A game for occupy

November 22, 2011

Players: 4 – 8,000,000,000 *** Time: 5mins *** Age: 16+ *** genre: Abstract

Take a pool of dice or coins equal to at least three times the number of players. Divide them between the players however you like. Some ideas:

  • The Boring Way — divide the coins equally amongst all of the players.
  • What Fun! — give half of the coins to one player, and then divide the rest equally.

All players act simultaneously. In each round, every player can do one of three things:

Do Business [with someone]:

Roll your dice (or flip your coins). You keep evens (heads), give them odds (tails).

Loan/Borrow [with someone]:

Lender: Give X. In two turns, get back X+1.

Borrower: Get X. In two turns, give back X+1.

Do Nothing [by yourself]:

Lose 1.

If you ever have 0 dice/coins, you lose.


A few clarifications:

When you do business, you BOTH flip your coins / roll your dice, and SWAP – my tails go to you, your tails come to me.

The lender sets the maximum amount borrowed. The borrower subsequently determines how much to borrow.

Open Question:

How does it change the game if you can take, say, two actions per turn?


Winter is a game about isolation, desolation, inevitability. It is a game meant to provoke an emotional reaction in the players, providing them a new perspective from which they can appreciate the relative comforts of their existence. It is a reminder of mortality – something to rail against and something to accept.

Design goals:

  • It is clear to me that the ratio of Health and Hope to the length of a tour must be adjusted, as well as possibly the numbers for the results of volunteering for a mission. The game needs to provide a sense of the inevitability of death, and right now it is too easy to survive or escape.
  • That said, I would like to incorporate the concept of desertion. I’m not sure where it fits, but I think a desertion scene will probably be added at some point in this second round of design.
  • I still very much want to include map-making and drawing into this game; I am not certain whether it should be a mechanical element of the game or simply an exhortation to draw.
This, and draft one, is my starting point. Much editing to do, as well, but these are the forward push.

Oh my gosh, oh my gosh you guys!

Winter has received an honorable mention in the RPG Solitaire Challenge! This is really an astonishing and wonderful surprise – I’m absolutely floored.

Thanks to Emily and all of the judges for putting together such a wonderful contest: it seems to have churned out tons of fun, interesting, innovative, and powerful games. You should definitely check it out! I know I’m excited to continue to follow the results of these projects – I’m especially excited to take a whirl at playing them, too.

Read the games, the feedback, and more all over here: http://rpgsolitairechallenge.blogspot.com

Winter: Actual Play!

January 7, 2011

Hey! I played my game! I actually, so did my friend Tony, but I don’t have a copy of his journal to post.

So it is a little bit hiccoughy, but it seems to work… pretty okay! I am not very happy with the relief mechanic, but I’m not sure how to make it better without also making it more cumbersome (i.e. roll under half-days, don’t roll until seven days, +4 to roll, etc). The only option I’m seriously considering is “add the number of your remaining rations as a positive modifier to your roll.”

My post is written with italicised Journal entries followed by out-of-game mechanics. Here goes!


Health: 10 Hope: 10 [ ] [ ] [ ] Day Zero

I never wanted to be a solder. I thought a lawyer maybe, or a politician. Just… not a soldier. Today, I’m in Trench 244, and I have a stretch as far as the eye can see in both directions. Mine for the whole week. There’s a crater from a big naval gun not fifty yards to the right of my foxhole. I’ll have to keep an eye on that. Fortunately, there’s a nice little sentry-post right here that overlooks the approach to the crater quite nicely.

Health: 9 Hope: 10 [ ] [ ] [ ] Day One

Nothing much, today. While the sun was up, I sang to myself, and tried to keep myself busy by enlarging my foxhole. The bastard who was here before was shit with a shovel, though, and the damn thing collapsed. Looks like I’m sleeping at the sentry post… I wonder what the boys are drinking back in Chicago? p.s. – I decided to save my rations – I know I’ll be hungrier later.

