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Warriors of a Small House

December 1, 2007

(a game idea for 3 or more players)

It is Spring, and the heavy rains have ensured a good crop this year, though the rivers threaten to leap their banks.

Just across the raging waters, the neighboring lord has fallen, and his 3 sons struggle for power. Ronin, mercenaries, wolves of war come seeking wages for bloody work.

The festival is coming up, and many young people will be ready to marry in just a year or two, and we’ll see many promises made, and perhaps foretell of just as many broken.

Samurai

Your samurai serves at the behest of the lord of a small holding, during the warring states era. Though the last few years have been peaceful, they’re not likely to stay that way.

1. Name something about your samurai that gives him or her the potential to change the fate of your noble house.

2. Someone else will name something negative said or believed about your samurai (whether true or not).

Beginning

The first player will name a season (Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter), and describe a current bit of news in the land- as if it were written by a court historian or in a personal journal. Don’t mention any years in the description.

Each player afterwards will also narrate a bit of current news, until each player has done so. Write down these little facts.

Play

Anyone is free to set a scene, and narrate their samurai’s actions as well as anything in the environment, including NPCs, as long as the following rules are kept:

1. You may narrate hardship for any other Samurai

2. You may narrate your Samurai’s struggles with a hardship, or failing at it (including death)

3. You may narrate the success of any other Samurai’s struggles and attempts against hardships.

This constitutes the majority of any scene. If you finish narrating and feel it’s a good place for the scene to close, say “Bow” and provided the other players partcipating agree, so ends the scene and begin a new one.

If you’re not narrating at the moment, and you feel things are slowing down, and it’s time for the scene to end, and especially if two or more players keep going back and forth with no resolution to a conflict- any who hasn’t done the last two narrations may say, “Strike or Break?”

If all the players involved in the exchange say, “Break”, the scene is cut, and the concerns are left unresolved- go to some other scene and come back later.

If all of the players involved in the exchange say, “Strike”, then the person who asked the question in the first place narrates the outcome and the scene ends. Period.

If the players mix between Strike and Break, the person who asked the question can choose whether to Break the scene or Strike the conflict and narrate it’s resolution.

Seasons Change

If you ever find a yourselves having a hard time coming up with a new scene, or if everyone agrees to it, simply move on to the next season. A new player begins the season- declaring a season, a bit of current news, and everyone adds to it around the table.

Each Samurai (who is still alive) stays in play, and the player rewrites the positive aspect of that Samurai. It might just be subtle changes, or it might be a complete shift in character, depending on what happened. Again, another player comes up with something negative spoken about the Samurai, probably as consequences from the previous season.

Dead Samurai/New Samurai

If a Samurai dies and you want to keep playing, just do the basic character generation and make a new one, likewise if new players show up. Add as a bit of news to the current season, “So and so has died” without any further explaination of how or why.

Design thoughts

Though this initially started as me thinking about ways to make painless IRC games with structure, it’s really a simple flagging and pacing mechanics for freeforming in many ways. You can use Strike/Bow/Break to let other players know what you’d like to have happen without having to take lots of time away from the fiction. You also use it to cut short scenes that are dragging out, and it gives some tool against simple social bullying (though really, nothing can fully save you from it).

The real currencies of the game are spotlight time and player goodwill- how entertaining are you to other players?

I’m also kind of curious to see the artifacts of play- the bits of history and news, the changing Samurai descriptions, etc. Kind of like real history, where all you get are these random tiny tidbits of reports, and what becomes clear vs. what remains a mystery.

Honestly though, these mechanics are super fragile, and I think they’d only really work with groups that have good collaborative skills and social contracts to begin with. At first I thought that made it “not really a game”, then I thought about all the books on my shelf that have the same problem, 200 pages of mechanics or not.

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