Running an Itras By One-Shot

Itras By is one of my favorite roleplaying games in the history of forever.  It does the surreal/absurdist genre perfectly, yet always ends up telling a relatable, human story.

I have honed my practice of running Itras By down a fairly concrete set of steps and I thought it would be useful to share it out wide. So… here it is!

Running an Itras By One-Shot

a guide by Keith Stetson, but also because of Arnold Cassell

Note: This is my take on the game. Doubtless I have misunderstood some things – both purposefully and not. However, I find that this set up runs a damn fine game.


  • Copy of Itras By
  • Deck of resolution cards
  • Deck of chance cards
  • Index cards for character creations
  • Writing utensils


  • Introduce the setting and tone of the game
    • Read or summarize pg. 4-5 of the book
    • In my experience, this game uses the absurd to reveal truths about human nature
      • Yes, I know how pretentious that sounds
    • If they want more on surrealism, pg 6-7 has it. So does 180-181.
    • Don’t worry about details of the city that are in the book. We’ll be making our own.
  • Create characters (use index cards)
    • Basic concept
      • This is the hardest part. Allow lots of times and give lots of examples.
        • Example characters start on pg. 100, but I prefer to give more unusual examples from my own previous plays
          • an unfinished painting in search of her painter
          • a blues musician who is too happy to play
          • a dog who plays pinochle (wrong) and it looking for the perfect game
          • a rocket surgeon who ended up matchmaking for two space-bound vessels
    • Dramatic qualities
      • What makes your character worth hearing a story about
      • List on pg. 96-97
    • Personality descriptors
      • Just a few adjectives
        • happy and naive
        • grumpy
        • kind, but morbid
    • Intrigue Magnets
      • What important thing does your character need to do?
      • Examples on pg. 94
    • Relationships
      • Give everyone a relationship with every other character
        • Consider putting this in map form on the table so everyone can reference if when looking for ideas
      • Check for important NPCs
  • Resolution cards
    • Once per scene usually
    • Always voluntary
    • Someone else draws and interprets
  • Chance cards
    • Introduce a new strangeness
    • Great to use when you don’t know what to do next
    • Once per player per game
    • Somewhat of a pacing mechanic


  • Starting the game
    • Look for a hook that calls to you as a GM
      • A strong, dynamic relationship between two characters that suggests an opening scene
      • A clear dramatic quality that would drive a character to a certain place or action
      • If these two fail, have an NPC make a demand on a character that they cannot ignore
  • General advice
    • Try to have as many characters in each scene as you can. PC-PC interaction is the heart of the game and will propel action, as well as absurdity
  • Pacing
    • About ¾ of the way through the game I assess how close each character is towards resolving their dramatic quality/goal. For those who I cannot assess or who I assess to be very far from their goal, I ask the player what would be a satisfying conclusion for them/their character. I try to make this happen, but it doesn’t always work.
    • If I can’t get the character where the player wants him to go, at least come to a resolution. For example, the rocket surgeon decisively fails to set up the boy rocket with the girl rocket and the boy rocket flies to the dark side of the moon to cry and mope. If you can’t open the door they want, try slamming it shut.

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