Surrealism is destructive, but it destroys only what it considers to be shackles limiting our vision.
– Salvador Dali
Nimrod mentioned a review of Itras by, a Norwegian roleplay game whose description alone is enough to fall madly in love with. The setting is a 1920′s sort of city with automobiles, industry and bowler hats, but with heavy surrealistic influences…
Beneath the veneer of normalcy there is a dark side; cannibals prey on the poor (and sometimes the rich as well), giant spiders head important government offices, and the deep catacombs beneath the streets house wonders and terrors most wish to ignore.
While pretty much anything can happen in Itras by, the surreal, dream-like nature of the city means that these things blend with normalcy. There are prides of backyard-lions (once escaped from Itra Zoo) living in the city, chain-clouds on the horizon, talking apes (some of which holds prominent positions), and a street that only exists on Fridays.
Those of us living in Fallen Londen may find the idea especially appealing.
The character making procedure features no-stats, but focuses on story points. It reminds me of Over The Edge character creation. Nice, but not especially novel. The conflict resolution system (pdf)), however, is quite interesting.
There are eight resolution-cards, ranging from Yes, and… through Yes, but only if… to No, and… The neat thing here is that if you decide to draw a card, another player, or the GM – your choice – draws the card, and decides what happens based on the draw.
An example of a succes:
Yes, but only if… You can get what you want – but only if you choose to make a certain sacrifice. Describe how the character realizes that a sacrifice is necessary to achieve his aims.
An example of a failure:
You need help. You end up understanding you need the help of someone not currently in the scene to achieve this. Describe how the character’s attempt is botched, and suggest his realization that he needs help, maybe even whose help is needed.
Pretty cool, right? Instead of just flat results, skill and other conflict checks become just another opportunity to expand the story. A fail may mean you experience a complication in your story, a success may open up new story venues for you. It’s similar to the fudge dice system we’d like to use (successes, neutrals, failures), but with a little more push to dive into the story side of things.
Having another player describe how this resolution plays out is also interesting. I really love the idea of coöperative DMing or storytelling but would it work well in practice?
Also, there’s chance cards (pdf) to spice the game up every once in a while, add inspiration or a surrealist vibe, though it’s not explained how and when you play them. Cards might say
Flashback. Play a scene that has occurred in the past where your character is right now. The player who pulls the card sets the scene and distributes NPCs for the other players to control.
Stare not into darkness Your character feels an irresistible urge to do something he will regret. Do it!
Slow motion. This scene is played in slow motion. All players must speak calmly, using slow, tempered movements. Since it’s slow-mo, you’ll notice a lot of details which would otherwise pass unseen. Any player may at any time interrupt the scene to describe a seemingly inconsequential detail. Afterwards, every player around the table must add another detail before the scene may continue.
And so on. The more I read of it, the more interesting it sounds. Unfortunately, the actual book is only translated into other Scandanavian languages we are unable to comprehend. So, a few years of waiting is in order until some brave bilingual soul out there decides he needs an obscure translation project in order to find life fulfillment. Come on, brave soul!