What to Say When Someone Asks You What Gaming is All About

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

I can show you, if you want. It will take about 5 minutes. Okay? Okay, so, imagine you're a homicide cop. A Detective like on Law & Order.

You're interviewing a suspect. He's a mechanic. You're at a garage where they fix old cars. It's after hours now so it's quiet but it still smells like grease and gasoline. You're there with your partner.

This guy—this mechanic, his name is Arnie Johnson—he matches the description of the suspect given by an eye-witness. Six foot four, heavy set, dark cropped hair and beard, tattoos. He's the brother-in-law of the victim.

Arnie says, "Is this about Sarah? I don't know anything about that." He's sweating and his eyes are all over the place. What do you say to him?

That should do it. Just play Arnie and react to their questions. If they wonder about the crime (what happened to the victim?) tell them the facts (she was murdered in her home. stabbed with a knife from her kitchen. no forced entry.) and get back to the interview.

Here's the thing: Arnie's wife—the victim's sister—did the actual murder. A crime of passion when she found out that Arnie and Sarah slept together. Arnie was there during the murder. He was seen leaving the house (but his wife wasn't).

Arnie feels guilty and desperate. He might crack or he might clam up or he might lie and say he did it to cover for his wife. Just play him in the moment and react to the cop's questions.

If he lies, tell them it looks like he's lying. Don't make it a big mystery to solve. This is about what the cop will do and say to get at the truth.

When it happens that the cop presses Arnie and he doesn't want to answer ("That's a lie and you know it! Who was there with you?") then say this:

We're at an impasse! You want Arnie to talk and he wants to lie and get away with it and be left alone. Who gets what they want? This is where the game part comes in. Our rule is: You can force Arnie to answer you three times. (Hold up 3 fingers). Just say how you force him to answer, and he'll have to tell you the truth. The catch is, each time you force him you have to do more to get him to answer.

Be pretty strict about your promise of 5 minutes. Once you hit the time limit, say, "So it's been five minutes... I think that basically shows the idea." If they're all desperate to find out the truth from Arnie still, then good! It's gone well. Go ahead and keep playing if it seems appropriate, or maybe take that opportunity to invite them to a game night.

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Blogger Brand Robins says:  

Dear John,

You are full of awesome.


The Internet

Anonymous Simon C says:  

This is cool.

I've been having the weird experience recently of telling people about roleplaying and having them respond with interest and enthusiasm, rather than uncomfortable looks and confusion.

I think maybe I've learnt to talk about it without sounding like a cult member or a weirdo. I usually say something like "It's like sitting around with your friends, making up a story, but there are rules which mean that everyone only has to contribute a little bit at a time. The rules also make sure that things happen in the story that no one is happy about - that way it doesn't get boring."

Blogger Joe McDonald says:  

Why... why doesn't our actual play look more like this?

Blogger Mattia Bulgarelli (K. Duval) says:  

I request permission to translate this in Italian and to distribute the resulting file (of course, credited and with link to this original).

Less formally: John, I think this is awesome. Can I distribute it in Italian?

- Mattia Bulgarelli

Blogger John Harper says:  

Sure, Mattia. Please do! I'd be honored.

Blogger Mattia Bulgarelli (K. Duval) says:  

Working' on it.

Blogger Mattia Bulgarelli (K. Duval) says:  

Aaaand... DONE! ^__^

Here it is:

Let me know what you think of this.

Blogger John Harper says:  


You got art for it?! That is amazing.

You just made my day, Mattia.

Blogger Mattia Bulgarelli (K. Duval) says:  

You're welcome. ^___^

If you want to use that art, you can ask Michela on her blog (link in the file), or just mail me: korinduval[at]yahoo[dot]it

You may also want to check our illustrated version of Kazekami Kyoko (by Jonathan Walton):

Do you have any suggestion about short articles or mini-games I could translate (and illustrate)?

Blogger John Harper says:  

Lady Blackbird is CC licensed, so it's available for translation, new art, etc.

Jason Morningstar has some short-form stuff, too. I'm blanking on the names now, though.

Blogger Mattia Bulgarelli (K. Duval) says:  

Thanks for yor suggestions. ^__^

I'll check if anyone else has done these in Italian... I think someone is working on them, but I'm not sure.

Blogger Staszek Krawczyk says:  

One question: what do you do as GM when the player says "What really happened there?" or "Tell me who did it!", and then forces Arnie to answer? Will this not end the scene prematurely?

Blogger John Harper says:  

That's no problem. You won't get to explaining the "force" rule until things come to a crisis, and then if the cop gets a straight answer at that point, good! You want the cop to get answers; that's the whole point. The key is the answer to the question "what do you do to force him to talk?"

Like I said, it's not a mystery to solve. It's a scene to play.

Blogger Staszek Krawczyk says:  

Sounds right, thanks (both for the explanation and for the post itself). :-)

Blogger engin yagmurdereli says:  

as mattia above, i request permission to translate this in turkish and to post it on my and a more visited RPG releated forum, with of course due credit and link to original.

Less formally: John, I think this is awesome. can turkish gamers have some if this awesomeness too? : )

- Engin Yağmurdereli

Blogger John Harper says:  

Sure, Engin! Go ahead.

And thanks!

Blogger engin yagmurdereli says:  

thank you : )

Blogger czipeter says:  

I just made a Hungarian version of this smart thing. I think this is rather my duty than an opportunity, but I don't want to be inpolite: May I make my translation public on my country's main rpg site?

Blogger John Harper says:  

Yes, Péter, please do!


Anonymous Anonymous says:  


I just made a German version. It is available over here: http://wp.me/pUT3d-nO


Blogger James says:  

I need this printed up on a business card so I can carry it around in my wallet.

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