Poets versus Policemen

Poets versus Policemen

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Poets versus Policemen
Poets versus.jpg
Designer: Kevan Davis
Players: Unlimited
Stuff required: Envelopes, printouts, blank paper, a way to write on walls and a "postbox".
Crew required: One
Preparation: An hour.
Time required: At least an hour.
Place required: A large, explorable area where you can stick or chalk words onto hard-to-find surfaces.
Activities: Chasing, hiding, writing, teamwork.
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This is a playable game - it's finished, tested and ready to play.
This game is made available under an Attribution-Noncommercial Creative Commons licence. (What does this mean?)

Fugitive poets skulk through a land where poetry is illegal, jotting down what notes and inspirations they can without the patrolling policemen confiscating their work.

Instructions for organisers

Poets versus Policemen is designed as an ambient game, to be run for several hours in the background of a larger event. It requires a number of words to be written up on walls around the venue before the game starts, the preparation of a number of envelopes - one "poets" pile, one "policemen" - each containing a ruleset and playing materials, and a "postbox" for completed entries to be dropped into.

Each poet envelope contains the poet instructions and a couple of blank sheets of paper (we used yellow A5, but anything will do). Each policeman envelope contains two Poetry Incident Report Forms (which include the policemen's instructions). You can download the poet instructions and the Incident Report Forms from this game's handouts section- you just need to replace the "XX:XXpm" with the time that the game will be ending, and "XXXXXXXX" with the 'basecamp' area of your game.

You'll also need to prepare about twenty "inspirational views" - words which are chalked or stuck to walls and surfaces around the playing area. (For Sandpit #4, we used some random words from the poetry of G.K. Chesterton: "road", "parson", "merry", "mazy", "noble", "desire", "crooked", "arch", "peasant", "monk", "leprous", "flame", "loveless", "swift", "gloom", "throne", "broken", "penny", "dream" and "wine".) A few should be easy to find, others should be in slightly concealed places. Make sure your players have at least some idea of the confines of the game, so that they don't wander too far looking for words. And keep a list of these words to hand, because you'll need them for scoring.

Finally, you'll need to prepare some sort of "postbox" for players to drop their poems and incident reports into. A simple cardboard box with a slot in it is fine.

Once you've prepared everything, running the game is just a matter of handing envelopes out to players - if it fits your event, have a manned table with envelopes, the postbox and spare paper and Incident Report Forms. People can start playing at any time during the course of the game - starting late doesn't give them too much of a disadvantage, as they'll be a new, unrecognised face, making it slightly easier to write poems undetected, or to make an arrest.

When the game ends, open the postbox and count up the submissions - the winning poet is the one who got the most "inspirational view" words into their poems, and the winning policeman is the one who filed the most incident reports. The winning team is the one with the highest number of participants (multiple reports or poems from the same player only counting once).

Poet instructions

You are a fugitive poet. Scattered around the walls of this world are a number of inspirational views - sheets of paper with single words, from which you are to create beautiful poetry. Using the paper provided in this envelope, you should write poems that include as many of these words as you can find. These poems can be of any form you wish, from sonnets and sestinas to haikus and limericks. When you've finished a poem, sign it with your name and post it in the postbox in [insert basecamp area here]. The postbox will close at [insert game end time here], and will be followed by a reading of the posted poetry - whichever poet has used the most inspirational words across all of their work (each word only counting once) will be crowned the winner.

But be careful! Poetry is a serious crime in this world, and many policemen are out on patrol tonight, watching for anyone who appears to be writing a poem, or even just thinking about writing one. If a policeman accuses you of being a poet, you must confess, and must surrender any finished or unfinished poems that you are carrying, along with any other notes that you have made. They will let you off with a caution, and you will be free to start your work again. (You can pick up extra paper from [insert basecamp area here], if you need it. You cannot be arrested in the room containing the postbox, but you are not allowed to write poetry in there either.)

Policeman instructions

This form is to be used only for the reporting of serious incidents of observed poetic behaviour, classified as follows:-

  • The writing or possession of any sonnet, sestina, villanelle, ode, haiku, blank verse, limerick or other recognised form of poetry.
  • The writing or possession of notes for the purposes of poetry writing.
  • The public recitation of any of the above.

When an arrest is made, this form should be completed, the poet must hand over their written material for confiscation, and the poet shall be given a formal caution. Confiscated poetry may either be destroyed at the scene of the crime, or marked with 'VOID' and filed in the station postbox for later incineration, at the arresting officer's discretion. Note that arrests cannot be made in the room containing the postbox, nor are poets allowed to write poems in there. (There are several designated "inspirational views" in the public space; sheets of paper on the walls bearing a single word, which the poets will be drawing inspiration from. You may choose to patrol these areas.)

Only the fields marked with asterisks (your name, the name of the poet and their crime) are compulsory. Further incident report forms are available from [insert base of operations here]. Completed incident forms must be filed in the station postbox in [insert basecamp area here] before [insert game end time here], at which time there will be a controlled poetry reading. The officer responsible for arresting the most poets may be in line for promotion.


Handout thumbnail for Pvphandout.doc.
Download Pvphandout.doc
Player handouts in Word format, to be edited and printed.
Handout thumbnail for Pvphandout-Deutsch.doc.
Download Pvphandout-Deutsch.doc
Player handouts in german (gender sensitive) in Word format, to be edited and printed.

The poet instruction document uses the freeware 'James Fajardo' font and the german Handout uses "Segoe Script" (which is not openly available but included in Windows 7 and Vista), but any handwriting font will do.

Play history

Poets versus Policemen ran at Sandpit #4, which was running with a G K Chesterton theme.

It was also tried out during Play Vienna, for which event the german handouts were made.