This is the one hundred twenty-seventh 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 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.

Another random selection from the Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality has plummeted from the heavens. It’s Feathers, by Remi Garreau, and its tagline in the bundle reads:

a slice-of-life game of fallen angels and Belonging Outside Belonging

Fallen angels are such a common trope that it makes me wonder if their wings ever worked in the first place.

Feathers is a tabletop role-playing game for 3-4 players. Since I lack the time to organize such a group, I’ve simply read through the short 18-page book and offer my thoughts on it below. The “Belonging Outside Belonging” in the tagline turns out to be quite important: it denotes a sub-genre of tabletop role-playing game based on games by Avery Alder (specifically, Dream Askew and Dream Apart) which were originally Powered By the Apocalypse but later became their own thing. Having had a few Powered By the Apocalypse games show up in this series, I recognize the remnants of that system in “playbooks” full of “moves” that each player can make during their turns in Feathers. But, like other Belonging Outside Belonging games, Feathers is a GM-less and diceless storytelling game about building a new community for its marginalized characters. In this case, fallen angels, freely admitted to be a metaphor for transgender people.

Feathers is intended to be played in a single session, so it’s easy to get started. There are pre-set roles that players pick from (although within these archetypes there’s still plenty of room to create unique characters), and each comes with its own set of moves. The moves aren’t as concrete as you might expect, they’re things like “tell someone kind lies” or “share someone’s passion.” But not all moves are equal. Normal moves can be used freely, but strong moves — in which characters rise to the occasion and show the best of themselves — can only be used if players have a token. They earn these tokens by using weak moves, which involve characters succumbing to their flaws or bad habits. In Feathers, no one can be a paragon of virtue and constantly make the best decisions. They must embody their flaws as well.

Intriguingly, there are other Situation tokens as well. Each has a specific condition for when a player should pick it up, and when they should give it away. These are prompts like “Pick up when: people share their spaces, cramped and lovely, with someone” or “Give away when: you realize you can’t do this alone, and that’s OK”. A player holding one of these tokens is granted extra moves related to that token, new ways to influence the story based on their current emotional state, or their relationship with other non-player characters.

This all sounds interesting, but it wasn’t clear to me exactly how it works in practice. There’s not much guidance for how to execute the storytelling, beyond similar prompts to those quoted above. Although I did appreciate a note to “think cinematically”, rather than as a continuous narrative, creating scenes and cutting to interesting moments. That instantly made sense, and is probably something that experienced players already do, but I’d never thought of playing a role-playing game that way. For an experienced group, the prompts in Feathers are probably perfect, providing just enough of a seed for new stories to grow, but new players (and especially those unfamiliar with Belonging Outside Belonging games) might struggle to get going. I, personally, feel I would be at a loss for how to start playing Feathers and would likely rely on others in the group to get the ball rolling.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing. I like the tone of Feathers, which assumes some degree of trauma and heartbreak inherent in its characters but has an unwavering emphasis on finding warmth and, yes, belonging. The angels may have fallen, but now they are here, and they are building something new for themselves. It’s very optimistic, highlighting the beauty and joy of life without denying its hardships. If that sounds like something you’d like to play, Feathers is worth a look. If you missed it in the bundle, it’s sold for a minimum price of $7, but there’s a free “demo” if you want to preview it first. A purchase includes the book, separate handouts for each role and situation, and a bonus situation that can be incorporated into your games.

That’s 127 down, and only 1614 to go!