Wednesday, 17 August 2016


This is a short freeform ideally suited for 3 or 4 players in a comfortable location: some prep is required, but this can also serve as an excuse to bust out the art & craft skills of your group. If you use this as a lunchtime or teatime game, you can add culinary skills to the mix too.

Meet & Greet

Before you can play, you need to agree upon a situation the game will explore: something simple and domestic works best, but you can add genre elements to this in order to spice things up.
  • Meeting the significant other's parents... and you're all vampires.
  • A neighbourhood watch meeting... in a post-apocalyptic world.
  • Tea after the weekly church service... for the Cult of Dagon.
  • A baby shower... for the mother of The Foretold One.
  • A monthly book group meeting... for superheroes and their sidekicks.
Additional genre elements don't change any of the rules that follow and you get no additional mechanical benefit or penalty from them, no matter how much you think you should, e.g. if you are
playing a telepath, you get to add that as colour to your narration but you can't actually use that ability as leverage against the other players to find out what their characters are thinking.

 Try to pick a situation that accords with your play setting, not something that jars with it strongly: convincing yourself that you are sitting on the bridge of a starship is a lot harder with a coffee table, bookcase and chintzy wall-paper looking back at you. If you're playing in your front room, then set your game in a location that resembles that as far as possible.

As part of selecting the situation, everyone must also select the characters they will play, e.g. if going through the classic 'meet the parents' set-up, then you need a parent or two, their child and their child's new partner. It's almost inevitable here that characters will diverge from players and some of you will end up playing a role that is much younger or older than your own, or that is at the very least dressed differently from you... but if you can go the whole hog, prepare the game in advance and get into costume, go for it!

The last bit of prep requires some printing or drawing, as well as cutting and sticking: try doing this as a group activity too! What you want is a series of cartoon mouths each depicting a different emotional state, including at least one of  each to represent happy, sad, angry and shocked, but add more to taste. Glue each of these onto a lolly stick or use Blu-Tack to affix them to a ruler or the handle of a paint brush, then place them so that everyone can reach them easily. You will also need some small paper hearts, also with Blu-Tack on them: give two of these to each player at the start of the game and place the rest with the mouth-pieces.

Speak for Yourself

You play Mouthpiece as a series of dialogues, with two characters taking centre stage while they discuss a topic, but you don't always get to speak for your own character: each of you takes a turn to be the Interlocutor, who frames a dialogue that they want any two characters to have, including their own. You can pick a topic and suggest it, or you can just say which two characters you want to hear from and leave it to them what topic they discuss.

Every player always gets to portray what their own character is doing, acting this out if possible, but narrating their actions otherwise; this is the case whether your character is part of a dialogue at the time or not, so even when you have not been selected to speak, you may still act your role, you just can't contribute to the conversation.

When you are the Interlocutor, you speak for all the characters taking part in it, whether your own or someone else's: the only time you can speak for your character is when you are speaking in your own framed dialogue. When you are in a dialogue framed by another player, they always speak for your character.

When the Interlocutor frames a dialogue for your character, you can discuss their motivation openly before the dialogue begins, as well as establishing any history between the two characters concerned. Before the dialogue can begin, you must decide whether to wear your heart on your sleeve or to hide your heart away (unless you are the Interlocutor, in which case you just speak freely for your character without these rules):
  • Wear your heart on your sleeve: take one of your paper hearts and stick it to your sleeve; the Interlocutor then chooses a mouth-piece for you, which you must hold up so that it covers your own mouth.
  • Hide your heart away: keep whatever hearts you have hidden; choose any mouth-piece you would like and hold it up so that it covers your own mouth.
The Interlocutor speaks for your character during the dialogue, having both sides of the conversation, but they stay faithful to your choice for your character: if you wear your heart on your sleeve, then what they say is how your character truly feels, but if you hide your heart away, then your half of the dialogue must be a lie or pretence that hides your true feelings. The Interlocutor must also stay true to the emotion depicted by your mouth-piece throughout the dialogue, e.g. if you choose a smile, then the speech the Interlocutor provides for you must be happy, not sad, angry, etc.

A Change of Heart

During a dialogue, you may change your mouth-piece once in order to change the speech provided for your character by the Interlocutor, but you may only do so by changing your heart.
  • If you are hiding your heart away, you need to wear your heart on your sleeve in order to change your mouth-piece.
  • If you are wearing your heart on your sleeve, you need to tear your heart in two in order to change your mouth-piece.
Once you have changed your mouth-piece, the Interlocutor must change the speech they provide for your character accordingly, matching the mood the new mouth-piece represents; once you are wearing your heart on your sleeve, your speech must become an honest representation of your character's feelings, not a pretence.

When you tear your heart in two, do it: take the paper heart from your sleeve and tear it into two pieces. You now have one heart less to play with, but you are granted some freedom in return: whenever you tear your heart in two, you may drop your mouth-piece for a moment and speak one line for your own character, saying whatever you like. In this way, you may change the dialogue radically, disagreeing with whatever the Interlocutor has spoken on behalf of your character, breaking any promise you have just made, denying or altering your prior statements, etc.

If you reach the end of any dialogue with your heart on your sleeve, you get to take another heart from the supply; if you tear your heart in two, you lose it for good. If you have no hearts left, then all you can do during dialogues is hide your heart away, except for when you are the Interlocutor and may speak freely for your own character if you choose.

The game ends when everyone has had one, two, or three turns as the Interlocutor and everyone has been in a dialogue at least once or twice, depending on the time you allocate for the game: count up the hearts you each have and compare them. Anyone with no hearts left must break off their relationships with all the other characters and leave that social circle for good; whoever has the most hearts at the end gets to dictate the future for all the other characters who have any hearts left, though they may each tear their heart in two to disagree with or change any statement made about their character in the summary.

Thanks to Nina Conti for the inspiration, and to Lloyd, Elina and Nick for permission to use their images.

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