FATE WORLD TOUR – REVIEW OF “WORLDS RISE UP”

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Hello! Dave Joria of Tangent Artists here with the second stop on the Fate World Tour. Last time, we went over Fate Worlds Take Flight. Today, we’re talking about Worlds Rise up (you can the hard-copy on Evil Hat’s website or the individual PDFs below.)


Nest

Author: David S. Goodwin. Artist: Emma Lazauski

Elevator Pitch: Narnia meets Hook (or the Sandman comic, “A Game of You,” a favorite of mine)

Genres & Themes: Fantasy / Adventure / Psychology / Mythology / Sacrifice / Redemption / Innocence vs. Maturity

Summary: There is a place where children go to become heroes, only discovered by a desperate few when they need it most. Here, they escape from their normal lives, slay giants, solve riddles, learn magic, and become kings and queens. Children grow up and the fantasies of childhood are forgotten. 

But now the realm you once protected is under attack.  You must leave behind your life, your family, and your ordinary job to defend your past from something terrible and very, very real. 

Nest, by David Goodwin, is a game of rediscovering the magic of childhood—or shattering the illusions of youth.

Mechanics – Sub-System: Fate Core Skills

Mechanics – General:

Talismans – Easy equipment rules (namely 2 stunts and an aspect).

Milestone Triggers – Having milestones trigger at certain situations and actions, rather than after arbitrary session lengths.

Succeed as a Team – Having obstacles overcome as a team; i.e. if one person in the team succeeds, the whole team succeeds.

Fantastic Declarations – Paying a Fate Point to temporarily gain a stunt. (Unless I’m mistaken, I believe this is standard Fate Core rules. It fits so well with the transient dream-like setting that it’s worth repeating.)

Escalating Encounters – Having a set list of NPC groups, each more difficult than the last. Whenever players violently solve an encounter, the difficulty increases.

GM Reserve Pool – Having the GM carry over Fate Points from one scene or session to the next, much like a player’s Refresh. (As the author points out, this mechanic appeared first in Atomic Robo).

Reaction:

If I had to pick only one thing to take away from this entire book, “Succeed as a Team” would have to be it. It applies to any cooperative RPG game and seems so intuitive that I now can’t see doing it any other way. It rewards the party for having a SINGLE good at something (rather than punishing them based on the weakest link). Also, I can’t think of a better way to form respect amongst friends (or resentment amongst rivals) than to have one PC pull everyone else out of the fire.

(Although, how I’d likely run it in is to have ALL players roll; accept the highest roll and ignore everyone who failed. This way, players can still chuckle at their character’s pitifully low results without suffering the ill effects. And you never know; the lumbering barbarian might roll higher at Stealth than the rogue, putting him to shame!)

All the other mechanics (Milestone Triggers, Escalating Encounters, etc.) are still worth adding to future settings. However, I wanted to point out a non-mechanic feature that the author included as a good tip for authors out there who are working on settings of their own:

Three Themes: David Goodwin provides not just one main antagonist, but a choice of three. This is neat on its own, but more importantly, he provided three different THEMES, depending on which tone / moral the group wants to develop. I would personally use this any setting, but in a setting, that’s so intrinsically tied to morality, storytelling, and symbolism, it takes it to another level.

Other hack ideas: If I ever have the pleasure of running this game, I’ll try to have a stack of Dixit and/or Mysterium picture cards next to me; they’re beautiful and surreal, which is perfect for a dream world setting. I don’t have a set plan how I’d use them mechanically, but they’d be a great X-Factor. Not sure about scene aspects? Grab a card and use it for a surreal setting. Is a player at a loss for a Fantastic Declaration? Have a player draw three cards and pick one to inspire how they overcome the situation, (ex. Folding a bed sheet into a giant paper airplane).  Is the conflict too bland? *Flips card* Now, instead of another fight, you’re having a chess match with a 10-foot Rat.


Psychedemia

Author: Paul Stefko. Artist: Marissa Kelly

The Pitch: FF’s “Spirit Within” meets “Ender’s Game” … in space! (Wait, “Ender’s Game” was in space already).

Summary:

Mechanics – Subsystem: Fate Core skills (with some tweaking – see below)

Mechanics:

Skills – Condensing and Dual List – Paul Stefko plays around with the Core Skill list in two different ways. First, we consolidate the default 18 skills into 9; in most cases, this is two skills merged into one (ex. Infiltration is Burglary + Stealth), while others merge a bunch (ex. Friendships merges Contacts, Empathy, and Rapport). Secondly, Stefko creates 3 new psychic skills for dealing in the Realm: ESP, Telekinesis, and Telepathy. Players get one psychic skill at Good +3, the others at Average +1. While the book doesn’t explicitly state it, Stefko has effectively made characters with two skill charts: a big one for the corporeal world, and a tiny one for the psychic.

Conditions – As seen in the Fate Toolkit. Interestingly, Stefko has stress and conditions as normal, but has two conditions specifically for Psychic skills; this lets a PC burn out in a non-physical way, as well as an emergency resource to barter with / use for succeeding at a cost. It’s a clever idea.

Formatting – The process in which the PCs create a psychic environment to inactive with. Mechanically, the players are creating the scenic aspects (In Fate, Players always have a hand in creating a scene, but in Psychedemia, the PCs are the ones building it in character).

