Note: I’m helping out with a group project over on Structured Freedom that is attempting to make a short anthology of freeform games to use as a teaching tool. Each game can stand by itself, or they can be combined together into an extended workshop. In order to shake off some of the perception that this style of play must be about broken people mooning about, contemplating suicide and generally being a drag, all the games are superhero-themed.
So, I’ve finished the first draft of the game, and I’m posting it here for comment. You can also check out any further discussion on Structured Freedom in this thread.
Earth has many heroes, yet none are as brave and noble as the Immortals. Led by the superbeing Princess Eterna, the Immortals defend their home planet from all who would bring it harm. But will their strength be enough to defeat the invading Molar army?
“The Treachery of Princess Eterna During the Molar Invasion” is a short Jeepform scenario of superhero melodrama, intended to be used as an introduction to this style of roleplaying. The game is intended for two experienced players and two to four new players. If my calculations are correct, this game should take about 45 minutes to play, but really, these time estimates are mostly made up, anyways.
Also, this is an ashcan. No, really!
Setting up the Game
Establish the Play Area
You don’t really need much to play “The Treachery of Princess Eterna During the Molar Invasion”. Just the players and enough space to play. If you’re playing inside, you’ll probably want to play in your living room or some other large room. If you’re playing outside, then make sure that you have enough space to spread out a bit
If you are teaching the game, then you’re playing one of the Immortals. This allows you to play as important characters, demonstrating how to play the game, and also allows you to be in a good position to help facilitate the game.
The three Immortal characters are Princess Eterna, Ajax, and Rolling Thunder. However, no one plays Princess Eterna. In fact, as you will see, she never actually appears in the game.
What is Ajax like? What are Rolling Thunder’s superpowers? I really don’t know. You get to make it up! But then, if you’re teaching this game, you should have figured that out by now.
The Immortals are the most powerful superheroes in the world, but they are not the only ones. Organizations of young, ambitious superheroes are rising to prominence everywhere. The Immortals tend to think of these superheroes like many parents think of their young children: cute, but not terribly effective.
If you’re not playing an Immortal, you are playing a member of P.A.T.R.O.L., one of these new superhero groups. You should choose a superhero name for yourself, either from the list of suggested names or from your own imagination.
What are your superpowers? I don’t know. It’s your character, not mine. However, do keep in mind that this game is about superhero melodrama, not superhero action. So, don’t choose superpowers because they will make you strong. Instead, choose superpowers that will make you entertaining.
Also, the Immortals really don’t like being shown up. So, either Ajax or Rolling Thunder can veto your superhero name or superpower. So be entertaining, but don’t be dumb.
Playing the Game
The game is played as a series of Scenes, interspersed with narrative Interludes.
Scene: All’s quiet on the home front (2 Immortals, no P.A.T.R.O.L.)
Interlude: The Molar Invasion Begins
Scene: A Hard-Fought Battle (2 Immortals, 2 P.A.T.R.O.L.)
Scene: “We are losing” (2 Immortals, 2 P.A.T.R.O.L.)
Interlude: A Desperate Plan
Scene: “Be prepared for anything” (2 Immortals, 2 P.A.T.R.O.L.)
Interlude: A Vile Betrayal
Scene: The Blood of Heroes (1 Immortal, 2 P.A.T.R.O.L.)
Scene: Surrounded (0 Immortals, all P.A.T.R.O.L.)
Interlude: A Sudden Reversal
Scene: “So what happens now?” (0 Immortals, all P.A.T.R.O.L.)
How to Play a Scene
Most of the game is played in Scenes.
There are some rules that affect what exactly you make up in a Scene. These rules exist to help everyone work together creatively to craft an enjoyable story. So cooperate with them, and see what happens.
First, each Scene has a name. This may look like it means something, but it is simply a creative prompt. Pretend that the scene list is the chapter list from the DVD of this story. What sort of scene would go with that title?
Second, each Scene tells how many players from each team are in the Scene. So, at the beginning of the Scene, decide which characters will be in the Scene. Some of these characters may choose to enter the scene after it begins. If there are more than two superheroes from P.A.T.R.O.L., the Immortals should be sure to mix up the different P.A.T.R.O.L. players to make sure that everyone has a chance to play.
During a Scene, you play make-believe. If you’re in the Scene, then you jump into the play area and act out your character. Don’t forget that you know much of what is going to happen in the story, so feel free to foreshadow or be ironic. If you know the future, you may as well have some fun with it. Remember: be entertaining, but don’t be dumb.
The Immortal players are ultimately responsible to make sure that each Scene is set up and plays smoothly. Don’t be afraid to pause a scene to coordinate creative vision or to do a scene over if it wasn’t very good.
How to Play an Interlude
During an Interlude, someone reads the appropriate text. Even better, have someone in the audience read the appropriate text. Be as overly dramatic as possible. After all, this is a superhero melodrama.
The Molar Invasion Begins: “But little did they know that danger was already headed their way. Far above the surface of the planet, a spaceship flashed into existence, blotting out the sun. Landing pods detached from its side and fell towards the planet. The Molar invasion had begun!”
A Desperate Plan: “Princess Eterna flew above the battlefield, trying to plan . It was obvious to her that only one course remained to the last defenders of Earth. They must take the fight to the enemy. Quickly, she gathered the other Immortals and prepared for their assault.”
A Vile Betrayal: “At last the Immortals gained access to the bridge of the Moleship. Before them stood the Mole King, squat and hideous, dressed in his powered armor and surrounded by his most elite warriors. But then, Princess Eterna went to him, embracing him and passionately kissing him. It was a trap! Princess Eterna had betrayed Earth to her love, the Mole King! The other Immortals turned to flee. But it was too late. Led by the Mole King and Princess Eterna, the Mole soldiers attacked.”
A Sudden Reversal: “But as the beleaguered defenders of Earth looked to the sky, they saw something strange. The Mole People were retreating! Their shuttles flew back to the Moleship, which jumped into the inky blackness of space. Earth was left in peace.”
A Word to the Immortals
Immortal players, do you see how you’re not actually in the last two scenes? That’s on purpose. The whole point of this game is to teach the other players how to play these games of ours, right? So, this game actually phases you out of the game. Work with this feature of the game. Loosen your control on the game as it progresses and, if at all possible, try to let the P.A.T.R.O.L. players put the last couple of scenes together themselves. You’ll still be around to help, but maybe they will have learned enough by that point to try it themselves.