When I announced I was starting up the Canadian Library of Roleplaying Games I talked about one of my main inspirations for that project. The Play Generated Map & Document Archive collects, preserves and interprets documents related to gameplay – especially tabletop roleplaying games and computer games. As its creator, Tim Hutchingson, says, the site collects and archives the folklore of gaming. Among the campaign notes and character sheets, the site often comes across early examples of player-created games and adventures, which are always a delight.
One such game is Everything is Dolphins, created by Ray Weiss in the pages of his spiral-bound school notebook. The original document is written in pencil, complete with sketches from the designer, and is a beautiful example of adolescent imagination. The title pretty much says it all. Players play dolphins in a flooded post-apocalypse where mankind is no more. The world has become one enormous underwater dungeon for the characters to explore, and of course, loot.
This is in no way a serious game. You play dolphins, which should have been your first clue that things lean toward the silly. In case you missed that, though, dolphins are able to find and use guns in the game, which is ridiculous and wrong for so many reasons. But like many silly games, there is room for the players to dive deep into the roleplaying, without worrying about stumbling over rules.
Speaking of rules, the game runs on a simple roll under mechanic utilizing eight-sided dice. Ability checks are made by rolling a single d8 to get under or match your score. Combat is done by rolling a pool of d8s to get under your Strength (for melee) or Dexterity (for ranged), with attacker successes compared against defender successes. Not much complexity beyond that; there is a Breathe track that the storyteller has to look after (dolphins need air, after all), but that’s really it. The game does a good job of getting out of its own way and letting the storyteller and players get to the fun of being dolphin adventurers.
The one thing the game lacks is any sort of defined campaign setting. This makes the game easy to just pick up and play as standard “beer and pretzels” fare. But it also gives the storyteller the opportunity to overlay a variety of settings or campaign styles on their dolphin adventures. As long as you can make it work underwater, you can run whatever kind of Everything is Dolphins game you want (we’ll talk more about that in Part 2). Of course, you can keep the setting as ridiculous as dolphins would make you suspect, but I think it’s also a great way to play against type and introduce them to a darker or grittier setting.
The book itself is only 77 pages, roughly split half-and-half between the updated version and the scan of the original hand-written version. The artwork is delightful, perfectly fitting the ridiculous tone of the game. If you’ve been searching for pictures of dolphins wielding battle-axes and uzis, your search is now over. The whole book is available as a pay-what-you-can pdf at DriveThruRPG, and is well worth the suggested price of $5. This is a great game for a quick and easy evening’s play, or as a con game for players looking for something out of the ordinary.
And that’s what we’ll talk about in Everything is Dolphins, Part 2: how I created a Cthulhian adventure for my table of unsuspecting dolphins. I ran the adventure at IntrigueCon, and was challenged to make my adventure fit the spooky theme of this year’s con. It was safe to say my players were not expecting this delightful dolphin game to veer into Lovecraft Country, and their realization of what was actually going on was great fun for us all. We’ll talk about that next week, but in the meantime, I highly recommend checking out Everything is Dolphins for yourself!