I played a Camaraderie scene – singing and digging, and cursing at the poor architect who’d built the foxhole in the first place – which sort of tied into a survival scene: trying to improve my condition. I rolled a 3, and got stuck out in the cold.

Health: 9 Hope: 9 [ ] [ ] [ ] Day Two

I was right about the crater. The Jerries came around, tried to drop into the trench there. I gave ’em a few grenades to think about. They thought about it and left, but one of ’em must’ve been hit, cuz he was screaming and screaming all night. When I got to him, he was already dead. Looked to be about my brother’s age – kinda looked like him, too. I sat by his body and told him the story of when me n’ my brother went fishing at the big pond and caught that enormous bass. I cried, then. Then I buried him. I spent the rest of my day digging a new foxhole.

I decided to follow with a Violence scene, to see what mileage that gave me, and came up with this. Man, roleplaying this out was… tough. As in emotionally challenging. This process of roleplaying and writing and then roleplaying more has really gotten me stuck in this character’s headspace. Anyway, I played a cameraderie scene with the dead soldier, and then a survival scene digging the new foxhole. Rolled a 12. shiny foxhole. Forgot to roll for relief today.

Health: 9 Hope: 9 [X] [ ] [ ] Day Three

I found the former occupant of my sentry post today – dead as doorknob. Funniest thing: he didn’t have a scratch on him. I asked him how he died, but he didn’t have much to say. Died of boredom probably. Useless bastard didn’t even have any spare rations – I had to eat my own. Can’t imagine that had anything to do with how he died, I guess…
I was pretty roughed up after day two, so I played a more light-hearted day. Somehow, it was easier to joke about this dead guy from my side than someone I had killed. This is a Cameraderie scene – poking fun at the dead guy – followed by a sort of Survival scene afterthought: I went by and checked his pockets for food. Rolled a 4, so I ate my own rations to save myself the health point. Rolled a 10 for relief today.

Health: 9 Hope: 8 [X] [X] [ ] Day Four

They came again last night. I heard a sound as I was writing in my journal, and slipped out of my foxhole to investigate. I practically walked into a Jerry: I shot him in the chest. I heard another one shout and run, but I never saw him. I imagine they were looking for their friend that I buried a couple days back. I tried to stay awake all night watching for ’em, but I was exhausted – used up the last of my coffee.
In the morning, a sergeant from Tennessee dropped in and we played a game of cards. He was friendly enough, until I told him I wouldn’t volunteer for anything. Then he spat at my feet, and called me a coward: suits me fine, as long as I’m not dead.
This was interesting. It’s a violence scene, followed by a survival scene (rolled a god-damned 3 – used another one of my rations), followed by a camaraderie scene (the cards), followed by a volunteering scene. It played out pretty well. The camaraderie scenes are hard to justify. I keep forgetting about the example I wrote with the dog – I’m gonna try that next time. Today I rolled a miraculous 3 for relief – tomorrow was my last day!

Health: 9 Hope: 7 [X] [X] [ ] Day Five

Relieved! I’ve been relieved! Now back to that pretty nurse for some real R&R!
They came again this morning, about a dozen of ’em, but that Tennessee sarge and his volunteer boys happened along just as the Jerries were coming into view. Boy, we game ’em what for, and then they ran off! And my relief arrived! Boy, today might just about be the best day of my life.
I played out the violence scene, and then finished out the day! First full game of Winter, complete.
I have to say, I’m really happy with this so far. I know it needs a LOT of work, and I sense that there are still some things missing, but for a first attempt at a game design, I think it’s pretty bearable!
Any comments, thoughts, or suggestions are VERY MUCH welcome.

Winter (for One): Draft

January 7, 2011

Well, that nap lasted a little longer than I expected… 😉

Below, you will find the lightly-playtested version of Winter, written for one player. Any and all comments would be greatly appreciated!

Winter for One

It is winter. You are in the trenches. Who cares about winning and losing – are you going to survive?


