My First Questlandia Experience: The Island Kingdom of Chichazehski
My friend has had this weird RPG he picked up at the Penny Arcade Expo a year or two ago sitting on his shelf, occasionally thumbed through but never played. All that changed this past weekend as my wife and I with two friends sat down and created a new world. A world populated by a spiritual kingdom of anthropomorphic rabbits on a small island where every night the spirits of the dead inhabit the homes they once lived in. Everyday the rabbit people of Chichazehski work, trade, and live together on the island and at night live offshore on floating barge houses so their ancestor spirits may inhabit their homes when the stars come out. If the rabbit-ancestor spirits are not pleased and the proper carrots and cabbages are not sacrificed evil spirits will overpower the ancestors and the world will come to darkness. Does that sound weird enough for you? Welcome to Questlandia.
This is a game where in one single RPG length play session (3.5 - 5 hours) you and your friends create a setting for your RPG together. Players are prodded along by initial die rolls and card draws (more on that later) which give them some starting points to build the world from. We rolled that that in our setting, the kingdom had a religious or philosophical focus. Further card draws and dice rolls suggest character types and motivations for the player character's that will inhabit this new world. At our table this yielded results like a laborer driven by honor, a high priest bound by tradition, and a miscreant shunned by the community.
These broad archetypes are left up to the players to develop into a character with a name and a history. Here again the game assists with small mechanics in the form of traits (mine were commanding and grouchy) and weaknesses (prone to lashing out in rage). During the setting and character creation process, players also pick aspects of the game world to have creative control over. Input and ideas can be taken from all players, but in their own respective areas the owner has the final say in answering any questions about the setting. For instance, I chose to flesh out the high rabbit priest and so took control over the aspects of the setting which determined the nature of our kingdom's religion. Other players were concerned with the geography or social aspects of our world. In this way every player can feel personally invested in the world you are playing in.
Once the world and characters have been created play proceeds scene by scene from person to person. On your turn you are the protagonist. You decide where your character is, who else is there, and what they are going to try to do in order to move closer to their character's personal goal. The remaining players, if their character's are not involved in the scene, can play other NPCs who may be present or provide commentary and ideas as the scene progresses. No stats or dice resolution come into play during the scene, player's simply role play out the proposed scenario with the game suggesting that non-protagonist players behave with the same mindset that a DM does in D&D. Keep the scene fun for the protagonist, feel free to challenge them, but don't directly veto or contradict them unless you feel it is crucial to the story being told.
Once the protagonist player calls for resolution to the scene, dice are rolled by the protagonist against the opposition forces. How many dice you get to use depend on how relevant the scene was to your characters traits and goals in addition to relationships with other player characters. The dice are rolled and compared with positive or negative story results doled out based on whether the protagonist player or opposing forces rolled higher. Positive results take the form of mastering obstacles, gaining character traits or boosts, or improving your relationships with other characters. Failures comprise reversals of fortune, a worsening or broken relationship, or even a general swing for the worse on the level of the entire kingdom.
In Questlandia, everyone gets 3 of these scenes where they are the primary protagonist. With 3 chances to drive the plot of the world and your character forward there is a good deal of potential for pushing through character arcs and seeing some growth even in a one session game like this. Our group had a lot of fun not only coming up with scenes when we were the protagonist, but in playing many NPC's who flit in and out of other player's scenes. I'm looking forward to playing again and developing a new world every time that can be as light hearted or as serious as the players call for.
It was a ton of fun rotating characters and playing different NPCs for each scene. In our game it turned sometimes into a comical Greek chorus with people chiming in as various faceless merchants and villagers. After the first few scenes we seemed to settle into how the game worked and it resulted in a lot of fun role playing. In a way, Questlandia feels more like an improvisation game with a formalized set of rules than it does a role playing game with a heavy emphasis on role playing.
That's not a bad thing, by any means. I like having a crunchy strategic system to dig into (I am a BattleTech player, after all) but Questlandia was refreshing in its insistence on constant improvised role playing. It felt like great practice for the DM's chair or role playing in any other system on top of being a ton of fun in and of itself. I've ordered a copy of the book for myself and plan on taking it out with more casual game players as a great step-in to the world of role playing.
If you want to check out Questlandia for yourself, it's available in pdf or paperback here: http://makebigthings.com/questlandia-rpg/