Reaction: Both the condensed skill list and the conditions are minor tweaks that can work in most any setting, particularly one that deals with psychic or magical powers (ex. Urban Fantasy).

The formatting mechanic is a particularly neat mechanic that could easily be used as a basic for all sorts of strange settings. For example, it can be used in a cyber-simulation setting, like the Matrix (try it in Save Game?); or in a dreamscape, like Inception (try it in Nest!). It can also be used by god-like characters manipulating the real world, like Gods and Monsters. I’m sure there are other Fate Worlds that could use it too, but I do not know them as well just yet; for example, I can’t wait to see how it compares with the Fate World “Prism.”


Behind the Walls

Author: John Adamus. Artist: Mirco Paganessi

Elevator Pitch: “Shawshank Redemption” with a dash of dystopia

Genres & Themes: Survival / Drama / Espionage / Mystery / Redemption

Summary: Russia fired first. America countered. Then all hell broke loose.

That was 1951, but now it’s 1959 and you’re still in prison. Maybe the people on the outside forgot about you, what with the war and all, or maybe it’s just safer inside Collins Park Correctional Facility. But will order persist in the cell block much longer? And what really is going on out there? Find out in Behind the Walls, the latest Fate World of Adventure from John Adamus.

Mechanics – Sub-System: Fate Core Skills

Mechanics – General:

Stunt Variations – Adamus has three simple stunt variations.

Personal Stunts – A variant that fixes the stunt to a specific situation or scenario. However, instead of giving a +2 bonus to a single skill, it grants a +1 bonus to any skill. Adamus argues this lets the players focus more on the situations and stories they are crafting, and less about which skill is the correct one to use in any given situation.

Cooperation Stunts – A stunt that gives the PC and one other ally using the same skill a +1 bonus.

Secret Stunt – A stunt that reflects the PC’s hidden past, fears, or desires. It’s split into two parts, a bonus, and a limitation (it not being required to reveal both at the same time).

Secrets – Adamus also includes rules for Secrets, including PCs having secrets from each other, and crafting secrets for NPCs to drive motivation.

Reaction:

I was a little surprised, upon reading Behind the Walls, that 99% of it focused on a mundane normal prison set-up. I mean, wasn’t the premise, “You’re prisoner as the world ends?”  Where was World War III? Where was the dystopia? Which made me wonder:

  • Q. Why is it set in a dystopian prison and not a normal one?
  • A. Because it means what happens in the prison has lasting consequences, without outside forces getting involved.

Which is brilliant. The dystopia premise lets you treat the environment as if it were operating in a vacuum. For example, if the gangs riot and take over the prison, there won’t be a National Guard swooping in the next day to undo it; the gang leader is in charge now.

This means, of course, that if you don’t want the dystopia angle, you can easily set it in an area so isolated that the same vacuum applies*. For example:

  • An 18th Century prison colony in Australia
  • An isolated gulag in the Arctic Circle
  • A space station in deep space.

*(Of course, in a campaign, you can have the vacuum be interrupted later to keep things interesting.)

If I were to run this setting, I would really like to use it to recreate one of my favorite subplots from a comic, “Y: The Last Man.” In it, a plague wipes out every organism with a Y chromosome; with 50% of the human population instantly dead, the world teeters at the brink. In one issue, an all-women’s prison is affected strongly; with all the male guards dead, and reliable food cut off, what will happen to the inmates? In the comic, the women were unofficially pardoned and set free, but I’m fascinated what happened BEFORE that decision was made. Were there threats? Bargaining? Power struggles amongst the survivors?

On to mechanics: I think the personal / situational stunt model has a lot of potential. I can see it as a way to cut down on “fate debates” with the GM (in which a min/max player tries to debate with the GM why they can use their top 3 skills/approaches in every situation).

The cooperative ones have me very excited and hope to try it soon. I think it would fit perfectly in any setting based on friendship and teamwork. The fact that it shows up in a harsh prison setting could be viewed as ironic, but I think it cements Adamus’s grasp that in tight, dog-eat-dog settings, the PCs need to watch each other’s backs, and having mechanics that reinforce this is essential.

Mechanically for secrets (both stunts and the NPCs) aren’t particularly groundbreaking; however, the section offers great advice for GMs on the when and why. I recommend them for any GMs planning any secretive setting, like heists and spies. (Example: “Crimeworld,” “Ellis Affair,”Uprising,” “Eagle Eyes,Nitrate City,”Ministry.”)


Masters of Umdaar

Author: Dave Joria. Artists: Tazio Bettin and Enrica Eren Angiolini.

Elevator Pitch: Sci-fi serials meets Saturday morning cartoons… in space!

Genres & Themes: Adventure / Sci-Fi / Fantasy / Retro / Planetary Romance

Summary: Behold the fallen world of Umdaar, home to savage warriors, cyborg insects, and merciless warlords. Oh, and lasers—lots and lots of lasers. The Masters rule with an iron fist, and the people’s only hope are the archaeonauts and their quest for long-lost artifacts of power. But will the Masters get there first? Masters of Umdaar, our latest Fate World of Adventure by Dave Joria, is a retro tribute to such shiny serials as John Carter of Mars, Flash Gordon, He-Man, and Thundercats.

