So omigod you guys I am totally pashing on Shooting the Moon. It’s a three-player story-oriented RPG, usually but not necessarily romance-oriented. It’s #2 in the storygame trilogy Three Quick Games about the Human Heart, by Emily Care Boss: game #1, Breaking the Ice, is a two-player game about dating, and game #3, Under My Skin, is a multi-player game about established relationships, infidelity, and using the word ‘passion’ a lot. Shooting the Moon fits neatly into the middle territory: two characters (Suitors) competing for the attentions of a third (the Beloved).
Setting-agnostic. Setting and tone can be whatever you want; it doesn’t even have to be about romance at all, so long as it’s about two characters who want the same thing from a third. It’s fairly important to play something that offers some good genre hooks, and (as usual) it’s a lot easier to play something that isn’t very dark, at least the first time around. (The book examples include swashbuckling pirates and Regency drama. We played a Teen Wizard Academy thing: specifics here.)
Competitive: Unlike most storygames, there is a winner. The game’s still better-played with narrative priorities, but in general you’re trying to get your character to win and sabotaging your opponent. On the face of it, scenes are generally about a Suitor and the Beloved working together to overcome obstacles; but the Beloved has their own agenda, so you’re all working towards different ends.
Dice roll resolution: Conflicts are resolved by rolling handfuls of d6. You earn dice for a conflict by making suggestions about how your character might approach a problem, or by suggesting ways that things might be more difficult for your opponent. There are a number of different ways to earn this, and they vary depending on whether you’re in a Suitor scene or a Beloved scene. The winning roll gets to narrate the outcome, incorporating suggested elements as they choose. This means that you can suggest several incompatible strategies and get dice for all of them — it’s a brainstorming-the-conflict process.
Rampant trait proliferation. Most storygames try to keep a fairly small set of traits, in order to keep them in narrative focus. StM takes the opposite approach: you start out with a lot of traits and will gain more at a pretty fast rate. Normally, this would result in a lot of traits getting overlooked and left out of the narrative: but the trick here is that basically every trait is related to other traits. The Beloved’s attributes are derived from the genre, with the aim of making someone pretty Mary-Sueish; the Suitors’ initial attributes are near-synonyms or antonyms of the Beloved’s attributes; and basically all new traits are derived, one way or another, from existing traits, attributes and conflicts. (To emphasize the interconnectedness of the characters, there is only one character sheet, with everybody on it.)
There are various ways this can happen. You get traits for the outcome of a scene, and scenes are largely shaped by tapping traits and attributes. This usually makes for traits that expand upon or complicate existing ones — for example, in the game I played last night, Ari had Class Clown, but that could mean a lot of things. I was originally thinking a Ferris Bueller type, someone who successfully parlayed their clownishness into popularity and status. But a few failed rolls got me Bad Dancer, Showoff and Ridiculous; a success got me Keeps Cool, so the overall picture became of someone generally derided, for whom clowning around was a roundabout way of maintaining dignity.
A more drastic way that traits can be changed is to sacrifice other traits: this is a big deal and gets you lots of dice, because the trait generated is usually going to be a big obstacle to achieving your goals. This gives lots of motive to trade long-term success for short-term advantage — narrative gold, this — and also makes for awesome character switch-up points. Ari had been blowing off her romantic pursuit as a game or a joke; at a crucial moment, she sacrificed Keeps Cool, declared her unrequited love for Kat, and got the trait Earnest Suitor instead. One of the things I like most about campaign-length RPGs, and miss most when I play oneshots, is characters who have time to develop and grow into rich complexity, to address their core conflicts and change in the process. It’s not normal for me to grow attached to a oneshot character. StM accelerates that process.
After all that, Ari still failed that roll. Because having a lot of dice helps, but it doesn’t guarantee success. Most rolls are made with near-evenly matched dice, and you’re rolling for highest single die, not total score. It’s quite possible to have terrible rolls all night, get lucky on a high-stakes roll, and walk away with the victory.
Complex. As might already be clear, it’s a game with a pretty involved setup and some fiddly conflict-resolution rules (at least by the standards of oneshot story RPGs; by traditional tabletop standards, it’s pretty light). It distinctly lacks the kind of elegant simplicity that characterises a lot of story RPGs. I wouldn’t really recommend it as a first storygame, but someone who’d played Fiasco once or twice would probably not have any trouble. Although if you haven’t played an RPG with romance subplots before, you might want to do that before playing something where it’s the central focus.