The City of Masks storygame

One of my excuses for delaying publication of City of Masks was, for a while, the City of Masks storygame. I was going to include it in the book, but I eventually realized that while the novel was finished, the game was still a work in progress and likely to remain so for the foreseeable future.

So, what's a storygame? Like any term, the definition is argued about passionately (notably on the Story-Games forum, where I hang out under the handle MikeRM). My own definition is that it's a game which is designed to produce a story. The game elements guide and influence the story elements and vice versa, so that you end up with a story that you wouldn't (or couldn't) have just sat down and made up in the form it eventually attained. It's also, almost always, a group activity, like most games, so you get the interaction of multiple creative minds.

Storygames are descended from (and usually also are) roleplaying games, which themselves have only been around for a little over 30 years, so it's a new and exciting medium, and people are coming up with great innovations.

The Scandinavians, for example, are doing some interesting things with their "Jeepform" games, which are quite constrained scenarios within which a group collectively improvises a story - like improv theatre, but with more definition upfront.

In the English-speaking world, one of the emerging masters of the storygames form is Jason Morningstar, who has just won the prestigious Diana Jones Award (shared with another winner) for his game Grey Ranks. In Grey Ranks, you play Boy Scouts and Girl Guides in World War II Warsaw during the Warsaw Uprising - dealing with all the usual teenage problems, plus fighting Nazis who have invaded your city.

Some other prominent current storygames:

My Life with Master: You are Igor-like minions of an evil master. By making connections of love with the townsfolk, who are oppressed by Master, you can overcome your weariness and self-loathing enough to kill Master on their behalf. It's about getting out of abusive relationships, basically.

Primetime Adventures: You are the cast and writers of a TV show, one with an ensemble cast that focuses on the characters’ stories and their development as people. You plan and then play out a series of shows.

Breaking the Ice: You are two would-be lovers. You play out the ups and downs of the couple's first three dates.

Dogs in the Vineyard: You are “God’s Watchdogs”, in a setting loosely based on pre-statehood Mormon Utah, and you must protect the towns of the Faithful from the consequences of sin and heresy. It is up to you how far you go – but using violence will have consequences.

A Thousand and One Nights: You play members of the Sultan's Court, whiling away the sultry nights by telling pointed stories to advance your own ambitions. Navigate the social maze and you could win your heart's desire; offend the wrong person and you suffer the Sultan's wrath.

Sons of Liberty: To quote the game's creator, "Have you ever had Alexander Hamilton wind up your clockwork power armor, jump out of Thomas Paine's ornithopter, and land in the middle of the Battle of Yorktown to punch General Cornwallis in the face? No? Well... would you like to? Take on the role of the Founding Fathers to kick ass and take names for truth, justice, and the American way in the only Roleplaying Game of Freedom and Badassery. The game's fast-paced card mechanics ensure high-action madness and revolutionary heroics. If you are playing Benjamin Franklin and you aren't swinging an electrified kite over your head to clear the streets of redcoats, then you are playing it wrong."

The Story-Games site has a codex which will tell you about many other games.

So - the City of Masks storygame. It uses cards (ordinary playing cards) and dominoes (mainly because of the association with domino masks, I have to admit; you can substitute ordinary 6-sided dice if you don't have a set of dominoes). You play young nobles in Bonvidaeo, the City of Masks, who are just entering the adult world with its intrigues and plots. It takes place about 50 years before the events of the novel so that you won't bump up against any of the characters or events.

The reason I mention it now is that I've been approached by someone who wants to run it, at the storygames meetup known as the Nerdly Beach Party. This takes place at the San Simeon State Park in California on September 19-21. So if you can get there then and are interested in playing a game in the setting of City of Masks, here's your chance.

Edit: the City of Masks game is scheduled for Friday 19th.

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