Mechanics – Sub-System: Fate Accelerated

Mechanics – General:

Outcome Surge – This mechanic is tied to stunts. When a stunt with outcome surge is used, it shifts the outcome a roll by one result (ex. Fail to tie; tie to succeed, etc.) It does not work with attacks.

Cliffhanger – A new scene type (like challenge or contests) in which the players have a limited number of exchanges to diffuse an inanimate threat (ex. Quicksand; a Spike trap).

Escalating Aspects – Aspect that have increasing value with each round.

Reaction: This setting is mine, so I can’t really give an objective opinion on it.

I’m quite pleased with the cliffhangers and escalating aspect. I wrote them to help emulate the man vs. nature and man vs. death-trap situations that commonly show up in old serials; I like to think they do a decent job. I have since toyed around with different ways to have players succeed at cliffhangers and can never settle on one; the most important parts are the timeline and a variance of difficult.

While not a mechanic per se, I’m also proud of the bioform generator and the random stunt generators (weapons, stunts, and adaptations).

Fun fact 1: The tables were laid out by the face of Evil Hat, Fred Hicks himself.

Fun fact 2: My primary goal when making fate supplements is to include enough tables to make Fred cry.

I’m going to leave it there, but there are plenty of other articles on this site regarding Umdaar: adventures, NPCs, you name it. Find them here!


That’s it for this update. What’s next? Worlds on Fire? Secret of Cats? Cats on Fire? Only time will tell! Until then, Happy Holidays!

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Fate World Tour – Review of “Worlds Take Flight”

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I’ve been writing games in Fate for a while; I’ve had two published by Evil Hat, and have at least more in the works that will eventually be published under Tangent Artists (Dungeon Tours, Ltd., Skeleton Crew RPG). However, I’m officially announcing that I’ve started work on a yet untitled Masters of Umdaar sequel. Will it be for sale, or just a fan project? Published by Evil Hat or by Tangent Artists? A full setting or just a jumbled mess? All good questions, and I don’t have an answer as of yet.

However, it hit me, that I before I dig too deep into expanding this world, I should do some research first. It’s been three years since Umdaar 1 came out, and Fate “technology” has no doubt advanced considerably since then. What breakthroughs and hacks have emerged that I never would have dreamed of?

So, today, I start an epic adventure: To review every single Evil Hat “Fate World & Adventure.”* **

Clarification this will include every Fate World that comes free with backing the original Fate Core kickstarter, plus comes with backing the Fate Patreon. Afterwards, I might take a tangent to review paid Evil Hat projects (Atomic Robo, Strange Tales,) and maybe some third party (ex. Fate Codex), but no guarantees at this point.

**Full disclosure: Evil Hat has hired me on a contract basis twice. I am not currently working for them at this time, but if they offered, I’d definitely say yes.


What this Review Is NOT: If you’re expecting me to use my sparkling wit to sarcastically tear into the fate worlds, you’ll be sadly disappointed. I’m going to keep things positive, because:

  1. I know how hard it is to write one of these things, and
  2. Just because a world may not be my cup of tea, doesn’t mean it’s not someone else’s.

What this Review Is: This is be a quick, cursory look at each the settings; I’m afraid I don’t have time for a page-by-page analysis. I’ll be focusing on:

  • The Pitch – A sentence providing what the setting feels like; this will be using pop-culture comparisons to provide a short-hand.
  • The Genres – What literary and cultural settings and themes the world taps into. (Expect a lot to include “…in space!”)
  • The Summary – This is a longer description, taken straight from the book or the Drive-Thru RPG. (It won’t be my original words but will save you the time to look them up yourself.)
  • The Mechanics – Subsystem: Which variant of Fate does it most closely mimic (ex. Core skills, Fate Accelerated, Skill-less).
  • Mechanics – General: What are significant rule additions, tools, and tweaks not found in the Core book.
  • Reaction – This part is purely opinion. It will be mostly based on speculation, as most of these settings I have no experience playing. Will also focus on possible variants, and ways to hack the mechanics with other settings.

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WORLDS TAKE FLIGHT

Rather than go in chronological order, I thought I’d go with convenience; since “Worlds Take Flight” is one of the few Fate hard copies I own, making it easier to read on my work lunch breaks, I thought I’d start there.

 

The Three Rocketeers

Author: PK Sullivan; Artist: Alex Innocenti

Elevator Pitch: Swashbuckling Musketeers… in space!

Genres & Themes: Historical / Adventure / Sci-Fi / Intrigue / Drama

Summary: Journey through the Holy Roman Stellar Empire and the worlds of Britannica Solaria in this Fate World of Adventure by PK Sullivan! The Queen’s enemies may have disbanded the Rocketeers, but duty cannot be set aside so easily.

A deadly cabal of nobles and clergy threaten to usurp Her Majesty Queen Marie-Hélène’s throne and hand Gallia over to Pope Regulus IV, and the Rocketeers now work from the shadows to protect the queen from threats both foreign and domestic. Foreign spies and papal agents lurk in every shadow as the trap draws ever closer.

A laser-sharp blade and even sharper wits will serve you well as interstellar powers play the game of puppets and shadows. The fate of the crown is in your hands.

