Kim and Marshall

Posted on October 21, 2014


Kim and Marshall is a roleplaying game for 3-4 players about exploring unbalanced power in an intense, larger-than-life relationship.

I made a game, and it’s done, and available! Pay what you want for it here.

I worked on it for a good while, say three years off and on, and very rarely talked about it. What do you say? “I’m working on a tabletop RPG…about Eminem. You know. For the huge part of his audience that plays roleplaying games. Yeah.”

What I want to do here is describe where this game came from, why I made it, and introduce you to some of the ways it works.

The thing is, it’s not really about Eminem. It started that way. It started as a joke. Maybe I heard a song on the radio and thought, “Eminem RPG” and thought the concept was so ridiculous I had to try it? Something like that. I suppose I was trying to design games around anything that came to mind at the time–I certainly have notebooks filled with worse ideas.

So I started thinking about Eminem, and quickly realized that if I was going to make a game about this music that had been so important to me during my teen years, I really had to pay attention. And that’s what I did. It immediately became clear that if I were going to make a game about another artist’s body of work, by definition it would be a critique in game form. With that it further became clear that as a critic I had a responsibility to read as closely as I could into the material, and discuss it with as much articulation and honesty as I could muster.

When I honestly look at Eminem’s music, what I see most clearly is a deep stream of unhealthy and abusive relationships with women, and with one woman in particular. Either the game had to explore this, say something about this, or in my mind it was worthless. Eminem’s voice is already plenty loud. So I sought out the person in his rhymes who suffers the most and has the least say, and I made her the protagonist. It’s up to you what that means.

The two titular characters have fairly rigid roles in the game, mechanically. Marshall is active, forceful, in control of the narrative. Kim has her voice taken away from her by Marshall when he doesn’t like what he hears, and her power in the game comes solely through manipulation of Marshall, at least in the beginning. These roles intentionally fall neatly in line with some of the ugliest gender stereotypes. My purpose was to excavate Eminem’s perspective, swap the point of view, and see what happens.

There’s a lot more going on in the game, and I don’t want to describe everything in detail. I would like to say a bit about how the game ends. At any point, either Kim’s player or Marshall’s player can end the game simply by deciding that it’s over, no consensus or agreement needed. The Life players, who have the GM-like duty to facilitate and push the drama, don’t have this ability. This serves a couple purposes: First, since sensitive and possibly unsavory material can come up during play, it’s important to me that the two players bearing the brunt of the intensity can get out from under it whenever they want to. Second, it underlines that this game doesn’t care about mechanizing a story arc. It’s about these characters living and breathing in the moment, now. Endings aren’t tidy.

Posted in: Finished Games