|Illustration by Shannon Kao for ISDYSSM
In the last few days I’ve discovered and played 3 games of I’m Sorry Did You Say Street Magic (I’ll call it ISDYSSM from now on) by Caro Asercion. I’ve also introduced a number of people to the game, including several who’d never played RPGs before. All have fallen in love with its beautiful, simple system of playing, and the genuinely magical creations that result from playing it. One RPG-newbie I played with, a counsellor for autistic young adults, thought that the game would be an ideal tool for playing with her clients, helping them to come out of themselves and express their hopes and fears through directed creativity.
ISDYSSM is a GM-less game – all players take an equal role in determining what is possible. This is a concept which, when I first encountered it, I couldn’t envisage how it would work. But it does. It is, more than anything else, a loose structure within which people can explore the extremes of their imaginations to collaboratively build a story.
The rules, as I said, are simple and lightweight. After loosely describing a city by choosing three adjectives and then discussing the setting and what kind of beings might live there, players take it in turn to add either a Neighbourhood, a Landmark or a Resident to the city. Each of these involves a slightly different process, but all require the creation of true names, words or phrases that make that Neighbourhood, Landmark or Resident unique. These are a lot of fun to come up with, and can be as weird as you like: examples might be “slow-moving tourists”, “big stain underneath”, “oxidisation” or “braised tofu smell”.
Declaring a resident involves an additional step of roleplaying a vignette, wherein the current player acts as the resident, and other players play roles of those interacting with them – perhaps customers, employees, or more abstract elements such as the weather or the nearby buildings. This aspect of the game was a lot of fun!
Finally, compasses – a word or phrase to inspire the round – and events – during which the city may be changed, and questions asked – help to make each round of the game unique, and determine the story of the city’s growth and progress. The end of the game can happen whenever the players want – or you could keep on playing forever over multiple sessions if you prefer.
As well as being a lot of fun, it’s a great tool for generating unique and characterful city environments for inserting into other RPGs or as a location for works of fiction.
In our first game, we invented the “Walking City of Lig⤦” (we think it may have once been called the Walking City of Light, but some of the letters have clearly fallen off the sign). It’s a “sprawling, ornate, kinetic” city with something approaching a faded steampunk feel, where the buildings walk around on legs and the districts rearrange themselves over time. Quite unexpectedly, around halfway through the game, the city exploded into a battle between humans and robots, instigated by an android dishcloth-selling magnate in a tiki bar. You can read the summary of our gameplay here.
In our next game we created an alpine city of cable-cars, where the building of a tunnel led to intrigue and death.
ISDYSSM is enormous fun, easy to play on the tabletop or online with only minimal resources (pen and paper), and a great introduction to RPGs for newbies. The rules are simple enough to learn that by my second play I didn’t need to refer to them once. I can thoroughly recommend it, and will definitely be playing it again.