Mechanics –  Sub-System: Skill-Less

Mechanics – General: Compound Stunts (Swordplay) – This is an interesting concept; instead of making players create 3 or so stunts, Sullivan has the players create one double-sized Sword-play stunt, which is composed of four micro-stunts (about +1 bonus each, for roughly +4 bonus total). He has a whole list of different micro-stunts which you can mix-and-match, kind of like a tapas menu.

Conspiracy – This is very neat concept that I will have to investigate more thoroughly in the future. Rather than creating a villain first and the objective later, the Conspiracy model does it in reverse; what is the objective, and who are the agents carrying it out. Sullivan also introduces rules for unraveling the mystery a bit at a time.

Reaction:

Skills – I must give PK Sullivan points for guts, I think he was the first Fate World to rewrite the system without skills or approaches. I’m not itching to make a skill-less setting myself anytime soon, but I can say- it does require the players to start with a large amount of fate points. If you have group with a lot of larping experience, I’d look at this book for tips on making your system skill-less. The only downside is it does make it harder to port other fate mechanics from other worlds INTO Three Rocketeers after you’ve started the campaign.

The swordplay stunt system is great for quick character creation; if I wear to create my own character, I would enjoy making my own micro-stunts, but I think a short list would be perfect for first time players, or for conventions. I also see how the composite micro-stunts would work well for other settings (perhaps for creating inventions?)

Of all three, the conspiracies have me the most excited; I’ll keep it in mind the next time I craft villains. The one thing that I would can as a disadvantage is that the Conspiracies use skills when the players don’t. On the one hand, this seems a little out of play. On the other hand, this makes it even easier to hack it into an existing campaign!

The one thing I’d add, were I to run this setting, is the Swashbuckling Duel rules from the Fate Toolkit. To me, these rules best represent the slow build of tension in a cinematic sword fight; amongst armor-less, sabre-wielding duelists, the first successful hit is often the last! (I suspect this system can be a little time consuming, so I’d save it for named NPCS).


Frontier Spirit

Author: Nick Pilon; Artist: Steen

Elevator Pitch: Princess Mononoke meets Ghostbusters… in space!

Genres & Themes: Frontier / Adventure / Sci-Fi / Fantasy / Spiritualist / Environmental / Exploration

Summary: Despite its long history, the Commonwealth has only civilized a fraction of the galaxy. Life on an undeveloped colony world is hard. The problems are never-ending: pirate raids, corporate claim-jumpers, outlaw settlers, unpredictable weather…and an alien spirit world unused to coexisting with sentient creatures.

Natural disasters, storms, subsistence, and even basic survival are all much harder when the world really is out to get you. Can your colony survive? 

Mechanics – Sub-System: Fate Core Skills

Mechanics – General:

Portfolio – A way for creating NPC antagonists that are intrinsically tied to the impending issues.

Facets – The idea of creating a powerful, “final form” of a spirit, and then 2 or more smaller “facet” versions of the character that appear earlier in the story.

Reaction: From a setting standpoint, I am impressed by how Pilon introduced a setting that clearly sets up the tension between the industrial settlers and the native spirits; in many settings, this would done in black and white, with the humans being bad and the spirits being good. However, like Miyazaki’s “Spirited Away,” Pilon makes it a little more ambiguous, letting the gaming group work out for themselves which side is wrong, if anyone at all. I can also see facets as great way to create multi-leveled villains that are beaten more than once (ex. a video game boss for Save Game; a DBZ style villain with multiple forms).


Sail Full of Stars

Author: Don Bisdorf; Artist: Elisa Cella

Elevator Pitch: Pirates and Navy Battles… in Space!

Genres & Themes: Sci-Fi / Fantasy / Steampunk / Alternative History / Age of Exploration / Swashbuckling / Political / Naval

Summary: In the year 1850, three empires struggle for control of the solar system: The Ottomans, whose vast Earthly empire may soon become obsolete; the Chinese, who pioneered the construction of rheoships; and the French, the new masters of alchemy. Wherever patrols are weak, pirates menace the shipping lanes. Sailors whisper rumors of dragons swimming through the black void. Fools and madmen push the boundaries of alchemy, heedless of the consequences.

Track down pirates, brave the stars, and mount shipboard battles in this Fate World of Adventure by Don Bisdorf.

Mechanics – Sub-System: Fate Core Skills

Mechanics – General: The book features some of the best rules for detailed ship aspects I’ve seen. Similarly, it includes rules for crews, including combat.

Reaction: Compared to many Fate Worlds, this one is a little on the “crunchy” side; it might be ideal entry point for classic gamers who are used to more complicated systems like D&D or wargames. I am eager to try out the crew rules, which would work for supporting NPCS in any setting.  If you’re not interested in the historical setting, you can easily port it to another world (for example: if you want to port “Aether Sea,” but with Fate Core.)


Gods & Monsters

Author: Chris Longhurst; Artist: Manuel Castañón

Elevator Pitch: Campbell’s Mythology meets Lycanthropes (NOT in Space!)

Genres & Themes: Mythology / Fantasy

Summary: The world is young and majestic, and humans eke out a living and dream of civilization.

