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Jungle Tales

a story-telling game about the animal-people by Jason Feldstein

About the game:


Jungle Tales is a story-telling game with elements drawn from role-playing games, other freeform
games, and theater improv games. The premise is simple - every year, the animal totem spirits of the
jungle such as Lion, Snake and Hippo all gather in a neutral location to eat, drink, and tell stories. The
traditional place would likely be a campfire or a cave, but a tavern or a restaurant could work just as
easily in the modern world. For the duration of the gathering, everyone agrees not to eat anyone else,
so that they can all enjoy the tales and each other's company in relative safety. Old rivalries remain, of
course, so you'll find some of those in the descriptions of the animals.
What exactly do they talk about? That's up to you, the players. All of you will take on the roles of both
storyteller and audience, and likely shift rapidly between them at times. Besides being (hopefully) a
good time for everyone, this game is designed to help players get better at thinking on their feet and
playing off each other, skills that can easily carry over into role-playing, story-telling, acting, and
probably other areas I haven't thought of.
What you will need:
Name tags
A ten-sided die or deck of playing cards
Note cards
Pens
A length of cord (rope or string will also work)
Rules:
1. No negation. If someone makes a suggestion and you don't like it, by all means suggest something
different... But when someone adds something to a story, stopping to say "no, it didn't happen like that"
stops the narrative and might make the other player feel like you don't value their input. Remember,
"yes" opens doors and "no" close them, so when in doubt, trust your fellow players and say yes. This is
all about telling good stories together, even if they don't end up looking anything like the story you
thought you'd tell when the game started.
2. Failure is okay. Try not to worry about telling a "perfect" story or "the best" story... just tell a story that
you think is interesting or funny or poignant and let the other players involved support you. This is a
game and the point is to have fun, so don't worry that anyone will think less of you just because your
story isn't the very best one you've ever told. Other players are probably worried about the very same
thing.

3. No unnecessary limitations. Remember, it's still the modern day, so the animal spirits have full access to
cars, radios, televisions and so on. They probably think of them a bit differently than we do, but the main
point is that your story can include anything you like, not just things normally found in a rainforest.
4. Be original. If you know a lot of myths or legends already, you might find yourself working with
commonly used themes... this is fine as long as you take them in a new and interesting direction. But
taking a story whole-cloth from a book or traditional mythology is contrary to the spirit of the game. If
you want to work with established mythology, check out the Rashomon and American Gods versions
below.
5. This is a game, so have fun with it.
How to play:
1. Choose an animal that interests you. A list of suggested jungle animals is below, but feel free to
choose some other animal if you like. Think about choosing not only an animal you like or relate to, but
maybe one that that frightens or disgust you. (Sometimes playing your personal bogeyman can be very
freeing... or very funny.) Your choice doesn't even have to be from the jungle... but expect the jungle
animals to be surprised when a foreign traveler appears at their gathering. Write your animals name on
a name tag and put it on. If you have advance notice and/or the inclination, researching your animals
behavior patterns and costuming yourself to look like your animal can only help this game, but are not
required.
2. Once everyone has their animal, assign numbers to each person in whatever way seems easiest. Then
have each person roll the die or (if you're using playing cards) draw one card from the deck after
removing all the face cards. Then use the cards or the die to pick two other numbers. Pick again if you get
your won number. The two numbers you pick tell you who your scene partners will be when you start
your story. If you feel like too many other people have drawn your number for their story, say so and
then some of them can reroll / redraw.
3. Take a little time with a note card and a pen to brainstorm a few broad story ideas involving the
animal(s) you got in step 2. You can add to these as you see how the other players portray these animals
during the game. Since you're telling a story that you and the other animals experienced together,
always feel free to say something like, "Turtle, I don't remember what happened next, could you remind
me?" or "I think this is what happened, but I might be remembering it wrong" if you feel stuck or like it
might be fun to let one of the other characters in your story jump in and co-create it for a while. You can
always jump back in yourself whenever you get another good idea. If you want a bit more control over
the direction of a story you started, your first line can be something along the lines of "This is a story
about love conquering death" or "This is the story of how Crocodile got his scales," to help keep you and
your partners on the same page.
4. Now that you have your character and some story starters, begin the game by placing the cord where
all players can reach it. Depending on players' preferences, you can begin with everyone arriving at the

