2015-03-17 : The Vengeful Demon of the Ring

The Vengeful Demon of the Ring
a roleplaying game for three players, one unwitting

The Object of the Game
The object of the game is to win three wishes from the demon player, then grant them their freedom, without ever letting on that they're playing a game with you.

The Players
You're an "adventurer player." You know that you're playing the game and you know the rules.

Choose one friend to be an adventurer player with you. Explain the rules to them.

Choose another friend to be the "demon player." If they figure out that they're playing the game, you lose, so don't tell them!

The Story
You and your fellow adventurer have discovered, in some isolated place, a magical ring, to which answers a powerful and impatient demon. It might grant your wishes, or it might fly into a rage and destroy you both.

Making Wishes
Take turns with the other adventurer player, asking the demon player to do you favors.

Imagine yourself as an adventurer, asking a demon to grant your wishes. Imagine yourself making bold or cunning demands, as you like, but in real life, ask for simple favors. Ask in code. The code is this: the favor you ask must share initials with the wish you're making as an adventurer.

"Would you get me a glass of water?" = "I wish for great wealth!"

"Would you mind lifting your elbow?" = "I wish for life everlasting!"

"Would you please take this lamp?" = "I wish for true love!"

It's your responsibility to remember what you've wished for. When you have the chance, take a moment aside with the other adventurer player to explain the wishes you've made so far.

Interpreting the Demon Player's Responses
If the demon player does what you ask, the demon grants your wish.

If the demon player declines, so does the demon.

If the demon player becomes suspicious, imagine the demon becoming impatient with your wheedling and showing the beginning of a rage. You'll have to do your best to assuage the demon player's suspicions, press your luck, or else abandon the game.

If the demon player becomes frustrated, demands answers, or guesses that you're playing a game, the demon gives in to its explosive fury and destroys both of you adventurers outright. The game ends and you've lost.

So the challenge of the game is to come up with a wish, translate it by initials into a harmless request, and then ask your friend to do it for you, but without raising your friend's suspicions.

Ending the Game
If it happens that the demon grants you two adventurers, between you, three wishes, then it's time to end the game.

One or the other of you must do a favor for the demon player, unasked, whose initials are "GF," for "I grant you your freedom." For instance, you could bring the demon player a glass of fruit or a giant flower.

This ends the game. One of you adventurer players has won.

Sometime after the game, compare wishes with the other adventurer player. Whichever of you made and was granted the better wishes - more wishes, grander wishes, cleverer or funnier wishes - wins the game. This is a matter of interpretation and it's possible that each of you will consider yourself to have won.

Don't Let On
The demon player never needs to know that you've played a game together or what the outcome was. If they find out after the game ends, the result stands - it's too late by then for the demon to destroy you - but still, try not to let on.

If you're like me, you have some friends who won't mind being made to play the demon, and other friends who'll be bothered by it, even though it's harmless. It's your responsibility to choose which friends you play with.

The End

1. On 2015-03-17, Vincent said:

My Point
I'm trying to contradict the idea that playing a game is necessarily voluntary, by giving an example of a legit game with an unwitting player.

I think that "unwitting player" describes the demon player in this game perfectly well, with no need for any technical clarifications or quibbling. The idea of an unwitting player isn't self-contradictory and there's no reason to make it definitionally impossible.

Many games with unwitting players are violatory. Hazing games, for instance. I think this one's pretty harmless, but like I say, I have some friends who'd be irritated to be made to play a game like this that they hadn't agreed to. You might too.

I don't expect anyone to ever play this game. Still, I think you could, if you wanted! Maybe it's even fun.


2. On 2015-03-17, Meguey said:

I would play this game, I think. Especially if there was going out somewhere and ordering food and drink involved. Hmm.


3. On 2015-03-17, Tom said:

Huh...that does seem interesting, but I feel like whatever you do for the demon should be substantially better than whatever they did for you.  That shouldn't be too hard because I suspect that minor requests spread out over a period of time should almost always be a successful strategy.  Any halfway decent gesture on your part should more than compensate, but I still think there's an ethical principle of generously tipping your unwitting random event generator.

I'd also allow adventurers to reword the Give Freedom initials if it helps with their favor.  "Deepart Freely" could go in as "Have a drink free".


