Sunday, June 12, 2016

Just One Job (texting based storygame rules)

It's a game about trying to plan a heist and scheduling nightmares, that you play either over texts or in some other group chat.

Edit: There's now a Google Plus community and a Facebook Group where you can play the game.

Full text of the game after the jump.

Just One Job

Written for Game Chef 2016 by Orion Canning

Thanks to Jackson Tegu and Robert Bruce for feedback, 
and the entire northwest story game community for its support.

This is a game for you and your friends to play over social media. You play it on your phone or from your computer via texts or another messaging service. People can drop in and out of the game at any time. You might want to make a public group for the game on Facebook, Google or something like that which will allow anyone playing to post and read each other's posts. If you can turn on time stamps, so each message shows when it was originally sent, do that.

Whenever you start a new game you should post a link to these rules at the beginning so anyone who finds it knows it's just a game, and can join in if they like.

Game play consists of writing messages to the other players from the perspective of your character. You'll want it to read and feel like a real conversation. If your character is getting chased by guard dogs, say something like, "oh shit, I hear barking. I think they have bloodhounds. I'm heading for the river" Then later if things get worse you might say, "One of them damn near took my leg off!!! That's a lot of blood :(" Definitely use emojis, expressive gifs, obscure acronyms, and anything else you might commonly see in text based conversation.

The game can be played over a varying length of time depending on the pace that your group messages at. You could sit around a table, texting immediately back and forth, and play it over a few hours. Or you might text via your phones sporadically throughout the day and play it over the course of a week. If you only check the group and write a message once a day, the game could take place over weeks or months.

 The game is just one big conversation, so you are encouraged to reply to other people and keep the conversation going as long as you are still doing what the rules say to do. You should strive to keep all the messages in the group chat or forum in character and focused on the game, and use a separate one if you need to discuss the game itself. If that fails, talk in parenthesis or start a message with OOC, which stands for out of character.

Of course if something in the game is making it uncomfortable and no longer fun for you, it would probably help to talk to the other players about it, and you can always leave the game if that doesn't work. If you need a triggering or uncomfortable topic removed from the game, as a shorthand just write X followed by the thing you'd like removed from the fiction (X clown scorpions or X the name Steve, for example). The other players can easily make up something different. You don't need to say why you want it taken out, but you can talk about it if you like. When someone Xs something from the fiction, everyone else needs to respect it and stop talking about that thing.

The setting is modern day realism and the tone can be anywhere from humorous and ironic, dark and serious, or just plain silly, depending on how you want to play it. Feel free to agree on your own setting and tone with your friends before you start playing.

Someone will begin the game as the leader, organizing the heist, and loosely facilitating the game. If you are the person who is starting the game, that will probably be you. As the leader, start out by setting up the group chat and sending out invites to the people you want to play with. Also set up an OOC chat where people can talk out of character about the game. Then copy the following message and paste it as your first post in both chats:

Just One Job. This is a game about pretending to plan a heist of some kind. It's also about the difficulties of scheduling and organizing. IT IS JUST A GAME. If you see someone playing this game, please do not flag them or report them for criminal activity, it's just make believe.  You can familiarize yourself with the full rules here:

 Direct them to read these rules and then move to the operative section of the rules while you move on to the leader section.

Whether you are a leader or an operative, read through your rules and do what they say. Each role has an opening paragraph or two that tells you what the goals and responsibilities of that role are. After that there's specific instructions for each phase of the game, but you don't need to read through all of it at once. You can just read whatever phase you are on and do what it says until the game moves on to the next part.

You can drop out of the game at any time, and you can invite new players at any time. If other players drop out and you want to keep playing, but you don't have a leader anymore, someone should volunteer to be the new leader. If no one volunteers, someone should nominate someone else as the new leader. If multiple people want to be the leader, you should hold an immediate vote to see who the new leader will be.
If you want to drop out, before you go talk about how you plan on retiring and what you'll do now that you're no longer planning heists.


As a leader it's your job to organize everyone and make sure your plan goes smoothly, but it's not going to be easy. You do have one tool to help you. At any time, you can call for a vote on an issue. You get to decide the issue but you don't get a vote, and you have to go along with whatever the majority decides. You do get the final say in case of a tie though.

If new players join the game after the introductions phase, they should pick their traits and talk about them, and the player who invited them should aid their introduction by vouching for them. But it's your job to make sure they introduce themselves.

If you take too long or you aren't taking charge as a leader, someone else might think they would make a better leader and come up with their own plan. There can be multiple plans at once. When this happens you have a choice of either trying to be the first to successfully plan a heist, or give up on your plan and go along with the new leader. If you decide to give up, you are now an operative, so switch to the operative section of the rules.

