An Adventure Per Year: Stockholm Syndrome (2019)

In my A Game Per Year project, my goal has been to read one roleplaying game corebook for every year they’ve been published. However, I soon started to feel that it was hard to decipher how the games were really meant to be played. For this reason, I decided to start a parallel project, An Adventure Per Year, to read one roleplaying adventure for each year they’ve been published.

The cover of Stockholm Syndrome

Stockholm Syndrome is one of those classic Fastaval scenarios which interrogate the stifling awfulness of the family, in this case by examining the emotional landscape of the titular Stockholm Syndrome. There’s a mother, a teenage daughter and younger son. Dad has died, leaving Mom in deep depression and forcing the daughter to take care of the family. The son is observant and emotionally clever, but also prone to escaping to fantasy worlds and incapable of handling conflict.

In the first scenes, Mom starts to date a new man, Frank. It doesn’t take long for all three to move in with him, forced to live by his rules and enact his fantasies of how family life should be. There’s no way out.

The scenario carefully demarcates the lines around the experience it tries to create. Violence will not be played, including sexual violence. Scenes should be cut if physical conflict seems inevitable. Escape or rebellion are also impossible. Because extremes of harshness are out of bounds and there’s no hope of change, the focus naturally turns to the oppressive emotional minutiae of ordinary interactions.

I’ve seen this kind of design in other Nordic scenarios and games too. By moving the worst of it out of the frame of play, the experience can become more intense. When something extravagant happens, it lets tension go slack even if it’s bad. The solution is to keep the energy of the game bottled up.

The question is, what kind of positive interactions and experiences is it possible to have with someone who hurts you? The three characters of the Mom, the daughter and the son are almost like case studies of different types of play strategies aimed at evoking emotional responses in the other players. One player might go for the heartbreaking naivete of the son who just wants to have a father figure while another can make the endless failures of the Mom seem both understandable yet hard to forgive.

I’ve found that often a successful game or scenario takes a strong, common concept and explores it to its logical conclusion. That’s just what this scenario does with out tendency to love our jailers.

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