STICK FIGURE FANTASY
A story-telling game for creating fantasy adventure parodies akin to Order of the Stick, Kingdom of Loathing, Xiao Xiao, etc.
Each player must have a drawing implement and a pad of paper. Crayons or colored pencils may be helpful as well. The game master (GM) should have either an adventure module from a role-playing game—preferably a very bad, very cliché adventure module—or else some experience with improvising amusing challenges for heroes to overcome.
If you are a player, carefully draw a large stick figure of your character. Embellish your drawing with three to five distinguishing traits. The distinguishing traits will determine your character's strengths in four areas: fighting, magic, power, and luck. Having several traits in the same area indicates greater potential in that area. Spreading your traits across all four areas makes you just OK all around.
Traits that make your character better at fighting
- A weapon
- A really big weapon
- An off-hand weapon
- A shield
- Bicep bumps
- Spiky hair
Traits that make your character better at magic
- A wand
- A spellbook
- A crystal ball
- A crooked staff
- Outline of a glow around a body part
- A small animal familiar
Traits that make your character more powerful
- Angry look
- Fancy headgear
- A cloak
- Mustache or other facial hair
- Pointy ears or non-human appearance
- Little or no hair on top
- A symbol on a necklace or on a shield
- Anything ugly, mean, or cool
Traits that make your character luckier
- A smile
- Nice hair
- Charmingly inexperienced drawing style
- Wearing a dress or a robe
- Googly eyes
- Anything cute, silly, or bizarre
Caption your character drawing with a name. If your character is better at fighting, don't think too hard about it—choose a very simple name. If your character is better at magic, develop a more impressive and exotic name.
Optional rule: decide on your character's abilities using another game system, but don't get too detailed. Just choose three to five qualities or powers that might be relevant.
When your character drawing is complete, set it in front of you at the gaming table. Other players may need to see it when drawing panels during an adventure.
In this game, characters with names rarely die. They can be hurt or rendered harmless, fall unconscious, or escape, but for whatever reason, both player-owned characters and villains that are important enough to have names usually live. So players don't have to worry much about their own characters' deaths, but they also have to come up with non-lethal ways to defeat their most powerful enemies.
Another basic assumption is that players may on occasion determine the actions of other players' characters or of GM-owned characters. However, all proposed actions are subject to immediate review, and following the guidelines set out below, the GM will nix actions that would upset another player (indeed, any actions that aren't fun).
If you are the GM, prepare for the game ahead of time. Take an adventure module from another game and think of ways to exaggerate its clichés and absurdities. Prepare several cut scenes as well—stick-figure drawings that show at least one major antagonist from the module doing interesting things elsewhere while the players work their way toward him. Cut scenes should reveal enough about the antagonist for the players to consider in advance how they might win without killing the villain. For example, the villain may be shown ...
- Thinking about some element of the adventure the players will have just overcome.
- Going about whatever business the module suggests he will be doing when the players arrive on scene.
- Arguing with his minions.
- In flashback, as a child or at some point in the past when constructing his lair or doing something that led to his present position.
- Expressing dissatisfaction with life as a stick figure—wishing for a more fulfilling life.
- Comparing himself to other monsters or villains from the module or another game.
- Making references to contemporary popular culture.
- Training or feeding some guardian creature.
- Doing something sort of evil.
- Scrying on the player characters and commenting on their successes or failures.
- Talking trash about what he'll do to any heroes who come his way.
- Meditating on a philosophical problem.
- Relaxing—reading a book or playing a game.
To begin play, introduce the scenario as you would in a role-playing game, and gently nudge your players' characters into situations from the module, role-playing without rules until there's a meaningful challenge. Resolve challenging encounters as follows:
- Quickly illustrate key elements of the encounter using stick figures.
- Call for a round of panel-sketching in response to your illustration.
- Indicate to all players the sequence in which their drawings will be revealed; by default, play begins with the oldest player and passes to the left.
- Encourage the player in final position to contemplate an action that might plausibly complete the encounter.
- Give the players three minutes to each complete a stick-figure drawing showing their characters' responses to the encounter.
- Have a player reveal his or her panel and, if necessary, explain what it shows.
- Use the guidelines below to decide if the panel is acceptable.
- Players may kibbitz freely, but the GM is the final authority on which guidelines apply and should enforce them in a way that ensures no player is disturbed by an accepted panel.
- Give players with unrevealed panels up to 30 seconds to revise their still-hidden drawings.
- Repeat the reveal, evaluation, and revision process until all panels have been shown.
- If you think the encounter has not reached an interesting conclusion, call for another round of panel-sketching.
- As GM, you may choose to introduce the new round with a new sketch of your own.
- But the first player in the new round is the player to the left of the first player from the previous round.
- When the encounter finally completes, consider your available cut scenes and whether one might be appropriate now.
- If a cut scene would be appropriate, show it to the players and ham it up a little—exaggerate something about the villain at least to the point where a player spontaneously comments or reacts.
- Proceed to the next encounter.
Factors that make a player's panel more acceptable
- Depicting how the player's own character interacts with just one or two GM characters.
- Emphasizing established character strengths (fighting, magic, luck, etc.).
- Building on previous events in a plausible manner.
- Being really funny.
- Emitting original catch phrases and dialogue in speech balloons.
- Showing how an important named villain could be overcome without killing him.
- Eliminating unimportant antagonists with a single, creative attack or flourish.
- Being reconcilable with accepted events, even if you have to assume it happened just prior to other actions revealed this round.
- Bringing the situation to a satisfying conclusion, preferably on the last panel of the round.
Factors that make a player's panel less acceptable
- Depicting the death of any character with a name, including both player-owned characters and GM-owned villains.
- Not including the player's own character at all.
- Being too complicated.
- Invoking a deus ex machina to abruptly or unexpectedly transform the situation.
- Abusing or mis-characterizing another player's character.
- Not being funny.
- Trying to determine the encounter for too many other characters at once.
- Earning an "R" rating.
- Repeating an action the same player has used before.
- Breaking the fourth wall or alluding to the stick figure nature of the game after such an allusion has already been made during this encounter.
- Not being possible, even if you assume the panel actually occurred prior to some other panel revealed in this round.
Winning the Game
At the conclusion of an adventure, the GM should take a few moments to hold up all the accepted panels and nominate one from each player as a possible winning panel. Players rank the top two nominees by secret ballot, applying any criteria they choose. The GM counts first-place votes first. If there is a tie for first place, the non-tied candidates are eliminated, and second-place votes for the remaining candidates are alone compared to break the tie. If there is still a tie, the GM casts the deciding vote to declare a winner of the adventure.
Alternatively, the players may select a winner by acclamation.
Stick Figure Fantasy
is © 2008 by Christopher Pound
. It is released here under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License