The Introductions Phase

Start off by saying something like, "I have been tasked with finding a group of individuals with a specific set of skills. I believe you are those individuals." Then introduce yourself and talk about your code name and skillset. You should decide your money problems too, but you don't need to talk about them yet because you're the leader. These will be your character traits, and there's more information on them in the operative section. When you are done picking your traits and introducing yourself, pick another player and instruct them to introduce themselves and their skillset. When you feel they've said enough move to another player and ask them to introduce themselves. Try to keep them on topic, because they will certainly be trying to derail the conversation to  talk about their problems and interests.

Once everyone has established their character's code name, skillset, and money problems, begin the planning phase. 

The Planning Phase

In this phase it's your job to organize and motivate everyone to plan the heist. You need to pick a target, schedule a date, and sketch the plan. You have to do them in that order. If you manage to complete all three, you can move on to the heist phase. If there are other leaders, whoever finishes this phase becomes the only leader, and the other leaders must become operatives.

Part 1 - Target

You can pick a real target or a made up one, or some combination. For example, you could steal Donald Trump's Toupee, all the money in the safe at the back of the seedy mafia nightclub, or a prizewinning new orchid variety from the grower's convention. It doesn't matter what you pick, as long as it's specific and at least theoretically valuable. But don't just say an armored truck, pick a specific one, like the one that transports old money from the federal reserve to be burned.  Then tell people about it, what the potential payout will be, and why it's a good target. If people ask questions about the target at any time during the planning phase, you have to answer them, filling in more of the details.

Part 2 -Schedule a time

You'll have to find out when everyone is free and pick a date and time that everyone can agree upon. This is difficult because all your operatives have busy lives and other commitments. When you suggest a date and someone has a prior commitment, you'll either have to convince them to cancel their previous plans, or try to pick a date that works better for them. Your date isn't set until you can get everyone to tell you they can do it at that specific time.

Part 3 - Sketch the plan

Now that you have a date and time, you need to make the details of the plan. You should come up with an obstacle for each member of the team, based on what their skillset is. Talk the plan out with them, meanwhile drawing out a sketch of the location with the actions each team member should take and the order they should take place in shown with numbers, arrows, drawings, and text. You should use a pen when you draw it so any parts of the plan that change will have to be scribbled out, or be written over. Once you get every person to agree with which obstacle they will deal with and how they will do it, you can move on to the next phase, the heist itself.

But if someone has a problem with the task you assign them, you might have to switch them with one of the obstacles you made up for someone else's skillset. If you do, you have to figure out how the other operative will solve it with their other, less appropriate skillset. If you can't figure out how to do that, you'll have to figure out a new obstacle for that operative to deal with, and explain how you'll deal with that obstacle on your own. Once everyone can agree with their job, take a picture of your sketch and post it, then move on to the next phase.

The Heist Phase

Wow, you actually managed to get everyone to agree and stop arguing, if you are lucky you'll have a successful heist.

First of all you need to set an alarm for the time you all agreed on. Tell everyone else to synchronize their watches and set alarms as well.

Part 1- In Position

When your alarm goes off, set another alarm to go off after no more than one hour. The heist has begun and everyone has an hour to get into position. Take turns asking players what their status is, making sure they are prepared, in position, and there are no complications. Once you confirm that each person is in position, you can continue to the next part, getting in.

If you cannot get confirmation from everyone before your alarm goes off, you can choose to either call off the heist and go back to the beginning of the planning phase, or continue with only the operatives  who confirmed, though every man short will make the job more difficult and more likely to fail.

Part 2 - Get in

During part two you'll be in charge of going through each step of the plan in order,  telling each operative when to begin their assigned task. Set an alarm for no more than one hour as soon as you begin the phase, if each operative doesn't complete their task within the time limit, everything is going to shit. Alarms are going off, you've been made, whatever the case everything is going wrong and you need to bail, and the heist is a failure. If that happens, tell everyone what's going wrong and to bail, then go back to the start of phase two.
Before the alarm goes off, starting with the first action in the plan you sketched, tell the operative assigned to that action to do it. They'll tell you if anything goes wrong. If it goes well, they'll tell you how they succeeded and you can get right to telling the next operative to start their action.

If something does go wrong, they will tell you what the problem is, and you'll have to try to talk them through it until they succeed. You can tell the next operative to begin, but it might mean you are walking multiple operatives through multiple complications at the same time, and that could get overwhelming quickly.

If any operatives didn't show up during the planning phase, you'll have to assign their job to someone else, and you'll have to talk them through it no matter what. This also means you can't tell the next operative to begin if they are already busy with another task.

If every task is successful, go to part 3.

Part 3 - Get out

Cool, you got the loot, now you just need to get away clean. Set an alarm for ten minutes and tell everyone how they should be getting away, running to the getaway car and outrunning the police, hijacking a plane, taking hostages and demanding to be given a tank, running through the sewers, whatever.

