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A Tragedy in Five Acts is a roleplaying game in which five players work together to create a tragedy of Shakespearean proportions.
A Tragedy in Five Acts is a roleplaying game in which five players work together to create a tragedy of Shakespearean proportions.
201 backers pledged $5,885 to help bring this project to life.

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There has been a change to the Front Row ($40) reward level.

Don't worry, it's a good one. It says you get two (2) bags of tokens. You'll actually get five (5). Watch the video below, and you'll see why this is a good thing.

A Tragedy in Five Acts

Shakespeare’s tragedies are part of the Western cultural experience. Even if you haven’t seen one staged under its own name, their plots and characters have permeated theater and literature to the point where they’re practically inescapable. Even if you don’t know Shakespearean tragedy per se, its building blocks are familiar once they’re pointed out. His works are masterful individually, but it’s in their underlying structure and workings that genius truly shines.

Tragedy was not new to theater even in old Will’s time; there have been tragedies performed since men and women first began to pantomime by firelight. Shakespearean tragedy in particular, however, is unique if only in its building blocks, the underlying structures that allow it to survive relatively unscathed through editing, revision, re-imagining, adaptation, exploitation, and even outright theft at the hands of greater and lesser artists alike as Shakespearean tragedy rises and falls in contemporary cultural admiration.

In A Tragedy in Five Acts, we continue this fine tradition of using and illuminating Shakespeare’s work for our own ends by using his dramatic narrative structures to create tragedic efforts for our personal amusements. Though things will undoubtedly end badly for your characters, if all goes well, your experience of the game as players should be somewhat more uplifting, and perhaps inspire your inner thespians as you compete for the starring (and ultimately ill-fated) role in your own tragic story.

Summary

A Tragedy in Five Acts is a table-top roleplaying game for five players designed to be completed in one evening. Players compete for Tragedy Points, awarded by the other players and accrued over the course of five three-scene acts. The player with the most Tragedy Points at the end of Act V, Scene ii gets to narrate the ending conditions of the last scene, including assigning final fates.

A Tragedy in Five Acts was inspired by the the 2011 Game Chef competition, and written and designed by Michelle Lyons-McFarland. Interior illustrations are being provided by Jenna Fowler (have a look at the updates for some sketches - they look amazing!), layout by Eloy Lasanta, and the cover and logos by Jeremy Kostiew.

System

Some of our backers have asked us to clarify and elaborate on the system and gameplay a bit, so we wanted to address that a bit. One of the reasons we didn't do it before was that we were playtesting the mechanics a bit more (just on finer points; the bulk of it was solid already), but we've had a bunch of successful playtests (though we could always use more!) and we're pretty happy with how the game works. We just shot a video that goes through the process, but we're still editing that together, so to tide you over, here's a quick explanation of the game:

The game requires five players, but no GM. Each player takes on a Role (Daughter, Lover, Foil, Parent, and Authority). The players work together to determine the setting for the player. In our playtests, we've seen settings ranging from modern New York to 14th century Tuscany (you can download that playtest report here) to futuristic underwater Venice to a floating steampunk city.

Once the players have determined the setting and have a rough idea of their Roles and how they relate to one another, each player randomly chooses a Fatal Flaw (Ambition, Arrogance, Jealousy, Overly Trusting or Fortune's Fool). That Flaw remains secret until the player decides to reveal it, but the player can do that in Act I, Scene i if s/he so desires (see, for example, Iago).

The game consists of five acts with three scenes each. Each of the players directs one act (based on the Role). The Director is responsible for determining when characters enter and exit and which supporting roles are necessary, but the Director's other privilege is to start the bidding for narrative control of the scenes in the appropriate Act.

For example, the Daughter Directs the first Act. For the first Scene, then, the player places one token forward (each player starts with 10 tokens; coils, beads, dice, whatever, it doesn't matter as long as you can tell them apart) and describes, briefly, what she thinks should happen in this scene and who should be involved. The other players then can choose to put of their own tokens forward and offer an alternative. Once everyone has had a chance to propose a scene, all of the players can place their tokens in support of an existing scene. Bidding goes on as long as it needs to, but when someone wins, that player gets Tragedy Points equal to all the tokens involved in the bidding. In addition, the winner rolls dice equal to the number of her own tokens, plus any tokens bid for losing scenes, while anyone who supported the winning scene rolls dice equal to the tokens they played in support of it. Any dice that come up odd numbers are worth one Tragedy Point each.

Play continues like this until Act V, scene iii, when, after bidding, all the points are totaled up and one player wins. That player's character becomes the focus of the final scene - the play is about their character, and that player gets to name the play. 

