Songs About Us is a one-shot RPG I wrote about music and the friends we shared it with.
SONGS ABOUT US
A game of music and memories for 3-5 players
SONGS ABOUT US is a game of old friends, the music they listened to, and the adventures they shared. An unspoken event has brought your old friend group back together for the first time in a very long time. Someone has found an old mixtape that you made together when you were younger, and you have agreed to listen through it for old times sake. As you sit and listen to this musical record of your life together, you feel the murmurs of long-forgotten memories stir within you.
Before playing, the players must agree on several background details. Firstly, you should agree on the time period in which the mixtape was made. Avoid being too specific: ‘the late eighties’ or ‘the turn of the millenium’ provide the right amount of detail. Note that based on the time period, the ‘mixtape’ you are listening to may not be a literal mixtape. It could be a burned CD-R, a folder full of pirated MP3s, or a shared Spotify playlist. The precise nature of the mixtape does not matter, only that it is a collection of songs that you shared and listened to together when you were younger.
You should also agree about the age you were at the time the mixtape was made. High school makes for a good default option, but middle school, college, or your early twenties can work as well. Just make sure it is a time when emotions run high, everyone is a little too stupid for their own good, and no one has quite figured out who they are or what they want to be.
Finally, players should discuss if there is any kind of content that they are not comfortable including in their game and agree on a safe word or sign (such as crossing your arms above your head) that players can use to indicate if these boundaries have been crossed. This is known as ‘using the X card’. If anyone uses the X card at any point in your game, respect their boundaries and do not argue with them. Simply rewind the story backwards to before the objectionable content was introduced and have the player who was speaking pick up where they left off.
Once you have decided on these details, each player should make a list of at least five songs from that time period. If you were alive at the time, try to pick songs that you actually listened to in those days. Try to pick songs that evoke a variety of different emotions. You may wish to agree on the time period several days before playing the game in order to give people time to pick their list of songs.
On game day, each player should bring their list of songs, a pen, and a large notecard or sheet of paper. One player should also bring a device capable of playing music from the Internet. The players should sit together in a circle around a table or on the floor.
Decide on a name for the character you will be playing. Write “This book belongs to:” at the top of your notecard and sign your character’s beneath it. This will be the only thing you write on your own notecard.
The player who brought the music player takes the first turn.
On your turn, pick a song from your list and start it playing on the music player, then start describing a memory that the song reminds your character of. You should start each memory by saying “This song reminds me of the time…” or something similar. While each memory should focus on a memorable event that happened to you, don’t be afraid to set the scene with lots of sensory details. Was the smell of salt spray strong that summer? Was it so cold that you couldn’t feel your toes? What holiday decorations were strung across the neighborhood houses, and were they up particularly late or conspicuously early? Was the drone of the cicadas as loud as always, or were they drowned out by the sounds of construction coming from the new mall they were building on the other side of the freeway? This is your memory, and you can color it with whatever details you’d like.
Of course, these are memories that you made together with your friends, and you should tag in at least one of the other players into each memory you describe. When you tag in another player, simply describe the way that their character entered the story of this memory. For example, you could say something like “Of course, Steven was along for the ride,” or “And that’s when I called Simone.” Once you have tagged in another player, step back and let them describe how their character enters the memory. Are they driving the car, since they’re the only one with a license? Are they egging you on, encouraging you to get into further mischief? Or are they timidly holding back and warning you that this is a bad idea? Allow the player you have tagged in to fill in these details themselves.
Once you have tagged in another player, you are reminiscing about the memory together. Feel free to trade the narration back and forth, organically adding details together and building on what the other player suggests. At this point, either of you should feel free to tag in an additional third player whose character was also present in this memory. To keep things moving, you should generally avoid tagging in more than two players into any one memory.
As you embellish your memory with details, you may want to involve other characters who are not represented by players at the table. Perhaps your parents caught you experimenting with alcohol, or maybe you started dating someone from out of town. There may even be another member of your friend group who didn’t (or couldn’t) make it out to reminisce with you tonight. Feel free to describe these characters however you wish and to ascribe whatever personalities or actions you want to them. They’re not here to say otherwise, and so they exist only in your memories.
When the player who started the memory feels like that memory has run its course, they should finish it by saying something like “Ah,those were the days” or “We sure were crazy back then.” Ideally, you should try to finish reminiscing before your song finishes playing. The players who were involved in the memory should then pass their notecards around between them, and each player may take the opportunity to write a message or draw a picture that reminds them of the memory on the other players’ notecards. You should never write or draw on your own notecard.
After your turn is finished, the player to your right takes the next turn, picks a new song to play, and begins to describe another memory. Try to obey the principle of “Yes, And.” Use your turns to build and elaborate on the world and the dynamics that the other players have set up for you. Do not use them to try and undo or rewrite the memories that have already been established.
If you are playing with three players, each player should take three turns over the course of the game. If you are playing with four or five players, each player should take two.
Once each player has taken all their turns, all of the players should compare their notecards. Whoever has the least written on their notecard gets to take the final turn. On the final turn, pick one last song to play, and begin to tell the memory of how this friend group began to drift apart. Perhaps people naturally went their separate ways after graduation. Perhaps someone moved away, or the group split into factions after a bad breakup. You may wish to use this time to elaborate on the reason why your characters have been brought together again in the present day, or you may prefer to leave it unspoken.
Instead of tagging players into this final memory, simply describe how things went down from your own character’s point of view, and then say “At least, that’s how I remember it,” and place your notecard in the center of the table or floor. The player to your left then then describes their own view of the events and puts their own notecard in the center. Once every player’s notecard is in the center of the table, take the opportunity to add any final messages or drawings you want to the other players’ notecards. Remember that you may not add to your own notecard.
Once every player is done writing, return each notecard back to its owner. Turn out the lights, and go your separate ways.
This game was unabashedly inspired by Mix-tape by Robert Gardner