How to organize a lynching

I’ve seen a number of different “trial” variations in Werewolf over the years., and over time I’ve developed a system that I think works pretty well.

The original method I learned (playing at Gen Con in 2010) is for players to point directly at a player with one hand (the accusation) and raise the other hand straight up (the vote).  Only if both of these are done at the same time does it count as a “vote to lynch”.  (Note: I’ve recently come to understand that this is a midwestern thing — I had thought it more universal….)  The advantage of this system is that it is fast.  You may have some players voting for Alan and others for Brian simultaneously.  But it has a number of problems — most dominant of which is that it’s hard to moderate.  Sit 18 people in a circle and have everybody point at somebody.  Wait… is that guy pointing at Chuck or Denice sitting next to him?  Hold on… I think Fred just moved his hand — who’s he pointing at now???

Out of necessity (preservation of my own sanity) I decided to move to a more formal “trial” system.  In my game, the word “accuse” is a key word with specific meaning.  If somebody says “I accuse <name>”, I will announce that there has been an accusation and ask if anybody Seconds the accusation.  If somebody else says “I second”, it goes to trial.

Now, again, there are a lot of ways to run the trial, but ultimately it ends in a formal vote.  Originally, I allowed the discussion to continue, but basically set a time limit before the vote.  But this ended up too chaotic — as people would accuse and second with no expectation that they actually have to stop talking long enough to vote.

So after a while I changed it a bit — after somebody Seconds, I made it so that only the Accuser and the Accused may speak.  This introduced an interesting dynamic into the game, as a player could actually use Accusations strategically to silence discussion.  There are also some players  — usually, but not always, inexperienced — who just can’t help themselves, and second the moment somebody accuses.  It can be hard to distinguish those two types of player apart — is this guy just not thinking, or is he acting kind of werewolfy by shutting down the discussion?  Of course if you use an Accusation this way you need either a sucker or an accomplice to Second it.  Hmmm….

More recently I’ve played with other variations, such as loosening up the “no discussion” rule enough to allow brief comments or questions, after the Accuser and Accused have their say.  But I’m careful with this — I keep it very brief and then get on with the vote.  Even more recently I’ve tested it out going the other direction and closing down discussion even more:  once somebody is Accused and Seconded, only the Accused may speak. This way, if you want to lynch somebody, you have to make your argument before you formally accuse them.  I’m not sure if this method is better or not, but it seems promising so far.

Finally, the vote itself.  Different people use different methods, from the two-arm gesture mentioned before to a simple thumbs up/thumbs down.  I do a three count, and on three, people voting to lynch raise their arm up high — “String ’em up!”.  I’m fairly strict about no stragglers — you raise your hand on three or it doesn’t count, and I will actually announce that I’m not counting so-and-so’s vote because it was too slow.

I like this method on two fronts:  First it’s easier to moderate.  It’s very easy to count the upraised arms quickly rather than looking for everybody’s hand to see where their thumb is.  It’s also better information for the players, as it’s easier for them to clearly recognize who voted which way.  It also prevents somebody from quietly changing their vote after they see which way it went — that arm is either obviously up or it’s not.  Again, I could see dropping the “no stragglers” rule — I like the clean vote, but it allows an extra strategy for the werewolves (and a behavior for the villagers to spot) to “jump on the bandwagon” and join a vote that’s going a certain way.

In the end, if the vote is over half the village, it’s a lynching.  Night falls immediately after a confirmed lynch, and the village goes to sleep.

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