This is the thirty-fourth entry in the Scratching That Itch series, wherein I randomly select and write about one of the 1741 games and game-related things included in the itch.io Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality. The Bundle raised $8,149,829.66 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.
A ttprg zine for doing very little.
I’m pretty sure that’s supposed to say “ttrpg”, short for tabletop role-playing game which we’ve encountered many times in the series so far. I was ready to offer my usual disclaimer about how I can’t actually play without more players, and must render my opinions solely from reading the book, but it turns out I’m off the hook this time. Layabouts and Degens is not actually a game, it’s a setting book for a completely different game, Troika! from Melsonian Art Council (which is also in the bundle). “Doing very little,” indeed! (har har)
I’m unfamiliar with Troika! and it hasn’t come up in this series yet, so reading through the Layabouts and Degens zine was an interesting experience. The setting it describes is almost completely mundane: a modern city or suburb populated by the titular layabouts, young people disillusioned with society who aren’t sure what they want to do with their lives. Their exploits are as low stakes as can be. A random table for “what to do” includes tasks like “get a couch from across town” or “find something to eat”.
Are these the kinds of activities that Troika! is about? A quick glance at its webpage suggests not, opening as it does with talk of wizards and star portals. It does, however, seem to sport a whimsical sense of humor, where all sorts of strange and silly things could happen. Maybe Troika! has tables with equally odd and amusing options in them. It does mention that players can be owls as well as wizards, so why not some layabouts?
And there is that “almost” I used earlier. Layabouts and Degens does occasionally veer into the supernatural, sprinkling a few evil wizards or weird monsters among its everyday, unimportant events. Perhaps these are tenuous connections to the “standard” world of Troika! through which players’ characters can connect to other settings. Or maybe they’re just there to add some weirdness for its own sake. From the lists of character archetypes in the zine, and some example adversaries, it’s clear that fighting is a common activity in the Troika! system, with nearly half of the “what’s impeding your progress?” table simply listing some number of monsters. I don’t know how these fights actually play out, but they’re bound to be amusing when characters come equipped with bicycle shorts and their buddy’s mixtape, rather than actual weapons.
Reading through the zine is entertaining, even when I don’t understand the game systems underneath. In true zine fashion, each page is a collage of photographs and artwork clipped from paper, arranged, and photocopied, making Layabouts and Degens much more interesting to behold than the simple text that often graces such indie offerings. In fact, these illustrations outnumber the actual text, letting the zine run through 20 pages despite the brevity of the writing. That writing is amusing if brief, offering succinct statements of theme and guiding principles for play. Mostly, the written sections are character archetypes or random tables used to help generate scenarios. Characters like the Bicycle Bud, Chowhound or Scenester could get into some odd shenanigans and are fun to read about.
The highlights, however, are the random tables, which are full of hilarious entries. I’ve listed a few of these above, but the table for “what’s in the fridge?” is especially funny, offering nuggets such as “hotdog with chocolate sauce” or “3 single slices of cherry tomato on a cold pizza.” The largest table in the book is made for two six-sided dice, but tracking each rolled die separately (in other words, rolling a 1 and a 3 is not the same as rolling a 3 and a 1, for a total of 36 possible outcomes), and determines who players have run into. This is wonderfully varied, including annoying friends, assorted weirdos, and the occasional dog man or humanoid iguana. I’m tempted to quote from it too, but I don’t want this whole piece to just be highlights from the random tables.
One thing that intrigued me in particular about Layabouts and Degens is its description of the GM role. Rather than acting as a guide for the story who simply facilitates the rules and determines outcomes, the GM in Layabouts and Degens plays as The Man, the embodiment of an uncaring society that actively opposes the players at every turn. While race is never mentioned in the zine, it’s fitting for an entry in a bundle about racial justice to place systemic cruelty and oppression as the enemy. The layabouts seem insufficiently motivated to effect much change, but at least they are aware of the problems and refuse to participate. I wonder what would happen if they encountered someone who was actively organizing workers and likeminded individuals to campaign for a better society. Maybe they’d get caught up in a cause greater than themselves, finding the purpose that they seek in the slow work of revolution. Or maybe they’d just get back to moving that couch.
If you bought the bundle, it’s probably a good idea to look at Troika! first, so you have some idea of how Layabouts and Degens would actually play. But I honestly found reading through it to be its own pleasure, so don’t be afraid to dip in yourself even if you’re not sure what Troika! is. For those who missed it in the bundle, Layabouts and Degens is sold for a minimum price of $7.85, but be warned that it cannot be played on its own, so if you want to do more than just read it you’ll need to get a copy of Troika! as well.
That’s 34 down, and only 1707 to go!