200 Word RPG of the Week: Laughter or a Lit Flame

Posted by on June 22, 2017

Jonathan Cook’s Laughter or a Lit Flame is a haiku game. Apparently, games centered on writing haikus are relatively common within the microgame scene, but whenever I’d come across the concept in the past, the game basically just told you to write haiku.

Laughter or a Lit Flame provides structure to those haiku, but in an intriguingly non-competitive way. Three players alternately write haiku (three lines, five/seven/five syllables) and waki (two lines, seven syllables each). The haiku describes the protagonist, while the waki describes events befalling that protagonist. Because three individuals play, everyone gets to write some haiku and some waki.

Importantly, past haiku and waki are hidden from players’ sight. This keeps players “in the moment,” focusing on what just happened.

Cook even recommends that the players also chat normally while writing their poems. This addresses one significant problem with haiku-based games: haiku are hard to write. With an encouragement to weave the game in with normal conversation, the pressure’s lifted. The poems don’t even have to be good, though I suspect that focusing them in the way that this game does will ease the burden.

It’s a fascinating, easy to play game, that can be quickly memorized and pulled out on a vacation, at a coffee shop, or pretty much anywhere.

Laughter or a Lit Flame: A Hack of Renga by Jonathan Cook:

Here I have a game:
Paper, pens, and three players.
It’s simple to play.

First Player writes a haiku
That describes a character.

Inspire love or hate.
Make us laugh. Or nod, silent.
Good haiku delights.

Player Two writes a waki,
(Two lines, both of seven beats).

Describe there events
That befall the character.
Tragic? Exciting?

Hide the haiku from our sight.
Fold it back or cover it.

The third player’s turn?
Haiku of a character,

Now hide the waki from view.
It’s player one’s turn again.

On each turn, you write.
First respond to what you see,
Then hide what you saw.

Alternate. Haiku. Waki.
Maintain silence as you write.

Or else, talk of things
Unrelated to the game
TV shows, your day.

Haikus invent the people:
Lives impacted by events.

Wakis are events
That change everything for
Our small poem-folk.

When you’ve written five times each,
Reveal all and read aloud.

Whoever read then
Sits in silence. And so
Must the other two.

The silence can be broken
By laughter- or a lit flame.

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