The Circle is going to be my entry for the 2017 200 Word RPG Challenge. (If you don’t know about the challenge, it’s pretty much what it says on the cover; a contest that challenges people to write a complete roleplaying game in 200 words or less. I didn’t participate last year, but I submitted Japanese Office back in 2015. With such a small word count, submissions are usually rules-lite storygames or LARPS; it’s hard to write out a involved rules with only 200 words.) Entries for the 2017 contest can be submitted from April 15th to the 23rd, and winners will be announced on May 8th. I fumbled around for an idea this year before finally deciding on teenaged witches, a subject I use often.
Back around 2010 when I was just getting into Apocalypse World-based games I stumbled across the crowdfunding campaign for Monsterhearts. I backed it mostly because I was curious to see how you could use the PbtA game framework to play Twilight the roleplaying game. We’d also been playing in a Vampire: the Requiem campaign, and Monsterhearts seemed like a condensed version of the things I found most interesting in V:tR, namely the personal drama. Monsterhearts has become one of, if not my most, favorite roleplaying game for a number of reasons, and it turned me onto a whole world of (mostly young adult) paranormal romance media. I love the cheesy, over the top melodrama.
My game The Circle is heavily inspired by L.J. Smith’s book series The Secret Circle, about a coven of twelve teenaged witches in New England. (There was a 2011 TV series based very loosely on the books that only lasted a single 22-episode season. It wasn’t very good, and I’m still grumpy it didn’t get a better adaptation.) I tried to use the themes and elements from The Secret Circle in The Circle, or as many as I could in only 200 words. The complete game is below:
You are a teenaged witch. Give your witch:
- a name
- a three-word archetype
- a preferred sphere of magic
Introduce your witches. You all:
- live near each other
- are close in age
- attend the same high school
You are a Circle; more powerful together than alone. Split the Circle: half Dawn, half Dusk. Sit on opposing sides of the space; you are rivals but not enemies.
As a Circle decide:
- what big magic you are planning
- what preparations must be completed
- what complications are in your way
Remove the Jokers from a deck of cards. Shuffle it. Put it in the center of the space. Taking informal turns, narrate what your witch think, feels, and does.
When you narrate something with an uncertain outcome or that uses magic, pick an opposing player and draw three cards. If it reinforces your archetype, draw an extra card. If it involves magic within your preferred sphere, draw an extra card. Choose and reveal three cards:
- three black: you narrate the outcome
- two black: you narrate the outcome; they narrate a complication
- two red: they narrate the outcome; you narrate an advantage
- three red: they narrate the outcome
Shuffle after each draw.
It clocks in at 197 words. I’ve tried to “bake in” all the necessary elements so that everyone quickly gets what the game’s about, makes an appropriate character, and has an issue to resolve. One of the things I’m struggling with in my other game, Keep it Weird, Beach City, is the players narrating both the opposition and how they overcome it. That can be a bit unsatisfying. So here I’ve tried to avoid that by having a rival player narrate complications and outcomes. The coven is pretty much split in half, six “good” and six “bad” (though that’s simplifying it) in The Secret Circle, and I thought that was a perfect way to have players be antagonists for each other in the game.
I might still tweak this before submitting it (the entry form hasn’t gone up yet), but I don’t think there’s much more I need to do with it. As usual, if you try this out, I’d love to hear feedback.