To play, you will need: a pen, pencil, piece of charcoal, or other writing implement. A notebook. One twelve-sided die. A place to play – ideally somewhere cold, lonely, and not particularly clean.

Once you are properly settled with the necessary accoutrements, proceed to Characters.


To make a character, simply write this across the top of the first page of your notebook

Health: 10 Hope: 10 [ ] [ ] [ ] Day Zero

These are the starting scores for every fresh soldier in the trenches – from seasoned veterans to fresh-faced recruits. Those three boxes represent rations – more on those, later. For now, choose one of these three sentences and write it in your notebook:

  • I never wanted to be a soldier.
  • The wintertime has a certain beauty here.
  • I can’t believe I volunteered for this.

This is the beginning of your first journal entry. To complete this first journal entry, do the following:

– Take a moment to describe your character’s current state of mind – feel free to borrow from your own thoughts, or wholly create the mindset of your fictional soldier.

– Then, describe your post: the trench, the hole where you sleep, any aspect that leaps clearly into your mind’s eye.

– Be sure to include at least one strong point and at least one weak point in your description.

– Also, don’t neglect to mention how long you expect to be stationed here.

Once you have set the scene for yourself properly, proceed to Starting Play.

Starting Play

To begin playing Winter, take a moment to properly situate yourself. Sit quietly and watch your surroundings – remember, you are playing a soldier on the front lines. When the mood strikes you, begin describing an action, or speaking, or, well, anything. I often begin play by singing quietly to myself.

This is a very free-form exercise. You are evoking for yourself a moment of life in the trenches – trying to picture what it’s like standing guard duty day-in and day-out all by yourself, without another soul in sight. Let it go on for as long as interests you. When you stop feeling engaged by the moment, sit back, and proceed to Scenes.


A game of Winter consists of an interminable number of days in the trench before you are relieved. Each day is made up of one or more scenes – you decide how many. These scenes can be played out over the course of one session or many sessions – again, it is entirely your choice.

A scene is just a moment that has an impact on play, they can be as long or as short as is necessary to achieve the desired result.

Scenes can be any of four different types of scene: Camaraderie, Survival, Violence, and Volunteering. Each scene is described in detail below. Your first scene is a special, introductory scene, and it is always a Camaraderie scene.

Camaraderie scenes are moments in which you share a fleeting emotional warmth. This could be:

  • A game of cards with a fellow soldier
  • Sharing a meal with a stray dog
  • Singing a song with your comrades while shoring up the trench

Camaraderie helps to keep one hopeful and sane. Note that, while you can play a camaraderie scene by yourself, you’re probably talking to a dead body, or to yourself.

Camaraderie scenes can be followed by any other type of scene.

Survival scenes are the moments where you are pushed to the limits of your physical endurance. They might be:

  • starting a fire with no wood
  • enlarging a foxhole to stay out of the wind
  • finding food when your rations have run out

Survival scenes are more complicated than Camaraderie scenes. In Survival scenes, you are struggling against the forces of nature, there is great uncertainty. To signify this, before you describe the events of a Survival scene, roll your twelve-sided die. On a 1-5, your attempts to improve your conditions are a failure – you have no fire, your foxhole collapses, you find no food. Play out the desperation and despair of failure. On a 6-9, you have a gruesome choice to make. You can build a fire, but you have to strip a dead body for kindling. The only food you seem able to find are a few dead rats. You enlarge the foxhole, only to expose the bones of someone long dead – will you still sleep there? A 10 or above means you’ve found what you were looking for.

Rations are important to Survival scenes. At any point – including after you’ve rolled – you may opt to eat your rations instead. This counts as an automatic 10+ result.

Survival scenes can be followed by any other type of scene.

