Hip-hop and RPGs: The Five Fires

Hip-hop and RPGs: The Five Fires

You may or may not know that I’ve got a project I call “The Five Fires”.  Five Fires is a roleplaying game where you play an artist in traditional hip hop culture, trying to express yourself  in a city and world that has criminalized your expression.

The “fires” in the the name refer to the five elements of hip hop:

  1. MCing
  2. B-Boying (breakdancing)
  3. DJing
  4. Graffiti Writing
  5. Knowledge, Culture, Overstanding

These are five variations of the creative “fire”, and thus where the game gets it name. You play a young artist who gets a chance to burn brightly….will you burn out or shine a light  for others to see?

I’ve been putting a lot of thought into how to make a hip hop game.  One approach is to put a skin over some other genre of play.  At some point I’d like to do a Wu-tang inspired dungeon crawl kung fu game, or a Samurai Champloo-inspired game.  There are a lot of awesome mashups that are possible, but as I drilled into what the game is about and what I want out of the game, I realized something…

What I really wanted most of all is a game about making art.

I don’t really want to make another game of colonized violence.  I want to make a game that took that violence and put you in the position of doing something about it.  That something could be grappling with it or that something could be inspiring or teaching others. I think an interesting game is one where your tool for dealing with what the world offers you is your ability to create.  I’m not saying it’s the best or ultimate answer, I’m just saying that I think I’d like to see that.

So here I am.  I’ve been chipping away at the game, and have basic rules scaffolding and a simple structure in place. The mechanic right now that I am most proud of is the “recovery” mechanic.  As your character takes stress from the world around him, you are able to make the art your character class (there are 4 classes, 1 for each fire but the 5th) can make, and use that to recover.  I have to give props to Chris Chinn for helping me come around to this idea.  I’ve developed and tested a bit and it’s pretty fun!

The first bit about making art:  If I make it about actually rapping or breakdancing, et al.  we’re going to hit limits pretty quickly.  I don’t want that.  I want it to be accessible and I want it to be about the process of making art, not the skill and craft of making art.

So what each class has is its own group mechanic for creating something — a graffiti piece, a rhyme, a new floor routine, a track — that turns the artist into the performer and the rest of the group into a potential or actual audience.  How does that work? I’m glad you asked that!  Here is the rough draft mechanics for the MC.

whenever I want to remove some knocks or recover some abilities, I can spend one of my beats for the session to write a rhyme. When I write a rhyme, everyone at the table are my listeners. I describe where I am — maybe a cipher, or on the train, or in my apartment — and then I start.

To write a rhyme, I describe to the group the imagery I use on the song.  I pick any three images or I want, like “the post office”, nuclear holocaust”, “red mustang”, or “a shaolin priest with a staff”. Then I pick three words, like “death”, “chattering”, “beat-box”, or “shadowboxing”. After that, I ask my listeners to describe what they think the song is about.  I can pick the listener interpretation I like best, and then I come up with a title for the rhyme.  I write the rhyme title in my rhyme book along with the images and words I came up with.

When I finish a rhyme, I can choose to recover a knock or I can recover up three abilities.

If I get my hands on a Beat, I can make combine it with one of my Rhymes to make a Track.

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4 Responses

  1. I like the integration of the audience’s perception – that’s a nice touch. Cool to see this coming along!

  2. This sounds interesting. I can sorta see it coming together, but not quite. So I’ll be following this for sure. The premise sounds awesome; I really wanna see how you work the second Fire into things. This has awesome amounts of promise.

    (And the Wu-Tang dungeon crawl sounds like it could be fantastic fun, done up in a great style.)

  3. This may be a stupid question, but is there a reason there’s no class for the fifth fire? I could see a scholar being a compelling character type, and able to support/influence the others.

    But, the important thing is that this sounds extremely awesome.