Once upon a time, I took a course in playwriting. I got a lot out of that course, but one thing in particular that stuck with me was the exhortation to stick with two characters, the two that the play is about. Add other characters only as they are necessary.

Obviously, this is more a thing about plays than any other medium; you don’t want a cast of thousands on your stage, because actors are troublesome and take up space and demand payment. But it does apply to a degree to any story.

Many of the best stories in Western culture are, at their core, about two people, and the effect one has on the other. Other characters come in and out, complicating the situation or allowing the writer to externalize some of the protagonist’s internal processes or otherwise serving the story of the two main characters.

And then there are the stories that aren’t like this: ensemble pieces, like many TV shows. There’s something really compelling, in a serial drama, about rotating the main characters and giving everyone some time to start off this way, get their peripeteia, and come out changed.

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It’s been a remarkable couple of months of silence from me; considering how my default mode is wild speculation and baseless assumption, this is pretty atypical. Such is the way of a day job. Especially so, the day job that features “crunch-mode” prominently. Fortunately, Kit has been writing frequently. I’m continually reminded how awesome it is to collaborate with friends.

After an extended period of quiet my mind has been rebelling, driving spikes of ideas through every waking moment. Which is why I find JB Mannon’s Games Galore challenge compelling. It feels a lot like NaNoWriMo or Thing-A-Day; both of those are creative endeavors I participate in. After floating the idea with Kit and Austin and talking about what we wanted to do, we hauled off and created a game for January.

It’s called Alibi. Players are criminals just back from a heist that went terribly wrong and who are trying to place the blame on anyone else. We’ve only played it a few times, but I laughed more in one evening than the rest of the last two months combined. Play rotates around the group, with the active player asking questions like “Why weren’t the guards taken care of” or “Who called the cops?” while everyone else tries to explain why it wasn’t their fault. As everyone’s credibility runs thin, people’s true motivations are revealed.

Full rules are available here. Give it a try and let us know what you think.

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We’ve all made dolls: characters who are perfect just the way they are, and who we want to carefully protect from the dangers of a game. There can be many reasons for this—I know that when I play Shadowrun, the character creation minigame is time-consuming enough that I feel invested in the character as they are, and don’t want to “lose my investment”, as it were.

Fundamentally, I want to make a game that rejects dolls. Helps people smash them.[1] I’m interested in that sort of play, because I think that, for me, an important part of stories is that the characters change, particularly in response to the choices they must make and the consequences they must face.

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  1. Again, from the Book of Vincent: “what you want are outcomes that upset every single person at the table,” and “there are 4 serious problems holding tabletop roleplaying back: … oppressive social footprint.” []
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