Wednesday, 28 September 2016

The Elephant in the Room

This is a short game originating from a throwaway comment about killer whales and Agatha Christie mysteries... yes, the mind is a mysterious thing indeed.


The Room

Image result for victorian parlourYou'll need 4 or more players for this game: the more of you there are, the longer the game will take though, so 6 is probably the optimum number, but as many as 8 could work. If there are more of you, split into two groups to keep things manageable.

As with many other short games on this blog, the first thing you need is a situation, but pick something unusual rather than mundane, such as:

  • A board meeting for a company in dire straits.
  • A parlour where the detective has gathered all the suspects in a murder.
  • A team changing room at half-time.
  • A family therapy session.
  • A dorm in a prisoner-of-war camp.
  • A political leader's office at a time of crisis.
It's best to pitch one of these examples when you suggest playing this game, along with suggested characters that the players might want to portray, e.g. in the last example, you would want a President or Prime Minister, Head of the Armed Forces, Chief Treasurer, a spin doctor, leader's spouse, etc. Get everyone to choose roles and make themselves comfortable.

The Elephant

Image result for elephantThere's one catch to the above situation, an absurdist element that simply wouldn't happen in real life and which the characters in the Room are mostly ignoring: we'll call this the Elephant. After choosing the situation and the characters who are present, introduce the Elephant, which could be one of the following or something of your own devising:
  • The Room is flooded and the water level is rising.
  • There is another character in the Room, who is actually an elephant (or other creature, monster, etc)
  • The Room has terrible, cheap movie continuity and details about it keep changing.
  • The apocalypse is taking place in some form just outside the Room.
  • There's a dead body lying across a table in the centre of the Room.
  • Everyone in the room is wearing a fancy Easter bonnet.
For example, it is the parlour of an English country house and all the suspects are gathered to hear the great detective unravel a most perplexing murder; various suspects are seated or standing in the room, including one who is really a killer whale in a suit, with a false mustache.

The Conversation

To begin playing, deal out two rows of cards onto the table: one row should be face up and the other face down, with the number of cards in each row the same as the number of players, e.g. if you have 5 players, then there should be a row of 5 face up cards and a row of 5 face down cards, for 10 cards in total.

There is no set turn order to the game and anyone can take a turn at any time, but each turn must take one of these three distinct forms:
  • Dialogue: say something in character, addressing it to another character or the entire room, but do not mention the Elephant. When you use Dialogue, turn a face down card over, so that it is face up.
  • Action: describe what is happening in the room, whether as an aspect of the environment or what an NPC is doing, but you must include the Elephant. When you use Action, turn a face up card over, so that it is face down.
  • Panic: say something in character and/or take direct action in character, but you must include the Elephant. When you use Panic, remove a face up card from the table and return it to the pack.
Continuing the above example, we might see a series of turns as follows:
Image result for hercule poirot mitchell webbGreat Detective: "In actual fact, Madame Crozier was really... Monsiuer Crozier!" (Turns a face down card over)
Brash Suitor: "Great Scott! That explains these adoption papers!" (Turns a face down card over)
Ambitious Priest: The killer whale also acts surprised and knocks over the tea things while flapping its tail. (Turns a face up card over)
Brash Suitor: I turn to the killer whale and say "Steady on old chap, you splashed cream on my best trousers!" (Removes a face up card from the table)

The Finale

Continue as above until, after any turn, all the cards on the table are either face up or face down: the game ends the instant this happens and no further turns may be taken. The situation is then resolved according to the final state of the cards on the table:
  • All Face Up: the characters resolve the situation in their collective best interests, or at that very least survive it, but the Elephant may not be mentioned in the conclusion.
  • All Face Down: the Elephant is the biggest influence on the situation in the end, overturning or destroying the situation in the process.
Agree on an appropriate ending under those constraints and narrate it as a group to end the game.

In the finale of the previous example, the two possible outcomes might be:
  • All cards face up: the Great Detective unmasks the murderer, who is arrested, while the other characters express their astonishment.
  • All cards face down: the killer whale attacks the Great Detective before they can reveal the murderer's identity, then swims out to sea to be rid of its human disguise.
 I could say much more about the mechanics of the game, but then I'd have to remove a face up card from the table and return it to the deck.