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Joy Division: monkey-moms, pocket universes & corn-of-life

Started by redivider, September 19, 2006, 07:58:15 PM

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Joy Division is a near-future role playing game of technological horror. Characters are agents of the Joy Division, a small but well-funded transnational espionage agency set up to neutralize major threats from advanced, destabilizing technologies. Characters will use a range of quasi-legal and illegal means - targeted investments, blackmail, commercial espionage, misinformation campaigns, kidnappings - to keep humanity from being wiped out or radically transformed by a coming 'singularity.'

I wrote the game as an entry for the 2 page rpg design challenge (that seems to have fallen off the face of the earth).

Joshua, Judson & me from our LA games group had a chance to play test it a month or so ago & I wanted to get the lessons down. It was a good session since we changed some rules mid play and had time to run through the game 3 times with narration and a couple more with just dice rolling.

A revised version is at

The game revolves around a set of dice that are on the table to represent the technological menace. Each turn, some of the dice raise up towards 6. When a die hits 6 it will split and two new dice will be rolled. When certain numbers of dice show 6, minor, moderate, and then catastrophic consequences occur (defined before the game by the moderator). Players meanwhile are rolling dice representing the characters' efforts, trying to eliminate and capture the menace dice.

The menace in our first game were human-simian hybrids bred to be surrogate mothers and nursemaids. The minor threat was that only poor women would continue to give birth naturally, worsening social inequality. The moderate threat was some kind of monkey pox would jump the species barrier, harming an entire generation of hybrid-birthed kids. The catastrophic threat was (of course) the planet of the apes scenario.

Partway through the game Judson had a great suggestion to change the rules on capturing dice. Originally, when you capture a menace dice one goes into your hand to attack the threat with, the other went to the moderator to roll to attack your character or personal/professional contacts (representing how you were being corrupted by controlling part of the dangerous technology). Judson's suggestion was to have both dice go to the player, but everytime you roll, if one of the captured dice gets a 1 or 2, bad things happen. So the strategic choice of the game is how many captured dice you can afford to use and roll. We identified some other changes in terms of how many dice players start with, being able to rejuvenate and adapt between menaces, etc.

Joshua and Judson beat back the monkey-mom threat. Then Judson and I rolled really well and quickly polished off a threat from some machine that could generate pocket universes. Our longest game was fighting a strain of genetically modified corn thad radically extended the human lifespan. We chased that damn corn through India and the subcontinent, across global trade routes, and as it shifted to rapeseed and other grains, then finally saved the day.

The balance of the rules favored the players. That's fine since it allows for episodic play (each game took from 10-30 minutes) although it diminishes the horror aspects.

Ps- I haven't playtested my other 2 page entries, but if you want to check out a game where characters traits are entirely based on Marx's Economic and Philosophical Manuscript of 1844 (alienation from labor, from the products of labor, from other people, and from species being), try Satanic Mills

My other entry, Corrosion, has you cut a picture of your character up into a 3x3 grid or puzzle that represents their mental state.

David Artman

Sorry this is off-thread, but I gotta ask: are you a fan of the band Joy Division? When I saw this thread title, I thought "Oh, god, what now? A game about insanity and suicide...?" ;-)
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Quote from: David Artman on September 20, 2006, 06:38:31 PM
Sorry this is off-thread, but I gotta ask: are you a fan of the band Joy Division? When I saw this thread title, I thought "Oh, god, what now? A game about insanity and suicide...?" ;-)

Not really- I have a footnote in the game saying it's not named after the band.

I am fond of the song blue monday by new order

Larry L.


Say, I don't wish to detract from your successful playtest, but you do know the term "joy division" refers to Nazi rape camps?



Yeah, It's been pointed out in both forums I've posted this playtest in. The game doesn't relate to nazis (or to the band that named themselves after a term in Ka-Tzetnik's book House of Dolls). It's a play on Bill Joy, for his 2000 article 'why the future doesn't need us.'  It raises an interesting question as to whether the two words, by association, aren't a good choice for a game title. I lean towards the view that history and language shouldn't be sanctified and that Joy Division and House of Dolls are still ok phrases in English for other meanings.

Larry L.

Yeah, I just noticed that over at storygames. D'oh! Stupid parallel threads.

Oh yeah... like, belated welcome to the Forge and all that.

Ron Edwards


I'm interested in something - how do players lose? Note, players, not characters. I'm using "losing" in the sense of successful play, in that if I play a board game (for instance) I'm at least able to identify why I lost, and I'd be interested in playing again.

Best, Ron

Ron Edwards

Whoa! Another question: what did the player-characters in this instance find cool or repugnant (the features of character creation)? Did those match your chosen menace in any way?

How does that principle play out in general? Are there any specific effects of presenting characters with a menace that does not challenge their personal repugnances? Or conversely, of presenting characters with a menace that is repugnant to some, but cool to others?

Best, Ron


Hi Ron,

Good questions. Players lose by (a) being too cautious, not capturing enough dice & watching the menace grow out of control; or (b) being too aggressive, gathering too many corruption dice into your hand & having them wipe out all your contacts.

Players pick their repugnants/cools, then the GM draws upon player choices in creating a menace. For example, I think the corn of life came from the two repugnants superfood + immortality.

I considered building in mechanical effects for cools/repugnants but didn't, so they currently serve as cues for the GM.

It might be interesting to test a version in which you get a bonus for attacking a menace your character finds repugnant, but suffer worse consequences from corruption (and vice versa with cool - or maybe the tech you think is coolest is more likely to corrupt you ...) Then a game with a menace that all characters view as repugnant might turn out differently then a menace universally considered cool and different still from a game where characters opinions are split.


Ron Edwards

Hi Mark,

Based only my reading of the moment, I suggest that that's a bad idea. I like the principle you described to answer my first question and wouldn't want to see it diluted.

In regard to that principle, how conditional are the decisions about taking too much or not enough? Is the game too easily solved?

I have another question ... Am I correct in thinking that player-characters cannot die?

Best, Ron

Josh Roby

Mark, I heartily agree with Ron's take on it.  Repugnancies and Cools are perfectly fine working solely as opposition-flags.  Especially since, as I recall, the menace is only created by putting together a few of the players' repugnants and cools.

Ron, PCs don't die, but if they lose all of their contacts, they lose their will to fight the singularity and are removed from play.  Death isn't always an appropriate exit when you're 'fighting' something like, say, corn. ;)

I don't think the game is knowable; there are enough variables in starting conditions, number of players, and tactics of the other people at the table, that each play is pretty significantly different.
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Josh is right about death. I think of it as agents without contacts being burnt out and no longer useful to the division. 

I have a somewhat different take on the strategy question.

I think that during the first game, when your character has all 4 of their contacts, you'll usually want to be aggressive, push out all your dice as quarantines, and capture as many menace dice as possible. If players win the first game or two but lose some contacts in the process, then you'll face more of a choice when your character has 3, 2, or 1 contact.


Ron Edwards

Cool! Funny how it's possible to miss important stuff about a game even when it's only two pages long. I blame, in addition to my mental failings, the teeny-weeny script ...

Anyway, I'm now strongly inclined to play and see what's up. I sense an edgy cross between Shock and InSpectres that might suit me.

Best, Ron



Excellent. If you get a chance, it will be fun to see how it goes.