The Fifth World


The first player sets an encounter, as described below. We play through the encounter, and after it has ended the next player sets an encounter. When everyone has set an encounter, we’ve played through one round. Take a short break after each round. Rounds can vary greatly in length, but you can roughly estimate that one round will take about one hour. The story usually takes a round to start coming together, so you’ll usually want to make sure that you have time to play at least two rounds, if not more.

In an encounter, your character interacts with some other person in the Fifth World (the Other): another primary character, one of the secondary characters you might find along the way, or other persons implied by what we already know.

Setting an Encounter

When you set an encounter, begin with the ritual phrase, “It happened at «place name».” The place card where your character’s card currently sits tells you where the encounter happens. If you haven’t discovered that place’s name yet, use its descriptor, e.g., “It happened at a natural wonder,” or “It happened at home.” If you know where you want to place it, you can be more specific, e.g., “It happened at the ruins of this very building,” or “It happened at the river bank.” Later, you’ll discover the names of these places. When you know the place’s name, you should always use that.

The first time a place appears in the game, answer the introduction question indicated by its card. In the first round, tell us why your character has come to this place. Give us a description of your character and what she does there.

Whom do you encounter?

Next pick whom you encounter here. You can encounter any person at the place with you. At the beginning of the game, though, the only person card there will belong to your character. You can draw the face-down person card above the place to have a random encounter. You can also play with the notion of personhood.

Playing the Encounter

Once you’ve set the encounter and introduced the people involved, assign other players to play the other characters involved. You will always play your own character, and if other primary characters take part then their players will also play them. Ask any remaining players to play any of the other characters involved in the encounter. If all of the other players’ characters appear in the encounter, ask one or more of the other players to take on any other parts as well. She will need to distinguish between her own character and the others she will play.

You always speak for your own character. You tell us what she thinks, feels, says, and does.

When you play a secondary character, you should portray her as evocatively as you can. Reveal understandable motivations and give her life, but defer answers. Give her words and actions, but limit yourself to those words and actions that flesh out only what we already know about her. To learn new things about her, other players will need to ask questions.

When you play the Other, draw a card from the needs deck. This card tells you about this person’s current needs. The Other’s card tells you about her personality (e.g., the King of Spades). The need cards tells you about the needs that drive her at the moment (e.g., the Ace of Hearts). Together, they should give you a good start to playing the character. She might not always fully understand her needs, but they continue to drive her thoughts, attitudes, actions, and reactions, nonetheless.

Clubs ClubsSpiritual NeedsAuthenticity, beauty, freedom, harmony, hope, inspiration, integrity, presence, purpose
Hearts HeartsEmotional NeedsAffection, excitement, humor, intimacy, joy, love, mourning, self-expression, warmth
Diamonds DiamondsPhysical NeedsAir, food, movement, rest, safety, sex, shelter, touch, water
Spades SpadesMental NeedsChallenge, clarity, creativity, discovery, efficacy, learning, legacy, mastery, understanding

Keep the suit secret, but let it color the way you portray the character. Later on, the player setting the encounter may have to guess the card you drew (see the “I appeal to her [spirit/heart/body/mind].” ritual phrase). Play the Other faithfully to her needs so that the main player has a chance of guessing correctly. If you feel like you might make it too obvious, don’t worry; what seems obvious to you may not seem obvious at all to someone else.

As you play through the encounter, any player can use ritual phrases to do things like making a task difficult or dangerous, or to suggest an end to the current encounter. Any player with a character present in the encounter can offer help, make an offering, or gather awareness.

Ending an Encounter

The encounter ends with one of two possible ritual phrases: “It happened at «place name»,” or “I appeal to her [spirit/heart/body/mind].”

At the end of your encounter, you can move to a new place. You can use this to introduce a new place by drawing a card from the place deck, adding it to the place row, and putting your character’s card beneath it. You can invite any primary characters in that place to come with you. Each primary character can bring one secondary character with her. Chaining these rules together can allow you to move a significant group of characters from one place to another all at once, traveling as a group.

If any cards remain in the person deck, deal one face-down to each place that does not have a random encounter available, starting with home and going to the right along the place row. Continue until the person deck runs out of cards.

Finally, place one new moment on each of the place cards now in play.