Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Murakami Your Table Top Game

Murakami Your Table Top Game
by Tobie Abad

I will confess to being a late-bloomer when it comes to the works of Haruki Murakami.  My first encounter of his work was when I chanced upon the short story "On Seeing the 100% Perfect Girl One Beautiful April Morning" online.  I don't quite recall why I did, or how, but I recall reading it, finding myself lost in it, and wondering how it had affected me so profoundly.

Years later, Rocky, my partner, turns out to be a very voracious reader and happens to have a wonderful collection of Murakami novels.  I've heard of his name before but I never realized he was the author of that short story I read from years back.  I hear about another story of his, which had according to my source a "psychic prostitute" and I immediately find myself curious to learn more.  Rocky has me read "The Elephant Vanishes" and very soon after that, "The Wind-Up Bird Chronicles" and I am hooked.  The very natural and normal mix with the sublime and unique.  The supernatural is interposed with repetitive ordinariness.  Sexy is mingled against blase.  Murakami is a master of keeping things so odd they seem so simple.  Cutty Sark.  Cats.  Strange powers.  Fetish and Loss.  Discovery and Phone calls.

They would be perfect for making a game more interesting.

So here is my article on how to give your games a touch of Murakami (if you want to.)

Step 1: Make Ordinary Life... Ordinary.
Let the players experience the humdrum of routine and the brain-draining price of a repetitive quiet life.  Married.  Single.  Widowed.  Young.  It doesn't matter.  Whether it is homework or assignments  projects or business plans, life has become a routinary bore and the player must start to feel the yearning for something to happen.

Or go the other way around.  Keep the player happy, content and cheerful.  Then reveal that the person in the game this is shared with the most, be it a partner, a lover, a friend, actually has been struggling to pretend and keep up appearances of being okay with things and today was the final straw.  The other person wants out, nothing the player character offers will change that decision.

Step 2: Phone Calls should become a Motif.
As I mentioned in my other article (quick edit: That article comes after this one, oops!) , Leitmotifs and Motifs + Gaming are very useful and effective tools to enhance your games.  Use the telephone (whether it be cellphone or land line) as an important recurring object or factor in your sessions.  Phone calls should come at odd times.  Or follow a clockwork schedule.  Mundane calls come and odd calls follow.  The caller tends to know more than the expected.  Or far too much than possible.

Step 3: Women are mysterious.  Sexy.  And either know too much, or barely say a word.
Women are delicate creatures of mystery and hidden stories.  They say multitudes with a smile.  They shatter defenses with the slightest touch.  They are intoxicating.  They are addictive.  They are real.   But what makes them irresistible should never be the normal things.  Maybe it is the way her eyes look when closed.  Or how her ear juts out from her hair.  Or the angle of her chin when she smiles.

And to make love to one must be a scene in itself.  A momentous occasion that causes the player character to question everything.  Or to long for something that might never happen ever again.

Step 4: Cats should be like real world cats.
They demand attention.  They ignore you.  They vanish.  They return.   They stare.  They bring gifts.   They do whatever they want.

Step 5: Cutty Sark.
Give your players a repeating source of relief.  Whether it is the ever reliable glass of Cutty Sark to enjoy, or a perfectly accomplished massage, or even a fine cigar, whatever it is, it should happen often enough that it feels comforting for the player.  If you must, have it mechanically have a bonus too.  (White Wolf games for example can have this relief give the player one temporary Will Power point back, while Houses of the Blooded might allow this act to refresh an Aspect for free.)

Step 6: Something must Vanish.  Or something must be Discovered/Found.
And whatever that thing is, the player characters must either feel compelled to find it or determined to conceal it.    If you want to push the envelope further, make it something almost impossible to vanish/suddenly find, like an elephant.  Or old girlfriends.  Or birthmarks.  Or memories.

Step 7: Historical Bring-It-Back-To-Bacon.
Everything has connections.  The enemy is the great grand son of the woman who fell in love with your great grand father.  Or the victim of the murder is the school teacher you had whose back story actually  reveals he was actually the man courting your wife's mother.  Or all the characters you meet in the game used to all be in the recent war, and their fathers all used to be in the previous earlier war.

The ties of fate and destiny seem to be there.  But not necessarily in the heroic sense.

Have the interconnections, but leave the players to decide what they mean.

Step 8:  Yeah, What You Just Said Above.
Don't try to explain everything.  Don't try to make things have a resolution.  But do make sure things end with a relatively logical sense.  Just not something that gives direct meaning to the series of events that lead to this point.

Hell, you can even end the session with the same scene as the opening scene.

Step 9: If You Can, Leave the Dice Alone.
Keep rolls to a minimum.  You want your players to feel less that they have chances, and more that they're the victim of fate, or a particularly evil narrator.  But on the flip side, be on their side.  Miraculous escapes.  Coincidental events.  The character is lost at sea, but the raft he is on happens to be filled with fish the next morning when he wakes up.   The character is in a plane that crashes, he awakens to find himself floating in a swimming pool and a woman in a bikini steps out and asks if he needs a cigarette, apparently calm to find a man in her pool in the middle of the night.

Unless their death is intended to be a plot point, the player characters do not die.  Something seems to watch over them.  Dumb luck.  Or intelligent design.

Step 10:  Sex.
If the players are old enough, be sure there are sex scenes.  You don't need to make them graphic.  But they should be memorable and weird yet always hyper-sexual.    When running the sex scenes, don't think porn.  Think of latex and olive oil.  Dangerous, slippery yet not necessarily bad for you.  Unless it wasn't supposed to happen.

And at worst, you can always claim it was a dream sequence.
Or at least, that's what they think.



  1. You forgot to add, "No one actually tries to resolve the situations that they're in, they just give up and accept them", which is one of the biggest (well, within Japan anyway) criticism of his works.

    1. That's a solid point! Maybe I can write a follow-up, "How to PLAY in a game as if you were a Murakami character." Heheheh!

  2. This was a great and unusual set of advice that I love. Thanks.

    1. You are very much welcome,Brett!
      And yes, feel free to share the link around if you want.
      To more gaming!



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