Escape From Murder Island

Over on tumblr, David J Prokopetz suggested recreating the 200-word rpg as an alternative to NaNoWriMo, and asked for submissions. This sounded like a fun challenge, so I created this one. It’s very terse, so I’ve used this post to expand the description with some more explanation. The original 200-word submission is below.

The very terse 200-word RPG

  • You’re in a situation that only one character can escape. The Hunger Games, The Running Man, Jurassic Park, Escape from NY.
  • One player is GM. Others invent a character with Stress: 3, Prizes: #PCs
  • In each round, people have scenes.
  • First round: GM picks one player at a time.
  • Second round: GM puts pairs of characters together.
  • Third round: GM puts pairs of pairs together.
  • Fourth round: All characters together. Escape sighted.
  • If fewer characters than indicated, combine them.
  • After fourth round, start Endgame.
  • GM frames progress towards escape and includes one Challenge.
  • What you face (soldiers, animals, nature), what you can get (tools, weapon).
  • GM and Players involved roll d6. Players add 1 Prize if match highest roll, suffer 1 Stress if do not beat GM.
  • On 6: +1 Prize.
  • Force reroll of any die in your challenge, once per die (unless Endgame), or heal 1 Stress on character within touch range. Narrate how.
  • Describe death. Gain Prizes equal to living PCs for any die.
  • Characters and GM roll dice. Lower than highest die: -1 Stress. Repeat.
  • When one remains: last turn. Spend Stress as Prizes. Win: escape; lose: die.

Word Count: 200

The Game Concept


We want a game you can play over and over, and will be different each time. The scenario here can easily be refitted to a variety of situations. The basic idea is there must a way to describe one winner.

The classic situation is the characters are all criminals or political enemies who are dumped on a remote island, on which are scattered supplies and weapons. The participants are promised escape when they get to the escape first or defeat all the other participants.

But with a bit of imagination, you can adapt this basic idea in lots of different ways. maybe all the characters are criminals whose prison ship has crash-landed on a hostile world, and the denizens or the environment will kill them if they aren’t rescued soon, and the first rescuer only has room for one of them.

Maybe they working together to overcome some common threat, but the narrative requires that only one of them survive, and players and GMs work together to narrate those final conflicts to fit that premise.

Maybe they are trapped on an island of monsters, and the bridge to safety will only support one of them. Use your imagination.

Rounds and Scenes

Sorting the action into Rounds like this is a pacing system. It gives the GM the opportunity to describe the situation (when they craft the scenes), ensures that everyone is involved, and moves the game speedily towards its conclusion.

The GMs role is to describe the world, and create challenges and opportunities, while the players focus on playing their characters and describe who they face those challenges. There’s a lot of open narration here, and players and GM need to work out if there are specific rules for this.

Resolving Challenges and Using Prizes

The GM describes the situation and the players describe how their characters address the challenge, and the GM then narrates the outcome based on the rolls. If players choose to ignore a challenge, it is treated as if they rolled the worst result possible and they take 1 Stress.

The basic roll system is simple, but note that there are two things to check:

  • Is your roll equal to the highest roll? Add one prize.
  • Do you beat the GM’s roll? If not, take 1 Stress.

This means that multiple players can win a Prize and suffer Stress. Imagine if everyone including the GM rolls a 5.

The goal of each conflict should fit the situation and be described in concrete terms. The GM might say there’s a jeep half-buried in mud, and you have the opportunity to push it out of the mud before the velociraptors arrive.

Those victories might be used as the prizes in later conflicts. For instance, you might reroll a die, describing how you jump in the jeep and drive it at full speed towards your enemy.

But you don’t have to do this. A Prize can be some aspect of your nature. Maybe you are good at engine repair, have a rage against government officials, or whatever. Describe something that fits this conflict, and narrate how it helps you. If it helps us get a better picture of your character, even better. Your Initial Prizes are likely often described as pre-existing abilities and talents.

There might sometimes be special Prizes offered with specific prizes, but make sure those prizes are available to everyone.

There might be rules added to allow players to interfere with or aid each other. But the Prize mechanic already allows for this.

Note that a Prize can only be used once. How that fits the narrative is up to players and GM.

Starting Prizes

This is based on the number of total PCs. The more PCs there are, the less likely you are to win a Prize at the end of each of those four initial turns, so you start with a higher total to make it more likely you’ll survive those turns.

For a more hardcore game, this could be reduced to 1 or even zero. This has the drawback that PCs are less likely to make it to the endgame, and have less competition among each other, but can be more brutal.

Stress and Dead Characters

You have 3 Stress, and can lose 1 in each conflict. When suffering defeats, you can describe injuries or more ephemeral problems – stress doesn’t have to be injury. But when you lose the last one you are out of play – usually this means you are killed. You get to narrate how you die.

When a character dies, their player is not out of the game. They get 1 Prize for each character still alive at the end of that conflict. These Prizes can be used to force a reroll of any die – any player or any GM roll. You can use this to make it easier for the players by rerolling high GM rolls, or make it harder for them, and play favourites by adjusting a players roll.

Narrate something in the fiction that explains it. If the players are running from velociraptors, maybe their escape route is blocked by a fallen tree.

Spending prizes in this way is an act of the player. It has nothing to do with your character (who is, after all, now dead). If you blame another player for your death, feel free to take potshots at them! The penultimate character has a chance to make sure their rival doesn’t escape!


Here we find out who  wins the game and escapes to freedom. Do not under any circumstances cheat the player of victory. In a Hunger Games or Running Man style situation, it might be tempting to go, “Hah, the villains lied and they murder the winners!” Do not do this.

It’s boring and predictable, but it also undermines the entire evening of play, and makes the players less likely to want to play again. Do not do this!

Final Thoughts

So there you have it. A quick game good for one night of play, which will force players and GM to exercise their narrative muscles, and give players the opportunity to screw each other over in a fun way. I hope you find it fun.

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