But you are not like them: you are a god. A primal creature, your soul a blazing font of power, your body an expression of your nature. The more extreme your behavior the greater the power you can wield—but it is easy to become lost in a single facet of your existence and cross the line from god to monster.

Perform mythic acts, skirmish with rival pantheons, and walk the line between power and control in this Fate World of Adventure by Chris Longhurst.

Mechanics – Sub-System: Fate Accelerated

Mechanics – General: While I had previously thought of Fate Approaches as opposites, Chris Longhurst came up with something I never dreamt of: putting them on sliding scales. He also came up with the idea of having your power and approaches grow (which can sometimes be a bad thing, turning you into a monster!) There is also the godly power mechanic, which involves stashing power in stations to avoid overload.

Reaction:

Fate is a really forgiving system, allowing players to succeed in ways that stricter systems would not allow. “Gods & Monsters” just doubles-down on this, giving players literally godlike characters.

This can make it a very difficult game for GMs to run. I suspect that they are two ways around this:

  1. Think of them less like “gods” and more like demi-gods; they are weaker, lesser gods that fight, adventure and fight monsters, much like your typical adventure team.
  2. Focus on the difficult decisions; you can do X, or do Y, but not both.

Longhurst cleverly built the second into the geas and power of the characters; they can grow stronger and stay true to their god’s nature (but at the risk of growing monstrous), or you can have they show free will, go against their nature, and grow weaker (but further from the edge).

Were I to run a game (and I desperately want to), I’d focus on the etiological, “just-so” stories. Rather than assume that the mortal world is complete, I would take a popular “just-so” story and reverse engineer it.

For example:

GM: The mortals are cold all of the time, and are always tripping in the dark, hour after hour. They ask for your help.

Players would eventually come to realize that, in this world, there is no sun. This sets them on tasks to make the sun (gathering dangerous materials to get it), as well as finding a balancing act that doesn’t involve mortals overheating or frying.

Guide the ending to resolve towards a permanent feature of this world, although it might not be the one you anticipated when you started the story. They could go a completely different route and find a solution without the sun, such as, “…And that’s why we have volcanos,” or “…And that’s why the first humans died out, and why we have ice people instead.”

Lastly, I wanted to give a shout out to the artist, Manuel Castañón, as the art in Gods and Monsters is absolutely stunning. All four artists in this book did a great job, but Manuel’s art is inspiring.

EDIT: I nearly forgot! On an earlier blog, I gave my house rules for mashing up “Gods and Monsters” and “Masters of Umdaar,” where players get to be the lost Demiurge. Here it is again, “Gods and Masters.


 

That’s it for this entry. Next up will be “Fate: Worlds Rise Up!”

Until then, game on!

Game Chef 2018 Finalist Entry – Cardenio

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It’s another catch-up entry. This time, I’m going to focus on my entry for Game Chef 2018, “Cardenio.” I was delighted to see that it made it to the finals. I’m going to repost it here in its entirety, but this time it’ll have director’s commentary.


First, what is Game Chef? (No connection to Uranium Chef)

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From their website:

History – Game Chef is an annual design competition for “analog” (non-electronic) games, challenging participants to write a playable draft of an original game in just over one week, based on a theme and a set of “ingredients.”

This was this year’s theme:

2018 Theme: Lost Stories

People have been telling stories for as long as our species has been around, but the vast majority were not recorded, and have been lost to us. For example, Aeschylus’s play Psychostasia (Weighing of the Souls) was popular when it was performed in the fifth century BCE. But today, only three words (blunt, speedwalking, and sheepskin) remain. Games are a major source of lost stories today. A single game may generate thousands of stories as it is played by different groups. But the adventures of the characters at the table usually disappear as they happen unless the players make a special effort to record their session.

This year, we ask you to think about the concept of lost stories as you design your game. Why are some stories lost, and others are not? How are we affected when stories are lost? Might losing certain stories be a good thing? What would happen if we recovered a story we had thought was lost?

2018 Ingredients: blunt, speedwalking, sheepskin, weigh

And now, the entry:


 

CARDENIO –

by Dave Seidman-Joria

DJ: If the name looks slightly different, it’s because I recently got married.

A game of choosing sides for 4-12 players

Premise – Players will be crafting a Shakespeare-inspired play one scene at a time. In any given scene, one player will be restricted in what answers they provide.

Backstory – Of all the plays Shakespeare wrote, only 37 have survived. However, scholars are delighted by the recent discovery of a chest containing the script to Shakespeare’s 38th play:  the missing work Cardenio

DJ: This is actually based on a real story: there was a lost play called Cardenio, which at least one publisher attributed to being co-written by John Fletcher and William Shakespeare. Scholars have no idea what the plot is, but a. Cardenio is the name of a character in Don Quixote, b. Fletcher liked stealing plots from Cervantes, and c. Shakespeare liked stealing plots from… well, everyone… it could have been the TALE OF DON QUIXOTE RETOLD WITH SHAKESPEARE’S WIT. To find out more, read the Wikipedia page. Also, to read a fictional account of what it might have included, Jasper Fforde included some snippets in his novel, “Lost in a Good Book” (I can’t recommend the series enough.)

