Conspire is our next Cherry Picked game. While waiting for Drink! to cross the ocean, we started work on a hidden-role storytelling game. Drink! arrives at our doorstep tomorrow, so it feels like a good time to share Conspire’s design and future.
Conspire is a hybrid of the hidden-role and storytelling genres. Hidden-role games revolve around the identity and intentions of the players remaining anonymous. Werewolf, Mafia, and The Resistance are some examples. Storytelling games are variants of role-playing games (the degree of distinction depends on your elitism). They typically have fewer rules and mechanics than their heavier cousins. Microscope and Fall of Magic would be examples of these (though games like Pathfinder and Catalyst also tell stories and are couched in narrative delivery and exploration). Basically, Conspire is a game where you are discussing a problem with people, but you do not know who everyone else is or what they want.
Here’s the executive summary for Conspire’s structure and rules. Players start by creating a scene; a moment in time and space rife with conflict and mystery. Every player adds a role to the scene they think belongs there. These roles are templates for players to flesh out in-character later. Then, a different player gives a role three goals to achieve during the forthcoming discussion. These goals are intended to oppose and compliment different roles, creating a tangled web of alliances and opposition. All the roles are shuffled once more and players enter the scene proper.
Through persuasion and negotiation, players try to achieve as many of their goals as possible before the scene ends. They have one other tool in the form of “influence”. Each player gets three influence tokens to spend. Doing so makes something about the world become true. Such declarations can violate real-world physics, commonsense, or rational logic. The only restrictions are influence cannot remove agency from a player or contradict a previously established influence declaration or tenet of the scene. This all creates an absurd, hilarious, and positive storytelling environment.
Once the scene’s conflict is resolved and players are evaluated on their goals, the group edits everything. They tweak goals and swap out roles. The scene is reset and play begins anew, with different people playing different roles with different objectives. This iteration makes the game unique to your group and highlights whatever elements you find entertaining.
The whole experience takes, at most, a couple hours. Conspire supports four to twelve players and leaves them laughing and reminiscing for days.
We are presenting Conspire as a book, the traditional storytelling-game format. This guide contains the rules of play, numerous examples, and even premade scenes to ease new groups into the genre. Jake Breish is illustrating the book, ensuring it is as pleasing visually as it is intellectually.
We are launching a Kickstarter in a few months to fund the initial print run. We are currently pricing everything and looking into additional rewards for our backers. We expect to launch the campaign in the fall and deliver in 2017.
Playtesting is an integral part of Cherry Picked culture. We have been running Conspire games since April and will continue to do so until launch. We need more testers of all experience levels, personality types, and backgrounds. Contact us for playtest kits.
To wrap things up, our creative director wants to share his thoughts going into the project.
I’ve had the premise of a hidden-role RPG in my head for a while. The catalyst for making Conspire our next game was Emerald City Comic Con. We ran games of Catalyst through Games on Demand with some other indie RPGs and storytelling games. We had done this before at PAX, but the GoD community at ECCC was much less inclusive. They had a very narrow idea of what constituted a “good” game and spent a lot of energy disparaging D&D, Pathfinder, and anything resembling a tradition RPG. This included Catalyst (and, paradoxically, Monsterhearts and other games they were running…) I took pride in having my Catalyst group laugh harder than anyone at their tables and I know my players had great experiences because of the game. However, I still thought a lot about their criticisms of GM-driven RPGs.
The basic argument is that rules restrict players and limit accessibility. I fundamentally disagree with that, instead believing structure helps players learn and inspires creativity. Indeed, I’ve seen far too many “player-centric” games dominated by big personalities or experienced story gamers due to the lack of a safety net for meeker players. Such games have manuals that seem enamored with giving players the ability to create; as if that is the stumbling point for players in other games. Creativity is inherent in people and not the part a game needs to explain.
In performing improv comedy, I’ve seen numerous audience volunteers come on stage and be creative. They go along with the scene and have no problem assuming an identity. They play the game. Their challenges are following the unwritten rules of improv: “yes-anding” others, finding the odd things in a scene for comedic effect, and leaning into the rules of a game to trigger audience reactions. Conspire is designed to help players with these parts of storytelling.
Conspire is “rules-light”. Very few mechanics define play. The players are the ones to put boundaries on the scene and give explicit goals to each other. They make the rules to follow. In limiting the scene, it creates a clear world everyone understands and can exploit. The game tells you how to have fun, instead of letting you have a bad time and blaming it on your lack of creativity.
If you dislike storytelling games because of their ambiguously defined objectives or floaty, pretentious nature, you will love Conspire. If you do not like role-playing games because of numbers and math, you will love Conspire. If you do not like Werewolf because it becomes a rote logic puzzle, you will love Conspire. We want to take those awesome moments of deduction, wit, bluffing from Werewolf and put them in a scenario you and your friends care about. You are creating a personalized hidden-role game every round that taps into deep emotional and social instincts.
Come play Conspire. Help us refine it into the best storytelling game out there.