Probably though, there will be some complications, and someone will be in trouble and won't be able to get away without assistance. When this happens, it's up to you to delegate to the rest of the team. If you want to successfully complete the heist, pick one of the other operatives and tell them to go help. If they can come up with a solution to the problem in time, and no one has been caught or left behind, you successfully got away clean and completed a heist. If there are further complications you will have to send another operative to help. If there are no operatives to help, you can go yourself, but each person who goes to help risks getting caught or getting killed if things don't work out. When you send someone or you go yourself, the person helping says how they help.

If you don't want to risk anyone, you can bail and leave person who is stuck behind. They get caught or killed, and it's up to them what happens. You let your men down and someone is sure to think you're bad leader. But you still got the loot, well some of it at least.

If your alarm goes off before you can deal with all of the complications, anyone still dealing with a complication is busted. They'll have to make a new character to continue playing. Also, that means the heist failed and you didn't get the loot after all. Too bad. Go back to the start of the planning phase.

The Loot Phase

If you got away and got the loot, you level up. You can change your money problems for a new money problem. You also get a new skillset, but you can't use it until you talk about it at some point, saying how you've been training or improving since last time and how you learned your new skills. Talk about what you are going to do with your take and then ask the other players what they will do with theirs. If anyone got left behind, talk about them too. After that you can go back to the planning phase as long as you are still leader and have players. If you like you can also nominate someone else as the new leader to begin planning the next heist. This might also be a good spot to stop playing the game, but other players are free to continue and take over as leader if you drop out.


As an operative you don't have any goals except to play your character. You don't really have to do anything the leader says. Unless they call a vote, then you have to make your vote known, and go along with whatever the majority decides.

When you're the only one posting and no one else has replied for a while, or if you feel like the current leader is getting nowhere and the game is beginning to drag, your character feels they should lead. Come up with a new heist plan and pitch it to the group. Multiple plans can exist and people can switch which plan they are loyal to later, but this plan Is yours and it's the best.  If you decide to do this you are now a leader, so switch to the leader section, skipping the introductions phase and going directly to the planning phase.

The Introductions Phase

Character traits

When the leader directs you to introduce yourself you'll start establishing your character traits. Your character can be close to the real you, completely made up, or somewhere in between. You'll continue to build on details as you play.

- Code Name

Make up your code name. It be anything, a superhero or villain name, an Internet handle, the model of your first car plus your favorite metal, whatever. Introduce yourself by your code name.

-Personal skillset

Pick a thing that you are really talented at in real life or make something up. This is the thing that you are really good at or knowledgeable about and what makes you a valuable member of the team. It's also the thing that's most likely to derail a conversation when you start talking about it or posting pictures of it. 
Consider the following list:
- cars (the driver)
- computers (the hacker)
- art and design (the forger)
- planning and organization (the leader)
- acting and movies or plays (the con artist)
- cats (the animal whisperer)

Whichever one you pick, tell everyone about it when you introduce yourself, then continue to talk about it as much as you like throughout the game.

-Money problems

Once you introduce yourself, start talking about your money problems. These could be your real life problems or something you make up. They should also be your motivation for making a lot of money quick. Needing/wanting money is also the common ground that will unite all of the characters. Consider the following possibilities, including how not having enough money would create more problems. Talk about:
-  providing a middle class lifestyle for a family
- raising a child as a single parent
- medical expenses for a loved one or relative
- maintaining a lifestyle of fame or luxury
- personal disabilities that prevent you from working
- the system keeping you down.
- building a time machine, world domination, etc

Pick one that's your characters main issue and talk about it. Talk about your problems as the game continues anytime you like, including updates on how the situation changes and evolves over time. Bond with other characters about how money could solve all your problems.

The Planning Phase

There are three parts to planning that the leader is in charge of,  picking a target, scheduling a date, and sketching the plan. Pick one of these parts where you will support the leader in helping them get the other Operatives to agree. During the other parts you are going to be difficult.  

When you are being difficult, feel free to derail the conversation as much as you like by talking about your skillset, your money problems, or anything else your character might talk about. After the first message you write during that part of planning, set a timer for no more than 24 hours. If it goes off you should stop being so difficult and start making it easier for the leader. Once it goes off set another timer for no more than 24 hours, however long you think the limit of your patience should be. When this timer goes off, if the target hasn't been agreed on yet you should start being a leader yourself at phase 2 and come up with your own plan.

If there are multiple leaders, pick one who you are loyal to, and support them and back them up until there is one leader again, or until you become a leader.

-Picking a Target

If you are being difficult, keep asking questions about the target. The leader has to answer these questions.
If you are supporting, you can help the leader answer other operative's questions about the target, and you can add your own evidence or opinions to back up the leader's claims, or try to end any side discussions and focus back on discussing the target.

