The upcoming release of The Hunger Games: Catching Fire has a mountain of expectations to live up to as fans of the novels and the first film (and, dare I add, Jennifer Lawrence) are waiting with bated breath. The second film in the series promises an explosion of creativity across the internet, from trigger-happy GIF creators to serious online reviewers. Of course, no squealing fandom would be complete without that unshakeable cornerstone of imagination: fan fiction. As someone who shamelessly indulges in writing fan fiction, it would be my pleasure to share a writing exercise that my friends helped to create at the University of Nottingham Creative Writing Society. There could very well be better and older versions out there, but this particular version is all ours.
The premise is simple. It’s a written role-playing game where the players try to write each other to death in a written Hunger Games. At the start, they are either Tributes fighting in the Games, or a Gamemaker manipulating the whole thing. Tributes write pieces in turns describing the events of the Games and if their piece is chosen to be read out for that round, it becomes canon. All following pieces need to adhere to the continuity established by the pieces read before them. Through the course of the Games, Tributes who are killed become either Gamemakers or Sponsors who continue to affect the session until only one Tribute is left victorious.
Here’s the “official” rulebook!
The person coordinating the session is the Gamemaker. They’re in charge of making physical changes to the Arena: they set limits on kills, alliances, movement, etc.; release muttations and traps; and select Tributes to read out pieces. Every third Tribute that dies becomes a Gamemaker. Gamemakers may not hinder or provide assistance to specific Tributes; their influence must affect all Tributes or none. However, physical changes to specific parts of the Arena may be implemented as long as they’re not explicitly directed at specific Tributes. All decisions and instructions must be agreed on by a majority of Gamemakers (or unanimous if there are only 2 Gamemakers).
All other participants must choose a primary weapon, a District, and a strength rating (1-12). Tributes must follow instructions called out by the Gamemakers but are allowed to manipulate loopholes in whatever way they like. However, Tributes may not break rules of themed rounds, may not break movement limits, and may not hide their location if they are instructed to reveal it, not even by loophole.
Weapons: Guns, grenades or any incendiary devices aren’t allowed to be used as weapons. Mythical objects, such as Mjolnir or the Spear of Osiris, are also prohibited. Weapons must be standard issue. If Gamemakers place mines around the Arena, these may be used and replanted by Tributes, but within reason, and they can’t be refashioned into grenades. Each Tribute may only carry two weapons on their person. A set of weapons, such as a set of throwing knives or a quiver of arrows (plus bow), count as one weapon. By this definition, a Tribute may carry a quiver of arrows, a bow, and a set of throwing knives. Gamemakers must announce a limit on the number of weapons per set at the start of the session (e.g. a quiver contains 12 arrows).
3. The Arena
Gamemakers must design the Arena before the session begins. The Arena must be presented as a grid map with clear markings. There are no terrain specifications, but there must be a Cornucopia somewhere near the centre and in a clearing. Gamemakers must announce what type of natural food is readily available in each section of the Arena. At least half of the Arena must have natural food sources. Gamemakers must also implement movement limits based on the grid map (e.g., no Tribute may move more than 3 consecutive grid squares in any direction). Tributes may not double back within the same turn but they may choose to stay within the same grid square. Gamemakers may choose to make the movement limits flexible depending on the terrain, such as narrowing the movement limit in mountainous regions or extending it over plains. Gamemakers may make terrain changes within reason (e.g., a mountain erupting into a volcano is permitted, but a clearing randomly turning into a sea of boiling oil is not) and may also release muttations at any point, provided they’re original creations and not crossovers from other fictional universes (although inspiration from other universes is allowed). If Tributes are allowed to manipulate muttations (such as Tracker Jacker hives), their locations must be revealed before the Tributes are allowed to write about them. It’s advisable that terrain changes, muttations, and traps aren’t announced regularly unless there aren’t enough Tribute deaths taking place.
Apart from those that become Gamemakers (as described in section 1. Gamemakers), all Tributes that die must become Sponsors. The Sponsors must represent the District their original Tribute was from. Sponsors provide help to specific Tributes or to alliances, provided it helps a Tribute from their District. In case all Tributes from their District are dead, the Sponsors become free agents. Sponsors may also choose to group together to help more Districts but this form of assistance may only be distributed at the Cornucopia. Sponsors can only provide gifts. These can be weapons, food, medicine, etc. Gifts of weaponry must follow the criteria described in section 2. Tributes, Weapons. Gifts of food and medicine must have a quantity attached, ideally in terms of how many rounds they will last once opened. Medicine may heal potentially fatal injuries, but in these cases, they must also come with side effects like fatigue or nausea. Gamemakers must be informed of gifts being given out. Sponsors may announce their gifts to the whole room or just to their specific Tributes, at the start of the next round. In case multiple Tributes from the same District are operating individually or in separate alliances, Sponsors from that District may only choose to help one Tribute or alliance per round. Unlike Tributes, Sponsors from the same District must work together.
