the highest scoring player is encouraged to assist others by explaining to them their secret of success.
posted by vacapinta at 2:36 AM on May 12, 2017 [5 favorites]


Everyone rolls 4d6. This is their number which determines everything.

Each round the highest numbered player flips a coin. If they get a head, then they add one to their number and the round ends.

They got the opportunity!

If they get a tail, the coin passes to the next highest player, and so it goes.

At any time, the highest scoring player is encouraged to assist others by explaining to them their secret of success.

The game ends only by majority vote.


that is an amazing game, but i think this describes it better (with an addition that might be too on the nose)
posted by Sebmojo at 3:41 AM on May 12, 2017 [2 favorites]


Actually it would be even better if players had to call heads or tails.
posted by Sebmojo at 3:47 AM on May 12, 2017 [1 favorite]


brecc your game was one of my favourites. It's actually scandalous that one didn't win. Funny people always end up also being on MetaFilter.

My favourite that is also a more traditional game and not just a cool art project was The Delve.
posted by chunking express at 4:15 AM on May 12, 2017


Also a lot of these things are probably closer to LARPs than pen and paper RPGs. Also, "but is it a game?" is a pretty tired conversation. Clearly some of these are more art project then anything else, but really who cares?
posted by chunking express at 5:01 AM on May 12, 2017


A quick note to say that the author of Mechanical Oryx, Grant Howitt, is one of my co-designers on the new edition of Paranoia.
posted by Hogshead at 6:51 AM on May 12, 2017 [3 favorites]


Think about playground games: Is Red Rover a game? Clapping games like Patty-cakes? How about Duck Duck Goose? If we're looking for commonalities between these things and Dungeons and Dragons, I think the best you can get is "structured interaction between people," and 29 Days indisputably has that. It also has storytelling and roleplaying, like D&D, and unlike the playground games.

Some people seem to be getting stuck on the idea that the rules in 29 Days don't appear to provide a way to mediate the effects of the players' decisions on each other — but I think that if you actually play the game, you'll find that these effects will arise organically regardless of what the rules say. This is clearly intentional; it's part of the design.

This debate is one with a philosophical pedigree, at least: Wittgenstein has a famous passage in Philosophical Investigations about the definition of game, using it to illustrate the difficulties inherent in assigning denotations to words.
posted by a mirror and an encyclopedia at 9:24 AM on May 12, 2017


Sauce Trough, like you, I've been caught up with the Is-This-Really-A-Game crowd for far too long--in my case since The Extraordinary Adventures of Baron Munchausen came out. After I beat Gary Gygax in a debate on whether or not it was an RPG (I reminded him that the cover of the original D&D claimed it was a wargame) my official line on this and all other similar debates is that It Does Not Matter As Long As It's Fun. Also Munchausen is more of a game than almost all RPGs because it has a fixed ending and a winner, and furthermore nyaah.

That said, for a few years I've been defining games as being either Caillois-complete or Caillois-incomplete depending on how well they fit the great man's six criteria. There are worse lines in the sand.
posted by Hogshead at 10:04 AM on May 12, 2017 [1 favorite]


This is great, I somehow missed the winners being announced. So many new games to try...

Turing Story Machine was my entry. It was a bit rushed, due to not realising the contest was on until the last minute. But it's something I still want to work on - that's what I enjoy about these contests, giving you the push to finish things.

Other cool rpg contests:
Game Chef
Golden Cobra
posted by Erberus at 10:53 AM on May 12, 2017


Also, on the "is this a game" question, the way to tell that an artistic medium is strong and vibrant is if people are constantly making works which make you ask the question "but is this *really* x artform?"
posted by Erberus at 10:56 AM on May 12, 2017 [6 favorites]



A quick note to say that the author of Mechanical Oryx, Grant Howitt, is one of my co-designers on the new edition of Paranoia.
posted by Hogshead at 3:51 AM on May 12


Grant was recently fppd here for his goblin quest irc.
posted by Sebmojo at 4:15 AM on May 13, 2017


omg All Fall Down is amazing
posted by Sebmojo at 6:54 AM on May 18, 2017


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