-Schedule a time

If you are being difficult, pick a single day of the week and a specific time when you are available. This should be a time where you think you will actually be able to pay enough attention to the game to respond to texts, but it's okay if you turn out to be busy at that time anyways. No other times work for you, whenever someone suggests another time, come up with a previous commitment you have at that time. You can't use the same commitment more than once, but they can be whatever you want. If you are forced to give up your commitments by vote, you have to cancel them (in character, not in real life).

If you are supporting, your availability is completely open. Well, you do have stuff planned, but if you have to move things around you'll make a point of saying what commitment you had before saying that you can cancel it, explaining that "it's fine" or "it's not a big deal".

- Sketch the plan

If you are being difficult, you'll have a problem with whatever task the leader has assigned to you, and assert that you would be better for another task they have already assigned to someone else. Continue to demand that you get switched to the other task until the leader gives in or you are forced to go along with a vote that says otherwise.

If you are supporting, you're flexible. You're totally fine with whatever job the leader assigns you and you'll even talk about how cool it is, but you're also willing to switch jobs with someone else if asked to.

The Heist Phase

When the leader tells you to, synchronize your watches by setting an alarm for the date and time you all agreed on during the schedule a time part of phase 2. Up to that time, feel free to talk about how your money problems are getting worse, how you are preparing for the heist, how you are getting more and more nervous, overconfident, or afraid, or anything else to build some tension and excitement.

Just like in the planning phase, pick one of the parts of the heist phase where you'll be supportive, and during the other two you'll be difficult.

If you're being difficult in this phase, set a timer for no more than 20 minutes when you send your first message during a part, and stop being difficult after the timer goes off. But if the heist fails anyways, you'll totally want to take over and be a new leader. You shouldn't try to derail the conversation as much during this phase, since time is more limited, but if it feels in character to post cat pics in the middle of your heist, go for it.

Part 1 - In Position

So when your alarm goes off, there's a definite possibility that you will actually be busy in real life. Maybe you set the alarm wrong or you don't hear it, maybe your phone is off or on silent, maybe something more important has come up. That's okay. You haven't let the game down. But your character has totally let the group down and didn't show up. Your leader will probably give them an earful about that later. But just in case you are available to answer when your leader tells you to get in position, here's what you'll do.
If you're being difficult, come up with an excuse why you can't do it and you have to call it off. Argue with your leader and defend your position. It'll take a majority vote to make you do it at this point.
If you're supporting, you'll be trying to convince other operatives to get into position in time and voting to make them do it.

Part 2 - Get in

For this part you'll need a single six sided dice, or some kind of die rolling program. When the leader tells you to do your part of the plan, roll the dice. Get +1 to your roll if you were loyal to the leader in charge of this heist during the planning phase, +1 if your skillset matches up with your task, and another +1 if you are supporting for this part. If you weren't loyal, or if you're being difficult,  get -1 (when your alarm goes off and you stop being difficult, the -1 goes away.)

Combine your pluses and minuses and add them to your roll. If your total is a 4 or lower, there is a complication, tell your leader what's going wrong with the plan. If  your leader can tell you how to deal with it to your satisfaction, roll again. Continue rolling and adding new complications and making the leader deal with them until you get a total of 5 or higher.

When you total 5 or higher, you succeed with your given part of the plan and get to tell everyone how you succeeded and what happened, probably with a little bragging. This lets the leader move on to the next part of the plan.

Part 3 - Get out

If you're being difficult this time,  you'll have a complication. Describe how you are trapped, held up, fighting for your life, being tailed, or otherwise in danger of being caught. The leader will send someone to help you out. Then you roll that D6 again. For each person coming to your aid, get +1. If they can convincingly say how their skillset will help them with your complication, get +2 instead.

If you get sent to help, say how you are helping, using your skillset if you can.

If your total is 5 or less, say what happens as a result of their help, and how you're still trapped. The leader will have to send someone else to help, leaving you to roll again with better chances.

The Loot Phase

If you got left behind, your character gets caught or gets killed. You should say some last words describing what your fate is, or at least implying it. You'll probably also want to condemn the leader who left you behind, perhaps cursing them or promising vengeance. Then you have to make a new character who you'll introduce when everyone goes back to the planning phase. Your new character gets to start with two skillsets instead of just one.

If you got away and got the loot, you level up. You can change your money problems for a new money problem. You also get a new skillset, but you can't use it until you talk about it at some point, saying how you've been training or improving since last time and how you learned your new skills. Talk about what you are going to do with your take. If anyone got left behind, talk about them from now on too.

After that you can go back to the planning phase as long as you are still leader and have players. If you like you can also nominate someone else as the new leader to begin planning the next heist. This might also be a good spot to stop playing the game, but other players are free to continue playing if you drop out.

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