A roleplaying game about Big Action in Tall Buildings, for 2-5 people. (Let’s call this in alpha, it is very much un-playtested.)
You’ll need a Jenga tower, some D6s (a dozen?), index cards, pen and paper.
One of you is the GM, who tells the players about their evil Mastermind. They’re using a small army of mooks to occupy a skyscraper for nefarious purposes.
The rest of you, tell everyone about you Player Characters, the plucky underdogs who’ve set their mind to thwarting the Mastermind. Security consultants, super spies, off-duty cops, martial arts masters etc. Between you, you have 12 Strain dice and 12 Pain dice. Split them up as you like (write them down as check boxes in front of you).
The Player Characters start someway up the building already. To represent this, take 21 (???) Jenga blocks and build a tower. HOWEVER, the tower must start 10 storeys tall. No more than three per layer, alternating direction per storey as usual, but you won’t have enough to start with three on each level.
Bad guys have the lower levels completely locked down – getting down and getting help is not an option. The only way this can end is getting to the top, confronting the Mastermind, and finishing this.
The players get 10 scenes before the finale. Scenes come in three flavours:
VERTICAL Scenes (where you go up something)
HORIZONTAL Scenes (where you go through someone)
STATIONARY Scenes (where you take a fucking breather)
At the start of a new scene, players choose which flavour of scene they want, which play out as per the below.
Vertical scenes are about getting up the building without getting hurt. They test the PCs’ stealth, athleticism and gumption – we represent this by expending Strain. Roll on this random chart, maybe, to work out how they’re ascending this scene.
2: Elevator shaft (inside elevator)
3: Elevator shaft (outside elevator)
4: Air vents
5: Climbing the outside of the building
6: Helicopter (IMPORTANT: Helicopter must explode by end of scene)
PCs narrate themselves struggling against gravity, GM brings the pressure and risk of exposure by bad guys. When the PCs do something dramatic and cool, they can spend a point of Strain to roll a D6. Leave the result on the table until the end of the scene.
At the end of the scene, we find out if the PCs managed the ascent. Choose a D6 you spent Strain to roll – the number of pips on it is how many blocks you must add to the tower. YOU MUST INCREASE THE HEIGHT OF THE TOWER BY AT LEAST TWO STOREYS. If, after that, the tower is still standing, happy days! Bring on the next scene.
If the tower falls, you don’t roll any dice, or you only roll 1s, then it’s sad times. Take a DRAMATIC SETBACK. Work out what it is in narrative terms, write it on an index card, and leave it next to the tower to remind you how fucked you are.
If the tower falls over, rebuild it – use the same number of blocks, and get to the same number of storeys, but otherwise build it as you like so long as it follows normal Jenga rules.
Horizontal scenes are about hurting bad guys – sometimes as a means to an end, sometimes just to reduce the number of bad guys. They test the PCs’ action prowess and resilience, represented by expending Pain. For ideas on how to frame this confrontation, maybe roll on this random table.
4: Battle Mooks
5: Battle Miniboss
6: Battle Mastermind (inconclusively)
PCs narrate themselves being awesome action heroes. GM returns fire. When the PCs take decisive action that might end the confrontation, they can spend a point of Pain to roll a D6. Leave the result there until the scene ends.
At the end of the scene, we find out if the PCs won the fight. Choose a D6 you spent Pain to roll – the number of pips is the number of blocks you have to remove from the tower. Normal Jenga rules apply, except DO NOT place removed blocks back on top. Instead, add them to your “victory pool” somewhere out the way. (Do not take blocks from the victory pool when raising the tower in Vertical scenes.)
If you pulled two or more blocks and the tower is still standing, well done on winning the fight! Describe how badass your PCs are, then choose the next scene.
If you knocked over the tower, didn’t roll any dice, or only rolled 1s, then it was a bad battle. Take a DRAMATIC SETBACK per Vertical scenes above. And if necessary, rebuild the tower as per Vertical scenes above.
Stationary scenes are opportunities for characters to rest and players to roleplay. They remind us that the PCs are mortal, with lives they care about outside this tower, and are imperilled by the dramatic action of the other scenes. Maybe use this random chart as a way of framing the scene.
1: Patching up
3: We’re gonna need a plan
4: Relationship drama
5: Confession time
6: What I’m going to do when all this is over (buy you a beer)
GMs, get a drink or snack – there are no physical stakes in Stationary scenes. Let the players find the voices for their characters and talk it out a bit. Call the scene when you, or anyone else, gets bored.
Players, at the end of the scene, choose one:
- Resolve a Dramatic Setback and remove it from play, if narratively appropriate.
- Knock over the tower and rebuild it stronger – per Vertical scenes above except you DON’T gain a Dramatic Setback.
- Regain D6 points of Strain (split between you).
- Regain D6 points of Pain (split between you).
- Move one unused Jenga block into your “victory pool”.
When you’ve had 10 scenes, the next scene is the showdown with the Mastermind. GMs, frame this as an exciting action scene, in a dramatic location, where there are plenty of opportunities to fall from a great height.
When players and GMs are done posturing, and narrating the inconclusive elements of the confrontation, players can take a decisive action to try and finish off the Mastermind and his plan. Every such action is a three step process
- Take a Jenga block from the victory pool and put it with the other unused Jenga blocks.
- EITHER add one block to the tower OR remove one.
- Roll a D6. Whatever it rolls, add it to your running total.
If the tower falls over, choose: let it fall, roll your D6, then end the game; OR if there is at least one other PC still alive, roll your D6, rebuild the tower, and allow your PC to die.
To win the fight and defeat the Mastermind, the running total needs to reach the Target Number. Let’s call it, I dunno, 30? Plus 5 for every unresolved Dramatic Setback in play.
If you fail to reach the Target Number – because you ran out of blocks in your victory pool, or you knocked the tower over and didn’t roll high enough – you lose. I mean, not LOSE-lose, but it’s bittersweet. Maybe you stop the Mastermind, but it costs all your lives to do it. Or you stop the Mastermind’s scheme, but he gets away, and it’s a sequel hook left open for next time.