Monday, February 21, 2022

Dream Ticket

Dream Ticket is a playful art project.  You and your friends will need to gather several small slips of paper.  On each one, write a short blessing, prophecy, or cryptic message, such as:

the faceless brood sings for you.

the bone tree remembers

whither the abomination of the sands?

meet me at the cenotaph, oh darling blue eyes

Try to write inscriptions that are weird and arcane, and avoid violence and vulgarity.  If you're looking for inspiration, the generators at Seventh Sanctum are a wonderful resource. 

Divide the prophecies among the players and stash them in your pockets.  Over the course of the day, randomly pull notes from your pocket and leave them where others will find them.  Slip one between the pages of a library book.  Hide some in the pockets of clothes as you go shopping for a new cloak.  Leave one tucked away with the camping gear at your local sporting goods store.  Follow your heart.

I'd like to offer a special chant of gratitude to Bucky Cutright, who helped birth this game during a lovely spring drive along I-79 and who suggested that I write the words "dream ticket" on a small scrap of paper.

Friday, June 26, 2020


My two best friends and I spent the summer between kindergarten and first grade collecting things.  Actually, we spent the summer collecting and caching things.  We buried bottle caps, bullet shells, bits of glass, and anything else that caught our eye.  Our little hoards dotted the landscape, but over the years they have been overgrown and forgotten.

Hoard is a story game about the childhood urge to collect things.  Four players take turns introducing items, describing them from the perspective of the child who gathered them and discussing their history before a final round that explores the notion that some of the items might be a bit more special than imagined.

As the game begins each player should find three small items to bring to the table.  These can be odd knickknacks from your house or apartment, or things that caught your eye on a walk.  The objects are the artifacts your young character wants to add to the hoard.

When the group meets, the players should decide where the children are hiding their hoard.  Where would six, seven, and eight-year-olds hide their most valuable treasures?  The players can pick a real location they know--a particular old barn or clump of bushes, for example--or work together to create an imaginary hiding place.

Each round, the players each introduce a new item.  The player should describe it from the perspective of a young child, giving a grand account of where it was found, its possible origins and uses, and an overview of its most appealing traits.  

After everyone has introduced an item the players go around the table and narrate another facet of the object's history.   For the first item, the player to the left of the player who brought it to the table describes an episode from the artifact's history from the perspective of the item itself.   A player could describe waiting on a shelf in a store, for example, or the experience of jostling around in someone's pocket or purse.

The players then introduce the next objects they chose, again describing them from the perspective of the child who found them.  For the second object, the player to the right narrates a scene from the point of view of the artifact.  After the third item has been introduced, the player across the table creates an episode from its history.

The tokens and knickknacks the children have gathered aren't just bits of forgotten rubbish or shiny trinkets that caught some child's magpie eye.  Whether through some process of creation or the value ascribed by the children, some of the items in the hoard have magical powers.  During the final round of the game, each player picks one of the items they brought to the table.  The player across the table then describes some wondrous effect of the talisman.  Perhaps touching it as it was being hidden in the cache sparked some bit of luck, or years later an adult dream featuring the artifact had some prophetic value.

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Show & Hell

A sunny Monday morning finds students beaming with excitement as they wait to share childhood treasures. This morning’s show and tell, though, is a bit off.  Unsettling photos, strange artifacts, and items best left in a police evidence locker wait to be displayed.

One player serves as the teacher, who opens a photo from a random image site at the beginning of each player’s turn.  The player then launches into an excited discussion inspired by the photo she has received, going on and on with all of the wondrous excitement of a first grader as her macabre tale unfolds.  No matter how innocent the image seems, it always inspires some gruesome memory or anecdote from the enthusiastic student.
The teacher and the other students get to ask questions about the object.  Does the teacher try to glean the shocking truth about the object or desperately try to find some way to shift?  Are the other students overly enthusiastic and curious, or do their innocent questions show that they are just on the cusp of understanding the full horror of the object?
The game goes on until all of the students have had a turn sharing with the class.

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Or Best Offer

If your characters frequent yard sales and flea markets, they might encounter some of the following items:

A jar of water from an old well where a voice cries, “Where is my body?” on the night of the new moon.
A mantel clock.  A drop of blood appears on the dial each night at 11:11.
A tarnished silver ring with a spider engraved on the inside along with the date 7/9/1992.
A 1961 yearbook in which the eyes of every other picture have been blacked out with a pen.

A shoebox full of railroad spikes.  Anyone who sleeps in the room with the box dreams of riding a train on a foggy night.

A cigar box full of pennies with strange runes gouged into the tails side of each.

An hourglass full of nail clippings instead of sand.

A photo album of polaroids showing piles of clothes.  A red candle rests on each pile.

An old grade-school dictionary.  A torn medical file has been tucked between the pages.  It describes a patient with geometric scars.

A high school varsity jacket found draped over a grave.

A framed photo of a family smiling while standing around a child tied to a tree.

An old teddy bear with one ear that sighs when the first traces of sunlight appear each morning.

An unlabeled LP of someone reciting poetry in Hittite while pigs grunt in the background.

An old VHS tape recording a group of middle school students rehearsing a skit.  A pale face peers through the window behind them.

A program from the 1954 county fair that includes the Incantation of the Cairns in the list of events.

An old metal protractor that is 1d6+3⁰ off in each measurement.

A cast-iron bank shaped like a wood-belly stove.  Inside are coins dating from the 1910s through the 1960s and a note reading, “I am a prisoner here.”

A baseball bound in human skin.

A postcard showing a picture of Main Street during the 1950s.  The back bears the address of a house that was torn down years ago along with the message, “See you at the weeping tree.”

