I hadn’t planned to enter the 200 Word RPG Challenge, but then an idea popped into my head, followed closely by another, and one spilled out of me.
The Thief is a solitaire RPG that takes a few minutes to play. You need a handful of coins and possibly something to write on.
The Thief was inspired by the TV series The Wire and the video game Papers, Please; the Prince Valiant RPG, which uses coin-tossing; and current events. It’s not what the title makes it sound like it might be, but it’s not subtle about what it actually is.
I love nanogames, roleplaying poems, whatever you want to call them — short-form games, as a form, are fascinating. To date, my favorite is Stoke-Birmingham 0-0, in which you play the most boring people possible with the most boring lives possible and, over the course of (if memory serves) fifteen minutes, attempt to say absolutely nothing of interest. It’s hilarious.
200 words is a brutal constraint. I struggled to strike a balance between brevity, clarity, and the tone I was after. It required multiple drafts to get it down to 200 words, which was a surprisingly enjoyable process — I dig creativity with constraints. (And I played it conservative and counted the title, byline, and copyright language against my 200.)
The Thief took me about five hours to produce: one hour for the first draft, another to find the woodcut and header font, and three hours to rewrite, redesign, playtest, and proofread. The mechanics went through several iterations, three of which I playtested, until I found the mix I wanted. For about five minutes, the game took an abrupt dogleg and was about time travel, but it didn’t take me long to see that that wasn’t right for it.
I played the final version before submitting it to the challenge, and it did what I wanted it to. If you try it, I hope you get something out of it.
The Unlucky Isles [affiliate link], the first system-neutral guidebook for my Godsbarrow fantasy campaign setting, is now on DriveThruRPG.
5 replies on “The Thief”
Actually loved this game, shared this post with my english colleague who also plays and he couldnt stop laughing about the other game you mentioned Stoke-Birmingham. I tried that too but I think it’s a British thing haha, thanks! Jonas.
Thanks, Jonas! It’s exciting to hear about folks playing The Thief, and doubly so to know that you enjoyed it. It was fun to design.
On Stoke-Birmingham: I’m half English, which may explain it. ;-)
What happens if you “win”? Example: game start you flip your 5 coins, get 4+ heads, don’t go home, flip again, get 4+ heads again, you’ve netted 4 things (without first netting 3 things which requires you to go home) then go home, you’re at -1 things, you get a thing, you break even and no longer need to steal to live.
You can’t go negative for needs, only to zero. So that second flip would send you home with everything you need (yay!), then you’d add a need and venture forth again.
Can you ever get everything you want? Sure! But (I say with a measure of trepidation, since you know a LOT more about probability than I do!) the odds aren’t in your favor.
I had a comment all queued up about how you distinguish between needs and things so you can accumulate more things than needs, RAW.
But then re-reading I see that for each 2 heads you steal “one thing you need” which means once you need nothing else successive heads would net you nothing. That changes the game a bit making it an unwinable death spiral. Given the context I’ll take that as social commentary.