hugh dingwall

The Penguin Harlequinade

Tuesday, June 30th, 2009

The Penguin Harlequinade is a fast-paced comic role-playing game based on Commedia dell’Arte, an ancient Italian style of masked comedy theatre. The game focusses on ludicrous plans, ridiculous plots and very silly action. If you don’t mind playing a character with the mental attributes of a brain-damaged ant high on caffeine, you’ll really enjoy this unique game.

First, a disclaimer. There are no penguins in this game. Or at least, we have run many sessions of it in multiple tournaments, and there are yet to be any penguins.

The source of the name was as follows: we were going to a tournament in Wellington called KapCon. We needed a name for this new system we’d come up with, and we were stumped. Eventually one or other of us came up with “The Penguin Harlequinade” because there are penguins in Dunedin (where we’re from) and not in Wellington; and because the system was designed as a Commedia Dell’Arte system and the Commedia was called a Harlequinade in England.

If you really want to play a game with penguins in it, look out for The Penguin Masquerade, a forthcoming game which we have yet to write. Its premise is simple – you’re a penguin, just keep it under your hat…


Thursday, February 19th, 2009


Enter the world of Normality – how long can you stay sane? What IS sane, when the world is mad? Is madness supposed to be an excuse for those things you did?

began life as a fairly standard post-cyberpunk post-apocalyptic science fiction game. However, that version of the game only exists as a hand-written copy buried in some back corner of a room in a shared house somewhere in New Zealand. What happened next is what matters.

The two authors began on a two-year journey of rage and frustration at the state of the world, and the reactions of those around them to their concerns. We became filled with hatred toward the roleplayers we encountered at local games and conventions, and so we set out to hurt them. To make them cry. We very nearly succeeded.

Emerging from the wreckage we had wrought, we revisited the loosely-bound stack of papers we had used to bludgeon people into submission, and found that (despite what we had thought) there were strong veins of sense concealed in the babble – that with patience, patterns emerged.

We carefully reassembled the hand-typed pages (often pieces of scrap paper – with other text on the opposite side) in what seemed the most logical order. We then edited the book by hand, with marker pens.

From this was born Normality – the world’s first Dada/ergodic roleplaying game.


The best way to use the book is to consider it as a) a product of the setting it attempts to describe, warped by the twisted nature of the world that produced it or b) the way an actor considers a mask – looking for the shards of meaning that will tie the whole thing together. Certainly, read it all (at least twice) before you dismiss it as mere rambling. Take the introduction seriously. We did.

To make a character, copy the headings we used on our sheets (“Name” “Hit” “Historia” “Good thing/Bad thing” and “Stuff”) then fill them in using the first sentences you see every time you open a book from your bookshelf at random. Look carefully at the resultant sheet, and you will see quite clearly the kind of character you have just created.

There are pre-generated character sheets about halfway through (you’ll know them because they have names on them) as well as a guide for the structure of an adventure. Whether you make use of these is up to you.

Hugh Dingwall and Vishãla Jekic