Passover is a religious holiday full of rituals and traditions observed with family, and it can often seem intricate and complex from outside a Jewish perspective. Ma Nishtana, a new tabletop RPG, was designed to demystify and share one important part of the Passover Seder with players filling the shoes of historical figures central to the Jewish Exodus from Egypt.
Ma Nishtana: Why is this Night Different? is designed by Gabrielle Rabinowitz and Ben Bisogno and uses a diceless model of collaborative storytelling. Players will take on the roles such as Moses, Miriam, the Pharaoh and Zipporah and retell an interactive version of the Exodus, paying special attention to the often complicated connections between these characters.
Sharing the story of the Exodus is traditionally part of the Passover Seder, and Ma Nishtana was created to fill that role, but it can also be a wholly separate investigation of the familiar story. The events may always lead to the Jewish people escaping those who enslaved them, but the paths leading to that conclusion will not be the same across any two playthroughs - players’ decisions will create interesting wrinkles and complications along the journey.
“At its core, Ma Nishtana is a storytelling circle that invites us to explore a world filled with wonder, terror, and deep care,” the game’s description reads. “Through the eyes of our characters we discover what the story of Passover has to teach us: the weight of sacrifice, the strength of community, and the responsibility we have to those who seek a place to call home.”
Players won’t be rolling any dice or crunching stats. Instead, Ma Nishtana has created playbooks for each character full of unique moves they can use to interact with the emerging narrative. These moves will often incur consequences, such as Glimpse Beyond from Miriam’s playbook - she can peer into the future at “a strange and beautiful vision”, but some source of betrayal or chaos comes with it.
Throughout the game, players will take turns as the Ritual Guide and ask questions of the group as they roleplay out a scene. Some may involve physical aspects may involve actual food and other elements, while others stay in the theatre of the mind, but all of the rituals synthesise players’ suggestions as the story moves forward.
The game fits a highly specific role and might not seem an approachable game - nor one that a group of non-Jews can play respectfully. The creators readily admit that they created Ma Nishtana primarily to glean deeper meaning and import from the yearly ritual, but that doesn’t necessarily close the door to those who approach the endeavor with an open and eager mind.
“Ma Nishtana encourages us to leave an open chair for all who come bearing an open heart. This is a story for all of us: Jews, non-Jews, and the Jew-’ish’ alike. All are welcome around the table, especially those who are playing with family or friends or are far from home,” they say.
Ma Nishtana: Why is this Night Different? is currently crowdfunding on Kickstarter to create a digital and physical version of the game book for $18 and $36, respectively. An ashcan version of the rules is currently available on Itch.io, and the team predicts delivery of printed copies will begin in April 2023 - just in time for next year's Passover.