1001 Nights by Meguey Baker

September 8, 2014

I went camping this weekend, and brought along my copy of The Orphan’s Tales: In the Night Garden which is one of the best fantasy books I recommend to all my friends, which uses a lot of the structure of “story within a story” of the classic Arabian Nights.

It reminded me of one of my favorite GM-less RPGs, 1001 Nights.

1001 Nights is a game where you play as servants in the Sultan’s Court.  The court is not a safe place- it is rife with danger and intrigue.  As a servant, you are vying for power here, and you are all playing petty power games… which, taken too far might incur the Sultan’s wrath and get you beheaded.

To play out your insults and intrigues, you tell stories.  You tell stories of magical creatures and noble princes, of lost siblings and giant djinn… and you put the other characters into these stories to insult or uplift each other.   “The evil tyrant was a tall man, much like our good Captain of the Guard, with broad jaw like his as well… they were alike in many ways…  but the tyrant, yes, the tyrant had many illicit affairs, not like our virtuous Captain, and certainly not with a princess, no never…”

Each player takes a turn telling a story like this.  While telling the story, each of the other players can ask questions about the story (“But surely the Tyrant had at least one good noble quality? Yes?”) and they place forth a die on the table.  When the questions get answered, the dice are rolled and the die is either awarded to the current storyteller, or to the question asker.

These dice fuel the Court drama – you use them to protect yourself from the threat of death, to fulfill your character’s ambition, or, to flee the Court altogether.

Depending on the characters you create, the ambitions they hold, and how they treat each other… you may have protagonists who are quite terrible people fighting for power, or hapless folks caught in a terrible situation.  I had a slave musician boy, whose ambition was simply to get to play one of his OWN songs.

The mechanics are light, they flow well, and as far as GM-shifting games, it highlights some pretty great game design ideas:

– Player participation is not tied to character participation

– Player input by questions

– Fictional positioning/story capital driven play.

It’s definitely one of the games I recommend nearly everyone play just to see how far rpg mechanics can go outside of the standard GM/Players with one Character each traditional set up that forms most rpgs.

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