Over a year ago, in August of 2016, I posted about the Kickstarter for a small RPG called Reflections. Reflections is a two player RPG by Third Act Publishing where the players take on the role of samurai about to meet on the field of battle to settle matters once and for all. The game is straight forward, fairly rules light, quick to play - taking only an hour or less on our first play through - and is absolutely beautiful. Today, I want to talk about that.
A Tragic Story
Many RPGs are supposed to be about telling tragic stories. My favorite RPG - L5R - has strong elements of tragedy in it because they are there in the source material, and because they seem to be a favorite of series creator John Wick. Of all the RPGs I've played that have the potential to tell tragedies - or are aimed at telling tragedies - Reflections is the first where every play through has its own tragedy playing out before your eyes.
A Structured Story
How Reflections does this isn't an accident. The game can only tell tragic stories - unless both players decide to 'break the rules' so to speak at the end. The game is played out in 5 acts, and those acts are key scenes in a story that is going to end in blood shed. In a very real sense, Reflections takes all your favorite rival stories, distills them down to the 5 key tent pole moments, and lets you play through those to see not only how these two samurai met, but what went wrong and how.
Rules That Force Tragedy
The beauty of the game is how it uses the few rules it has to force the tragedy. Like I mentioned above you have the five acts, but how those play out is also key. Players take turns setting the scene - thus establishing everything from how long since the previous scene to what has been happening in the interim for both characters. This means that you have a large amount of creative control over the other player's character at key times, and that has to be worked with. One player can't just be "in the right" for everything, because the other player could just flat out say "We meet three nights after you murder my father over a lost bet."
Once in the scene, and the characters are face to face, you lose narrative control of the character - and what you RP through is what the story is - but the scenario changes hands enough that no one is coming out clean
Then Someone Dies...
At the end of the play session you've told the story through these key moments of two people and their relationship. You learn about these two characters, how they think, how they work, and how they were once someone's friend and now find themselves about to draw steel on said 'friend' to end things once and for all.
Appropriately, the game has one last choice for you here. After you roll your dice to see how you do in the duel you have the choice to release your hatred for your rival, or embrace it. Embracing your hatred can make your roll much better, but the emotion can also hold you back at a key moment and leave you open to attack.
The last thing you do in the game is an out of character action that brings finality. The losing player tears their sheet in half, and hands it over to the victor. At this point the game is over. There is no epilogue. The events that were put in motion to drive this story no longer mater, because the story between the two people is over.
This is a game that's worth playing at least once. Perhaps you won't like it, but if nothing else it is good to learn how to improvise, role play, and to share a narrative. Things established can not be taken back, and much of the game plays around putting your fellow player in an interesting spot of story and seeing how they react to it.
You can find it on Drive Thru RPG if interested.