However, it is not a complete script; the chest contains only a selected number of “sides” (i.e. the lines for a specific character). The surviving sides were written for the notoriously picky actor Devin Twinshire, who insisted that all his sides be written on durable sheepskin parchment (while all the other sides, written on paper, have since crumbled). Devin was a versatile actor; he seemed to have played a number of characters in multiple different scenes, and thus we have the lines for at least one character per scene.

DJ: Devin is fictional. I don’t know for a fake if sheepskin/vellum is more durable than paper, more of a sneaky way to include the “sheepskin” ingredient. However, in the days before mimeographs, to save time, the production time would give actor papers that had only their own lines and cues. So, the idea that only ONE actor’s part would survive is not unheard of. This was also an anti-theft tactic, as copyright laws were law or nonexistent at the time. Case in point, the Quarto 1 edition of Hamlet is a paraphrased mess, likely pirated with the help of the actor playing Marcellus (as his lines are the only accurate ones in the piece!)

MATERIALS

  •         Notecards
  •         Paper
  •         Writing utensils
  •         Safe, Blunt Weapons (ex. foam swords)
  •         Costumes / Props / Hats
  •         An area of free space (designated as “the stage”)

THE SET-UP

Before starting the game, prepare the document that one of the actors will be reading from; this is called the Sheepskin. To create this, do the following:

Make a set of cards with, the following:

  •         3 x “Yes, and…”
  •         1 x “Nay, because…”  
  •         1x “I propose…”
  •         1 x “Let me be blunt…”

DJ: In improv fashion, you want to have more “Yes” than “no”; if you had equal number of yes and nos, the action would constantly be one step forward, one back.  “I propose” gives the Sheepskin holder a chance to act instead of merely react. “Let me be Blunt” is a vague one that gives the performer more flexibility, but also leads easily into a revelation, an insult, or the closing of a scene, any of which can make the action move along.

On a sheet of paper, write 1 on the first line, 2 on the second line, and so on, until you reach 19.  

Shuffle the 6 cards, and reveal the top card, and write what it says on the first line. (Ex. If the first card you draw says, “Nay because…”, write “Nay because…” on line 1 of the sheet.)

Continue drawing the six cards and writing out the lines until the stack of cards is depleted (which should be after line 6). Next, shuffle the cards, and continue drawing and transcribing (writing lines 7-12). Shuffle again after line 12, transcribe 13-18.

On line 19, and write the stage direction “[Speedwalking],” and add the phrase, “Make haste, for…”

As an example, here is a premade script.

  1. I Propose…
  2. Yes, and …
  3. Yes, and …
  4. Let me be blunt …
  5. Nay, because…
  6. Yes, and…
  7. Let me be blunt …
  8. I Propose…
  9. Nay, because…
  10. Yes, and…
  11. Yes, and…
  12. Yes, and…
  13. Yes, and…
  14. Nay, because…
  15. Let me be blunt …
  16. I Propose…
  17. Yes, and…
  18. Yes, and…
  19. [Speedwalking] Make haste, for…

DJ: If you only have note cards and no long sheets of paper, I theorize you could do it with only 6 notecards Personally, I would want it to be a bit more organic; once you’re in the flow of the story, you don’t want to shuffle cards around. Also, it’s easier to gauge when the scene is over, and to pace yourself.

Lastly, create a small set of scene cards. These consist of a Beginning Scene card, an Final Scene card, and any number of middle scene cards.

Beginning Scene: In which someone complains about a problem.

Final Scene: In which someone is married or someone dies.

We encourage players to create their own middle scene cards, even so far as penciling their own 3 seconds before a scene. Here are some suggestions:

  •         In which a bond is formed / bond is broken.
  •         In which a new problem is introduced / old problem escalates.
  •         In which a plan is created.
  •         In which an existing plan is executed or people try to thwart a plan.
  •         In which a lie is told.
  •         In which 2+ people fight over something they both want.

On a separate sheet, have players collaborate on a cast of 5-10 characters (at least one per player, with a few spare). Each character consists of a Name and a few words of description (ex. attitude, status, connection to another character). Here is a premade sheet:

  •         Cardenio –  Mercurial son of a noble
  •         Hossberry – Cardenio’s greedy servant
  •         Lucinda – Innocent and beloved maiden
  •         Don Fernando – Young Duke and rival for Lucinda’s affection
  •         Theodora – Don Fernando’s pragmatic ex-fiancée
  •         Don Xavier – A senile but virtuous old knight
  •         Sadwell – Don Xavier’s lazy peasant squire
  •         Signor Claudius – Cardenio’s loving but ambitious father
  •         Servant / Messenger – Any number of servants, messengers, and various nameless helpers.

DJ: Cardenio, Lucinda, Don Fernando, and Theodora are all straight out of Don Quixote, along with their mixed up love triangle. Don Xavier and Sadwell are my nods to Quixote and Sancho, albeit with their names changes (as Willy Shakes would likely do). Hossberry and Claudius are new characters, based on stock characters Shakespeare used a lot.

(If players want, they can create name tags for each character as they switch in and out – a notecard and a binder clip is often all you need. Alternatively, assign a specific costume piece, like a character or a scarf to each character.)

GAME PLAY

Gameplay is taken one scene at a time. A scene consists of one two or more players each picking a character and acting in that scene as that character. In any given scene, one of the players uses the Sheepskin (we recommend that Cardenio carry it in the first scene). This player is called the sheepskin-holder.

