Last Saturday night a few regulars, a newcomer, and I convened to play Hope Inhumanity at Black Diamond Games’ Indie Night. It’s a taut story-telling RPG that unlike many post-apocalyptic games focuses on the tough, heart-breaking choices of survival. With every new situation it asks you to balance altruism against self-interest. If you feed the starving child that approaches you in the street, you’ll hang on to your precious Humanity dice, but risk hunger yourself; if you hoard away your supplies, you gamble on losing hope in what’s left of society. To up the ante we decided to play with the Martial Law expansion, which adds a roving armed force with a shadowy agenda to the mix.
Since it’s a card-based design, set up is dead simple. You get a Personality card (often one that reveals a deep flaw), a few Trait cards that you can deploy at critical moments, and Relationships cards that tie you directly into the characters on your right and your left.
Our band of survivors wandered the Eastern Seaboard looking for solace. They heroically stood up to the militia that stalked them… with Willow West, a matron who knew how to take care of herself, often leading the way. Usually they got the better of the militia and so managed to stay under their radar. In quieter moments, though, they often turned away those in need. Even with this stoicism they entered the final round on their last legs, many of them close to succumbing to hopelessness, and all but one of them starving.
It was in this frame of mind that the first player of the last round looked at his situation. His predicament: to raid a partially stocked grocery store he’d just found and risk losing his final Humanity die, or to turn down the golden opportunity to eat and slide from merely hungry to starving. Either way, he knew he’d have to try to nurse his waning hope through 4 more player turns. And then a dark thought took hold: what if he just skipped the encounter, turned down the easy pickings in the store, and moved on? What, then, would happen to his companions?
As he surveyed the table, he saw that one character after another was already starving. While just one more encounter without food meant certain death for them, as the de facto final character with a turn in the final round, the game would end with his character still alive. He could ride off into the sunset with a grumbling belly, and a sliver of hope still intact.
And so he quietly walked away from the store, leaving the others to their doom.
And that’s the beauty of this game. We always believe we’d act with decency in a survival situation, but Hope Inhumanity asks, would you? Would you really?