4. On 2015-03-17, Vincent said:

Meguey: I think it'd play great at a smallish con, like Dreamation or whatever.

Tom: That's pretty great! A nicely practical solution to the ethical problem of the game.


5. On 2015-03-17, JMstar said:

The lack of complicit agency of the demon player reminded me of the Golden Cobra game Gabardine, by Jonathan Cook:


6. On 2015-03-17, anna said:

i designed a game like this once! it's a note-passing game, and the note contains the rules. the target doesn't know they're playing (neither do others until the note is passed to them), but if the target notices the note the player holding it is forced to reveal all:


7. On 2015-03-17, Ben Lehman said:

I started on a game like this once. It was, not good. (or, at least, potentially hazardous when combined with certain disabilities). This one is much better.


8. On 2015-03-17, Kit said:

And simple favors asked at the Baker household were never the same again.

You'll always suspect that you're being made the demon, and the adventurers will have to get more and more subtle to keep someone who knows about the existence of the game from guessing.


9. On 2015-03-17, Gordon said:

I'm not sure if this is quibbling or important, but I don't think that "unwitting player" is the best description for the role held by the person the adventurers are imagining as the demon. As far as I can tell, THAT PERSON is NOT PLAYING.* He or she isn't engaged in play at all, and I think calling them a "player" provides a possible/partial "out" for some people from the potential ethical issues with the game.

I'd say call your demon-friend what they are, maybe anna's "the target", or maybe "the mark" or "the dupe" or "the randomizer/skill test/resolution method." I mean, I'm all good with the "some will mind, some won't, be responsible", so I don't want something like "the dupe" to unfairly label what some would consider a fun or at least innocuous role. But I'd be happier overcoming the negatives of that characterization than overcoming the flat-out (to me) inaccuracy of calling the demon-representative a "player." They are more like a die roll than they are like another player. Maybe that's the bottom line for me: is the demon-chosen really similar to the adventurers in any important way? Isn't there something else that they are MORE similar to?

That said - for a particular set of people, who are used to this kind of game, who customarily might assume "hey, my friends are trying to play a game with me" - maybe I'm wrong, player might be just fine SOMETIMES. When the confidence artists start treating each other as marks, where is the precise point you slide from con to mark or vice-versa? Unknowable?

But in MOST playings of "Vengeful Demon of the Ring", it seems a lot more accurate to say "you will use the person you choose as demon to resolve events in the fiction by ..." than it would be to say "the demon is a player too, they just don't know it."

Further complication - embed VDotR within ANOTHER game, where everyone clearly is a player. I'd love to see how that might alter how the demon serves to resolve the adventurers game - might the demon-target become more likely to notice? Less? And I'm interested in how different people might be more or less likely to be bothered by being "used" as the demon in that circumstance. But still - I think, for purposes of VDotR, the demon-target isn't a player, they're more like dice-that-think.

Another complication: I, having read this game, notice when two people make me the demon and start playing. I don't reveal to them that I know. Play continues, and - now I'm a player. Doesn't that imply that I wasn't before? Or at least, doesn't it being clear now imply that it was muddy before?

Thanks for the game, Vincent - useful!

*Which is to say, I want to stipulate that there is a game and there are SOME people playing it.


10. On 2015-03-17, Caitie said:

Just to see if I am on the same page - you know that game you play on road trips, where you all try to spell out the alphabet using license plate letters? Do the people in those cars count as unwitting players?


11. On 2015-03-17, Vincent said:

Caitie: It seems as impossible and absurd to me that the demon player wouldn't, as it does to you that the other drivers would.


12. On 2015-03-17, Caitie said:

Oh, not at all, I consider them players! It's just   strange concept of being a player in a game you don't even know is happening. But I guess that's the point of this whole thing, right?

To make it interesting: what are an unwitting player's responsibilities? How do we address them in game text? How do we even have a conversation about them?


13. On 2015-03-17, Vincent said:

Caitie: Oh hooray! You've made my evening.

Those are the very best questions.


14. On 2015-03-18, Tim Ralphs said:

I'm with Gordon. I don't really see how the Demon Player is playing a roleplay game. They don't seem to have any access to the shared imaginary space - or rather they are clearly contributing to the space, but they are not sharing in imagining it. Obviously if that sort of attitude is likely to limit the potential of game design then it's worth interrogating, but calling them The Demon Player feels like a loaded term that doesn't describe what they were doing.