Using the Sheepskin: Players who are not holding the sheepskin may act and talk like normal, acting out the scene as their character without restrictions. (They are not required to speak in full Shakespearen verse, but the occasionally “thee” and “thy” does spice things up.)

The sheepskin-holder will act the scene with them, but is restricted in what they say; each of their lines* must start with the same words as the corresponding line on the page.

[*Note: For the sake of this game, a “line” consists of a sentence of any length, and any immediately following sentences. A line ends when the speaker pauses for a period of a few seconds, or another player says something.]

  •         Ex. If the first line on the sheepskin is, “1. I Propose…,” the player must start their first spoken sentence with, “I propose,” and continue on with the sentence. After they  are done talking, the sheepskin-holder moves their finger to the next number on the sheet; it says, “2. Yes, and ….” The next time the sheepskin-holder speaks a line, they must start by saying, “Yes, and…”

It is important that the sheep-skinner holder doesn’t just say “Yes, and” and stop abruptly. They are required to continue the line to best of their ability. This happens in several ways, depending on the line.

  •         “Yes, And” –  If the line starts with, “Yes, and…” they must add something new, such as a new idea or an escalation of the current idea.

Ex. Player 1: The duke is the worst.

Cardenio: Yes, and… we should rise up against him!

Player 1: Woah! Are you mad?

Cardenio: Yes, and… will be intentionally drive myself madder still, so that the duke will be afraid to face me!

  •         “Nay, because…” – The character will reveal why they are against a notion. (Although, it is best if the player can include in their line a condition which, if met, they would agree to.)

Ex. Player 1: Are you going to propose to Lucinda?

Cardenio: Nay, because… there is no way she would agree to marry such a man as I, without any fortune.

Player 1: Hmm. What if I told you there was a fast way to make you rich?

  •          “I propose…” – The sheepskin-holder must do their best to introduce a new idea. (Or in the case of a romantic scene, they might literally propose to another character!)
  •         “Let me be blunt…” – The sheepskin-holder’s character must reveal their true feelings. This may, of course, risk of offending another character (this is actually recommended, as hurt feelings lead to interesting scenes!)

ENDING A SCENE

The scene continues until the sheepskin-holder reaches the last line on his sheet, #19.

  •         19. “Make haste, for…” –  At this line, they explain where people are going, why they must hastily leave (speedwalking), and what they will attempt to do between the scenes.

Ex. “Make haste, for … we have only hours before the wedding starts, and we must prepare our disguises!”

Starting the next scene:

The players will then return to the stage and present another scene. The sheepskin is handed off to someone else.

  •         No player should have the sheepskin two scenes in a row.
  •         No character will have the sheepskin two scenes in a row. (I.e. if players are switching characters).
  •         The player either starts again on Line 1, or picks a random line between 1 and 4 to start with.

Other rules to keep in mind when starting the new scene:

  •         If some players sat out during the first scene, make sure to trade out as many players as possible.
  •          Be sure to switch out or add a new character from one scene to the next.
  •         It is recommended to have only 2-4 characters in a scene at time (unless you are presenting the Final Scene, or players are representing a mass of people, like an angry mob or a pirate crew).

Additional Rules:

Improv Rules Apply – Improv Theatre rule applies, particularly:

  •         Once a fact is established, it is true; other players cannot deny it or instantly remove it (Ex. If a character declares another character is sick with the vapors, the other character truly has the vapors.)
  •         Players should work together to further a cooperative story, rather than focus on their own ideas argue or “waffle” over story directions. (The only one allowed to say “no” to ideas is the sheepskin holder, who is sometimes required to by the script!)
  •         And most importantly, RESPECT SAFETY AND CONSENT – Even if you are in character, respect other players before grabbing or touching them. Even when fighting with blunt, foam weapons, be careful of people’s faces. If any player calls to stop, all players should immediately stop.

Q1. Can the sheepskin-holder skip lines?
A1. No,* they must read through each line. If it makes no sense (i.e. they argue to something, and then disagree, and then agree again), then it is best to play it off as indecision, or via asides (see below).

Q2. Can the sheepskin-holder telegraph what their next line is?
A2. No!* It’s more fun if the scene partners have no clue what the sheepskin-holder’s next response will be.

*The Exception – The only times that sheepskin-holder can skip lines or telegraph lines is with the LAST line in the scene, i.e. “19. Make haste, for…”

  •         Skipping – if the sheepskin-holder feels like the scene is over (i.e. something interesting has happened that furthers the story, and there’s a lag in the conversation), they can skip to last line, “19. Make haste, for…”, bringing the scene to an early close.
  •         Telegraphing – if the sheepskin-holder has reached the end of the sheet, but the scene is still continuing, they can give the other players a sign to wrap up the scene. The sheepskin-holder should give the other players about a minute to finish their thoughts and wrap up any loose ends before providing the, “Make haste, for…” line, officially closing the scene.

Switching Characters – Players are allowed to switch characters out in-between scenes (and even during them, sometimes). However, we recommend that once a player portrays a character in a scene, no other players can portray that character for the rest of the scene (without that player’s insistence).

