The basic narrative is this. You're in a medieval village, and there's a werewolf on the loose. The werewolf is killing people at night while the town sleeps. A sort of witch-hunt ensues, the villagers decide one among them is the wolf, and that person is lynched. But if they've chosen incorrectly, someone gets killed the following night, and another person is lynched the next day.
In the variations I played, the town also has a doctor, and a visiting professional werewolf hunter. The doctor knows how to make a special anti-werewolf potion, and he can make exactly one dose a day to protect a villager through the night. The hunter has a magic pendant that glows in the presence of a werewolf, but it can only be used on one person a night and must re-charge during the day.
- Everyone gets a card. One card signifies "narrator", one "werewolf", and the rest "villagers". The narrator reveals himself, but the other players keep their cards secret.
- The narrator says, "Goodnight villagers," and the other players close their eyes, beginning the night phase of the game. They all begin to tap their legs, making noise so no one can identify who is taking non-verbal actions by sound. The narrator says, "Werewolf, wake up." The werewolf opens her eyes. The doctor asks her who she wants to kill, and she points at a player who isn't the narrator. The narrator takes note and tells the werewolf to go back to sleep. The narrator then says, "Good morning villagers," and all players open their eyes, beginning the day phase.
- During the day phase, the non-narrator players must vote on who they think the wolf is. The person with the most votes gets lynched--that is, she leaves the game and reveals her card. (Presumably they go through her belongings after the lynching and discover her true identity.) If she was indeed the werewolf, the villagers have won. If she wasn't, the game returns to the night phase. The goal of the villagers is to save as many villagers as possible, and the goal of the wolf is to kill as many as possible without getting lynched.
Now, during the day phase, the wolf does what he can to convince the villagers that he's not the wolf. Obviously, no one wants anyone else to think she's the wolf, innocent or not. In this most basic case, it's almost entirely a game of social dynamics, where you're either trying to lie convincingly or trying to find the liar. This can be fun, but it gets so much better.
Here's the first variation I played.
- Start with five people and five cards. The cards can be from a poker deck or something else, provided one card signifies "werewolf", one "doctor", one "hunter", one "villager", and one "narrator". Each player looks at her card and keeps it secret, with the exception of the narrator, who reveals herself as such.
- Upon the narrator's instruction, the other four players close their eyes. They all begin to tap their legs, making noise so no one can identify who is taking non-verbal actions by sound. The narrator says, "Doctor, wake up." The player with the doctor card opens her eyes. The narrator asks her, "Who do you want to protect?" The doctor points to a player who is not the narrator, and the narrator takes note of this. The narrator says, "Doctor, go back to sleep," and the doctor closes her eyes. The narrator says, "Werewolf, wake up." The werewolf opens her eyes. The doctor asks her who she wants to kill, and she points at a player who isn't the narrator. The narrator takes note and tells the werewolf to go back to sleep. The narrator has the hunter wake up, asks who she thinks the werewolf is, takes note, and has her go back to sleep. Then the narrator says, "Good morning villagers!" and everyone opens their eyes (and stops tapping).
- If the doctor protected the same person the werewolf tried to kill, and the hunter failed to discover the werewolf, the narrator says, "No one died." If the doctor protected a different person than the werewolf tried to kill, the narrator says, "[Name of player] died." If the hunter discovered the werewolf, the village kills the werewolf and villagers still alive win. If the hunter failed to discover the werewolf and a non-werewolf character died, the dead player reveals her card to the other players. (Perhaps the villagers notice she's not at town council, go investigate at her house, discover she's dead, and learn her true identity by examining her belongings.)
- The remaining villagers must now vote. By majority vote, they can either wait another night (and risk losing someone to the wolf), or lynch the person they vote is the wolf. If they lynch the wrong person, that person does not reveal her card (perhaps the lynchings take place in the evening and everyone goes directly to bed afterward), and the game returns to night phase.
Now this gets really interesting really quickly. For the moment, I'll leave you to think about why, and I'll describe some interesting scenarios in the near future.
I like this variation even more: everything is as above, but if there are n players, use (n+2)-4 villager cards. 2 cards are discarded, and no one knows what they are. This means there's probably a werewolf, but only the narrator (and the wolf, if there is one) is completely certain. This might be a true witch hunt. Similarly, there might be a doctor, and there might be a hunter, but it's not a guarantee. Did no one die last night because the doctor protected the right person, or because there's no wolf? Is the person claiming to be the hunter really the hunter, or has the wolf figured out that there isn't a hunter so he can safely pretend to hunt? Maybe if we're confident there's no wolf, we should lynch no one and have the doctor protect herself tonight to be certain. But this can't be a perfect test, because if the wolf is sly she'll target the doctor to produce a false negative. Not to mention, perhaps there's no doctor at all!