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Icarus – The End of a Civilization

Stack your failures and watch civilization crumble. Yes, You too can now take part in the fall of society!



By Spenser Starke
Renegade Game Studios
Playtime: 90 – 120 minutes

Icarus is a one shot RPG storytelling game all about the tragic fall of a great civilization. In this game, everyone will take two roles.  The first role will be that of a storyteller and the other is as a character inside the world being built.  Unlike in most RPGs, there isn’t a game master narrating the story and the other players react to circumstances.  This game is cooperative with the goal being to tell an epic story.

What’s In The Box?

Icarus comes with a deck of cards, a notepad, and 20 game-specific dice.  The first set of cards is the pillars of society cards.  These are abstract parts of civilization and each one comes with a strength and a weakness question written on them.  During setup, one person chooses to answer the weakness question while everyone else chooses a strength.  Their answers are written down on the provided “aspect” notepad cards.  In a four-player game, five of the pillars of society cards are chosen; one to each player and the one not selected will become the Tower.  The Tower is symbolic in this game.  It’s the passage of time but it also becomes a major focal point for civilization in general.  It’s a monument to a shared ideal.  

For example, five of the cards to choose from are Artistic Expression, Education, Architecture, Safety, and Diplomacy.  Each player will choose one of these pillars of civilization and the last one will be the tower.  Let’s say nobody in this group chose Diplomacy.  With Diplomacy as the tower card, this will be a civilization dedicated to diplomacy as its overarching defining feature.  So, perhaps a peaceful civilization is more likely to communicate their differences rather than through violence.  Players are of course allowed to interpret what a civilization dedicated to diplomacy actually means.  For the sake of example, let’s say the players decided that Artistic Expression is a weakness in this society.  The weakness question would be: “Artistic expression has been suppressed or outlawed in Icarus.  Why was it banned and how do artists now hide their work in plain sight?”  In a civilization centered around diplomacy, perhaps any violent imagery is banned.  And now there is a violent subculture.  It’s a civilization of Vulcans and there’s an underground group who defy logic and embrace raw emotions.

Next are the motive cards.  Each player will also control their own individual character in the game.  When a motive card gets paired with a pillar of society card, it helps flesh out what kind of character this person would be.  Let’s say the Architecture card and the motive card “Bring Down Icarus”.  All of a sudden this player could be a violent revolutionary using violent symbolism in building construction.  Tall, sharp peaks on top of buildings or instead of having “Bring Down Icarus” being a negative, it’s instead something more transformative.  Maybe this is a person that sees Icarus as too passive and complacent and vulnerable to outside forces. 

The Story Deck

The last set of cards is the Story Deck cards.  These cards are split into four sets: “The Cracks in our Facade”, “The Rifts Between Us”, “The Final Hours” and finally “The Bitter End.”  These cards help the players develop their narrative and will eventually change the aspects of the game.  One player will start and they will choose to either enact a change or support a cause.  If a player chooses to enact a change, they put one of the special dice on one of the aspects and narrate how their character would like to affect that aspect in some way.  If they choose to support a cause, that player places a die on an aspect that already has a die and narrates how their character wants to help that change.  Once the current player has made their decision, they turn over the next card in the story deck, answer the burning question, then either creates a new aspect or replaces an existing one to reflect the answer to the card’s question.  Sometimes an aspect with dice on it will change, and that’s perfectly fine.  Once all players have gone, that round is over and that’s when the first player will add one die to the tower.  That is to symbolize the passage of time in this world.  The dice are always placed on top of the others.  Then comes the resolution phase where the dice placed on the aspects get rolled.  They should act out and narrate the change they are trying to do while rolling the dice.  If a pillar symbol comes up, then the change is successful.  Any blanks get added to the tower.  

What Goes Up….Something Something

Play continues like this until the inevitable happens and someone knocks over the tower.  Once the tower falls, civilization has crumbled and the story is over.  There are three questions asked at the end: What caused the tower to collapse?  What happened to your character in the aftermath?  And finally, What became of civilization after the fall?

This is a great game of cooperative storytelling.  It’s open-ended enough so this game can take place at any time, anywhere, and with any genre.  It’s just as valid an experience playing in the Old West as it is some alien planet threatened by Cthulhu.

It’s also not a game with a lot of gameplay.  The focus of this is on the story and telling a story together.  There aren’t any mechanics in the game to re-roll dice or to remove dice from the tower.  The whole point is to build a world and watch as the apocalypse comes.

Icarus is absolutely a beautifully simple game and one to enjoy.  For any future D&D GM’s looking for help with worldbuilding, this is a massive tool to help get ideas flowing.  It’s well worth giving it a shot.

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