Every Day’s a Battle is a game draft by J. Walton, inspired by the “Transferrable Class Skills” game jam, 3:16 – Carnage Amongst the Stars by Gregor Hutton, 14 Days by Hannah Shaffer & Evan Rowland, Nicotine Girls by Paul Czege, Bliss Stage by Ben Lehman, and the two TV series Violet Evergarden (based on novels by Kana Akatsuki & Akiko Takase) and The Devil Is a Part-Timer! (based on novels by Satoshi Wagahara & 029). Special thanks to S. Tan for reminding me of the latter.
The war is over. You and a few companions are heavy-conversion combat cyborgs built for the previous war, ill-suited for the new peace. The military has removed your weapons, leaving just your mix of mechanical & fleshy body parts, and pointed you to a job placement service. That service, in turn, has found you positions in basic office and clerical work. Every day is still a battle, just not the kind you were built and trained for.
This game is not intended to require a Game Master role, but if you’re more comfortable having one, great.
Each player creates a cyborg character. Each character has two stats: Combat Ability (CA) and Non-Combat Ability (NCA), which always add up to a total of 6. You use Combat Ability for anything involving physical combat, violence, military strategy and tactics, and so on, so it will be very rarely be the appropriate stat to use in this current era of peace. You use Non-Combat Ability for everything else, anything that doesn’t involve combat.
There are three character classes based on the type of cyborg you are (or were?), and every player has to pick a different class before there are duplicates. The units that were once the most prestigious and valued in the last war are the ones that have the hardest time fitting in now:
- Elite Destroyer Unit: CA starts at 5, NCA starts at 1.
- General Tactical Unit: CA starts at 4, NCA starts at 2.
- Reserve Assistance Unit: CA starts at 3, NCA starts at 3.
In addition to a class and stats, select a name and military callsign/nickname for your cyborg. Describe how you look, now that all of your weapons and heavy combat armor have been removed. Also, pick one thing that stands out about your experience in the war, whether or not you’ve shared it with the other cyborg characters, and then tell the players about it. Finally, share the details of one notable experience that you’ve had since the war ended.
Your group of cyborgs live together in shared housing acquired for you by the military, but owned a human landlord that checks in on you from time to time. Have each player say one thing that stands out about the apartment, and then one thing that stands out about the landlord.
Your Daily Lives
Play is divided into turns, each of which represents a single day in the lives of the characters. Each day of time is structured in the same way.
Create Your Task List
First, each player writes down a list of the major tasks their cyborg has to complete today, somewhere between 3-4 tasks total. These should be a mixture of domestic/personal and work-related tasks, and no more than 1 or 2 of these tasks should be determined by that character’s own player. The rest of the tasks should be based on ideas proposed by the other players.
These tasks can range from things like “dress yourself for work,” “cook breakfast for everyone,” “make it to work on public transportation” to things like “give a 15-minute presentation on recent trends in advertising aimed at children,” “find the missing invoice for the Waldrop files,” “draft a boilerplate letter for the vice president of the company,” and “get a drink after work with colleagues.”
In general, the tasks you pick should come from the following categories of things:
- Tasks that show the characters’ mundane lives and how they still sometimes struggle with day-to-day activities that other people may take for granted.
- Tasks that illustrate their workplace responsibilities, building on the workplace tasks they have previously been involved in.
- Tasks that help them try to rebuild a sense of purpose in the wake of all of the changes that have taken place since the end of the war.
If you occasionally pick tasks for your Task List that don’t clearly fit into any of these three categories, that’s great. Individually or as a group, you can also decide to lean towards tasks that focus on specific themes that you want to focus on. For an example, see the section below about romance as a possible theme.
Roll to Complete Tasks Off Your List
After everyone has their daily Task List with 3-4 entries, take turns rolling for these tasks and attempting to complete them, with the other players portraying any NPCs and describing the consequences of your rolls.
To complete a task effectively, you have to roll equal to or under your stat. If you roll equal to your stat you just barely squeezed by, and don’t look very good doing it. Being under the number by 1 is a solid pass, and 2 is even better. The more you miss your target number by, the worse it looks. The other players can help describe the consequences of failures, based on how bad you missed it.
Nearly all tasks in the game will normally require rolling NCA. But a cyborg can choose to roll CA instead to do the task in a very military style. Such a choice will often make the roll more likely to succeed, but it will often seem very strange to the non-cyborgs around you. Consequently, if you succeed in such a roll, the other players get to suggest possible consequences for completing the task that way (usually better than failing, but not always), and the player rolling has to pick at least one of them to happen. Such consequences could include things like:
- you are instructed to never do that again
- humans around are unnerved or discomforted
- someone complains about you to management
- you stand out for being different, and people stare
- you miss out on an opportunity given to others
- you actions are inappropriate and destructive
- you cause additional work for other people
- the client doesn’t accept the work, and it has to be redone
- they transfer you to a different project
- you’re assigned additional make-up work to do
- they want you to attend additional training
- you gain an enemy or a rival
- someone becomes fascinated with you
- you are given an official warning or reprimand
- or any other appropriate consequence
Option: Changing One Task on the Fly
Once per day, players can decide to change one of their unattempted tasks to adapt to shifting circumstances. Maybe an opportunity arises that you want to take advantage of, like running into someone and wanting to make a memorable impression. More often, though, something will go wrong, and the cyborg may want to try to mitigate a disaster or alter their plan for the day. Sometimes your tasks will build on each other, so that may not make sense to proceed to the next task if you fail at the previous one. Or maybe you really want to try again at a crucial task and are willing to sacrifice other tasks to make it happen.
