This is the sixty-first 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.
Here at Waltorious Writes About Games, we know you love randomness. That’s why we have another random selection from the itch.io Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality for you: Of Bodies, by Sascha Moros. Its tagline in the bundle reads:
Excited robots discovering their relationship to themselves and the post-Ant…
The character limit cuts it off there, but a quick look at the full game page reveals that it was going to say “post-Anthropocene”, the time after humans. Players are robots, and, as Flight of the Conchords told us, the humans are dead.
Of Bodies is a tabletop role-playing game for 3 to 5 players. As usual, this means I can’t actually play it, and can only offer my impressions after reading the book. In this case, the book is a 26-page PDF outlining ideas for a collaborative storytelling game, with minimal hard rules. The game system takes inspiration from the Powered By the Apocalypse system, with every player action referred to as a “move”, but the mechanics for moves are a bit different. Rolling dice is only required when a player’s move involves Taking a Risk, something that’s decided collectively between the players, but with the person in the GM role (here termed the “World Player”, although there can be more than one of these if players wish) making the final decision. In those cases, there’s one six-sided die for luck, but players can call upon memories to strengthen their attempt, adding another die for each. They then either fully succeed, partially succeed, or fail based on the roll result, which guides how events unfold.
These mechanics are intentionally light, and throughout Of Bodies players are encouraged to twist or break rules in service of the story they are building together. Most of the book, in fact, covers high-level ideas. Major emphasis is placed on the inhumanity of the robotic player characters, both in terms of how they view the world and in the form of their bodies. Created characters begin with only three “appendages”, with which they interact with the world. Do they have some sort of optical sensor, or do they “see” through vibrations or some other means? Or perhaps they don’t see at all? How to they move? Feel? As the game proceeds, players will modify or even create entire new appendages, defined in very broad terms, and players are encouraged to explore what existence would be like in their strange and malleable body. The players journey through the interconnected locations of this world, encountering weird and wondrous things, and deciding what they want to become. I like the hopeful and optimistic tone.
But I did find the focus on these big ideas made it hard to imagine what an actual session is like. Of Bodies puts the burden on the player group to craft an interesting tale, with little direct guidance beyond thematic prompts. There’s a world map of sorts that players can use if they wish, but each location is only a barebones concept, with descriptive snippets like “what has flourished in the dark” or “thick skin and what comes of it”. Players will need to latch onto these and flesh them out in interesting ways for Of Bodies to work. The memories mentioned above are another example. These are important for any dice rolls that come up, and at certain points players can explicitly create new memories or cleanse tainted ones, but the memories themselves are only given a brief description. They are associated with an appendage, the world, or another player, and should be simple sentences. That’s it. But these are key for exploring characters’ views towards the world, themselves, and each other, and without any examples I was left unsure of what form they should take.
Of Bodies therefore strikes me as a game that would work well with a group already experienced with collaborative storytelling. The high level concepts are fascinating, offering a rich space for imagination. Players can role-play in the truest sense of the term, imagining themselves not merely as other people but as other entities altogether, whose experience may be entirely alien to our own. Players are meant to perceive the world in wonderment, to bask in possibilities and freedom, to redefine themselves as they go. But those lacking experience with such games might quickly be lost. Guidance from more experienced players would be needed, or simply opting for a different tabletop role-playing game with a bit more structure.
If, however, the idea of playing as post-human robots excites you, and you don’t mind coming up with the story and world on your own, by all means give Of Bodies a look. If you missed it in the bundle, it’s sold for a minimum price of $7.
That’s 61 down, and only 1680 to go!