What even is this?
Scherzando! is a musical tabletop roleplaying game about things going explosively wrong in which you play both the characters and the soundtrack. It is a GM-less, diceless story game designed to be played in a single session by 3-7 players. You don’t need to own any instruments or know anything about music to play (although if you do, you can absolutely bring that to the table)—it’s a completely beginner-friendly game.
Scherzando! is setting-agnostic, so games can take place in radically different fictional spaces; in general, though, you’ll be playing characters with strong feelings and big dreams following their goals while the world around them goes to hell, sometimes literally. The game is often bizarre, outrageous, and funny, but always earnest, safe, and collaborative.
In addition to playing characters, you will also be playing music. You can do this by humming or tapping on nearby objects or using whatever sounds you can find around you. You aren’t worried about playing “correctly;” you’re trying to guide the emotional landscape of the scene. The structure of a scene is designed to ebb and flow around the music so that neither active players nor musicians can play the scene alone; the scene is directed in turns by the music and the characters.
The game will be printed as a perfect-bound softcover book in full color, chock-full of tables, helpful tips, and loads of art.
How do you play this game?
Scherzando! is an original system built over dozens of playtests and iterations which merges music and roleplay from the ground up. Play occurs over a series of scenes in which players take turns playing either their characters or the music.
There are five main emotions in Scherzando!: happiness, sadness, anger, fear, and tenderness. At the beginning of each scene, the musicians each secretly select one emotion they want the scene to move towards. They guide play towards this emotion throughout the scene. At the end of the scene, the active players each guess which emotions they believe the musicians chose. The better the players guess, the better the scene resolves for everyone—you will fail and succeed as a group by how well you can communicate emotions to each other.
How are the scenes structured?
Each scene is structured organically by players by using an interjection mechanic. At any point during a scene, any active player can choose to interject, narrating a complication in the scene for a bonus at the end or narrating something good happening for a cost at the end. These interjections are always accompanied by a musical solo played by one of the musicians. This gives the scene a natural sense of progression and creates a balance and an interplay between the acting and the music.
What if I don’t know anything about music?
This is easily the most common concern we get, and we promise we’ve thought about it a lot! The good news is that you don’t need to know anything about music to play this game. You can be thoroughly tone-deaf and unable to keep any kind of rhythm to save your life and still play this game just as well as anyone else.
There is no bad news.
Example of Play
[Role cards are passed around the table. Amber and Jayden receive “Active Player” cards; Elizabeth and Hunter receive “Musician” cards; Nina receives a “Player Choice” card and chooses to be an Active Player this scene.]
[Based on the events of last scene, in which Amber’s and Jayden’s characters happened upon the diary of their long-lost sister, the two Musicians secretly choose their emotions. Hunter picks Tenderness, expecting the Active Players to express fondness toward the written presence of their sibling; Elizabeth picks Fear, hoping the diary will hint toward something the whole party has been dreading.]
[The Musicians begin to play. They clash a bit at first—Hunter’s going for a soft melody on his violin, Elizabeth for sharp, percussive rhythmic figures at the bass end of the piano—but they lock into tempo with each other, sharing a grin as they align their conflicting patterns.]
[After a short introductory overture, the Active Players enter as their characters. The Musicians quiet down, but continue to play underneath the voices.]
Jayden: So… should we read this? Isn’t it kind of, y’know, invasive to read someone’s diary?
Nina: This is our best clue yet, though.
Amber: How about we flip to the end so we’re only reading stuff that could be relevant?
Nina: Yeah, that sounds good. Let’s see…
[Before the dialogue can proceed, Jayden claps his hands for an Interjection. The Musicians pause as well.]
Jayden: Interjection! The last five or six written pages have been ripped out of the diary, and all the pages afterward are blank.
[Jayden looks toward Elizabeth for a solo. She plays a low, rumbling sound on the piano; it gradually picks up speed and volume, ending in an abrupt accent.]
Jayden: Hmmm… Fear?
[Jayden puts his Fortune Token in his cup for extra points at the end of the scene. Elizabeth gathers her five Emotion Tokens and secretly chooses a different one—Sadness. Hunter begins his melody again, and Elizabeth joins him on her viola; this time, their ideas work quite nicely together.]
Amber: Well, that’s not at all foreboding.
Nina: Maybe the other pages are around here somewhere. I’m gonna check that cabinet again.
Amber: While you’re doing that, I’ll read through the last page that’s still in here.
[Amber claps and everyone pauses.]
Amber: Interjection! This last entry only talks about about how weird her coworkers are. Nothing relevant here, as far as we can tell.
[She signals Hunter for an interjection. Hunter plays a softly falling line.]
Amber: Is it… Sadness?
[Hunter shakes his head and resumes playing.]
Amber: Should’ve gone with my other guess. Hey Nina, how’s that cabinet looking?
Nina: Let’s call an Apex to see what I find.
[It’s time for the Apex: each player picks two emotion tokens that they think match Hunter and Elizabeth’s playing, and they place them secretly in their cups. Once they’ve picked, the Musicians stop playing and everyone reveals their tokens.]