If that’s the case, you can change a later task to something else entirely (including changing it to a new approach to something you’ve already failed at), but that means giving up on completing the task that you’re changing, at least for today. You just don’t do that task and automatically fail at it.
For example, perhaps you totally botched a “get yourself out of bed and ready for work on time” task. So you’re still in your pajamas, it’s late, and you have basically no chance to get to the office on time. Rather than proceed to the next item on your list (“pick up coffee for the boss”), you decide to scrap the coffee run (taking whatever consequences that brings) and instead change it to “call in sick and make it sound convincing.” If you make that roll, then you can cover for not being there on time, but you might still have to try to complete a couple of other work-related rolls, if you have any more left on your Task List, while working from home.
Option: Consult a Housemate
Once per day, if one the cyborgs is about to roll and wants to take a moment to think and improve their chances, they can choose to “take a break” to ask another cyborg for advice. If they work at the same office, it’s easy to take a 10-15 minute break together; otherwise maybe they meet up in the shop/cafe down the street or just talk/text over the phone. If a cyborg takes their housemate’s advice, they add 2 to their stat (CA or NCA) for the roll. If they don’t take the other cyborg’s advice but go their own way, they still add 1, just from taking the time to talk and think about it.
Downtime Back at Home
Finally, at the end of each day, the cyborgs return to their shared housing together. Act out their interactions in a relatively unstructured way for 5-10 minutes, with each player describing what their character does and says. Do they try to console and support one another with their troubles? Do they argue about the dishes being left unwashed? Probably a mixture of all of the above. This is also a good opportunity to describe the apartment and show how the characters feel about each other.
On weekend days, the characters get time off and set their own schedules. Just as before, write down the things you will attempt, as many or as few as you like, but accept at least one suggestion from another player. Maybe the thing you accept as a suggestion can be something another character has recommended or pushed you to do? Or maybe not. Either way. Note that even something like “sit on the beach and relax” can be a task that you have trouble completing, but the consequences of failing such a task (or doing it in a military manner) should probably be lighter than for workday tasks, even if they are still emotional or upsetting. For example, if you fail to relax on the beach, maybe some kids are setting off fireworks, which make it hard for you to calm down and enjoy yourself. Or maybe you can’t stop thinking about some aspect of your job.
After the First Week
Play out a set number of weeks, like 1-2 weeks for a single session. Afterward, you can return to play multiple sessions of a “campaign” if you like, but that’s not necessarily intended. Later weeks (especially in multiple sessions) can take place months apart in time, so feel free to make an adjustment to your stats, adding 1 to NCA and subtracting 1 from CA, if you think that makes sense for your character. And then schedule yourself tasks that feel appropriate for any changes in circumstances. Are you working at a different job now? Are you trying to date someone? Is the relationship between housemates different now?
An Open-Ended Allegory
While it may seem like this game is an allegory for soldiers reintegrating into society or individuals trying to wrestle with masculinity and the capacity for violence, it’s meant to be much more metaphorically open-ended than that. The cyborgs can also represent folks struggling through a society that doesn’t often make room for mental health issues, neurological differences, disabilities, or chronic illness. They can reflect the near-ubiquity of discrimination and micro-aggression the workplace. Or the players may find that they end up exploring other issues related to folks not feeling like they are put in a position to succeed. And the metaphorical resonance may be different for different players/characters and even shift moment-to-moment within the game. You can always try to play toward particular kinds of metaphors, but I actually suggest just letting the parallels emerge organically from wrestling with the characters’ situations. Sometimes we think we already know what certain situations are like, but a game or other creative experience can potentially help illuminate angles and complexities that we might not have considered before, if we are open to what emerges from play.
Bonus Option: Playing Toward Romance and/or Fantasy?
S. Tan reminded me of The Devil is a Part-Timer! as an influence, which is ironic, because I’ve been thinking about making a game inspired by that series for a while, but could never get it to work. Guess I made one by accident? In any event, that show is about fantasy characters escaping through a portal into the modern world and struggling to make ends meet by holding down minimum wage jobs, all while being involved in romantic subplots with each other that defy the faction and alignment differences that once made them rivals.
If you want to make this game more like that, it’s pretty easy to change the character backgrounds to be those of traditional fantasy classes and histories, borrowed from RPG video games, and then to switch the jobs from clerical work to a variety of entry-level jobs that the characters manage to find. In the show, the demon lord now flips burgers and the heroine who once fought against him now works at a call center, though one or more characters might also be unemployed, spending their Task List looking for work, assisting others with chores, and playing video games. All the characters can still share an apartment or live in neighboring low-rent apartments, making them fixtures in each others’ lives. In such a tweaked premise, CA would probably cover anything related to fantasy combat involving swords, spells, and so on, while NCA would be the same.
To put additional emphasis on the romantic potential in the game, consider having each character choose at least 1 romance-related task per day (or every other day), adding it to their Task List. (They are also welcome to improvise changing tasks if the opportunity for romance arises.) Remember that the characters will often fail at anything romantic, at least without consulting their friends for help. Even if they eventually succeed at, say, asking out or hooking up with a coworker or other character, the rolls that they make for any dates or romantic encounters are not likely to be consistently successful. Trying to pick the right outfit to wear? Okay, you just barely end up with something passable. Trying to lean over and snuggle with someone? Huge disaster. But every so often they’ll manage to make something work, enough to make them (and the players) want to keep trying. You could even decide to emphasize romance tasks in a normal game involving cyborgs, if you just want to increase the amount of awkward flirting in the game.