The Trouble with Rose is a GMless, prepless, indie roleplaying game by Todd Zircher. It is in the style of a parlour game and falls in a similar category as Fiasco and Durance as games which divide the control of the narratives between all the players.
I first found it via the Story Games Forum and found the idea and Shakesperian flavour very hard to resist. As I said, it is a similar style game to Fiasco but without the explicit car crash atmosphere, and so is better suited to my tastes.
The premise is short and sweet. There is a person called Rose, they are in trouble. You are playing their friends and family and your job is to build up a story about Rose; why s/he/it is in trouble and what happens next. The simplicity of the scenario means it is easily adaptable to different genres and styles (there are a large number of playsets supporting the basic system). Rose could be a Fairy Princess, an AI deep in the Net, a schoolgirl, a pirate ship or as Todd suggests, Plutonium Rose, a rock star on the run from his groupies and the Mob.
The system is fairly simple, once a scenario has been agreed the players choose a character each, writing down six character attributes, 2 of which are in some way negative. Some of our attributes were “own’s most of MadeUpShire” and the servant girl’s “total belief in the class system” but you might want to go for something simpler like “crack shot” or “very agile”. You then randomly choose 5 dominoes. Each domino has 2 sides with 2 numbers on it (blank – 6), you take it in turns to direct a scene with your character in and choose a domino to represent the character attributes you will be displaying in the scene. Blanks are wildcards and automatic failures, a double blank is played in the last round and always means that character will be removed completely from the action e.g. death. You go round the table directing scenes 5 times. Lastly everyone draws a playing card which represents your character’s hidden agenda.
Things that worked well
The dominoes provided a good amount of story scaffolding and we made good use of a reflection period after each directed scene to tie up loose ends, discuss where the story was going and evaluate our progress. Because of this there weren’t too many awkward moments where people go dry and the flow of the narrative fails.
Things that worked less well
We all felt a little pressured to bring in large amounts of other characters and NPCs into each scene. This was to ensure we were giving each other enough to do. However this meant we occasionally tied the plot in knots and strained the story. In future I would make more use of cut scenes, short flashbacks and internal monologues to flesh out characters and individual relationships, rather than making sure each person is talking in each scene.
Things we did differently
In the original game there is a means to judge each other’s role-playing prowess and award points on how well you brought your character attributes into the scene. The person with the most points got to narrate the Epilogue. We agreed at the start that we didn’t feel this added anything to the game and that there were better ways to encourage and reward the same behaviour. We ditched this aspect and I felt that was the right decision.
Secondly, whilst the game was GMless I feel (in all these types of game) that someone must take mental responsibility for managing the game and making sure things happen. I made sure we had dominoes and copies of the system. I guided everyone through character generation and actively facilitated the session, providing suggesting and prompts and encouraging others to do the same. I’ll write more on managing GMless games later though – that is a whole topic on its own.
You may be wondering who our Rose was…she was the Scarlet Primrose, rakish hero to the French Aristocracy having rescued many of them from the Guillotine in the years after the French Revolution. Half our characters were her family who believed her to be a ditzy dilletante, the other half were from her network of undercover contacts – much amusement and drama ensued when her two worlds collided.
I really enjoyed this game, it was great fun and we created a story which was engaging and interesting. I still love the idea of entirely prepless games and GMless games and I think the Trouble with Rose is more the style of GMless game I want to play. Best of all it has inspired me to write my own version of a GMless game. So a big thank you and thumbs up to Todd Z.
Oh, I didn’t mention the best bit…it is free…go here to get your copy.