Players can abdicate at any time; the character dies or is permanently removed the play. The player can divide up his Tragedy Points among surviving players in any way he sees fit. Players can also choose to reveal Fatal Flaws at any time, but after doing so, the character in question must behave in accordance with that Flaw (which limits your roleplaying somewhat). If the player reveals the Flaw early in the game, she gains three extra bidding tokens. If it happens later, she gains 10 Tragedy Points.

This is a simple explanation of the game, but hopefully it's helpful! We have a video up with a visual depiction of the game, as well (see above).

Where Does the Money Go?

Money raised from this Kickstarter gets spent like so:

  • Paying the artists
  • Paying the folks doing layout and design
  • Paying for printing and shipping the books and t-shirts
  • Paying for the custom dice
  • Shipping the books, dice, t-shirts to backers

On the subject of shipping...

Shipping is included for all reward levels except the the retailer-specific ones. That includes international shipping. These books aren't heavy, and even at the level where you have books, dice and a shirt it's not going to be terribly expensive to ship to you.

The books are going to be printed and shipped from the fine folks at Drive Thru RPG. Likewise, when the pdf is ready, you'll get a download link from DTRPG's online store (where our first game, curse the darkness, is already on sale). DTRPG will be handling fulfillment of the pdfs and books for this Kickstarter, while the other items - dice, t-shirts, tokens - will be shipped directly from Play Attention Games.

Creative Commons

A Tragedy in Five Acts  will be released under the Creative Commons. That means that you can distribute and remix the game for your own enjoyment, as long as you don't do it for commercial purposes. More information here.

What If We Raise More?

If we raise $4500 with this Kickstarter ($1000 more than our funding goal), Play Attention Games, Inc. will have a retailer booth at Origins Game Fair (June 12-16, Columbus, Ohio).

If we raise $4750, we'll buy five stamps, one for each of the logos (skull, mask, poison bottle, snake and dagger) to stamp the muslin bags that backers at the Front Row level or better will receive. Please note: Front Row+ backers get five bags of tokens regardless of how much money we raise, we'll just be able to stamp them all with a different picture if we hit this level.

After that milestone, for every $500 we raise, we'll pay our hard-working artists and layout and design folks an additional 10% of their contracted amounts.

Awesome Cross-Promotion!

Kyle Simons is putting together a roleplaying game called Magicians. It's Kickstarting now, it looks really amazing, and it involves the talents of Daniel Solis (Happy Birthday Robot, Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple) and Ryan Macklin (The Dresden Files, Leverage) (and several other talented folks, those are just the ones I know from the gaming industry).

Kyle approached me about cross-promotion, and it went so well for us when we did this with curse the darkness, so of course I was game! Here's the deal: Back both this Kickstarter and Magicians for at least $10 (so you get both games), and you'll get a set of plot cards for Magicians inspired by Shakespeare's The Tempest. Yes, it's not a tragedy, but it's the Shakespeare play with the most overt magic, and it's my (Matt's) personal favorite. So show Kyle (and us) some love!

Why No Stretch Goals?

Frequent patrons of Kickstarter (we love you! Keep it up!) may notice that we're not offering "goodies" as stretch goals. There are two reasons for this.

First, this particular project doesn't lend itself well to that kind of stretch goal. We could probably come up with extra books or extra trinkets to send out, and that would be fine, but those things cost money, and every time you promise something, it costs more to deliver it. That's in addition to the fact that just by raising more money, we commit to spending more money (because more money means more orders and more orders means we have to make more books, dice, shirts, etc.).

Second, as you might know, creators in the table-top game industry (including artists, writers, layout and design, editors, etc.) don't make much. Our rates are low, our deadlines are tight, and it's pretty hand to mouth. With this Kickstarter, we wanted to try an experiment - will folks continue to support us, even if the "reward" they get is knowing that they're helping to pay the people involved a better, fairer rate? We're pretty sure they will. Gamers stand up when they're asked (and honestly, even, without stretch goals, you're getting a really awesome little game).

There is one other stretch goal that we're considering, but we haven't included a dollar amount because we don't know it yet. We want to design a version of A Tragedy in Five Acts intended for pedagogical purposes - that is, as a teaching tool. That's going to involve making it more accessible to non-gamers, expanding the book to include instructions for teachers on how to use it to explain tragedy, narrative structure, dialog, and a lot of other useful principles. Again, though, we're still working on the specifics, and so we're reluctant to put a dollar amount on this goal. Once we have more information, we'll update this section. For now, though, please point any teachers of English or drama toward this Kickstarter, because A Tragedy in Five Acts is meant to be a game and a teaching tool!

Who Are We?

Play Attention Games, Inc. is a company devoted to making games inspired by our passions, our interests, and things that we think are awesome. Our first roleplaying game, curse the darkness, was successfully funded on Kickstarter in June of 2012, and is currently on sale at Drive Thru RPG. The company consists of Matthew McFarland and Michelle Lyons-McFarland.

