You are teenage students in a hostile town. In one tragic summer, each of you will lose your lives. But your story will be told. It won’t be forgotten. You are not: white, male, straight, cisgendered, or considered normal. This is why you die, and in many cases, helps explain why life was hard. After picking one or more of those traits, flesh out your characters. Games of blackjack decide the result of encounters. If you beat the Dealer, you win the encounter, but revenge will follow. If you bust or fail to beat the Dealer, you lose. A character must play blackjack at least once a month. The game starts in June. School’s out. Trouble is afoot. The Dealer must play blackjack with everyone at once. July. Revenge approaches. The Dealer only plays blackjack against pairs or trios. August. Death follows. The Dealer plays blackjack with only one character at a time. September. The story ends for everyone. Contemplate every encounter. Tell the stories of how you died, either by homicide or suicide. After you do so, speculate on how the world changes for the better, even if you don’t get to see it. Take a deep breath.
I recently wrote a metaphor for an article on Medium. In it, I compared the guilt of surviving cancer to walking away from Death’s poker table. Just before the challenge, I also read “Atlanta Burns,” a novel by Chuck Wendig, and the scene where a teen is found dead from an apparent suicide struck me so profoundly that I couldn’t help myself. These two events took place directly before the 200 Word RPG Challenge and are what birthed “The Last Summer.”
After some experimenting, I settled on blackjack as a resolution mechanic. In its most simple form, it possesses independent win/lose scenarios for characters around the table, and to me, it represents our ongoing tangles and the risks we take with life and death. It’s popularity and easily accessible rules on how to play it were an added bonus.
The final four words are my personal reminder that after running such an intense game, debriefing should be encouraged so that players are well cared for.
Special thanks to Jacqueline Bryk for spreading the word about this challenge.
This RPG is dedicated to my sister, Rose.