- An upright, educated and noble crocodile who constantly has to satisfy his curiosity
- A top Asian chef who was sabotaged in the cooking finale and is now seeking revenge
- An aging tireless inventor on the run from the machine cult and the futurists who are after his time-travelling kitchen clock
- Another cook who must prepare Schrödinger’s ham for the ghost of his deceased chef
- And a postman – probably the most powerful member of the group
… With this presentation of a P&P group, a good friend I know from LARP asked me if I would also like to play. My answer was clear. So with today’s session I was allowed to play three times in Itras By, which was led by the very sympathetic game master Paul. Itras By is about the city of the same name, which you can imagine as London in the 1920s – only surreal and with fantasy and sci-fi elements.
The Character Creation
I was surprised when I didn’t have to fill in a character sheet to create my character. However, writing down your thoughts about your character and the characters you meet over time is very useful. I had a video call with the game master where we introduced each other and he introduced me to the world of Itras By. This gave me enough inspiration to want to play a so-called city monkey.
Gregory the Ape, Grape for short, is the gardener of Julius Nimpelplex, the industrious tinkerer mentioned earlier. Grape lives in a slum and is therefore lucky to work in the rich district despite dumping wages. He smuggles flowers he has planted himself from the gardens in which he works and then distributes them in the slums; in the words of the game master a flower Robin Hood of Itras By.
The role-playing is as simple as character creation. First, the players enter the Discord server at the agreed time. Then there’s a short recap of what has happened so far or in the last session and off they go. Basically, the game master sets a scene and the players then describe what their characters are doing and create further scenes.
The special thing about Itras By is that players can add their own ideas at any time. This is an instrument that in most P&P role-playing games only the game master has. This makes the role-playing game very dynamic and always exciting, because each player contributes his or her own thoughts. The game master therefore needs to do less or no preparation for a session, because the creativity of experienced role-players with a red thread from the game master is completely sufficient here. Since the setting is surreal, you have almost unlimited possibilities and are not even bound by physical laws if you have a reason why they do not apply or apply differently in the scene.
The Decision Cards
To bring some balance into the game and to give the whole event an unpredictable framework, there are 10 so-called decision cards. Only the game leader has to have these, which he shuffles again after each draw. If a character does something that involves a certain difficulty, such a card is drawn. Before that, the player whose character does the action chooses another player or the game leader, who then determines the consequences of the decision card. The following things are written on the decision card:
- Yes, and … : What you intend to do can succeed, but only if you make a sacrifice.
- No, and … : What you wanted to do fails, and something else goes wrong in addition.
- Yes, but … : You succeed in what you wanted to do, but not completely. A small detail does not go according to plan.
- Yes, but … : You succeed in what you wanted to do. But something else, not directly related to it, goes wrong: either for you or for someone you care about.
- Yes, but … : What you want to do can succeed, but only if you make a sacrifice.
- Yes, but … : You succeed in what you wanted to do, but it has unexpected consequences.
- No, but … : What you intend to do does not succeed, but the consequences are not catastrophic.
- No, but … : What you wanted to do fails. But something else that had nothing to do with it gives you an advantage.
- You need help: You realise that you need someone’s help to succeed in what you want to do.
- The conflict escalates: In some way the conflict intensifies, the problem becomes more complicated or the stakes are raised.
The Randomness Cards
Most of the time the role-playing game runs smoothly, but to spice things up or for when things don’t run quite so smoothly, there are the random cards. Each player may draw a random card in any scene at any time during a session. However, only one random card should be drawn per scene so as not to overload it. A reason why the effects of the random card occur is quickly found in the surreal world of itras By. Below I list a few examples of such random cards, which I find very exciting for P&P in general:
- Fast forward: You make a jump three hours into the future. You may describe what situation you and the other members of the group are in, but you may not determine what has happened in the meantime. You define this together, in a conversation between the characters.
- Rewind: Time is rewound by a few seconds, and what happened before the card was drawn did not happen. Instead, the exact opposite now occurs. You may describe what exactly has been reversed.
- Flashback: You are now playing a scene that happened in the past and that is somehow connected to what is happening now. You set the scene and distribute NPCs to the players for this scene.
- Amor Victor: The power of love affects the situation in some way. In what way that happens, you describe.
- Masked Ball: For the rest of this scene, all players switch roles: All characters are moved one to the right.
- Two pieces of news: The characters learn one piece of good news and one piece of bad news. First the player who drew the card determines the bad news, then the game leader determines the good news.
- What do I have in my pocket?: Your character finds something useful in one of his pockets. I wonder what it is?
- Nemesis: This card activates your Nemesis. In some way, your nemesis influences the plot. How exactly is up to you. You don’t have a nemesis, you say? Now you do.
- Justice: In this scene, justice is done. How, why and for (or against) whom?
- Rumour mill: A rumour is spreading. Whisper a rumour to the player on your left that is related to the scene being played. The rumour passes from player to player and is changed and exaggerated with each passing. When the rumour comes back to you, it has become the truth.
- The Fool: For the rest of the scene, your character makes bad decisions and stupid mistakes. You should stay true to your character concept though, his personality does not change as a result.
- Death: In this scene, something ends and something new begins. What is it and how does it happen?
- More drama: The current situation permanently grants your character a new dramatic quality.
- All alone in the open: Your character is suddenly cut off from the others. How does this happen?
- Inner monologue: In this scene, you may choose someone at any time (whether character or NPC) whose player must stand up and give a short inner monologue (i.e. say out loud for all to hear what the character is thinking and feeling at that moment).
In English, the basic cards (i.e. decision and random cards) are available on the Itras By website for free. Additional cards and the background to Itras By have to be bought on the internet, e.g. here. However, it is enough if the game master has this and the game system definitely deserves some support.
The concept of Itras By leads to a nice flow of the game in which each player can contribute more than in most other P&P games. Since there are no dice rolls and there is a conscious decision not to demand success, the story you create together enjoys a dynamic that I don’t know from other role-playing games. You don’t have to take the world/setting of itras By, you can just add something to it. Who knows, maybe the players create the world from the beginning?
And last but not least, the preparation effort for the game master and the players is very low: For the game master, because the story can be created during the role-play – here it simply helps to have a few ideas in the back of your head where you can lead the story when a goal is reached; And for the players, because their backgrounds can also be created or supplemented during the game. All in all, I can highly recommend Itras By for enthusiastic role-players.