gathering, or you can assume the animals have been sitting there for a little while already. Start with a
little banter, commentary on the human world, or maybe gossip about an animal who's extinct or couldn't
make it today. When someone feels like they want to start a story, they can pick up the cord and begin.
In between each story, feel free to discuss it and chat a bit more with the other animals. When the story
comes to a close, put the cord back where everyone can reach it. The conversation should naturally flow
toward another tale whenever the players want to hear one.
5. After everyone who wants to has had their chance to start a story, it's time to determine superlatives:
which story was funniest, scariest, most profound? Discuss your thoughts on the stories together as a
way of wrapping up the game. You may come to a consensus, or you may end up having a conversation
about why you all disagree. Either one works fine, depending on what the group enjoys.
Special Rule: Anansi
Anansi the spider never seems to make it to the gatherings anymore, but the other animal spirits sure do
have some wild tales about him. He's the cleverest and most unpredictable of all the spirits, and possibly
the very first trickster spirit we know about today. In D&D terms, Anansi is as chaotic neutral as it's
possible to be. Like many tricksters, he's also a traveler, so animals from Europe, Asia, the Americas or
Australia could conceivably met him in his travels. He's invited to the gatherings officially, but knows most
of the animals don't want him there lest he create havoc. Any time your story needs to change course or
you're looking for a deus ex machina or shake things up a bit, Anansi can come out to play. (According to
legend, all the stories belong to Anansi after he tricked Lion out of them millennia ago . . . so in a certain
sense, even your original story is his personal property.)
If one of your collaborators decides to introduce him into a story you started, you might be upset at first,
but that's okay - channel your annoyance in an in-character way: "Anansi, curse his hide! That miserable
spider is a dead man the next time I see him." Sometimes he may try to teach a lesson or moral, but just
as often he does things solely for his own amusement. He can appear in the form of a man, or as a spider
of nearly any size.
Some Suggested Animal Spirits
(Note: The pronouns in this section are completely arbitrary and probably reflect the biases of both the
author and the English language. Feel free to make your animal any gender you like, or no gender at all.)
Bear is probably best known for his strength and speed, but it's his adaptability and cautious nature that
gets him through the rough winters. To some cultures, Bear's hibernation symbolizes the healing and
wisdom that can come from looking inward. Bear's favorite stories revolve around hunting and foraging,
protecting young cubs from danger, or getting into all kinds of trouble looking for honey. For reasons
that should be obvious, Bear and Bee share a long-time rivalry; however, on occasion Bear enjoys a hunt
or chase with the likes of Fox, Wolf or even Lion. When taking part in a story as Bear, try to depict
yourself as strong, protective and/or wise.

