Curiosity killed the dog and other games: Downfall at PAX 2016

Posted by Caroline

One of my favorite things about story games is sharing them with strangers. It’s the main reason I look forward to playing Games on Demand at PAX. It’s amazing how creative and friendly people are during con play, and how quickly we go from feeling like strangers to feeling like co-conspirators, making something awesome together.

Oh and the added bonus was that Downfall was super popular–14 games played in total!

I ran three sessions of Downfall during the con, and had a fantastic time with each of them. Here’s a brief run-down of my games.


We had a pretty tight timeslot for this game–just under 2 hours including coffee breaks. So we zoomed through world creation (as much as possible, I mean; it was too interesting to go too fast) into world destruction. Our civilization was built on the rim of volcanoes at the advent of industry.

I think we all had the presidential election on the brain, so we explored our Flaw of Nationalism through the ways we integrated (or pretended to integrate) immigrants. While we were defining the Flaw, we had some very interesting conversations about the myths of history vs the reality of it.

Defining the Flaw is a short step in world building, but sometimes it’s one of my favorites. It starts opening players up to talk about the things that intrigue them. People share their ideas and start developing trust and interest in each others’ thoughts. A good Flaw discussion sets you up for good role-play by putting you on the same page, but perhaps more importantly, by breaking the “it’s okay to talk about important issues with these strangers” ice.

Like I said, it was a short game, but we had some really poignant scenes. I especially remember the one where our hero was on tribunal for being critical of the State. She was a revered teacher (re-educator) in the community, and she just couldn’t bring herself to believe that the country she had believed in for so long was crushing her under its nationalist wheel.


Honestly, when “dogs”, “water”, and “sea” came up as the elements I was a little concerned. Dogs? But we totally pulled it together to create a flotilla wandering the seas in search of potable water. Well, we should have been searching for water; instead we were searching for trinkets from the drowned civilization to satisfy our Flaw: Curiosity.

Oh, and those dogs? Those turned up as relics from the previous society. Great monuments and gilded statues dedicated to man’s former best friend. Our hero was the high priest of the dog cult, and when we finally found water pooled in the crown of an ancient dog statue, he took the credit.

Our downfall came as we waited for the reservoir to refill itself from rain that never came, more interested in finding new treasures beneath the sea for the glory of the dog gods than dealing with mortal concerns. After all, dog provides.


And then there was this game. I don’t even know where to start. It was *amazingly great*. Our Flaw was a total classic, Hubris, which we took to mean reaching for progress despite the costs–never believing that we could mess up. And oh my god, did we mess it all up.

Our elements were “fire”, “void”, and “time”. So we were two space stations in a binary system–one closer to the sun (Station 1) and one closer to a black hole (Station 0), so there’s fire and void. I’ve never seen time as an element before, and I’m so pleased with the way we decided to integrate it: time passed slower closer to the black hole. If you were sent from Station 0 to Station 1, your life would seem shorter from Station 0’s perspective. This was so critical to many of our traditions–people on Station 0 were seen as greater than those on Station 1 (because they lived longer). Language changed faster on Station 1 (because their lives passed faster). Of course everyone was living the same amount from their own perspective, but there was such animosity between the two stations that in the aftermath of their civil war, neither side would say that they had lost it.

I can’t do our story justice, but essentially our Hero was a playwright in a society of scientists on Station 0, a disgrace to his elite mother. He wanted to use his art to raise the plight of the immigrants from Station 1 (read: forced migrants) to the consciousness of the community, but ended up losing his funding. Not only that, the class of people he’s trying to save saw through his white man’s burden bull and tell him to stop meddling in their lives. He ended up in self-imposed exile on Station 1. Long story short, Station 0 ended up needing more labor from Station 1, conflict ensued, enter Hero as terrorist on Station 0, closing scene see Station 0 refugees being cordoned off on Station 1.


What worked really well about all our games was that everyone was participating to the max. I find the games that flow best are those where players are interested in what they’re creating. It’s a 3-player game, so if even one player is a little sleepy it stalls the process.

So that was my PAX! A huge shout out to all the players I got to game with. Together we created magic. 🙂