This is a role-playing game about displacement, jet lag and home sickness. The characters are strangers staying in a luxury hotel in a foreign country.
During play the characters will discover the world outside their hotel life, have meaningful discussions in the hotel bar, and difficult conversations with whoever it is on the other end of the call home.
All of the characters suffer from Lag, the difference between their personal time zone, the time zone they left and local time. As the game progresses the characters will move away from their home time zone as they adjust to local time.
During the game the players explore each character’s arc in three kinds of scenes:
Mission scenes explore the character’s reason for being here, and will involve their local contacts (to be played by other players). These will be connected with their Archetype (see below).
Calls home scenes explore the character’s ties back home. These connections may be personal (e.g. family, lovers) or professional (e.g. Head Office).
Hotel encounter scenes with other characters in the hotel. Chance encounters in the elevator, the bar, waiting outside the hotel for the morning taxi.
This Archetype is all about connecting with fans and the public. Their Mission is to entertain, promote something or otherwise use their face and media presence for commercial gain.
This character is here to work with other members of their organisation. They may be discussing strategy, dividing spoils, or electing a leader. The character may well have to defend their territory from rivals.
They’re here simply as a hanger-on to someone else. They may be a child, a lover, or a freeloader. Their mission will be to make the best of their situation and not become bored.
This person is here to buy or sell. Their wares could be rare, illegal or highly valuable; whatever the reason they need to be here to make the deal in person.
This character is running from something. Maybe they’re a fugitive from justice, perhaps they’re a disgraced VIP, or they could be a refugee from a war zone.
This character is a troubleshooter is here to fix a problem that relies on their expertise. This may involve a technical problem, political situation, or silencing someone. Expect hard decisions and not making any friends.
The Pilgrim is here to find something. It could be a reconciliation with a lost child or lover. It could be treasure, knowledge, or spiritual enlightenment. It could be inspiration for their next masterpiece.
This character is a criminal intent on theft of something from an individual or organisation. It could be a heist, a confidence trick, or state or industrial espionage.
Examples of people you have left back home:
The Domestic connection indicates a family member, dependent or lover. This relationship hinges on personal obligation and conversations will hinge on emotional connections such as family obligations, the status of a relationship, or guilt at being here and not at home to take care of the other person.
This is someone with a position of power over the character. Obviously this could be a company boss, but equally it could be a crime boss, a family patriarch or matriarch, or even a client. In each case the conversation will hinge around business obligations, and the cost of the character’s inaction (both threats on the person and what failure means for the character’s organisation).
The last category is someone who poses a real threat to the character. They could be a rival who is eyeing up your territory, a cop who is convinced of your guilt, or a blackmailer who is trying to force you to do something.
The city state
The city-state is a peculiar mixture of ostentatious new wealth and conservative attitudes. It’s eager to court foreign business, and the city centre is a luxurious tourist hotspot and temple to capitalism with outstanding hotels for business guests and a dazzling array of restaurants and retail outlets to tempt passing travellers on an overnight layover. But outside this centre the state rules the population with draconian laws, overcrowding is severe and the gap between rich and poor is vast.
My first go-to system is Dramasystem and specifically Malandros for the dramatic vs. procedural scenes. In this example the Procedural scenes will probably fit with the character’s personal Mission, and the Dramatic ones will work with Hotel encounters and Calls Home.
PbtA is the alternative, which could work with the usual setup (follow the characters around for the first session) but might require careful consideration of the various Fronts.
Mostly inspired by working for weeks on end in Singapore with an 8 hour time difference from home.
- Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation
- David Cronenburg’s Naked Lunch
RPG examples: Over The Edge (obviously).
5 thoughts on “Lag”
This is super cool. I’d love to see this in a Malandros framework. I’m particularly curious about how you plan to mechanize the lag change over time
Thanks man. The root of the whole idea is mechanising the lag and how it affects relationships at the start and the end of the trip. We’ll see
The more I think about this, the more I’m into it.
Have you read Patricia Highsmith’s The Tremor of Forgery?
It has the right sort of alienation, though it’s not quite in the right space to coexist with the City-State. It’s more a crumbling resort world, the sort of Ballardian milieu where you might set scenes at sun-beaten poolsides and catch glimpses of eavesdroppers in echoing courtyards.
That sounds awesome. To my shame I’ve only read half of one Tom Ripley novel (Ripley’s Game IIRC).
Right, that’s going straight on the Kindle, and I’ll chase it down with a re-read of Cocaine Nights.
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