Fox is playful and quick, both in mind and in body, as all the animals and most humans know. He's good at
hiding, but happy to be bold when the situation calls for it. He is an excellent swimmer, can climb trees,
and is near-impossible to surprise because of his acute hearing. Many tales about Fox speak of his ability
to change his shape, become invisible, and cast magic spells. In this, he is kin to other trickster spirits such
as Crow, Coyote and even Anansi himself, so his feelings toward Anansi might range from respectful
rivalry to outright friendship at different times. When taking part in a story as Fox, try to depict yourself
as clever, curious and/or humorous.
Wolf is a fierce hunter, but also quite intelligent and social. Athletic, perceptive and very loyal to those
he calls friend, Wolf can be either a true ally or a bitter enemy, depending on where exactly the other
animal (or human) happens to be standing. His sense of smell is excellent, as is his hearing, and he enjoys
traveling widely to experience novel scenery and prey. Wolf's favorite stories tend to revolve around
internal pack politics, his complex "frenemy"-type relationships with Fox and Bear, or avoiding danger
through his sheer cunning. When taking part in a story as Wolf, try to depict yourself as smart, deadly
and/or loyal.
Elephant is perhaps the largest and most powerful of the so-called "prey" animals... and he knows it. He's
perhaps best understood as the eye of a storm, as most of the time he prefers to be calm and mellow...
but when provoked, he becomes quite loud and dangerous. His trunk can both smell and grasp things,
while his tusks are good for fighting and for digging for food. Elephant's favorite stories revolve around
taking care of family, getting revenge on someone who harmed him, or success through gentle strength.
When taking part in a story as Elephant, try to depict yourself as sensitive, intelligent and/or resourceful.
Beaver may not be the largest, toughest or smartest of the animals, but he certainly considers himself
one of the hardest-working. He's an expert swimmer, able to hold his breath for 15 minutes, and has an
innate talent for building things out of wood. His favorite stories involve finding interesting items while
underwater, success through working hard, and the importance of following dreams. When taking part in
a story as Beaver, try to depict yourself as industrious, organized, and/or tireless.
Lion is best known for his strength, boldness, and the fact that hes the king of the jungle. Other jungle
creatures are obliged to treat him with deference, though larger predators and (of course) tricksters
dont necessarily always do so unless they want something. Lion has a long-standing grudge against
Anansi for stealing all of his stories when the world was still young, and he wants to make sure everyone
knows it. However, as long as no one else has mentioned Anansi, Lion is content to tell stories about
noble leaders protecting their kingdom from evildoers, the thrill of the hunt, and the subtle pleasures of
relaxing in the shade with ones family. When taking part in a story as Lion, try to depict yourself as
courageous, noble, and/or fierce.
Crocodile is strong, ruthless and utterly untrustworthy. He considers all other animals his prey, regardless
of their size whether they walk, swim or fly. While hes not evil exactly, his nature is definitely selfish,
even for a reptile. Crocodile doesnt get along well with anyone but Snake, whom he considers a worthy
rival because of how much they have in common. He misses his old drinking buddies Tyrannosaurus Rex
and Pterodactyl, whove been extinct since he was a pretty young spirit. Crocodiles favorite stories

involve the strong destroying the weak, getting prey to beg for mercy before eating them, and
exploring lakes and rivers looking for new and different animals to eat. When taking part in a story as
Crocodile, try to depict yourself as dangerous, patient and utterly devoid of pity.
Snake may not be the smartest of the animals, but hes definitely the most slippery, in every sense of
that word. Hes quite adaptable, able to swim, climb trees, strangle prey with his body itself, and
squeeze into very small spaces to avoid danger. Like Lion, he bears a long-time grudge against Anansi
for making him look foolish in front of the other animals by tricking him into tying himself into a knot many
years ago. He and Crocodile have a grudging respect for each other, but it wouldnt be fair to call them
friends. Nobody else really likes him, though he and Turtle sometimes have philosophical conversations
while pursuing their respective prey. Snake prefers to be left alone most of the time and usually doesnt
talk to other animals unless theyve already threatened him in some way. In that case, out come the
fangs and the venom, and its usually over in a split second. Snakes favorite stories involve outwitting
Mongoose, Badger, or Bear when theyre hungry, how great it feels to bask in the sun, and how all the
humans misunderstand what hes really all about. When taking part in a story as Snake, try to portray
yourself as quick, adaptable and solitary.
Turtle is probably the most laid back, patient and Zen of all the animals. He has always known that he
needs to take things at his own pace. The world will be waiting for him whenever gets where hes going.
The other animals are all pretty much okay with him, though sometimes it can be frustrating because he
likes to speak in analogies and parables. This isnt because hes a trickster like Fox or Anansi, but rather
because explaining his slow philosphy to animals who are significantly faster than himself works best
when he expresses himself through stories. Because they have that in common, and because hes so
mellow and difficult to harm, he and Anansi get along rather well. When Anansi does trick him, Turtle
laughs it off and congratulates Anansi on a job well done. Turtles favorite stories are about the
importance of doing things patiently and deliberately. When taking part in a story as Turtle, try to
portray yourself as stalwart, wise, and balanced.
Parrot often gets branded as the Peacock of the jungle, or as a simple mimic like Monkey, but in actuality
hes far more than either of these. Parrot is arguably the smartest of the animals, the possible
exceptions being Wolf, Crow, and Dolphin. He also has the ability to talk to humans in their own
language, which is very rare among the other animal spirits: Anansi can appear as a man, Gorilla and
Chimpanzee can learn sign language, but only Parrot can learn human speech without being able to
change his shape. This means the other animals come to Parrot whenever they need mediation, direct
advice (as opposed to Turtles parables or Foxs riddles), or any other kind of help with communication.
Parrots favorite stories involve exploring the skies, solving complicated problems, and finding
innovative ways to get grubs out of Ants or Bees hives. When taking part in a story as Parrot, try to
portray yourself as insightful, quick-witted, and eloquent.
Owl excels more at vigilance than wisdom, his reputation aside. This is partly because he can turn his
head all the way around to see in any direction, but also because his senses are so acute, even for a
predatory bird. He prefers to avoid other birds of prey such as Hawk, Vulture, or Crow, but thats more
becuase they dont feel like getting in each others way than because they have any particular problem

