RPG supplements have a singular, near-universal purpose: to expand a game’s content. Rules, monsters, adventures, gear—when we buy and use supplements, it’s because they bring something new to a game, mechanically and/or experientially.
Game Lamprey is a universal RPG supplement that does the opposite: it adds a new mechanic (singular) to any game, but that mechanic progressively destroys the rest of that game’s existing content.
It’s almost an anti-supplement. (A detriment?) But it’s universally compatible with any printed RPG, and it brings something entirely different to whichever game you attach it to.
The lamprey is one of two still-extant groups of jawless fish (the other being the truly repulsive hagfish), an extremely primitive type of vertebrate. About half of known lamprey species are carnivorous parasites; they attach to larger animals and then use their barbed mouth-parts to scrape the hosts’ flesh and suck their vital fluids.
Game Lamprey’s title plays on GameShark—a late ’90s/early Aughts successor to the Game Genie, both of which were aftermarket accessories for videogame consoles. Players entered codes that hacked the game and gave them expanded items, powers, characters, and the like. GameShark made even the most mediocre gamer a powerhouse super-predator.
Game Lamprey turns RPG players into super-parasites. It provides a one-shot guaranteed success on a roll or direct advice from the GM, but that boost comes at a cost: one page of the game’s rulebook.
That page of the rulebook is torn out. The content on that page? It no longer exists in the game.
Game Lamprey attacks a game system in the same way a lamprey does its host’s biological, vital systems. Every time a player uses its ad hoc mechanic, they drain the RPG’s robustness and integrity, empowering themselves but bringing the game one step closer to dissolution.
Starve a CRM, Feed a Creeper
Your lampreying (it’s a verb now) mileage may vary based on the physical rulebook’s size and composition. But no matter what, the malicious fish will have a noticeable impact on your game.
Maybe you land on the mechanics for underwater basket weaving or another mechanically governed activity that no one in the group is ever going to use or miss. Or maybe you land on the rules for movement, which is something that’s crucial for, say, a tactical combat-oriented game.
Of course, there’s more to games than formal mechanics. And Game Lamprey can lead to entire swathes of history and culture being wiped out just because a rogue wants to succeed on a persuasion check that will swindle a rare item from an unsuspecting merchant.
But what if that rare item is on the page that gets torn out? And for that matter, what happens when a character’s chosen, established class completely ceases to exist? When a high-fantasy game’s foundation for magic blinks out of existence? When death and dying are no longer part of the game?
These are the kinds of conundrums and paradoxes that Game Lamprey may present to players. This “supplement” changes the game quite literally, and on multiple levels. It changes the way the core RPG functions, but it also changes the way players must negotiate that game. And that also opens up some compelling possibilities.
Not with a Bang
Game Lamprey can be used to simulate the breakdown and decay of a world and its underlying laws, and so it can be used as a positive feature that reinforces a desired gameplay experience. In other words, there are cases where Game Lamprey can actually complement a game.
Take, for example, Mörk Borg: a game set in a world that is inexorably inching toward a cataclysmic ending. The book’s graphic design visually represents this process of disintegration, and the ultimate act of burning the book capstones this theme. Game Lamprey can be used to reinforce or complement the breakdown and degeneration of reality—perfectly in line with the game’s atmosphere and ethos.
But there is one consequence that I completely overlooked, and designer Richard Kelly kindly pointed it out:
This presents a unique player strategy: heroically inclined characters can destroy the book/world in a gambit (certainly not guaranteed) to save whatever’s left of the Dying Land from the final misery. Or maybe their efforts will merely cause the world to end in terminal attrition before the breaking of the seventh seal.
This is one way Game Lamprey can be used as a large-scale strategy (rather than an situational tactic for automatic successes) suited to a certain type of game: those with bad endings embedded within the rulesets.
Another example is Sophia Tinney’s Kingdoms, where the dramas of competing, would-be God Kings plays out against a backdrop of malicious, semi-sentient Darkness. Game Lamprey could allow players to circumvent the Behemoth or the other end-of-the-world scenarios. But that would leave the players forever fighting over a broken and fractured landscape that may not even be worth ruling—which itself is almost an even more fitting, existentially grim fate.
… but with a Lamprey
Far from being unequivocally triumphant, these victories are more likely to be pyrrhic. They will come at enormous cost, one that may even defeat the purpose of circumventing the apocalypse.
At the same time, destruction of system and CRM poses new creative challenges for players to contemplate and overcome.
So what does Game Lamprey mean?
As wiggly and slimy as its namesake, it could be interpreted many ways. Game Lamprey could be a critique or commentary on consumption. It could be a cautionary tale about valuing immediate personal gain over long-term sustainability. (The game system is an ecology, after all.) It could be a wry, covert tool for deprogramming gamers who fetishize particular game systems or materials.
Game Lamprey is experimental, satirical, and subversive. Game Lamprey is however Game Laprey is used.
Kelly put it best:
“Look, I’m not here to answer that question for you. Just to hand you a lamprey.”
You can get your very own Game Lamprey from Sprinting Owl on itch.io. 5e compatible! Impress your friends!