Hunter: Tenderness // Elizabeth: Sadness
Amber: Tenderness, Happiness
Nina: Sadness, Tenderness
Jayden: Tenderness, Happiness, +1 Fortune Token
[There are 4 matches on the table—plus one for Jayden’s Fortune Token—and the most-represented emotion is Tenderness, giving the group a score of Tenderness 5. They look this up on the Apex Table: “Your connections and the people around you come together to accomplish great things.”]
Nina: Looks like I found the pages—and you all helped me do it?
Jayden: Yeah, maybe once Amber and I finished reading we came over and helped you look, and we found all of the pages.
Amber: They were in a secret compartment at the bottom of one of the drawers, bound up with a note that said “Extremely Top Secret,” probably.
Jayden: Amazing. Next scene?
[Each person passes their role card to another at the table. They get ready for a new scene.]
Where will my money be going?
The design process for the game is already complete, aside from a few tweaks, but we still have a few loose ends to tie up before we go into print: we want a fresh pair of eyes to copy-edit the book and we’d like to pay someone to clean up the graphic design and layout of the book and make it spiffier than it is right now. We estimate that getting these things done properly will cost around $600. Most of the rest of this money is going to cover the costs of doing a print run.
We’re doing our printing through Drive-Thru RPG’s print-on-demand services, which is where your copy will come from if you back at the physical copy level. We’d also like to distribute books to retailers and conventions through Indie Press Revolution, which means that, in addition to covering printing costs for each backer order, we also need to cover the printing, shipping, and distribution costs for around 100 other books, which will cost about $1200. Add in Kickstarter’s cut and do some generous rounding in case the unexpected happens and you have our figure!
What are the pledge levels?
We have four levels you can pledge at.
Thank You: If you donate even one dollar it will mean the world to us. Everyone who pledges at this level or higher will get their name printed in the book (unless you’d like us not to do that, in which case you can let us know). It won’t be a tiered list by the amount donated; everyone who helps out gets on the same list. We just want to show our appreciation for supporting us in whatever way you can. Thank you. Really.
PDF: At ten dollars and up we will send you a PDF of the finished version of the book as soon as it’s ready. For obvious reasons this will be ready before the physical books are by at least a few days. This also includes the rewards in the Thank You tier.
Paperback Physical Copy + PDF: At 26 dollars and up we will send you a physical paperback copy of the book when it prints. The book will be a perfect-bound full-color paperback, sized to fit beautifully alongside the rest of your RPG collection. We may need to collect extra shipping after the campaign is over. This tier also includes both the PDF tier and the Thank You tier.
Retailer Bundle: This tier is for retailers only, please. For $80 we will send you 5 discounted copies of the game to sell as you’d like, along with codes for as many PDFs. This also includes the Thank You tier.
Who made this?
This game was designed by Elizabeth Bellisario and Amber Autumn Gilchrist, who were undergraduates at Northwestern University together when they first began working on the game.
Elizabeth (she/her) is a Chicago-based classical violist who likes music, games, and vinegar (though unfortunately only two of those made it into the final cut of Scherzando!). If she had a nickel for every person who ever told her "I wish I were good at music, but I have no talent," she would have enough money to have spent the last year of her life making a game that encourages people to make music un-self-consciously. She's on Twitter sometimes @vinegarviola.
Amber Autumn (she/her) recently graduated with a degree in film from Northwestern University and has apparently decided to use that making tabletop games. She has been making games since childhood, but Scherzando! represents her first attempt to get something published like one of the big kids. She's interested in semiotics, new media, critical theory, and Gay Content™, and wants to make games that incorporate bodily experiences and find inventive ways of creating meaning. She has no formal training in music, but she sure does listen to a lot of it. You can find Amber complaining about TERFs on Twitter @Warupeachi.
We also would like to acknowledge that none of this would be possible without the immense support of our friends and loved ones, everyone who has ever playtested for us or given us advice, and our visual team, Skutch (our incredible artist who you can find on Twitter @SkutchDraws and on Patreon here) and Jayden Zvonar (who designed our logo and will be helping us with layout and graphic design once we have enough to properly pay him). All of you are parts of the team.
Where else can I find you?
And on Game Closet!
We also did a Five or So Questions interview with Thoughty!
Are you a podcast person or a review person? Do you just want to say hi? We’d love to talk! There are many ways of reaching us, including but not limited to our email, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Risks and challenges
We’re gonna be honest here: this Kickstarter is a first for both of us, so it’s very possible that things will come up in the fulfillment stage which we simply aren’t prepared for. And of course with any Kickstarter there are normal risks of printers not meeting schedules and life events delaying the timeline. However, the game itself is already designed and we’re in the final stages of edits before printing and distribution, so any risks are normal risks of delays, not of cancellations. We are committed to this project, everyone who orders a copy of this book is getting one, and we promise to keep everyone up to date if any delays do come up!Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
- (31 days)