The Skeletons (2016)

One of the great things about indie RPGs is how they can turn RPG conventions on their ear. The Skeletons, by Jason Morningstar, casts players in the role of a group of animated skeletons tasked with guarding an ancient crypt. That might seem like a simple thing, but there’s a lot going on here.

Designed for single session play, with a game master being optional, players pick one of the seven included skeletons and design the tomb collaboratively. Then they work together to tell the story of how they defeat the waves of intruders. There are no mechanics for this. Players simply describe their actions. They are guaranteed success, for a time.

The game has two interesting aspects that keep things interesting. First – each skeleton has a set of questions about their past. The skeletons are only sentient while they are defending the tomb – their reward for combat is an answer to one of those questions, in the form of a recovered memory that the player comes up with. In this way, players slowly discover more about their skeletons, their relationships to each other, and to the occupant of the tomb, over time.

Speaking of time, that’s the other interesting feature of the game. Time passes between intruders, ranging from a few days to thousands of years. To simulate this, the lights are turned off and the players sit in silence for lengths of time proportional to the amount passing in the game. When the lights come back on, the players discover the way time has changed both them and their environment and collaboratively change the tomb map and their characters sheets to reflect those changes.

Eventually, the skeletons are defeated and the tomb plundered and you sit in the dark to contemplate what it all means. It’s kind of heavy.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *