Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Looking forward to someday getting lost in The House of Unusual Size

The House of Unusual Size is not my favorite entry in the Free RPG's Harder Than Granite contest from back in 2013. (That's a toss up between Keeton's Journey and A Flask Full of Gasoline) It is, however, the game I think I'm most likely to play.

The game is set in the ancient mansion of Ezra Keeton that was built atop a mountain and undoubtably built into the mountain. In a twist that feels like it's straight out of Lovecraft's Lurking Fear, the Keeton family vanished long ago, perhaps into the mansion.

The players wake up alone and without any memory in the mansion. As the game progresses, they must explore not only the mansion but who they really are. In the end, they must find each other and escape from the tangled labyrinth that is the mansion of Ezra Keeton.

The players start off with a blank character sheet. As the game progresses, the story will let them define a positive quality, a flaw and their connection to the Keeton family.

The House of Unusual Size is a GM-Free system, something that I have come to really enjoy. The player to the left of the active player serves as the GM for that player. They flip a coin, with heads being a positive scene and tails being a negative scene. The scenes can include self-discovery and challenges and fantastic encounters. The other players help fill in details and play other characters or creatures who might be in the scene. You just flip a coin if you have to figure out if a character fails or not at doing something.

After everyone is figured out who they are and what they have to do with the Keeton family, there will be a climactic scene where everyone escapes from the mansion together. There is really no mechanic for everyone dying or catastrophic failure but, if the group wants to play a game like this, they should have no problem filling in those details.

Oh, make no mistake. The House of Unusual Size is far from a perfect system. The rules and the structure are so vague that I don't think it's new player friendly at all. I think it would would only work with a crew of players who are experienced with narrative games.

Frankly, the rules being so vague and requiring interpretation would normally be a game breaker for me. However, the sheer ease of pick-up-and-play and the degree that the theme lends itself to easy story telling makes the game appealing to me anyway.

If I am going to have a role-playing game that I can print out on one page, fold up, and put my pocket, I wanted to be one that can be pulled out and played at the drop of a hat. A House of Unusual Size pulls off the trick. 

After all, all you need are the rules, a coin, and a way to write things down. Spooky houses are a genre that is easy to run with. Heck, in a pinch, you could use rock paper scissors instead of the coin and memory if you don't have anything to write things down with.

I can see it being an easy game to play during a road trip, at a cafe, or Skype. I can even see playing it via conference call, although probably just to prove that you can. It would be easy to hack to make shorter, like having every scene add an element to the character sheet with the last round of play being the escape.

The House of Unusual Size definitely needs a group that's prepared for a strong narrative focus and one that can handle minimal rules. Despite that, I can see myself packing this tiny little RPG in my convention bag, just in case. It makes a great use of its theme, strong enough to carry the minimal rules.

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