Day 24: What was the very saddest thing you wrote on an index card?

A blast from the past! One of the original self-referential self-mocking indie questions (hence the shitty “art” I put together for the hashtag). Was the sad index card meme from the Andy Kitkowski days of story dash games dot com? I honestly don’t remember.

My gut reaction to the question had been “none, not my jam” but that’s so not true. Thinking through the games where I have used index cards (as opposed to, say, a big relationship map, my preferred table presentation tool), though, I realized that a) it usually means I’m playing something freeform-y and b) that means mad bleed.

So many speculations! But it’s true: If I’m playing something without meaningful random inputs or manipulable economies or a system I can leverage, I go straight to the sad.

I played Ross Cowman’s Life on Mars at RinCon last year, which involves index cards for your character notes. You move around a token to represent various settings your astronaut is in during a trip to Mars, and then halfway you shift to Mars itself, and a whole new set of prompts. And sure enough, without any external prompting beyond a name, my mission captain was a mother slowly unraveling the further she got from her child. I worked my way into an emotional state very much like I started to feel stuck in NYC during Sandy, only extrapolated.

Similar thing happened with Montsegur 1244, although there’s no need for an index card because your character is already on a card. Absent any kind of “resolution system,” went straight to the sad again. And I could totally feel the wavefront of it happening once again in Rachel E.S. Walton’s Mars 244 game at Dreamation this year.

What’s going on?

This didn’t happen with Fall of Magic, which I feel like was more about fantastical journeys than emotional journeys (ie Life on Mars). So it’s not a 100% sure thing.

Hm…Durance, my characters are almost uniformly tragic. Sometimes bleedy. Less often because there’s a veneer of brutality that’s just not in me, and lets me distance myself from the character a bit.

Anyway, interesting phenomenon. I’ll think about it some more.

In the more trad space, I did index cards instead of an r-map for our run through The One Ring. Worked better because of all the travel and the mostly outward-focused situation. I’d do up little tent cards for every PC and NPC, along with cards that say INJURED and SCARED and MISERABLE, so I could slap those in front of a player. On the backs of the NPC tent cards I’ll add little GM notes. Nothing per se sad on any of them.

Richard Rogers made a good point that online play is probably going to bring the end of this technique. Pour one out for the sad index cards.

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7 thoughts on “Day 24: What was the very saddest thing you wrote on an index card?”

  1. I really really like index cards for general note-taking/reminder/to-do list purposes. Scraps of paper get ratty/mutilated/lost in a hurry, folded sheets don’t get unfolded (I mean, in a pinch, you write on the outside and you’ve got yourself a field-expedient index card, but…)

    Also, my to-do lists can be very… diverse.

    I think one time I left behind at work for my co-worker to find a list combining:
    -a fairly detailed order-of-battle for an amphibious invasion I was planning in Hearts of Iron.
    -a reminder to buy socks.
    -FIX PANTS.

  2. Actually the “Sad Things on Index Cards” was Adam Koebel’s poetry! We were at PAX East a few years back with the Burning Crew folks, talking about something or other, and IIRC the scene was we were simply amazed at all the awesome gaming going on: Board games over there, D&D/Pathfinder tables over there engaging in exciting adventures, and “over here… uh… people writing sad things on index cards…”

    I couldn’t stop laughing: Wrote it down, and made it the S-G tagline as soon as I had a stable internet connection.

  3. Andy Kitkowski I remember that. Yeah, it’s a phrase I’ve always used to describe a certain branch of small press gaming that seemed to be bummer content contests in some groups. Who can be the most miserable? Play to find out!

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