Volunteering is the most specific kind of scene. In a Volunteering scene, an officer comes down the line and asks for volunteers for a special mission. Missions might be:

  • acting as a stretcher-bearer for the hospital corps
  • sneaking out to cut razor wire for the spring offensive
  • raiding the enemy lines

You may volunteer, if you so desire. If you do so, you learn the nature of the mission. If you don’t, you don’t. Either way, the scene ends – either you leave with the officer, or you don’t.

Volunteering scenes are always followed by violence scenes. Let me say that again: Volunteering scenes are always followed by violence scenes. If you volunteered, the violence scene represents the mission. If you did not volunteer, it is either unrelated or a reprisal from the other side.

Violence scenes are exactly what they sound like – any scene that directly features violence. For example:

  • a raid on the enemy trenches
  • a raid on our trenches
  • a mortar shell, grenade, or other explosive going off nearby

For your purposes, Violence scenes come in two varieties: regular violence scenes, and missions. Missions are a special type of violence scene that plays out when you have volunteered in the previous scene (see Volunteering). Note that you do not need to be injured in a regular violence scene – it is merely being involved in or witnessing an act of violence, bloodshed, or horror. If you volunteered, play out an appropriate violence scene, but turn to Missions for additional results – note that this does not replace the regular Violence results.

Scene Diversity

you can choose to play through scenes in whatever order you like, with however many scenes-per-day you wish (to a minimum of one). Of course, in the interest of remaining whole in mind and body, one would be inclined to play only camaraderie missions and survival missions. Lest we forget, though: War is long periods of boredom punctuated with periods of sheer terror. With that in mind, one in every five scenes must be either a violence or a volunteering scene.


There’s an old saying in the military: Never Volunteer. You volunteered. Roll on the following table and consult the appropriate entry below:

1-2 Missing, Presumed Dead.

3-5 Killed in Action.

6-8 So Cold…

9 Badly Wounded

10-11 Lightly Wounded

12 Unscathed!

Missing, Presumed Dead.

There’s nothing left for you here. Turn to “Missing/Dead” under Finishing The Game.

Killed in Action.

There’s nothing left for you here. Turn to “Missing/Dead” under Finishing The Game.

So Cold…

There’s no hope for you. You’re hurt too badly to save, and you probably know it. Lose three health. You may continue to play the game for as long as you wish, but any time that you would turn to the “Relief” section of Finishing The Game, or when you decide you’re ready to stop, turn to “Missing/Dead” instead.

Badly Wounded

You’re the luckiest soldier alive. Lose Two health, and play no more scenes today. Turn to “The Hospital” under Finishing The Game.

Lightly Wounded

Lose one health. Proceed to the next scene as per usual.


Lose no health. Proceed to the next scene as per usual.


At the end of the day, when you’ve played out all of your scenes, it’s time to write your thoughts in your journal, and do a little math. Run through the scenes you played today:


If your Hope is at 0, every time you would normally lose Hope, instead lose one Health.

Did you play a Camaraderie scene? If yes, good for you, if not, lose one hope.

Did you play a violence scene? Lose one hope.

Did you play out a survival scene with a gruesome choice? Lose one hope.


If your Hope is at 0, every time you would normally lose Health, lose one additional Health.

Did you succeed at a survival scene? If yes, good for you, if not, lose one health.

Across the top of the page, write your current Health, Hope, and three little boxes. Check one box for each day’s worth of rations you’ve used. total. Now, keeping in mind your character’s present state (that is, their health and mental well-being), write the day and number, and begin to write your thoughts and recollections from the day’s events…

When you are done, don’t forget to roll for relief. To do that, roll your twelve-sided die: if the number on the die is less than the number of the current day of your rotation, a soldier arrives the next morning to relieve you. You’re free to go.

Finishing The Game

There are three ways for Winter to end. If a character’s health drops at any point to zero, the character dies – from cold, from his wounds, from starvation, or suicide. Characters may also die on Missions (see Missions for details). When this happens, turn to the Missing/Dead section, below.

