Misspent Youth

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Tabletop Tuesdays: Roleplaying Teen Rebellion

Tabletop (Free)
Robert Bohl

Misspent Youth is a game of youthful rebellion against authority. As with some other indie RPGs, like My Life with Master, almost everything about the game's setting and conflict is produced through collaborative negotiation among the players and GM. The givens are these: There is an Authority against which the players are rebelling. The players are all friends, between the ages of 12 and 17. And there is some science fictional aspect to the setting. Other than these, almost everything is up for grabs.

The GM is called "The Authority," but unlike Paranoia's Friend Computer, The Authority is not necessarily a defined antagonist -- instead, he represents the forces of oppression, whatever they may be. In one example from the rulesbook, The Authority is a multinational fisheries bureaucracy that, having given up on preserving the oceans, is instead bioengineering a planned marine ecology to maximize fishing yields, while the players are technically literate Inuit fighting to preserve and reintroduce naturally evolved organisms.

The game's system is well conceived for the creation of complex and interesting characters. Every character has a Mistreatment trait (why they can run around rebelling instead of doing their homework), a Motivation (why they rebel), a Means (the main way they fight The Authority), a Schtick, and a Glitch. While the actions taken against The Authority, and the responses of The Authority, are the focus of plot, the focus of roleplaying is on the friendships among the players, and the threat that their interactions with The Authority pose to those friendships.

Each session of play is supposed to conform to a variant of the three-act structure, which is an interesting idea in its own right -- among other things, it forces a story and conclusion in a single game session, whereas conventional RPGs often drag into several sessions without obvious or convenient breakpoints. In each of the acts within the session, there's a single main "conflict", with "stakes" negotiated between The Authority (GM) and the players; the resolution system is used primarily to determine which side side earns its stake in the conflict. That is, there is no moment-to-moment action resolution (i pick/fail to pick the lock, I hit/fail to hit the orc); instead, actions are freely described, and only the crux of the scene involves die-rolls. The actual mechanic is a bit too complex to go into in a short review, but is novel, and forces players to bring out their traits and encourages in-character roleplaying.

One notable point, however, is that when the players "lose" a conflict, any character may force a win by "selling out" one of his or her traits. This produces a permanent change in the trait, for the worse; pride becomes arrogance, tough becomes brutal, and so on. This aspect is reminiscent of Grey Ranks, and plays into the adolescent fantasy that adolescents are fresh and cool but too often turn into boring adult drones; but it is also noticeable a reversal of conventional ideas about fiction. That is, characters don't grow; they get worse.

Still, this works, and it's a polished design for an indie RPG -- and surely the essential theme is appealing.


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Thanks for the kind review,

Thanks for the kind review, Greg. I'm glad you keyed in on the story structure thing; that was very important to me. There's a new/final version coming out by the end of the year.

Similar, but not really comparable

R.Talsorian published a similar RPG called "CyberGeneration", basically a re-theming of CP2020 for players and characters of a younger age group. However, that one was not themed/modelled after real world activism, and was more "animeish" than I prefer.

Funny you should mention it.

Funny you should mention it. One of my inspirations was a game of CyberGeneration that didn't live up to what I was hoping it would be.

RobertBohl: I see. It made

RobertBohl: I see. It made me check the credits and playtester list of "Bastille Day", a most revolushionary CyberGeneration scenario with the front cover slogan "KEEP ON ROCKIN' FOR A FREE WORLD", for you name. But no, you were not involved.

I am looking for the final version of your game, thanks!

"Players are Technically Literate Inuit fighting..."

Heh, if I played this game it wouldn't exactly be role-playing. This sounds really cool, I wish I had friends that are into this sort of thing.

My take on that is that you

My take on that is that you can always take friends who aren't into RPGs and get them to try these smaller, weirder games. Especially the one-shot stuff like shock: social science fiction or My Life with Master.

I'm glad you're interested; hope you enjoy the final product.

An update

The final version of the game (the not-ashcan one) is available for free in PDF now on my site.