Archive for March 27th, 2008

Lions in the Snow Mountains

2008 Mar 27

This is a hack of Dogs in the Vineyard for exploring the contemporary unrest in the Tibetan Autonomous Region and surrounding areas. All the players play Tibetans and the majority should be young people under 30 but old enough to willfully commit violence in full knowledge (otherwise the game lacks a moral “fruitful void” to explore). One player can be a monk or nun, if they like, and one player can choose to have a position in the Party (including the Youth League), government, or military, but the rest should have non-clerical, non-state jobs or be students.

Each character should have an “I am Tibetan” trait instead of the standard “I am a Dog” trait. This can take many different forms, as usual. Consider how different is to say “I am a Tibetan nun” or “I’m secretly working for the Tibetan Youth Congress” or “I am a Muslim Tibetan” or “I am a Tibetan cadre” or “I am a Tibetan security officer.”

Instead of a coat, you have a traditional Tibetan knife. This starts as a standard d6 object, but you can describe it however you like and give it dice accordingly for being high quality or big or crappy or whatever. Yes, you can totally roll your knife dice in conflicts.

You cannot escalate to gunfighting without a gun and live ammunition. None of the Tibetan characters start out with loaded guns, not even soldiers or security officers. It’s possible that soldiers and security offers have guns that are issued to them, but they cannot check out live ammo to use with them unless authorized by the appropriate authorities. In most situations, they will not even be allowed to carry guns, as the Chinese government is decidedly uninterested in arming Tibetans. The GM’s NPCs, however, can certainly have loaded guns, especially if they are Chinese soldiers or security forces.

Characters can feel however they want to about the situation of Tibet, the Dalai Lama, the “Middle Way” (the non-violent approach of the Tibetan exile government), the Chinese state, the Communist Party, etc. Like Dogs in the Vineyard, this game isn’t pushing a particular agenda or point of view. That’s the fruitful void. Instead, the game is about personal choices related to the use of violence and the consequences of those choices.

As such, the GM’s role is to keep escalating things, both inside and outside conflicts, exploring under what conditions the players will, for example, choose to draw their knife and use it, because, even for people committed to non-violence, violent action always seems to be an attractive and effective option. Once violence has been committed, by one side or another, the GM is then tasked with following the consequences of that violence, guided by Fallout. The GM’s other role is to continue to complicate black-and-white situations and ask the players to reconsider previously accepted truths. “All Chinese are bad? What about this poor shop owner from Henan who’s just trying to feed his family? Okay, not him? What if he distrusts Tibetans? Now he’s bad? What if he’s Buddhist, just like you? What happens when you have to choose between saving him or yourself?” Etc.

The goal of the players, as in any game of Dogs is to try to fix things, drawing on their limited resources. Unlike in Dogs, the characters aren’t free to move to the next town. This is where they live. Characters can leave the game, temporarily or permanently, by leaving for college or a job in the eastern provinces, going abroad somehow, going to prison, or being killed. Or the game can simply end when you reach a suitable point.

I suggest reading up a bit about the recent violence if you’re planning on actually running it. A good source is China Digital Times.