Misspent Youth by Robert Bohl
From the back cover:
There’s an asshole fucking up your world. You’re the little bastards who are going to make it right.
Misspent Youth is about Young Offenders (YOs) fighting against the Authority. One player takes on the role of the Authority and the remainder of the players are the YOs. The rules of Misspent Youth explain with precision the procedures of character creation and game-play.
Misspent Youth uses popular movie plots, with the serial numbers filed off, as examples of the procedures (e.g. Avatar: The Last Airbender (the animated series), Star Wars, and E.T.). By using familiar stories, the examples work extremely well at cementing the procedures in my brain…and hopefully other readers as well.
The art and layout are very punk fanzine. Since I’ve never seen a punk fanzine, this may be a construct of my imagination. The font face is similar to an old type-writer, though not quite mono-space, with letters that aren’t quite filled in – as if the text was banged out using an aging typewriter ribbon. The text is laid out at non-right angles within text boxes, giving a sense that each section of text was hand mounted for the mimeograph or photocopier.
When I opened the book I had initial trepidation about this presentation, but the writing and examples are very engaging and eventually the distracting element melts away. In fact the “non-standard” layout helps further establish the intended experience of a game session of Misspent Youth.
Structured Campaign Kick-Off
As part of the first session, all of the players are responsible for deciding the defining the movie rating (G, Parental Guidance (PG 📖), PG-13, R, etc.). The players will also define the characteristics of the Authority. The Authority is something that everyone should revile – Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA 📖) would be a great Authority. One of the players will need to claim the role of the Authority – they will be the Game Master (GM 📖) if you will.
An Authority will have one of each of the following: Vice (e.g. Absolutism, Fear, Greed, Sadism, Utopianism), Victim (e.g. Freedom, History, Humanity, Nature, Progress ), Visage (e.g. Corporate, Personal, Religious, State, Systemic) and a Need.
The Authority also has one System of Control for each Young Offender (YO 📖). The Systems of Control are the means by which the Authority exerts its control – brain slugs, PsyCops, shock troops etc.
Once the Systems of Control answer the question “What is the Authority’s blind-spot or weakness or opposition?” The YOs will use this Exploit as they struggle to take down the Authority.
Then define YOs Clique – what is it that binds these YOs together? It is similar to Fear the Boot’s much vaunted Group Template. And from their the group brainstorms members of the clique. Some will be YOs, others fodder for future sessions.
And now the non-Authority players go about creating their YOs, defining each of their five youthful Convictions (i.e. Means, Motive, Opportunity, M.O., Disorder).
Through-out play Convictions inform the role-played scenes and Struggles. They will also be able to sell-out their Conviction to a more jaded adult Conviction in order to avoid their Hope from being dashed in a given scene – more on that later.
Kicking Off The Episode
Each YO’s player establishes an Authority Figure that is available for the episode – encourage reuse from previous episodes. Each YO’s player also proposes a question that their YO would like to ask of another YO – the question is only theorized and may come into play at the beginning of a scene.
An Episode’s Scenes
Seven scenes comprise a single Episode. The rules mechanically skew the winning chances of one side or the other.
- What’s Up – The Authority exerts its will and the Clique responds. This scene establishes what is going on for the episode.
- Fighting Back – The Clique takes on the problem directly. Introduce the first Beat (e.g. a Catastrophe, Complication, Discovery or Reversal) that alters the narrative direction. And propose the Question that this episode will answer.
- Heating Up – Tension mounts and the stakes get higher.
- We Won – Everything is going just fine for the Clique.
- We’re Fucked – The wheels come off and introduce the second Beat.
- Who Wins – Establish who wins and answer the Question.
- Dust Settles – Reflect on the episode and setup the next one.
At the completion of an Episode, create or convert an Exploit or System of Authority.
One player sets up the beginning of each scene. This role rotates around the table and the Authority player will likely want to set the “We’re Fucked” scene – fortunately the Authority determines which player sets up the “What’s Up” scene and the role rotates predictably around the table.
The player that sets the scene chooses to either have the scene include an Authority Figure or have one of the proposed YO questions from the beginning of the episode asked and answered.
The player then narrates the first five seconds of the scene – where are they, is anything exploding? From that point the players free role-play the Scene.
Eventually the Authority initiates a Struggle declaring an Objective – The Authority should be mindful of not letting a scene drag nor moving too quickly to a Struggle. The Clique responds by declaring their Hope for this Struggle. The winner of the Struggle achieves their stated Hope or Objective. The loser does not.
