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Saturday 24 June 2023

Cutlery & Chaos

Have you ever wondered what would happen if the adventurers from your Monday night Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition game was put in charge of a café? Or the shadowrunners from your Shadowrun campaign decide to open a coffee shack in the Barrens of Seattle? Or the heroes, protectors of Freedom City, from Dave’s Mutants & Masterminds game inherit a bohemian restaurant? Or just for a change in Mel’s Call of Cthulhu game, one of the investigators inherits a tea shop from her uncle rather than a mystery about his disappearance? All of these are possible in the Coffee & Chaos – Comedy Café Roleplaying Game. In fact, not only are these options possible, but they almost do also not matter, because what does matter, is how the Player Characters cope with the ever-changing nature of the day-to-day business of running a café. Published by Cobblepath Games—best known for Locus: A roleplaying game of personal horror (and guilt)—Coffee & Chaos – Comedy Café Roleplaying Game is actually two things. First, it is a standalone storytelling game which can be set up and run without a Game Master, everyone working towards telling a story of a single day, or perhaps more… Second, it is a corollary storytelling game which can be used to explore some of the time that the Player Characters in an ongoing campaign might have in between longer, probably more dangerous activities. In whatever way a playing group decides to use the Coffee & Chaos – Comedy Café Roleplaying Game, they will also need a standard deck of playing cards and a selection of cutlery.

No matter the genre or setting for the café, the first thing that the players decide is where their establishment sits on three scales. These are Fresh/Cosy, Small/Big, and Professional/Friendly. The score in each, which ranges between one and ten determines the number of items the players have in their Cutlery Pool, whether Teaspoons, Forks, or Knives. Each of the three items represents a different way of approaching and solving a situation in the café. Knives are used for a quick decisive approach, Forks for the resourceful, creative approach, and Teaspoons for the considered, well-thought-out approach. Each item of cutlery is also associated with a suit in the card deck—diamonds for Knives, clubs for Forks, and spades for Teaspoons. In addition, each player also creates a character who has two notable methods—and thus two associated items of Cutlery—of dealing with problems. One is his favoured approach, which he can always use even if he runs out of Cutlery, whilst the other he has learned to use through experience. A character begins play with an item of Cutlery associated with his learned approach and a Teaspoon. A Teaspoon can be discarded to allow the character to go on a break and whilst on the break, the character can gain Cutlery based on the learned way of dealing with issues.

If a character is brought into the Coffee & Chaos – Comedy Café Roleplaying Game from another roleplaying game, the rules from that roleplaying game do not come with him. Instead, the Cutlery rules in the Coffee & Chaos – Comedy Café Roleplaying Game are used, but when dealing with a difficult situation or problem, the character is still roleplayed and his stats, skills, abilities, spells, superpowers, cyberware, favourite gear, and so on, can be used to influence how the character resolves a problem at the café. In effect, it is a classic fish out of water situation and the character has do his very best the only way he knows how…

Coffee & Chaos – Comedy Café Roleplaying Game is played in rounds. At the start of a game, a Hitch is drawn. This is a persistent problem that cannot be resolved at all and instead, must be worked around. It is a constant presence throughout the game. At the beginning of the round, the first player draws a single card from the deck. This the Catastrophe for the round and it is resolved immediately by a single player. It is followed by each player drawing a card which indicates the Snafus besetting the café that round. Tables are provided of Catastrophes, Snafus, and Hitches. For example, a Hitch could be a visiting Film Crew, the Catastrophe might be a Power Cut or a Scam Artist, whilst a Snafu could be involve Happy Hour, a Wardrobe Malfunction, a Bad Tipper, or Broken Glass.

To deal with a Snafu, a player wages an item of Cutlery. This can come from their own stock of Cutlery or the general pool of Cutlery. The item of Cutlery waged determines the defending suit. The outcome is determined by comparing the suites of the Cutlery used and a new card drawn. Knives or diamonds beat Spoons, Forks or clubs beat Knives, and Spoons or spaces beat Forks. Hearts beat everything and count as an automatic success. If the player wins, the Snafu is resolved and discarded. If the player loses, the wagered Cutlery is lost, the Snafu remains in play, and worse, an item of Cutlery already dedicated to a Catastrophe is also lost.

A Catastrophe requires Cutlery to be dedicated to it. As long as an item of Cutlery is dedicated to it, it remains resolved. However, if the Cutlery dedicated to it is lost because a player loses a Wager on a Snafu, the Catastrophe reoccurs and becomes a problem for every character until resolved.

A game of Coffee & Chaos – Comedy Café Roleplaying Game begins with everyone possessing an item of Cutlery and there being Cutlery in the café’s pool. It will not be long before any Cutlery is in short supply as play progresses, primarily through failed Wagers on attempts to deal with Snafus and Cutlery having to be dedicated to catastrophes. Lost or discarded Cutlery can be recovered by a player going on a Break. This requires the expenditure of a Teaspoon and is done with another player. A cup of tea is also recommended as is taking the time to reflect and discuss the events of the day so far. This enables the players on the break to recover an item of Cutlery related to their learned means of resolving problems rather than the one they favour. In the meantime, the players still work will continue the round without them, attempting to deal with a new catastrophe and more Snafus as they are drawn. The players on a break are free to return at any time.

There is no set ending for a game of Coffee & Chaos – Comedy Café Roleplaying Game, but perhaps a shift should end when everyone is out of Knives, Forks, and Spoons. It is a game of storytelling in the face of dwindling resources and mounting problems, most temporary, but all too quickly, too many permanent unless a solution—however temporary—is applied to them. Initially, successes will drive the storytelling, but that will change as failures to deal with both the Snafus and the Catastrophes mount. In some ways, this works better when the staff of the café are drawn from other roleplaying games, their inexperience at running a café quickly becoming evident as the failures mount and their methods, invariably useful in the other roleplaying game setting, not being as useful in the ordinary place of work.

Physically, Coffee & Chaos – Comedy Café Roleplaying Game is well presented, coming as a folder containing two trifold pamphlets. They are bright, colourful, and easy to read.

Coffee & Chaos – Comedy Café Roleplaying Game is playable as is, a storytelling game about running a café and coping with the problems that beset its staff and customers almost every day. Its lack of ending and objective, whether as a whole or for individual characters, does leave its purpose hanging, whereas if the Player Characters are drawn in from another game, Coffee & Chaos – Comedy Café Roleplaying Game comes into its own. When that happens, the players get to explore their characters through a slice of life, doing something very ordinary, but often only having the most extraordinary means to do that ordinary thing. That exploration gives Coffee & Chaos – Comedy Café Roleplaying Game its purpose and its comedy as the ordinary and extraordinary clash over coffee and cake.

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