Many moons ago, I discovered – via the magic of Twitter – the existence of a “Girl Underground” tabletop role-playing game. The author was kind enough to send me a copy, and I’ve been sitting on this for much too long, but finally got a chance to look it over now that I’ve got more time on my hands! Turns out they were inspired by my work here, but did not realize I had been the one to identify the story archetype originally and coin the term Girls Underground; they thought it was already something known to academia, which to my mind means I’ve done something right.

Now this won’t be a proper review, because I have absolutely zero experience with or knowledge of RPGs and am really not qualified to comment on the construction of such. As much as I love Story, I have never felt myself to be a storyteller even in a collaborative or informal way. But I still enjoyed reading through the playbook and imagining how such a game might unfold.

“Inspired by Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Labyrinth, The Wizard of Oz, Spirited Away and similar tales, Girl Underground helps you tell the story of a curious girl and her strange companions as they travel through a wondrous world, complete a quest, and find the way back home. Throughout the journey, the Girl learns about herself, discovers the values that are important to her, and challenges the world around her.”

As the above quote shows, the game hits most of the major Girls Underground elements, including her growth and transformation as a part of the journey. But there are differences too (as there should be, since they have created their own expression based on the various source materials). I noted for instance that while antagonists can definitely be part of the play, there is no requirement to have one major Adversary, something that is pretty crucial to the archetype as I’ve defined it. I think this may be partly due to it being a PG-rated game with a very positive bent, so perhaps not wanting to dwell on some of the darker or harsher aspects – just like some GU stories are meant for kids or families, whereas others are in the horror genre.

I very much enjoyed the different types of companions they came up with, and can guess at some of the book/film inspirations for them. The locations were also great, including the evocative “Hall of Ten Thousand Masks,” and a bazaar which reminds me of the junk shop motif I’ve noticed in several GU stories. The Girl herself is 12 years old (though you can choose pretty much every other characteristic about her), and that’s prime GU age from my research. She encounters a selection of “Manners” that are basically societal rules of behavior for girls that she will challenge, making this game even more overtly feminist than the general archetype and, I’m sure, a very empowering experience especially for female players (or really, anyone who has had to confront restrictive cultural norms).

In the “Playbook Advice” section, one note for the Girl is: “When she pines for home, show how the wonders of the underground can fulfill her dreams. When she wants to stay, turn up the danger and highlight elements that make her miss home.” I love this as I feel it recognizes the internal conflict so many GUs go through on their journeys, being pulled between a longing for the home they left, and a love of the magical otherworld they have found. Most go home in the end, but will forever leave part of their heart behind in the underground.

You can buy the Girl Underground RPG here.