The Root of All Our Troubles: A Technique for Starting Your Session and/or a Party Game

This came to me while I was waking up this morning and I’m not fully awake yet so I’m not sure if this is actually useful but I wanted to put it down somewhere before it slips away. I imagine this as a technique for starting a game in medias res or as a quick party game.

How To Do It
The GM/host describes the general situation. For an ongoing game this could be most determined by what’s going on in the campaign, like “After the events of the last session you have all gathered at Lady Tristana’s castle to rest up and investigate the artifact you found in the Mummy King’s tomb”, but for a one shot or party game it could be anything - “You’re on the bridge of the TOS era Starship Enterprise”, “You’re five college students in a car taking a road trip”, “You’re five strangers in a roadside diner in Ohio in 1953”, or “You are yourselves here and now but in a horror movie universe”.

The player on their left describes an immediate threat or problem confronting the characters, like “There’s a reactor breach”, “Someone’s standing in the middle of the road”, or “The lights go out”.

From then on, each player either adds a new problem or challenges the player before them to explain how these problems are all related. If a player is challenged and they come up with an explanation that is acceptable to all the others (or a majority for the party game version), that’s now true (they get a point and get to describe the next situation). If not, their problem is skipped and the challenge passes on to the player before them, and so on. If it goes around all the way to the GM, they challenge the player before them.

The explanation can be something that’s obvious to the characters - “We’re in the zombie apocalypse” - or not - “One of us is possessed by the ghost of a serial killer”.

For the party game version, if you care about the scoring being fair (not that I see why you would) only those who haven’t presented a problem get to vote on whether the explanation is acceptable.

Example of Play
Ana is running a Star Trek game for Bing, Cecil, Davida, Erm, and Foogle who have already made their characters.

Ana: You’re on the bridge. Bing, what’s going wrong?

Bing: We’ve lost contact with level 14.

Cecil: There’s an unknown vessel hailing us.

Davida: Ensign Redshirt’s console explodes!

Erm: An identical copy of the captain steps onto the bridge with her phaser drawn!

Foogle: Okay, I’ll challenge. How is this all connected?

Erm: Uhm… How about this: The unknown vessel is crewed by shapeshifters and they’re boarding us?

Ana: Then why are they hailing you?

Erm: To demand our surrender? Nah, they wouldn’t need to do that with one of them already on the bridge. Okay, no copy of the captain on the bridge. Davida?

Davida: Both we and the unknown vessel are being hit by a… meteor storm? Are those a thing?

Ana: They are now. Everyone good with that? Let’s go then!


Oh, that’s more or less my game you are describing except :
1- allowing eventless conflictless additions makes a more homogenous construct and in the end, deeper challenges.
2- the challenges are resolved during game : it’s a “generalized contest tree” pattern, the best challenges signaling climax.

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I figured someone would have made something similar! I’d love to hear more about your game.

This is primarily intended to kick off a session and less an actual game, basically the GM throwing to the players to come up with some stuff that’s going on and then picking up with whatever regular game you’re running from there.

Yes yes, you clearly described a Technique, and the implementation will depend on what game you plug it into. Thats why it won’t help much if I talk about my game specifically. But you sure need to decide what it costs to Propose, Challenge and Colour. As with all narrative techniques, you can make it more or less character facing. Less is easier : let’s discuss what will be going on. More is smoother, and requires more colour in the fuel mix : gather hints about what might be going on, and establish what is at stake for characters. I get my kick with these hints of where we could go. Narrative wrestling sort of.
BTW, I like to pick characters after the situation to dive straight into the core.
Maybe I will see more relevant concepts along the way.

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Picking characters after setting up the situation is certainly interesting, and might work very well for some games with quick and easy character generation.

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