I mentioned before that I’d got my copy of the No Press Anthology, and of the many games in there the one that is really making me want to play it most is Mike Miller’s Discernment.
The backstory is: some superior human civilization from Elsewhere is preparing to contact the backwards Earth. They have sent a group of Scholars who have learned everything about our culture and history in a few weeks’ time. (They can do that. They are superior.) But now they have one final task, which their superior skills and technology cannot directly accomplish: they must discern the nature of the soul of one particular chosen Earth person. They have kidnapped this person and have him entirely in their power. They have taken away all his memories and identity (so that only the “soul” will be left for testing). They will not proceed to place him in a series of fictional, simulated situations, with one of them taking charge of a given situation as a whole and the rest of the Scholars taking on “supporting roles” as characters within that simulation.
The idea is to figure out which of 14 Soul Qualities (modelled after the Cardinal Virtues and Deadly Sins) the Subject possesses.
There are no “GM” and “Players” in the traditional RPG sense. One of the players is selected to play the Subject and the rest are Scholars. The rules for resolution of events both on the level of Subject and Scholars, and within the fictions they create, are based on a currency of pennies which are traded off among the actual players of the game.
There is a lot of trade-off involved. The Subject player could conceiveably prevent the Scholars from ever finding out his Soul Quality, but that would leave him trapped in these simulations until the Scholars get tired, and they may never get tired. He can act effectively within the scenarios which touch on his Soul Quality by bringing in some extra currency, and this will both help him get what he wants out of the simulations, and also give him the possibility of awakening to further Awareness of his real situation. In doing so, he will give the Scholars an idea what his Soul Quality actually is. The mechanics are simple but clever.
Note that the subject does not, as you might think, have to try to “play” his Soul Quality — act angry if it is “Wrath” or whatever. A Soul Quality may be deeply hidden, and so it’s not going to be that easy. The discernemnt of the soul quality is going to come up through the mechanics of the game, the way the Subject’s player chooses to take control of situations or allow things to take their course. It’s kind of abstract, but it’s well-defined in a way that “play your soul quality out” never would be.
Endgame happens when either the Subject reaches full awareness of his actual situation, and can stop the game of his own volition, or when all of the scholars have achieved at least an approximation of his true Soul Quality. In the latter sort of Endgame, the Subject gets to add up which of the Scholars best figured his Soul Quality out, along with some other factors, and name one of them Scholar Emeritus. This determination is at least partially subjective, though, so in a sense the Subject is sitting in arbitrary judgement on his captors.
This game turns traditional roles of GM and player on their heads. Who is the GM? The Subject, who has a secret and has ultimate power to judge the Scholars? Or the Scholars, who create fictional situations which the Subject is forced to deal and react to? Who is the protagonist and who is the antagonist?
It’s so crazy it might work. I really want to play this.