[Reviews of Games that Don’t Exist] Allegory Mystery

There’s a thread on Story-Games.com where people write reviews of RPGs that don’t exist. I have had way too much fun writing a couple of these, and wanted to preserve them here. Here’s one:

Tom the Dancing Bug’s Allegory Mystery RPG (featuring Billy Dare)

Allegory Mystery at first looks like a Sea Dracula knockoff. Cartoon characters, absurdity, mystery investigation, the whole deal. Only this time we have humanoid cartoon characters, a la Tintin, and recursive literary meta-critique replacing the dance contest. The game is probably bet summarized as “House of Leaves meets Scooby Doo.” I don’t know if that clarifies anything, though.

It’s the last part that really causes problems. You’re supposed to have your PCs symbolize the subtext of their own story in order to manipulate the outcome towards the end that you want. So suppose you want to have your teenage spy clamber across the Berlin Wall. (The setting is “somewhere in the 20th century”. Nazis, Communists and bomb throwing anarchists all appear as antagonists.) You might accomplish this by explaining how your protagonist represents youthful optimism triumphing over cynicism. Or you might argue that crossing the Berlin Wall back into West Berlin is analogous to the Hero’s homecoming at the end of Joseph Campbell’s The Hero With a Thousand Faces. Your opponent, however, might argue that your job as a spy is symbolic of a larger morally ambiguous world of international politics, or that the Berlin Wall represents the fundamental divisions between humans: you will never fully know or understand anyone you meet. Either interpretation implies the same thing for the story: you fail to make it over the wall and be reunited with your girlfriend, and instead you are shot dead by the border guards.

So you and anyone else involved gives their critique of the story so far (in character), then the group decides which interpretation is correct and the story unfolds from there (“Haha, you neglected to pay attention to the neo-Marxist subtext of your own soliloquy. Victory is mine!”). The rules are unfortunately a bit vague on what happens if the group can’t agree on which is the right interpretation, which is quite unfortunate.

I’m real keen on trying this out in play, but the rest of my group is wary. They want the meta-critique to be encompassed in a more traditional mechanics like Sea Dracula’s dance-off. “Why can’t we have a yodeling contest, and the winner can then describe their analysis of the story?” they ask. I tried to explain to them that literary analysis is really just another performance art, but they didn’t buy that.

(Even if I did get them to play, I know one guy would be going for Jesus allegories everywhere. Biblical parallels are broken, yo.)

Still, it seems like a cool system. I’m working on a hack to run Doctor Who as the triumph of romance and intellect over brute force and cynicism. Now I just have to convince my friends to play it.

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