(3-5 players, pens, notecards.)
A lonely desert caravan—A storm—
Familiar paths erased. A baleful sun blazes above; imperious, unmoving. Our travelers endure to find their journey’s end.
Write these words on individual notecards, creating two shuffled decks:
Overgrown. Singing. Ruined. Crystal. Sunken. Shadowed. Living. Empty. Golden. Colossal. Sacred. Impossible. Forgotten. Painted. Night. Bountiful. Glassy. Fallen. Haunted. Charred. Glimmering. Bleak. Carven. Radiant. Profane.
Altar. Tomb. Statue. Mount. Door. Library. Guardian. Labyrinth. Spring. Pits. Teeth. Mirror. Wall. Chasm. Pool. Citadel. River. Bridge. Lair. Monument. Caves. Roadhouse. Stair. Throne. Fort.
Whoever was most recently lost begins as Guide: draw once from each deck, and describe the landmark. Everyone narrates their traveler’s vignette against that backdrop.
Lone travelers might part company, seizing a way home. That option starts with the Guide, thereafter passing clockwise. One traveler may decamp per landmark; consider it claimed.
When moving on, a new Guide draws the next landmark. Travelers narrate vignettes, but ex-travelers now portray the desert, harsh and alien.
If none continue, or the desert ends, conclude. Shuffle claimed landmarks together, randomly adding one more. Draw: this one held the way home. Anyone there describes their return; others sum up their ensuing lives in this strange land.
This microgame draws on some concepts I’ve been working on for longer projects, but stripped down to the barest essentials. In a sense, this game is about what keeps you going when the conclusion is out of your hands. Or about giving up.
As inspiration, Ross Cowman’s Fall of Magic, Vincent Baker’s The Sundered Land game series, and Jason Morningstar’s Carolina Death Crawl were big influences on the play experience I had in mind. And the specific impetus for this microgame version of the ideas I’ve been kicking around was the 200-word RPG Challenge in April, 2016.