Alternatively, a character can be relieved from his post – yes, amazingly, you are not expected to hold your post indefinitely! Details about relief can be found above, in Reflection. When this happens, turn to the Relief section, below.

Finally, in some very rare circumstances, a soldier can be removed from the front prior to the end of his rotation on account of wounds received during a Mission, and be sent to a recovery hospital. If this happens, turn to the The Hospital section, below.


When your character has died, the game is nearly over. Take a minute and write (or I prefer to type out and print) a short condolence letter from your former character’s commanding officer. The letter should be addressed to your character’s mother – or wife, if he has one. If your character composed any death letters to be sent home in the event of his dying, you might also include these here. Proceed to Closing Thoughts.


When your character is relieved, the game is nearly over. Take the time to write a closing journal entry. Then proceed to Closing Thoughts.

The Hospital

If you are lucky enough to have survived your wounds and been sent to the rehabilitation hospital, the game is nearly over. Take a moment to compose a cheerful and optimistic letter – either to a sweetheart, your mother, an old friend, or maybe even a comrade-in-arms– and inform them of your lucky injury. You might even mention how pretty the nurses are – if you’re not writing to your sweetheart, that is. Then proceed to Closing Thoughts.

Closing Thoughts

Well, you did it. You played Winter. And you got a journal and (possibly) some letters out of it. I recommend that you take a little while to reflect on the events of your game, and keep the journal and letters around to read another day. For now, go make yourself a strong cup of tea.

Infoporn: This draft is EXACTLY 1900 words long (at least according to Open Office).

Edited to include an omitted rule: scene diversity.

Well, lots of interesting ideas today. Maybe should really think about organizing this thing into some coherent whole.

First thought: So, I’ve realized that I’ve spent a lot of time talking about mood, and theme, and some in-game stuff, but I haven’t really talked mechanical details yet. So here’s how I see the game being played.

You get some friends (or you don’t, as the case may be), and gather in a place. Ideally, the place is isolated, greyscale, decrepit, cold, and poorly furnished, but that’s just for the spirit of things. You can really play anywhere.

The game is played by speaking aloud. Each player describes their characters thoughts, utterances, and actions as they see fit. Most of this isn’t terribly ground breaking.

There are probably some dice needed, but I’m hoping just one will suffice. Pencil and paper to keep track of things is probably a good idea. For single player games, I would encourage the player to keep a journal – ideally in their  characters voice – reflecting on the events and actions of each “day.” I might even encourage people in multiplayer games to do that, but we’ll see how it works out.

I recently picked up and played Ben Lehman’s Polaris and I liked the idea of ritualized phrases for getting into the fiction – even if it does feel hokey as hell. I think beginning the game with a key phrase – or one of a distinct set of key phrases – would suit Winter quite well.

The player who speaks the key phrase then determines the starting scene. I still haven’t figured out whether they determine the kind of scene (i.e., Camaraderie, Survival, etc), or whether they merely specify the details of the starting scene.

Whew fading fast. Gonna take a nap and come back to this later.

I’d like to keep characters simple to maximize pick-up-and-playability. Right now, I am thinking:

Two scores: Hope and Health.

… and then a list of things. These stats would probably be the same for every character – that is to say, everyone starts at 5, or 10, or something like that. The things would probably be substantially identical, except for a few key items.

Base starting items (preliminary):

fatigues, great coat, boots, rifle, entrenching tool, rations for 3 days.

I’d like for each character to have at least one item of personal significance: a picture of a sweetheart, a pocket bible, a deck of playing cards. Tentatively, I’m thinking of these items as a synecdoche – a material representation of the character’s worldview. The one with the picture of a sweetheart is a romantic, the bible fellow believes (or doesn’t), that guy with the cards thinks life is just up to random chance.

I’m not sure there’s much more to characters. They certainly don’t need names, unless the player feels moved to include one.

Thanks for reading! p.s. – I’m super sick, so sorry if I’m a little bit of a rambly dog…

Infoporn: Australia has more people involved in social media than the US.