Monday, 19 January 2015

Neverending backpack: A hack of Doctor Magnethands

My own work. Source images: This lab coat from
Gentleman's Emporium, used with permission, and 
this magnet, used under licence.
I have previously written about Doctor Magnethands, a light-hearted party-game/story-game where a band of heroes try to stop the Doctor from destroying "the earth by firing his radioactive rocket castle on the moon into the White House on Christmas Eve".

I was asked to run Doctor Magnethands for a friend's stag party by the best man. He sent around an email which pitched the game as Jon (the stag) trying to rescue his kidnapped bride-to-be and the rest of us trying to stop him. That's a little different from the original game. In fact, it is inverted - instead of a single GM (Doctor Magnethands) presenting challenges for the rest of the group to overcome, it is one player overcoming challenges set by the rest of the group. Here is how I made it work.

At the beginning we went through the usual process of each writing eight things down and putting them in a hat. I also asked everyone to write, on a ninth piece of paper, a location: dramatic, mundane, or silly. With these I made a separate location "deck".

The story was like this: "[The bride-to-be] has been kidnapped by an infamous international cabal of evil. Jon has packed his backpack with everything he thinks he will need to get her back and has tracked down one of the members of the cabal."

From here, the game took place over a number of turns, one for everyone except Jon. On each turn, the cabal player drew one of the location cards and read it out. Then they drew four of the normal cards and read them out. Finally, they used these cards to describe the identity of the cabal member and how they (and perhaps the location) posed a threat to Jon. Frequently, we also included a prize to be sought, which was generally the location of the next cabal member in some way - a map, a spaceship to get there, and so on. This last part happened organically as people tried to think of ways to incorporate all the weird things they had drawn.

Some of the cards from the game
Next, Jon also drew cards, up to a hand of four. He then described how he used one or more of them to defeat the challenge presented. We didn't stick to strictly one card of solution for one card of problem, as in the original rules. This was because I felt that the problem-solving was the harder job, but unlike in normal Doctor Magnethands, it wasn't a role shared between multiple players, and we only had four cards at a time to choose from. I did suggest to Jon that if he were stumped he could draw more cards, but he never took me up on this. Any cards he didn't use he kept until next turn.

Because Jon wasn't using a full four cards per turn, we had some spare cards for the final encounter. (It was revealed that the head of the cabal was a fourier transform of a white cat which sat stroking its human pet). We distributed these evenly and I encouraged players to chip in on either side if they could see a way in which their card could help or hinder. Unlike the other cards in the game we didn't read these out as soon as they were drawn, only when they were used. I think this tweak helped make the final battle feel more exceptional.

It worked really well! Everyone seemed to have a good time, people were engaged and offering suggestions on both sides even when it wasn't their turn. We only had one turn where the cards drawn were such a random collection of stuff that it was hard to work them into anything. We got the usual Doctor Magnethands magic of crazy juxtapositions, but with the added benefit (for us) of putting a lot of focus on the man of the hour, without him having to take on much responsibility or roleplay very much. (The other players, portraying their villains, did more roleplaying).

If someone wants to write the hack up, preferably as comically as possible, that would be great.

1 comment:

  1. Cross posted to