- At the start of the Hunger Games, all Tributes must announce where they are on the grid map along with their details (weapon, District, and strength). In order to reduce complications, the Cornucopia bloodbath won’t take place and Tributes may start with either one weapon of their choice (provided they follow the weapons criteria) or one set of specific supplies that last a maximum of three rounds. Each round consists of no longer than five minutes of writing, with the first few rounds possibly being shorter depending on the number of Tributes.
- For the first two or three rounds (Gamemakers’ choice), Tributes aren’t allowed to kill each other. For the first four or five rounds (Gamemakers’ choice), Tributes may not make alliances, although they may choose not to kill someone and may make that decision clear.
- At the end of the first rounds when kills aren’t permitted, all Tributes must reveal their locations. They may choose to read out their entire pieces and are in fact encouraged to do so. Some lenience will be given in terms of practicalities like thirst and hunger (i.e., a Tribute does not have to write about meals in every single one of their pieces).
- After the first rounds, Gamemakers must randomly choose two to three pieces to be read out in full at the end of each round. A Tribute whose piece has been read out may not read again for at least the next two rounds, or until all other Tributes have had one turn, whichever comes first. The pieces read become canon and must form the basis for all Tributes’ further writing. Only the pieces that conform to the current canon may be read. This means that if a Tribute has made an alliance in a round but their piece hasn’t been read out, they may not continue writing as if that alliance has taken place. Kills in non-canonical pieces similarly don’t apply. This also means that if a piece that is read out (i.e., canon) contradicts another piece that is chosen to be read out in the same round, the latter piece is disallowed since canon has already been established. It doesn’t matter if canonical pieces don’t contradict non-canonical kills or alliances; the latter are still disallowed. However, Sponsor gifts and/or Gamemaker traps that affect Tributes will always apply even if the Tribute’s piece does not become canon.
- Gamemakers may place themes on specific rounds, such as “alliances only”, “deaths only”, “hunting only”, “breaking alliances only”, “injuries only”, etc. Deaths, alliances based on location, and injuries are subject to which pieces become canon. If a Tribute is still alive, isolated, and/or unharmed at the end of canon pieces, they must continue in that position regardless of what their own piece says; they must follow canon. Alliances, when formed, must last at least two rounds including the round of inception, unless the second round is a “breaking alliances only” round. Alliances based on location, as well as injuries or kills, must fall within a Tribute’s movement range. Alliances based on Districts are not based on movement range.
- After at least half the Tributes have died, Gamemakers must announce a kill limit at the start of each round, so that a Tribute in an advantageous position can’t eliminate all of their opponents in one round. Gamemakers may choose to announce kill limits from the very beginning.
- Gamemakers and Sponsors will continue to influence the Games using traps, muttations, terrain changes, and gifts until there are only 15-20 minutes of the session left, or until there are only two Tributes left. At that point, all remaining Tributes must be instructed to go to the Cornucopia with the promise of a feast.
- Each surviving Tribute must then write a piece that describes the deaths of all of their leftover opponents. All pieces must be read out and a vote taken on which piece (and Tribute) wins the Hunger Games. No Katniss-style deathlock stunts allowed!
Believe me when I say it is a lot less complicated than it sounds. Once the session gets underway, it establishes its own flow and the creativity that it unleashes is remarkable. Entries have included Tributes taming giant scorpions and riding them into glorious battle,1 sadistic laughter at the lava-induced demise of an opponent, and sandwiches being poisoned for mass slaughter. In short, it encapsulates the drama that Suzanne Collins successfully created in her work, usually with a great amount of comedy.
I leave you now with the hope that other writing groups enjoy this game as much as we do. Happy Hunger Games, and may the odds be ever in your favour!
IBTISAM AHMED is currently completing his MA in Public Policy. He spends every free minute writing and has been published in multiple journals, newspapers and magazines. He has recently started working on radio plays and is a little concerned that he might fail his degree because of how much time he spends writing elsewhere. You can follow him on Twitter and his personal blog.
- This sounds familiar! — Biljana ↩