200 Word RPG: Among the Wreckage

I submitted my entry to this year’s 200 Word RPG Challenge! It’s called “Among the Wreckage.” It takes place following a disaster caused by the “Faceless Beast” — which players can interpret as they see fit. Players basically draw from a scattered deck of cards and create stories based on the cards they reveal, though you should read the full rules on its page.

In writing this, I tried to key into the “new and overlooked stories” element of the judging criteria — and I think it pushed me to come up with a setting that I wouldn’t have originally considered. The Faceless Beast setup lends itself to a city of people rebuilding after a kaiju attack, but it could easily be reinterpreted/adapted to a more realistic setting if players prefer.

In terms of gameplay, I liked the tactile nature of scattering cards to represent disorder and wreckage, then having players slowly clear the space and provide order as they search for their goals. The player interaction component went through a few different iterations, but I think it ultimately turned out well.

All in all, I really enjoyed trying the challenge this year, and I’m planning on entering again next year! Writing game rules is definitely different from writing a story — especially if you only get 200 words. But it was a fun experience and I think I learned a little bit about creating games. If you happen to play “Among the Wreckage,” I’d love to hear what you think about it!

Writing a 200 Word RPG

Some time ago, I heard about the 200 Word RPG Challenge. The name is pretty much the concept—create an RPG in 200 words. I’ve never created an RPG before, but I wanted to give it a shot in between flash fiction pieces. And it’s opening up to entries in a little over a week!

The main purposes of the challenge are to encourage people to write a complete RPG and collect a variety of ideas for the community to build on. There’s also a competition component. To that point, entries will be judged based on actionable rules, new/overlooked stories, and engagement.

Of those, the second criteria is the one that stood out the most. Normally, I think I’d be inclined to write a more generic fantasy-adventure type RPG. But I like the fact that the contest encourages creators to expand into less common stories and settings.

All that said, the setting is probably what I’ve spent the most time thinking about. I have a draft, but with the contest opening to entries on May 18, there’s still plenty of time for revisions (whether they’re major overhauls or minor tweaks). But as it stands right now, I think the concept jives pretty well with the current game mechanics.

Which brings me to my second-most-thought-about-element: mechanics. (Otherwise known as how the game actually plays.) It’s not uncommon for tabletop RPGs to primarily use dice and character sheets. But in reading previous years’ entries, I really liked how these games (especially finalists) introduce other elements of gameplay, like playing cards, matches, or even paper towels. You want to use something that’s both common enough for people have on hand and also won’t use too much word count to explain.

Speaking of, I think that the 700 word limit I try to work with in writing flash fiction has been valuable training. But 200 words is still really short! And since it’s providing the framework for a game, it needs to set the stage concisely in terms of settings and characters while also explaining mechanics/rules just thoroughly enough for players to understand what to do.

At the same time, it take a little pressure off because it doesn’t need to include a scene with a beginning, middle, and end. That’s up to the players to create 🙂 But still, 200 words, man.

Anyway, that’s what I’m writing these days! Every entry will be published on the website after the contest is over, so I’ll be sure to share the link when it’s live. Think this is something you’d ever be interested in trying?

Tales of the Arabian Nights Board Game Impressions

Over the weekend, my wife and I played a couple games of Tales of the Arabian Nights. This week, I want to talk about why I think it’s my favorite board game ever.

Brief overview: Tales of the Arabian Nights is a story-based board game where players travel around a world inspired by the tales of 1001 Arabian Nights, earning points along the way. Players encounter thematically-appropriate characters, locations, and situations every turn, and choose how to interact with them based on a list of possible actions. This leads to a certain paragraph-length scene that fleshes out how the encounter went before awarding any relevant points or rewards.

That’s the bare-bones description of how it works, but today I want to share why I like it so much.

At its heart, Tales of the Arabian Nights is about stories. You could completely strip away the game mechanics, and it would still work as a neverending episodic adventure following a group of travelers figuring their way through strange and exciting encounters that grow increasingly bizarre. For example, at the end of one game my character had become a large serpent serving as a vizier with no control over his body — but still somehow commanded respect from everyone. I lost, but it was so fun it didn’t matter.

The board is kind of incidental to gameplay, mainly serving to provide some sense of movement and physical goals. Gameplay itself begins with encounters, which present players with a range of things to interact with (such as minor treasures, people like beggars or wizards, or house fires). Players then must choose an action from a provided matrix, listing interactions such as examine, fight, buy, follow, drink, etc. From there, you’re directed to a numbered paragraph in the game’s enormous Book of Tales.

This is where the story element of the game largely comes into the play. Players are also given quests that usually provide a reason to travel around the game board, but the short scenes that play out during encounters are what bring the characters to life.

It’s during these encounters that you learn exactly how the action you chose creates a story with the situation you stumbled across. Sometimes it’ll play out exactly the way you imagined. Other times, you’ll learn that the designers had something different in mind. It’s fun, maddening, and occasionally hilarious.

I particularly like the fact that these scenes’ outcomes don’t usually rely on a dice roll. Success or failure often depends on whether or not you have particular skills (like storytelling, weapon use, or courtly graces) that you choose at the beginning of the game or learn along the way. Even the bad outcomes are easier to swallow when they’re the result of simply not having the right ability, as opposed to punishing you for rolling a 2 instead of a 6.

At this point, the game may start to sound like a role-playing game — which it definitely isn’t. I think of it more as an elaborate choose-your-own-adventure, with more intricate paths that can shift based on how you shape your character. There’s always the option to roleplay your character, but there isn’t much room to customize the story just the way you want.

Another element that differentiates it from RPGs and is also another reason I enjoy it is the limited interaction with other players. Mechanically, the game boils down racing to get the most points the fastest. And there aren’t many ways for other players to get in the way. Some negative effects that can impact your character include giving other players control over your movement or which actions to take, but generally speaking the game doesn’t lend itself to competition. I’m a big fan of this gameplay choice because I think it allows everyone to best enjoy the stories being told.   

But it gets even better — this isn’t the only way to play the game. On the official website, publisher Z-Man games provides three free rule variants (scroll down to the Downloads section). There’s a PvP variant, which adds rules about interacting with other players and making it a little more competitive. There’s a Storytelling variant, which encourages players to use their imaginations and embellish the story part of the game even more. And there’s even a Solitaire variant making it possible for people to play it by themselves, tweaking gameplay and victory conditions to make it more satisfying to play alone.

These variants speak to just how customizable the game is. (We’ve already instituted a couple house rules to suit our style.) Even if the story scenes remain the game’s driving force, the other components like character traits and skills lend a level of flexibility that gives players a fun range of material to create the game — and stories — they want to experience.

And really, that’s what stories are supposed to be: personal and unique. Tales of the Arabian Nights revels in that truth, giving players a new experience to play and stories to create every game. It relieves some of the pressure players might feel playing an RPG, while providing enough of a mold to tell a fun story in a world of fantasy and magic. I’d strongly recommend it to gamers looking for something more story-driven, or writers and readers interested in exploring what today’s board games are capable of accomplishing.

Sound like something up your alley? Check out its official website or get it on Amazon today!