Under My Skin is a new (not even released yet) game from Emily Care Boss, completing her trilogy of modern relationship games. Where Breaking the Ice was a fun game about first dates and Shooting the Moon was about love triangles that guaranteed a winner and at least one loser, Under My Skin is a gut-wrencher about established relationships, commitments, and the affairs that can break them apart. This game demands you take it seriously, not because it tells you to, but because it doesn't give you much choice.
Group character creation starts by assigning your character a weakness… it must be a problem you've had maintaining committed relationships. Yes, you the player. People chose words like “responsibility”, “anger” (twice: one a type-A alpha-male boss, and one simmering and rebellious wife), “committment”, and “identity”. Mine was “pride”, in the sense that nothing is ever good enough for me. (Ask anyone I've ever gone out with. It's probably the only thing they'd all agree on.)
Everyone then gets to add a modifier to your word. So “commitment” got words like “patriotism” and “frivolous”, while my pride was modified by “spouse”, “children”, “career”, and “reputation”. Clearly not me any more, but still not too far from playing myself.
With this combination, you then work out who and what your character actually is, and which other character they are in a committed relationship with. Each character then gets to define Lines, which restrict the other person in their relationship. Cross this line — have sex with someone else, embarrass us in public, invite someone into our room — and There Will Be Trouble.
Into this friction machine, monkey wrenches are thrown. New relationships appear, crossing the boundaries already established. Someone else's character will wander into your life, offering new passion and an opportunity to escape your predicament by crossing the Lines your partner had set for you.
From there, the action takes place in a series of scenes acted out in a sort of free-form LARP. Each scene has a set theme, like the first time you meet your flame, a flashback to when your stable relationship was much better, or the final moment where you have to decide to cross that Line or not. Other details like setting may be suggested by the other players, but mostly it's just you and your partner (or not-partner) figuring out how the story goes.
Finally, the moment comes when you and your new fling have the opportunity to cross a Line. At this point, two other players act as your devil and your angel, literally standing behind your shoulders suggesting which way you should go. One of them is always your partner, who gets first choice of the devil or angel role. Yes, some opted to play the voice of chaos and tempt their partners into violating their own relationship.
Finally, there's a wrap-up scene where you pay for what you've done. One of the themes is that no one gets off easy — playing a saint won't necessarily pay off in the end. Staying faithful may land you in a worse place than you'd have been had you grasped the opportunity that was offered you, especially if your partner strayed. Of course, your new flame has issues too, and they may or may not have been resolved by the time the dust settles. Life sucks, doesn't it?
I can safely say that this was the most intense LARP experience of my life. I was asked to abuse my “wife” with some of my real-life worst qualities. (My controlling pride ended up married to her smoldering anger and resentment — easily the most explosive combination of the evening.) All the characters knew each other, so everyone else's problems became a backdrop for our own, and vice-versa.
Under My Skin requires a lot of trust and a bit of fortitude to get through, but I'd gladly play it again.