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Don't Tust HUMAN • 2018 rpg

Aaron Anderson •

You are ALIEN. Find another who is HUMAN. Bring a writing surface and implement, deck of cards, and 7 trinkets each.

Shuffle the deck. HUMAN draws a card and hides it. Do not trust them! They are duplicitous. If their card is a face card they desire WAR! Otherwise they desire PEACE! You win if you achieve PEACE! HUMAN wins if it achieves its desire.

Do not speak to HUMAN. They cannot speak back. HUMAN's mouth parts are too different. Its noises are strange. Arrange your trinkets in front of you. HUMAN does the same. Record a TRADE, trinket for trinket. Do not let HUMAN see. Play in rounds.

Each Round

1) Is HUMAN a filthy sneak? You may take your trinkets and leave. No one wins.

2) Through gestures, explain to HUMAN your TRADE. No pointing! No spelling! No numbers! You are noble. You will not cheat.

3) HUMAN presents a trinket and points at one of yours. Is this your TRADE?

Yes? TRADE is successful. You have achieved PEACE!

No? Flip a card off the top of the deck. If revealed cards would bust in Blackjack HUMAN has tricked you! They take all your trinkets. This means WAR!

Author Comments

It feels a little strange to include explicit win states for the players as it makes the game feel more like a board game than an RPG. But it was ultimately necessary to create the experience I was looking for. The idea was to simulate a first-contact scenario, with all the uncertainty that comes with it. I wanted to make communication difficult, introduce suspicion and lack of trust, and make it possible for everything to fall apart despite the best of intentions.

After a number of iterations, a Charades type mechanic was the most efficient way to complicated communication; although it required introducing asymmetry to the interaction and means the roleplaying needs to be entirely non-verbal. Blackjack proved to be a good mechanism for determining when negotiations break down because it introduces uncertainty into the countdown. But I just couldn’t find a way to introduce suspicion without giving each player an explicit goal and a reason to pursue it. It still feels more like roleplay to me, but I can see how others may feel differently.

If you play this game and find PEACE too easy to achieve, the difficulty is easily adjusted by increasing the number of trinkets or replacing the trinkets you’re using with others so that each player has trinkets that are difficult to differentiate through gestures. You can also replace the trinkets with words written on pieces of paper so that you can use concepts as well as physical objects. The idea of trading concepts is something I wanted to include in the original entry, but in the end it was a victim of the word count.

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