What if the resolution mechanic didn't involve them noticing anything, but instead involved rolling a dice off their face while they were asleep? The rules state that if a d6 rolls a 1, the demon is enraged. On a 2-3, the demon refuses the request. 4+ they grant the wish. the demon player isn't allowed to actually wake up, that's against the rules. Would you still count them as playing the game? (Possibly just a really badly designed game.)


15. On 2015-03-18, Ken Filewood said:

Very thought provoking.

I agree the 'Demon Player' is not a player in the usual sense.  There is a tradition in game theory of treating (random) 'Nature' as a player.  The 'Demon Player' is a special case of that kind.  The fact that we attribute consciousness to the 'Demon Player' makes it seem different.

So what about 'semi-witting' players?  E.g. an animal conditioned to make legal moves?  A computer programmed to do that?  A human player with less-than-complete rules knowledge?  A generally knowledgeable but fallible-in-an-ordinary way player?

In many, many actual playings of some RPGs none of the players knows all of the rules.

Is there in fact such a thing as a 'fully-witting' player?

Thanks for the sweet example game.


16. On 2015-03-18, Davide said:

A few questions - hoping I am not going completely out of track here.

If I am making a game where me and a friend will bet on the color of the next car that will come around the corner, I assume that the car driver is somehow part of the game - a player basically, even if they don't know it, right?

To make it more interesting: if me and my friend bet on a third friend of ours, whether or not he will show up tonight for a drink when we invited him, is it more to the point? (having always the same friend as the unknowing player, rather than random drivers)

Final question (with the hope of not stretching it too far): when I play one of the usual RPGs at the table, is it possible that other players are actually playing "my" version of the game without knowing it? (and at the same time I play, unknowingly, each of their versions...)
Perhaps so...
Me and my friends have certain important points of contact (where rules or procedures make us converge on something). And at the same time we all have our own "personal drift". Now, how do I make the best of the other players' participation in my solitary version of the game?


17. On 2015-03-18, Vincent said:

Caitie: For this game, I took care to limit the unwitting player's responsibilities to a very easy and obvious social baseline. It's the demon player's responsibility to respond to the other players' weird requests exactly as they choose, going along with them or declining to go along with them only and just as strikes them in the moment. I think that we can safely hold the unwitting player to this responsibility; I think that the unwitting player can fulfill this responsibility perfectly ably without knowing that they're playing the game.

Otherwise, all the responsibilities in the game are responsibilities of the knowing players to each other and to the unwitting player.

Very useful question to ask, thank you!


18. On 2015-03-18, Vincent said:

Here are the links above, enlinked:

Gabardine by Jonathan Cook

Uroos Maluroos (The Murderers) by Anna Anthropy


19. On 2015-03-18, Vincent said:

Anna: Uroos Maluroos looks like great fun!

Those of you who think that the demon player isn't really a player should be sure to click through and read Uroos Maluroos. I think that it's just a hair over on your side of the line, instead of just a hair over on my side like The Vengeful Demon of the Ring, because the unwitting player always finds out about the game in the end. Neat, huh?


20. On 2015-03-18, Gordon said:

Continuing on ... I think it could be really fun to be the demon in that "I know and they don't know I know" scenario I mentioned. Would that make the adventurers unwitting participants in some game that I'm playing? A game quite similar to VDotR, but not quite that game, as I've found a loophole/exploit/unhandled case for its' ruleset?

Talking about the "responsibilities" of the demon-marked person is instinctively even more alien to me than talking about him or her as a player. They have a role, and a purpose, with respect to the game, but if they don't know about the game, they have responsibilities only with respect to life and normal social interaction.

Actually, I think that's a key point. You could define "player" in such a way as to include the demon-marked person (e.g., player=any human with a role or purpose in a game), but is the very absence of their ability to be meaningfully responsible and/or accountable for the game-related stuff that makes me resist doing so.

We already can't really collapse "GM" and "player" together in most game texts - I mean, when pressed most people concede that "GM" and "PC" (in the player-of-a-character sense, not the character-of-a-player that it so often gets used to be) are both within the bigger umbrella "player", but an RPG text that says something that applies to both GM(s) and PC(s) will be considered confusing if it doesn't call attention to that fact. In a bit more complex version of VDotR, collapsing the demons and the adventurers together as "players" seems open to a lot of those kinds of problems.