Saturday, May 9, 2020

Running Free

Photo by Dominik Schröder

Running Free is a story game for two or three players about teens on a journey to find connection, wonder, and mischief.  Using a deck of cards and a map created before the game, players narrate the experiences of a group of teens who have ventured out on a spring or summer night, violating the local curfew to wander the streets of their small hometown.

You will need to create a setting and cast of characters.  The story takes place in a town of 5000-10,000 people.  Going around the table, quickly sketch out the major streets of the town and add a few key landmarks and labels for different areas (e.g., a circle for "trailer park behind lumber mill" or a star for the old grade school the characters attended).  You can also use the map to note events during the game.  The story can take place any time during the last quarter of the twentieth century.  Cell phones are non-existent or extremely uncommon in your small town.  You might want to pull up a playlist of songs from the year you’ve chosen for your story.

You will also need to describe the teens taking the night journey.  Take turns adding traits to each of the two or three characters.  Each teen should have three or four traits or tags.

The player who most recently went for a walk at night goes first.  At the beginning of each scene, the narrator draws a card to establish the focus and another player draws to determine a subtheme.
  • Hearts:  connection (friendship and romance)
  • Spades:  wonder (awe and sublime beauty)
  • Diamonds:  mischief (shenanigans and delinquency)
  • Clubs:  curfew (cops and other authorities)
The narrator crafts a scene, weaving together the themes determined by the cards and the story that has unfolded so far.  Other players can ask questions or make suggestions if the narrator is stuck.

A mischief/wonder scene finds the characters discovering an unlocked door at the Methodist church.  Two start to write a note from Satan to leave on the pulpit, but the third character calls them up to the bell tower where they look out and see stars shining over the town.

During a connection/curfew scene the characters go to a friend’s house to see if they want to join the trek.  Just as they toss a pebble at the friend’s window, headlights flash across the lawn and a cruiser shudders to a stop as the characters run between houses to escape.

Keep cards drawn by the narrators in stacks by suit.  When a narrator draws a card that would put the total over twenty-one the scene describes some kind of turning point related to that theme.  The characters could declare their love for one another during a connection scene, or see a shooting star during a wonder scene.

There is no sub-theme if the narrator draws a club.  Instead, the second player draws to determine how the characters escape.  If the card is black, they use their wits.  If red, they rely on sheer speed and adrenaline.  Although they escape from the cops, the close call casts a shadow over the journey.  Randomly discard a card of the suit drawn by the second player to reflect the setback.  Do not discard a setback card from a theme that has reached a turning point.  Do not keep a running total of curfew cards.

The characters end their journey after they've reached turning points in connection, wonder, and mischief (for a shorter game you can use only one or two themes).  One scene unfolds after the night the teens spent wandering the town.  Players draw cards and the high card narrates a scene that takes place ten years after the journey.  One of the characters has returned to the town, and as they visit old haunts the events of the night come to mind.  The player describes how the character feels about the events, focusing on ways that life events in the decade since the journey and changes in the town itself shape their reflection.

Monday, April 20, 2020

Inappropriate Robots

One afternoon my friend Julie turned to me and randomly said, "You should make a game called 'Inappropriate Robots.'"  I rushed to find a notebook.

Inappropriate Robots

Inappropriate Robots is a word game designed to be played by a group of people as they stroll along or drive together.  During their turn, a player will use four elements to describe a vile or uncouth piece of technology:

1.  An adjective.
2.  A noun to serve as a subject.
3.  A verb.
4.  A noun to serve as a direct object.

The subject and direct object can be compound nouns or proper nouns, so "The saucy VHS rewinder tickles Philo Farnsworth" would be perfectly acceptable.  The player scores one point for each element they can actually see while describing the robot. 

After a few moments have passed and the group has continued its journey the next player takes a turn.  Players cannot repeat elements used in earlier turns unless they see another one during their turn.

Each player gets three turns.  The player with the most points at the end of the game is the winner.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

The Magnolia's Shadow

Early on the morning of 24 March a neighbor noticed that the front door of the Cutright home was open.  He soon discovered that the family was missing, and that someone had scratched the words "The Magnolia's Shadow" on a bedroom door. . . .

The Magnolia's Shadow is a collaborative writing game in which players create clues related to the family's strange disappearance and then craft explanations for the mystery.  You will need access to Wikipedia to play.

Play unfolds over the course of about a week.  Each morning for five days, players visit Wikipedia and read a random article (just search for "special:random").  The article provides inspiration for a clue, which can include evidence found by the police at the scene, background about the Cutright family, or town gossip.  The player then writes a short description of the clue and adds it to a shared document or email chain for the others to read.

A player receives the entry for the Peter, Paul, and Mary album Peter, Paul, and Mommy.  Perhaps police found the CD playing on repeat in a bedroom.  Maybe--inspired by “Leatherwing Bat”--investigators found pages torn from birdwatching guides scattered around the house.

Another player ends up with the entry for Eastern Finland Province.  Inspired by the bow in the coat of arms shown in the article, she writes how the Cutright father blinded another camper in one eye during archery practice as a child.

At the end of the week the group selects five random clues from the list they've created.  You can print the clues and draw them from a hat, or assign a number to each clue and roll to see which ones will be used in the final round.  However the clues are chosen, every player incorporates the same five clues into her explanation of the family's disappearance.  As a variant, the group can pick three clues that everyone will use and allow each player to pick two additional clues at random.  

Players can write the explanations from the from any perspective they choose, such as police investigating the event or teenagers describing the disappearance in an urban legend.  Share the explanations with other players, preferably while driving down a dark, lonely road.