When the Struggle is over, complete a little bookkeeping and close the scene immediately.
The Authority initiates the Struggle – Objective and Hopes are now declared. The Authority then provides a bit of narrative that pushes towards achieving the Objective. The Authority yields to the Clique asking who’s going to stand-up and respond.
A YO responds – first one to grab the 2 six-sided dice – and roll them. The YO’s player picks a Conviction then places one of their YO tokens on the Struggle sheet on the corresponding number. The YO then narrates pushing towards the Clique’s hope, incorporating the YO’s Conviction. The Authority responds with narrating the hit.
The Authority then places one of their tokens on the Struggle sheet – they can claim 7 or other numbers based on the Scene they are in – hence the statistical skewing towards one side or another. The Authority then narrates their push towards the Objective and asks who’s going to stand-up and respond.
Much like the first YO exchange, a YO will grab and roll the dice. However, if the YO rolls a number already covered by a token Struggle ends. Otherwise play continues passing back and forth between the Authority and the Clique.
Structured Struggle Resolution
There are three possible outcomes for the YOs:
- Winning by Selling-Out
If the YOs win, they achieve their Hope and the Authority loses its Objective. The YO that rolled the victory then narrates achieving their Hope via the Conviction used on that number.
If the YOs lose, the Authority achieves its Objective and the YOs lose their Hope. Narrate the failure by incorporating your sold-out Convictions and Disorder. Or you can sell-out a Conviction.
If choose to sell-out, you pick a free Conviction and the Authority crosses it off replacing it with a more calloused adult Conviction. You narrate a more jaded response but the YOs achieve their Hope and the Authority loses its objective.
At the end of the session in which one of the YOs has sold-out on all of their convictions, the series ends (i.e. campaign ends). At this point there are procedures for wrapping up.
- Determine which side has won based on the number of Systems of Control vs. Exploits – yes you can win this role-playing game.
- Narrate the fate of each YO is based on the number of sold-out convictions. The more a YO sold out, the more likely things have ended poorly for them.
- One YO may sacrifice their happy ending to change another YO’s bad ending to a happy ending.
Here Robert Bohl steps away from the game designer role and steps into the role of “guy who’s played the shit out of Misspent Youth.” He gives some excellent, not immediately obvious, advice.
He implores the readers and players to stick with the rules as written. At least for the first episode. This game has had some serious play testing and input from some top-notch game designers and play testers.
This Reviewer’s Observations
Given that there is a “win” conditions, be mindful of the Systems of Control and Exploits. The opposition can remove or convert one to their cause; Work to incorporate in your YO narrative how these Systems of Control and Exploits are coming into play.
It’s very unlikely in Misspent Youth that you’ll generate the traditional Role Playing Game (RPG 📖) maps. You will, however, fill out a Case File for each session with the pertinent information of each scene, character question, and authority figure. And once the campaign is over, you’ll be able to look back at the story and rebuild a part of it.
The examples provided throughout Misspent Youth are fantastic. Since the story is familiar, you don’t have to concentrate on following the plot, but can instead focus on explaining the procedures. This is an exemplary method which other game designers should consider.
It gets a bit confusing when there are player names and character names mixed through out – including a (YO) or (player) indicator might help.
Structuring the Structre
Robert Bohl does a masterful job of presenting the big picture and getting buy-in. He then begins spiraling with ever narrowing vision from Series to Episode to Scene to Struggle, all the while providing examples that helped me defer my need to know the mechanics. The author rewards patient reading and trust.
As I've said earlier, I appreciate when games include a bibliography, and Misspent Youth has it:
- R. Talsorian Games Inc.’s CyberGeneration
- D. Vincent Baker’s Dogs in the Vineyard
- Evil Hat’s Fate System
- Paul Czege’s My Life With Master
- Matt Wilson’s Primetime Adventures
- Joshua A. C. Newman’s shock: social science fiction
- White Wolf’s World of Darkness
Buy this if you like sticking it to the Man; you wish you were more of a rebel as a kid; you want well-defined procedures for running episodic sessions; you want a game with procedures for starting that first session; you want a game that builds from session to session; you want to learn how to play an RPG.
Don’t buy this if you have trouble reading old type-writer print; if profanity offends you; if you really need to roll to hit and damage your opponent; if you have a passive group that always asks the GM “And now what?"…wait this game might help cure that.
Or legally download the Portable Document Format (PDF) from Robert Bohl – if you like it send him a donation. Personally I prefer print copies. Since I play in the analogue world, I want my rules in that format as well – though having both print and PDF is very nice!