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.
Mama is a Fastaval scenario about vampires and motherhood by Kat Jones. The design is very structurally oriented, with the scenario text providing a framework for both the play itself and creating some of the prerequisites for it. This kind of an approach tends to make for scenarios that are somewhat opaque when read but which work great when played.
The scenario opens with participants figuring out the themes they want to explore through the twin concepts of motherhood and vampirism. They’re roughly divided into positive and negative ones, with the possibility of themes that can be both, depending on the take.
The exploration of these themes is the core of the game rather than story or character. With one exception, each scene features different characters and setting than before, making sure players won’t be able to find agency or ownership through creating either of those, only on the themes they came up with.
After the participants have the themes ready, it’s time to make up characters for the first scene. The scenario proceeds like this, making up characters, playing a scene, then making up new characters. Finally, the last scene circles back to the first one, and uses the same characters.
The core dynamics of the scenes are pre-designed and the participants flesh them out by answering questions. For example, in one scene a vampire tries to convince a human mother to allow their child to be made into a vampire. One question to flesh out the vampire character is: “Why do you want this child?”
One for the mother is: “What do you want to provide for your child that is out of your reach?”
The use of vampires as a metaphor is rich in Mama because the design allows for different interpretations. In the above scene, one interpretation is the vampire as someone wealthy or powerful who can provide the child with more than the mother can, but at the cost of possibly breaking their bond.