The original version of The Scholars’ Game was inspired by my recollection of Lexicon. I was unsure about the name, so failed to find it again when I needed the rules to play. Thus, I wrote out a set of rules for use in our Tales of the Hero Wars campaign. We played The Scholars’ Game to create background for the Eternal Lizards cycle of tales, with mixed results.
Over the summer I was contacted by Jeff Miller who wanted to run a version of The Scholars’ Game. I took part in his version, which was a lot of fun. Jeff brought a lot of improvements to the process, and his creative Players collaborated to make a fascinating setting.
Here is an updated version of The Scholars’ Game, applying the lessons I learnt from participating in Jeff’s game. To differentiate the two methods, this version is termed The Scribes’ Game.
Premise of the Game
As before, during The Scribes’ Game the Players take on roles of competing scholars or scribes. These characters will have an entry created at the start of the game, so their subsequent entries can be properly attributed. The exact role of each scholar can be decided upon by the Players.
Possibilities for the game include sages, priests, shaman, poets, playwrights, philosophers, guides, gossips and storytellers. Essentially, these characters need a reason why they know so much about the topic, and be prepared to defend their interpretation of the facts.
The theme of The Scribes’ Game is the creation a Folio of papers drawn from various sources, even oral histories. The combined work of all the Player forms the content of the Folio, but may vary in tone and intent. It is best to assume that the Folio describes an event in the past, so the Players’ work can have a degree of unreliability about it. Thus, it will make sense for the various texts in the Folio to contradict each other.
This Folio forms the background to a subsequent roleplaying campaign. Mysteries, scandals and contradictions should all emerge during the course of The Scribes’ Game. Everyone is working together to create a linked environment to explore later. Personalities and events originating in The Scribes’ Game can all appear in the campaign.
The contradictions within the Folio are crucial, as this creates uncertainty about the subject matter. If all the entries describe exactly the same details, then there are no grey areas to explore during the later game. The scribes should bicker, disagree and generally seek to belittle each other. Not only does this make the entries more interesting to read, but it also creates the all-important creative space for the GM and Players to explore during the campaign.
Rules of The Scribes’ Game
- Pre-game Activities
- For the GM
- Create a campaign Wiki, or at least one for the purposes of The Scribes’ Game.
- All of the Players will need access to this Wiki during the game
- Players will need to create and edit Wiki pages
- Within this Wiki, the GM should create a series of pages:
- A summary of these Rules
- A summary of the setting, noting tone, themes etc.
- A Central Index page for the alphabetical listing of entries and references
- This index page should list the chosen grouping of letters
- Standard letter groupings for The Scribes’ Game are per the standard telephone keypad:
- At least two sample characters to kick-start the process
- At least three sample entries, preferably in the early letter groups, to illustrate the premise of the game and set the tone for the Players
- The GM will need an email list of all the Players to facilitate communication within the game
- For the Players
- Each Player creates a character page on the Wiki, following the GMs guidelines
- The character page should include a short biography of the character, and show good reason why they know so much about the proposed setting
- Players can also begin to develop the voice of their character by leaving comments on the pages of the other Players, and the entries created by the GM
- For the GM
- Playing the game
- The GM should email the Players to announce the start of each turn, noting the letter group being used
- Players compose a Main Entry with a title that starts with one of the current letter group, following the Main Entry Rules
- At any point during the turn, a Player can create a Footnote disputing the Main Entry of another Player, following the Footnote Rules
- For each Entry and Reference, the Player should add the name onto the Central Index page, noting who created it
- Main Entry Rules
- Approximately 100 words about a topic that begins with an appropriate letter
- On the first turn, a Player is free to create any topic
- On the second and subsequent turn, a Player must expand upon a Reference created by another Player.
- The GM is advised to create several DEF entries to enable the second round to work smoothly, and allow the game to build up some momentum.
- Must follow the Entry Rules
- Must follow Subject Rules
- Footnote Rules
- Approximately 50 words that disputes, refutes or otherwise disagrees with the content of the Main Entry
- Must follow the Entry rules
- Entry Rules
- 1 = Main Entry must feature subject matter that begins with a letter from the current letter group
- 2 = each Main Entry must cite at least TWO subjects beginning with a letter LATER in the letter groups
- These citations may be new subjects, or existing ones
- In early turns it is recommended to add new topics. Later in the game, it is best to focus on wrapping up the existing entries.
- Footnotes need only reference ONE later subject
- Additional references are allowed, but these are the minimum required to create a network of linked entries
- 3 = entry must cite a subject that begins with a letter EARLIER in the alphabetical sequence AND that has been previously referenced
- Turns 1 & 2 (ABC & DEF) need only follow Entry Rules 1 & 2
- Turns 3-6 need to follow all the Entry Rules
- Turns 7 & 8 (TUV & WXYZ) need only follow Entry Rules 1 & 3
- An entry may cite additional subjects, so long as the Entry Rules are also met
- Subject Rules
- Four categories of Subject matter are recognised for Entries;
- Ideas or Abstracts
- No more than HALF the Main Entries in a letter group may be about the same subject category
- A Scribe may not write consecutive Main Entries about the same subject category
- A Scribe is required to write at least one Main Entry about each of the subject categories
- Four categories of Subject matter are recognised for Entries;
- Wiki Layout
- As preferred by the GM, but it is best if the Main Entry & Footnotes form a single page
- As required, but a fast turnaround is recommended. Ideally, you want to work through at least one letter group each week. Negotiate a suitable creation speed with the Players
- To speed the process, you can also allow Players to return to previous letter groups to add additional Footnotes if they wish
Applying the Lessons
The main lesson I took from Jeff’s game was to use the shorter, more flexible keypad format. This gives a faster game than the full 26 turn alphabet used in The Scholars’ Game. The keypad format gives more freedom and creativity to the Players. Also, it has a more freeform structure, rather than a rigid turn order.
Having the GM seed the Wiki with some initial entries helps set the tone for the Players. This starts the game with a framework of options. Finally, the Central Index page gives a focus to the Wiki entries, and gives everyone a good central reference for the progress of the game
I just hope this version can achieve the same level of creativity as Jeff enjoyed.
The Scribes’ Game gives you faster prep, because you are sharing the burden with your Players. Plus, the process of the game will create a web of entries on your campaign Wiki, saving you the need to do it yourself.
The biggest benefit of The Scribes’ Game is the amount of story it creates. The combination of the Main Entries and the Footnotes will produce a vast reservoir of topics to explore in the forthcoming campaign.
Even better, the Players will be invested in these topics, as they had a hand in their creation. The Players will be engaged with the subject, and will come into the campaign knowing a slew of rumours about the people and places they are about to meet.
Finally, through the course of The Scribes’ Game, the Players are telling you what they want to encounter in the campaign. Mix and match the story elements from the various Players that were outlined in preceding The Scribes’ Game to heighten the engagement with the subsequent story.
Have you tried collaborative setting creation? Share your experiences in the comments.
Something for the Weekend next week: World of Dew Plot Twists