In The Fifth World roleplaying game, you and 2-5 of your friends take on the roles of people living in a neotribal, ecotopian future. Together, you’ll uncover a story about their lives — about their ambitions, their hopes, their troubles, and above all, about the web of kinship that binds them together. How will they balance the conflicting demands of the people they love and respect? What kind of person will they choose to become? What kind of world will they leave for their own descendants?
We play the game like a board game, except we spend a lot more time focused on story and characters. We play the game like a troupe of improv actors, except we perform only for one another. We play the game like musicians having a jam session on the front porch, except we compose a story instead of music. We hunt a wild story — a unique thing with a life all its own that could not exist anywhere else but here, with us, right now.
You’ll usually want to play around a table where you can arrange pieces of paper, playing cards, and tokens, which will help us track the story. Along the hunt, you’ll shift between four different roles: playing your character, playing other characters, asking questions, and answering them.
You can play a single story of The Fifth World in two to four hours, depending on how long you’d like to play. You might decide to make a regular event of it, continuing the story of your family and the characters in it as an ongoing saga. If some of your friends can’t make it sometimes, though, don’t worry. Their characters can simply fade into the background as the family’s life goes on.
When we play the Fifth World, we play with this agenda:
You might notice that things like “challenging other players,” “creating conflict,” and “telling your story” do not appear on this agenda. The game may not work if you try to bring other agendas to it.
- Rewild the domesticated.
- Feed the story with what you know.
- Address the Fifth World.
- Reveal understandable motivations.
- Defer answers.
- Give every person life.
- Stay on the story’s trail.
- Ask questions and build on the answers.
- Heed the spirit of the place.
At the beginning of each game, you can choose between reprising a character you’ve played before or creating a new one. For your first game you won’t have any characters yet, so you’ll have to create one.
Once you have a community and everyone has a character who belongs to that community, you’ll need to divide a deck of cards into a person deck (the kings, queens, jacks, and jokers), a needs deck (the aces) and a place deck (the remaining cards). To set up the game, we’ll introduce some places and put a card from the person deck at each one, face down, where you could have a random encounter.
Most of the game unfolds in encounters. Take turns setting them between your character and someone else. Spend moments of awareness to ask questions and invoke or respond to ritual phrases to face danger or difficulty, gather awareness, and in the end figure out the need that drives the other.
After the last round, wrap up the game with each player taking a turn to set an epilogue for her character. Then decide if your game has revealed a new place name.