33/52 New RPGs: The Naked Truth

I’m on a study project to improve my understanding of roleplaying games. To this end, I already have two reading projects, A Game Per Year and An Adventure Per Year. This is the third, with the goal of reading or playing 52 games made in the last few years. Originally I considered making this “A New RPG Per Week” and that’s where the number 52 comes from, even though a weekly schedule is probably not within my abilities.

The cover of The Naked Truth

The Naked Truth is a Finnish freeform scenario by Arttu Hanska and Joonas Katko. It premiered at Fastaval in 2018. It’s about four Finnish men going to the sauna together.

It’s a cliche but also true: The sauna has a large symbolic role in Finnish culture. Just a few generations ago, people were born in the sauna and after they died, their bodies were washed in the sauna. One of my grandmothers begun her life in the sauna.

The traditional Finnish male expectation is that you work hard, never complain, never express your feelings and endure everything life throws at you. One of the places where you can escape this role is when you sit in the sauna with your friends. Hunched over in the heat, you can open up about your vulnerabilities and expect to be understood and supported.

As a Finn, this is part of my cultural experience too. I’ve been in those situations: I’m at a party and we’re going to the sauna. By chance, I end up sitting there with a man I don’t really know. We exchange a few words and suddenly he opens up about the problems in his marriage. As he tells his lonely, sad story, I offer a few words of support.

This is the experience that The Naked Truth tries to convey. It’s an essentially positive, emotionally open game about masculinity.

As a freeform Fastaval-style game, the design is in the characters, the scenes, the script for the GM. Somewhat unusually, it’s also in the cultural briefing that the players get to help them assume the Finnish context in case they’re not Finns themselves.

Another fairly rare design element is silence. Since silence is a key part of the sauna experience, the scenario’s design seeks to make sure it has space and that events proceed slowly enough for contemplation to take place. Finnish roleplaying and larp culture often places a premium on internal play and The Naked Truth explicitly allows for it.

Roleplaying culture is flooded with American games. I’ve sometimes wondered what it feels like to be an American and have your own cultural experience reflected back at you in published games all the time. If you’re a Finnish roleplayer, this is a rare pleasure.

The Naked Truth encapsulates a simple, classic element from Finnish culture and makes it legible for foreign players as well.

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