One of you is the Authority. Others are Soldiers. Soldiers announce, proudly, their loyalty to the Authority and why they're fighting. The Authority will establish scenes, one after another, until one Soldier remains. In scenes, the Authority plays all powerful figures. Players whose Soldiers are in the scene roleplay themselves. Players whose Soldiers are elsewhere or dead can whisper as whatever they feel fits: nature, the environment, faceless soldiers, enemies. There will be a conflict, and the Authority will make it about two Soldiers. Both those Soldiers simultaneously write poems. These poems are four lines, in ABCB rhyme scheme. (Break these rules to taste, rarely and purposefully.) Non-poets may whisper, but only to each other. The Authority will read both poems aloud, selecting one "victor" (usually but not necessarily the best poet). The losing Soldier dies; the Authority declares how. The winning poem will be put in a safe place. The Authority chooses one word from the losing poem to be carefully cut out and preserved-- an epitaph. The rest of the losing poem is destroyed-- war kills poems. Rip it, cut it, sing it no requiems. If you have fire, turn it into ashes.
War kills poems.
I’d like to thank my immediate influences: Kimberly Lam’s Poet Glorious (for haikus used for adjudication), Paranoia (for how unfairness can be fun or meaningful), and Vincent Baker’s Apocalypse World (for its re-analysis of the social contract between players and the GM role). I’d also like to thank the University High School Tabletop and Writing Clubs for their playtesting and feedback.
The game can handle more than you might expect, from Catch-22-style antics to Dunkirky horror. You might want to set expectations beforehand, though, and definitely play with an X-Card.