This is the sixth entry in the Scratching That Itch series, wherein I randomly select and write about one of the 1704 1741 games and game-related things included in the Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality. The Bundle raised $8,175,279.81 split evenly between the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund and Community Bail Fund, but don’t worry if you missed it. There are plenty of ways you can help support the vital cause of racial justice; try here for a start. Lastly, as always, you may click on images to view larger versions.

Through the magic of random number generators, I have pulled another item from the Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality. It’s Visigoths vs. Mall Goths, by Lucian Kahn (@oh_theogony). Its tagline in the bundle reads:

There are a lot of bisexuals.

There sure are!

Visigoths vs. Mall Goths is another tabletop role-playing game, like the fourth entry in Scratching That Itch, Black Heart. It presents me with the same problem I ran into with Black Heart: it requires 4-6 players, as well as an additional facilitator player, who serves as the gamemaster (“GM”) but is known here as the Mallrat. I do not have a group to play this with, so I am only able to read through the book and present my impressions of it.

Fortunately, just reading the Visigoths vs. Mall Goths book is highly entertaining. It’s hilarious. Set in a suburban Los Angeles mall in 1996, players take the roles of Mall Goths, who are (as the book carefully points out) not the same as real goths, but rather younger kids who got into goth culture in the 1990s after it had been capitalized upon by mainstream clothing companies, and spent their free time hanging out at the mall. If you’re thinking that this is a very specific cultural touchstone, and are worried it would be hard to roleplay as these characters if you were not yourself a member of this particular band of misfits, never fear! That’s what the Visigoths are for. Transported from ancient times to modern Los Angeles a year before through a freak Mall Goth Ouija accident, the Visigoths have adjusted quickly — even opening a few stores in the mall — but are still a bit baffled by the modern world, and hope to return to their own time. Or, failing that, take over the mall, and eventually the rest of Los Angeles.

Players are split between the two teams, with 2-3 Mall Goths and 2-3 Visigoths. There are different classes to choose from on each side, like a Conqueror or Charlatan for the Visigoths, and Theatre Tech or Witch for the Mall Goths, with only one of each allowed per game. Like Black Heart, the core of Visigoths vs. Mall Goths is acting out scenes together, so the actual mechanical rules are simple. Whenever a player attempts something that is opposed by another player (like a Visigoth trying to stab a Mall Goth with a spear) they each roll two six-sided dice and add any bonus they might have, with the highest result winning. If a player goes up against a mall employee or the mall itself (like trying to steal from a shop, or punch a hole in a wall), they instead roll against the Mallrat. But any action that is not opposed just happens, with no rolling needed. Come up with a crazy, weird story! The book points out that while the characters on each team are rivals, the people playing them are actually working together to tell the story, and are encouraged to show camaraderie in coming up with entertaining occurrences. Especially ones with awkward teen romance, which is a running theme throughout the book. I like that characters are never physically hurt, and everyone involved in a fight ends up with Hurt Feelings, which can only be removed by talking about said feelings with a friend. Characters can also embarrass themselves in order to give a teammate a bonus on their roll.

Unlike Black Heart, however, Visigoths vs. Mall Goths has a ton of stuff already written. There’s a full map for the mall, including all the shops and even detailed descriptions of the clerks who work in each. Most of them are also teenagers, and players are encouraged to have their characters flirt with them, but a few are older and explicitly labeled as “not available for romance or kissing.” As the tagline claims, there are a lot of bisexuals. There’s a lot of queer representation in general, in fact, as well as different gender identities and ethnicities. The book also includes six adventures to play, only two of which are written by Lucian Kahn, with the other four coming from guest authors. These adventures offer the teams a mystery to solve, or the chance to get autographs from the coolest post-punk band, or a new gang of metalheads to deal with. Players therefore have plenty to work with during their play sessions, and don’t have to do too much worldbuilding themselves.

And, as I mentioned earlier, it’s hilarious. I genuinely laughed out loud on several occasions when reading the book. I loved the ridiculous store names, like Lemon Theodosius (a Visigoth smoothie place), Hail Satin (a demonic bed-and-bath store), or Play Gaul, an athletic store which isn’t actually run by Visigoths but is instead a corporate attempt to get in on the new Visigoth market. I was also amused by the music store Big Disc Energy, but I’m pretty sure that the phrase it’s aping (“big dick energy”) is a recent invention and not something anyone said in 1996. This is not the only anachronism (I mean, besides the Visigoths, of course), but generally the tone is spot on for the 1990s. Descriptions of people and special items for sale are also amusing, full of puns and weird tidbits. There’s a random table for determining who the goths might run into in the mall’s passageways, with options like “someone uncomfortably wholesome: either a Girl Scout collecting signatures on a pledge to stay drug-free, or a middle-aged hippie rapping about recycling” and “an entire guys’ beach-volleyball team.” It’s expertly pitched silliness.

As with any game that relies on communal storytelling, getting a good group, and particularly a good Mallrat, will be key. Everyone should be comfortable acting out scenes and doing some pretend awkward teen flirting with each other. But if you’re ready for that, then Visigoths vs. Mall Goths should provide an excellent and ridiculous framework for creating bizarre teen romantic comedies. Just remember the danger of Hurt Feelings.

(only after linking to that video did I realize that one of the sources of hurt feelings arises from societal gender norms as perpetuated by an athletic goods store… perfectly thematic for Visigoths vs. Mall Goths!)

OK, that’s six down, 1698 1735 to go!