There is (I think) a meaningful and useful distinction between "player" and "participant" that I don't want to lose, and fear might be lost if the demon-marked person is called/considered a player. On the other hand, I really like this poking at the border cases. Things I'm mulling over right now as a result of this:

1) The difference between "playing" (at all) and being a player in particular (in game x, with respect to game/player y, and etc.) I mean, playing at life or at some subset of things in life is an option available to us all, at all times, right? But if you take on the attitude of playing at the stock market (for reelz), you both a)may well think differently than when you look at the stock market as a serious job, and b)are still seriously using real money in addition to whatever mental overlay has you think of it as a game.

2) How might it be useful to think about frequent transitions between "player" and "participant" in the course of RPG play? Can we meaningfully expand BOTH the definitions of "player" and "not-a-player"?

3) On Uroos Maluroos - if the target doesn't get passed the "beware assasination!" note, I'd say they have zero responsibilities and aren't a player at all. If they do, it's tricky - like in the AP account in the comments, where the target did get a note but kinda ignored it and felt no, un, responsibility when they were revealed to have been murdered. Maybe they had the (intentionally incompletely explained) opportunity to be a player, but didn't take advantage of it?

4)In some cases, maybe "was a player?" can only be answered by an instance of actual play? And might it have multiple, different answers at each instance?

5)Are we better off thinking of "player" as a potential that can be there in the rules to varying degrees/ways for each participant, rather than as an absolute? After all, I do see some fairly-unlikely-to-happen (but real) ways that I could consider the demon-marked a player.

That's probably already too long, so thanks again, Vincent/


21. On 2015-03-20, Tim Ralphs said:

A consequence: We are all playing an infinite number of games. We are scoring point, winning and losing and making every conceivable move. The rules of the games we are playing are diverse; some are byzantine, some are cruel, some are sacred. The only shared property of the games is that our consent or awareness is not necessary to start play.

I'm quite fond of this consequence.


direct link

This makes...
GcL go "I'd say ... for SOMEONE to start play"*

*click in for more

22. On 2015-03-20, Igor Toscano said:

I was discussing this with some friends. Some, like me, also don't see the demon-player as a player.

He's more like a tool. A sentient tool, but his part in the game is no greater than dice rolling. Instead of rolling the dice to see if you succeed, you have someone saying if you do or don't.


23. On 2015-03-21, Vincent said:

Igor: Do you often find that your dice get frustrated and suspicious when you ask them to do too many too capricious favors, like "hey could you take this lamp?" and "would you mind stepping on this sandwich?" So you have to somehow laugh it off or mollify them to keep them from pressing the issue?

That doesn't really happen with my dice.


24. On 2015-03-21, Igor Toscano said:

But I can say somethings about my dice. I can say they always roll bad when I need them. But if I change "dice" to "cards", I probably wouldn't say something like that.

I think I can say "I have a very frustrades and unhelpful friend" in the same context I would say "I have this terrible dice"

And I think most RPG players will say that their dice have some personality, and not a good one ;)


25. On 2015-03-23, Paul T. said:

Vincent, here is an example of someone creating a solo PbP RPG with many unwitting human participants:

An absolutely incredible story, and I'm not sure how it fits with this whole premise, but it seems relevant.

(He probably also made more money off his solo fictional RPG than anyone else ever has! Especially when you consider that it took place during WWII...)

Seen as a game, the stakes he was playing for are absolutely astounding - not just his fate, but thousands of others hung in the balance.


direct link

This makes...
VB go "Linked!"
PT go "Thanks!"

26. On 2015-03-26, Skavenloft said:

This is so perfect for a small conventions :>


27. On 2015-03-26, Skavenloft said:

Is it okay if I translate this to polish language and submit to my blog? I will give you credits of course ;)


28. On 2015-03-26, Vincent said:

Skavenloft: Feel free!


29. On 2015-03-28, Skavenloft said:

Aaand... Here's the polish version :)


30. On 2015-03-30, Vincent said:

31. On 2015-04-02, Benn Grant said:

Gordon: your points are extremely well taken.


32. On 2015-04-05, steffen said:

Aaand.... Here's the german version:



direct link

This makes...
VB go "Awesome, thank you!"

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