Hello and welcome to a new guest series on Ninja Blues, where we review tabletop games. I’m Lostclause, occasional commenter and frequent lurker, bringing you RPG reviews focusing on indie games and one-shots. We want this series to be as accessible as possible to those new to tabletop and help you find something that’ll bring variety to your games. I hope you enjoy it and please leave any feedback for what direction to take this series.
Lords Of Titania:
So if you were asked to come up with a game themed around Shakespeare, what would you come up with? Would it be a feuding bunch of relatives? Possibly. Would they be on a spaceship? Probably not.
Lords of Titania was an entry for the 2011 Game Chef and is free to download here. This game nicely fills an evening as a structured one-shot for three to five players. Each player is a member of the ruling family of one section of the spaceship Titania. Each is in sole charge of a vital component of the spaceship, including one person controlling the oxygen. I’m sure nothing could go wrong with that…
The setting of Titania is deliberately vague beyond that, as most one-shots tend to be, but there is a preset arc that each game will follow. The game is structured in five acts, each with a pre-determined trigger for the end, and from the word go you’ll know that one of the characters will be murdered by another. You’ll spend the first few acts introducing the characters and maneuvering into a position of power. Finally, one person feels either confident enough, or desperate enough, to strike against another. All of this is done via roleplaying scenes that you set up and play out. The person in charge of the oxygen might attempt an act of brinkmanship to gain concessions, the person who controls the power grid might secretly undermine his opponents, or the weasley cousin might successfully gain a favour out of sheer social embarrassment.
There’s a real advantage to the inevitable murder that will tempt you. Remember those vital components you’re in charge of? Those represent your influence in Titania’s society by giving you dice in conflicts with other players. Much of the first acts maneuvering is about stealing these precious dice from others or protecting your own. When someone successfully murders someone else, they gain control of their component, including of all of their dice. Suddenly the murderer is catapulted into a position of ungodly power over the rest of the players, with a newfound ability to throw their weight around that everyone is sure to resent.
But where player death in other games brings the action to a halt, Titania already has a trick up its sleeve. The murderer is now the ‘Hero’, while the murdered player quickly creates a new character called the ‘Exile’. Their sole purpose is to be the avenger of their own death. The rest of the game is now devoted to the Exile’s arrival and attempts to build an alliance with the remaining players in preparation for a climactic showdown with the Hero and his cronies.
Lord of Titania is not without its problems, of course. Being light on details, the tone can vary wildly from comedic to Shakespearean melodrama, depending on who you’re playing with. If you go in with specific intentions, there’s a good chance that your friends will subvert them and turn the game into something other than what you expected.
But probably the biggest problem with the game is simply the rules, or perhaps the lack thereof. While the game is easy enough to learn, there are enough gaps to drive a truck through. This means you’ll almost certainly have to resort to patching by the players around the table. In one playthrough, we managed to break the game simply by attempting to murder a second character, something that never seemed to occur to the author of the game. There’s neither a prohibition against it or a contingency plan. There’s some clever stuff in here, including a fast and elegant character creator and an interesting way of representing social influence, but there are also many blind spots.
At the end of the day this is a free RPG, so it’s worth giving a go. I’d recommend it for more experienced roleplayers, or at least people who have played together for a while. Sooner or later you’re likely to have a problem in rules interpretation that will require negotiation between the players, especially since there’s no GM. That always goes better if you know and trust the other people around the table.
Despite these significant flaws, this remains one of my favourite one-shots to bring out. No preparation means that you can bring it out at the drop of a hat. It can be a welcome break for whoever is the regular GM and you simply don’t know what you’re in for the next time you bring it out. Either dark comedy, some serious melodrama or a bit both can be the result of putting this one on the table and I’d certainly recommend you give it a go.