with each other. Owl and Mouse, however, do not get along at all, because Owl sees Mouse solely as a
source of food and nothing more. Still, rules are rules and Owl knows how to respect them for the
duration of a gathering. Owls favorite stories are about saving other animals by being observant,
pursuing Mouse no matter what the cost, and encounters with other denizens of the night such as Bat,
Leopard, or even stranger things such as vampires or Will-o-the-Wisps. When taking part in a story as
Owl, try to portray yourself as discerning, quick, and open-minded.

Variant versions
Rashomon Variant
Instead of your partner(s) interjecting details into your story whenever you or they feel it's appropriate,
tell your animal's version of events first. Then your partners will have their chance to retell the story from
their own animal's point of view. If going second or third, this works best if you put some kind of
deliberate spin on the original tale, and it may tend to get dull after more than two retellings of the same
story.
Infinite Earths Variant
Instead of an animal spirit, choose a fictional character from any work of literature. Assume that all fiction
takes place in the same universe, or to narrow down the choices a bit, choose only two universes whose
themes or characters are similar enough to make their differences that much more noticeable. Here are
some suggestions for universes that might be interesting together, with a suggested replacement for
Anansi in each universe listed in parentheses. Alternatively, since all of these are among his stories,
Anansi could appear in any of them in some form.
Marvel (Deadpool) / DC (Mzxyptlk)
Star Trek (Q) / Star Wars (Jar Jar Binks)
Cowboy Bebop (Faye Valentine or Radical Edward) / Firefly (River Tam)
Looney Tunes (Bugs Bunny) / Disney Animation (Stitch)
Doctor Who (River Song) / Bill and Ted (Death)
Buffy (Spike) / True Blood (Niall)
Harry Potter (Luna) / Dragonlance (Tasslehoff)
Babylon 5 (Londo) / Battlestar Galactica (Gaius Baltar)
Twin Peaks (The Giant or Bob) / Carnivale (Management or Henry Scudder)
American Gods Variant
If no one in the group is easily offended, choosing a pantheon of gods instead of animal spirits can make
the game pretty interesting. Or you can choose a god or mythological figure from any culture and let
them all meet on the road by chance. This might work best with a pantheon that has many existing stories
about the flaws and foibles of its gods, such as the Greco-Roman or Norse gods. If you like, you can

replace Anansi with a trickster god from your chosen pantheon, such as Pan or Loki (respectively). If you
want to consciously invoke the god you choose, know how, and consider it respectful, then by all means
go ahead. Similarly, if you identify as otherkin, feel free to invoke one of your ancestors if theyre both
of you are okay with it.
Inspirations:
The tales of Anansi the Spider
Aesop's fables
Winnie the Pooh by A. A. Milne
Animal Farm by George Orwell
American Gods by Neil Gaiman
Sources for information on animal totem spirits:
Animal Speak: The Spiritual and Magical Powers of Creatures Great & Small by Ted Andrews
The Dictionary of Symbols, Myths & Legends