Sarcasm – The Sheepskin-holder has to agree with every line in the sheepskin. It is possible that a player may want to use sarcasm, (i.e. saying, “yes, and…” but in such a way that they really MEAN “no.”) This is definitely allowed, but we encourage players not to rely on this too heavily; part of the fun is going with the crazy script, rather than undermining it. A good way to regulate this is the “Sassy Friend” rule below.

  •         The Sassy Friend rule – if a character ends up using sarcasm a LOT in a scene (ex. for at least a third or a half of their lines), allow them to officially add the description “Sarcastic” to the character’s description. (Ex. “Lucinda – Innocent and beloved AND SARCASTIC maiden”). This allows the character to use sarcasm without any restriction. However, the number of players/characters who are allowed to be “Sarcastic” is limited; this can be capped at one Sarcastic character per player, or 2-3 Sarcastic characters total. Once the cap is reached, no other characters can use sarcasm at all.

Note: Only the sheepskin-holder is cautioned against using sarcasm. The other players may use as much as they want.

Asides – The sheepskin dictates what the character openly agrees to during the scene; however, it doesn’t always dictate what the character is actually thinking. We recommend that the holder of the Sheepskin be encouraged to speak to the audience, providing thoughts that the other characters cannot hear; this is called in theatre and “aside.” In an aside, a character can explain their true feelings, and explain away any discrepancies in the character’s objectives and the dialogue.

  •         Ex. The duke Don Fernando proposes to Cardenio that they murder Cardenio’s father (and Cardenio loves his father dearly). Cardenio notices his next line is “Yes, and ___”, which the actor feels doesn’t make sense. Before Cardenio reads off the next scripted “yes” and offers to go along with the plan, Cardenio says in an aside to the audience, “I’ll play along with them for now, until I know more of their plot.” Players can also give asides AFTER a line, to justify retroactively.
  •         Note: Any player may give asides, not just the sheepskin-holder.

Combat and Death – Characters can die in the middle of the play (that’s what the blunt weapons are for!) However, the following rules apply:

  •         All fights must begin with a declaration, such as, “Have at thee,” or a similar call to action. The challenger must give the challenged player ample time to obtain and draw a weapon. Any character who attacks another without such a challenge (Ex. stabs someone in the back) can still emerge victorious, but their character will be brandished a coward and a treacherous knave by all other characters.
  •         Players should talk while fighting with foam weapons. Combat is over once of the players mutually decide which should be injured; this is normally signaled by a player intentionally leaving themselves open to an attack for an extended period, or “piercing” themselves on their opponent’s blade.
  •         If players disagree over which character should die in a fight, have them play rock-paper-scissors to decide who lives and who dies. If a fight goes on for more than a minute, any player (not just those fighting), can proclaim, “Finish it,” forcing the players to move to rock-paper-scissors.
  •         Players can kill each by other means (such as poison), but they must declare they have poisoned an item in an aside BEFORE someone consumes it. Players can only consume a poisoned item with their consent (NO FORCE FEEDING).
  •         Multiple characters may die in a single scene. However, each PLAYER may only initiate one death per scene (except for the Final scene). Similarly, we recommend capping the total number of deaths to a total of X, where X is the number of players, at least until the Final scene. (This does not include nameless servants, who can die by the droves).
  •         If a character is poisoned or mortally wounded, they are not required to stop talking; they can talk, just like any healthy character, until the end of the scene or until they choose to die, whichever comes first.
  •         If a player has one of their character’s die (outside of the Final scene), they may create a new character. Before starting the next scene, take a small break to give time for the player to create a new character; they have first dibs on playing it. Alternatively, the player may have their character come back as an incorporeal ghost, and can choose which characters can and cannot hear the apparition!

The Final Scene 

Once enough scenes have been played out (generally between 4-10), the players should agree whether or not to begin the Final scene. Once the majority of players are in consensus, it begins.

A few reminders and a few new rules:

  •         All players should be included to be in the scene – however, we recommend only 3-5 players start the scene. After the first few minutes, the rest of the players will trickle in a few at a time.
  •         By the end of the Final scene, a character will be married or a character will die (maybe one of each!) However, no one may be killed or married until all players have had a chance to come into the scene.
  •         If the sheepskin-holder reaches line 19, they still cry, “Make Haste!”; however, if it doesn’t make sense for the scene to end, or not all players have been included in the scene yet, the scene is not over and no one permanently exits. Instead:

o   The current sheepskin-holder explains in character why time is short; all characters must pick up the pace and go faster.

o   The sheepskin-holder then gives the sheepskin to another player.

  •         Players may also exchange the sheepskin any number of times during the scene; they are not required to reach the last line but must read at least one line before giving it to another person. When handing off the script, the old holder may take no more than 3 seconds to show the next player where they left off in the script. If the new player cannot find the exact spot within 3 seconds, the new player must pick a new spot at random. (This discourages halting the scene to a stop after every switch).

Epilogue

After the game is over, each player should record one line that they remember from the game on a notecard; do not provide any context. The game owner should keep these lines with the rules as a memento (perhaps to add to a future Sheepskin).


 

There you have it, “Cardenio” is all of its glory! I have yet to playtest it, but I look forward to trying it soon. When I do, I’ll try to document it thoroughly and share it here.

Have you tried any Shakespeare or Improv inspired games? Let us know!