Michelle Lyons-McFarland
Michelle Lyons-McFarland

I'm Michelle Lyons-McFarland. I've been writing and editing roleplaying games professionally since 2000, both in-house and freelance. I've written for FASA, White Wolf, WizKids, Wizards of the Coast, Green Ronin, Guardians of Order, Catalyst, and a host of others, in addition to editing for nearly everyone in the roleplaying game industry at one time or another. I have three dogs, one of which plots to take over the world. I have four kids, some of which are dedicated gamers and some of which are shaping up to be. In my day job, I'm a 1st-year PhD student in English Studies at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, OH, focusing on composition and 18th-century British Literature.

Matthew McFarland
Matthew McFarland

I'm Matthew McFarland, also known as BlackHat Matt. I've been writing and developing roleplaying games professionally since 1998. Most of the work I've done has been for White Wolf Game Studio, where I've contributed to almost all of their game lines (including both incarnations of the World of Darkness). I spent three years as lead developer for the Dark Ages game line, I wrote the Ennie-winning demo chronicles for Vampire: The Requiem and Mage: The Awakening. In August of 2012, we published my original roleplaying game, curse the darkness. I've also done some assorted work for Green Ronin, Eden Studios, and Guardians of Order. In my day job, I'm a speech-language pathologist for the Cleveland Metropolitan School District. In my spare time (ha) I wrangle my three unruly dogs, my two mostly-ruly children, and, occasionally, my semi-ruly stepsons. 

Risks and challenges

Probably the biggest risk that we're facing here is that roleplaying games are already a niche market, and a game about Shakespearean tragedy is a niche within that. Do we have a market for this game? I think that, based on the success of games like *The Play's the Thing*, we do.

Getting artwork that's appropriate to what we're doing but still looks awesome is a challenge. Our logo's a good start - it's designed by Jeremy Kostiew, and it shows some of the iconic images from the Bard's tragedies: a bottle of poison, a dagger, a skull, a serpent and, of course, a tragedy mask. We've got Jenna Fowler (http://jennafowlerart.com/) lined up to do the interior art - and this marks a first for Play Attention Games, as we've not used illustrations in a game book before (our art for *curse the darkness* was all manipulated photographs).

All of that said, we know what we're doing. Michelle, the author of the game, knows her stuff where both game design and Shakespeare are concerned (look up under her bio for her qualifications, and marvel). The nice thing about indie game design is that there's a great network of people to recommend artists, graphic designers, layout people and playtesters.

So this is somewhat new territory for us, insofar as the game's subject matter and some of the things we're doing as we expand Play Attention Games. But we've got the tools to make it work. All we need is your support.

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    Pledge $5 or more About $5

    GROUNDLING: Thanks for supporting us! You'll have your name listed in our Special Thanks section in the finished book.

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    GENERAL ADMISSION: You'll have your name listed in the Special Thanks section of the book, and receive a PDF copy of the finished book.

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    BALCONY: Everything from the GENERAL ADMISSION reward level, plus you'll receive a softcover copy of the finished book.

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    ORCHESTRA: Everything from the BALCONY reward level, plus a set of 10 Tragedy in Five Acts dice.

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    FRONT ROW: Everything from the ORCHESTRA reward level, plus two bags of tokens, each stamped with one of the logos (we haven't decided which ones yet - if you've got opinions, share them!).

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    Pledge $40 or more About $40

    VENDOR: A reward level for our retailer friends! You get 5 copies of the _A Tragedy in Five Acts_ book, plus a pdf of the book for your personal use. Retailers only, please. Additional money may be required for shipping; please contact us for more information.

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    VIP: Everything from the FRONT ROW reward level, plus a stylish _A Tragedy in Five Acts_ t-shirt.

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    PATRON OF THE ARTS: Everything from the VIP reward level, plus a one-page ad in the back of the book.

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    Pledge $200 or more About $200

    PURVEYOR OF TRAGEDY: Another one for the retailers! You get five copies of the book, five sets of dice, 10 bags of tokens, and two t-shirts. Retailers only, please. Additional money may be required for shipping; please contact us for more information.

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    Pledge $500 or more About $500

    TOP BILLING: You get to be the stars! You get five copies of the book (one for each of your players), a set of 50 Tragedy dice, five stamped bags of Tragedy Points, five t-shirts, AND your troupe gets to be the example of play in the book! You and your group get to play a game of *A Tragedy in Five Acts* that will be immortalized in the book itself. If you're within a reasonable distance of Cleveland, Ohio, I'll even host the game on my magnificent gaming table and cook all of you dinner. We'll work with your group on the details on how to set this up once the Kickstarter ends.

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Funding period

- (31 days)