A short game of story nonsense

Bedlam hospital for insane criminal masterminds is a dump for the worlds megalomaniacs. Here in the serene atmosphere, and attended by doting doctors and nurses, the super villains of the world are rehabilitated.

That’s what it says in the promotional material anyway. The truth is rather different. The inmates, drugged to the eyeballs and more than a little senile, constantly bicker at each other. Whose plans for world domination were best? Who really killed Kennedy? How they would have gotten away with it if it weren’t for those damned kids! A constant game of one upmanship and tall stories continues under the watchful eyes of the staff.


Bedlam is a storytelling game for any number of players (though 5 or so is best). To play it you will need: A pocket dictionary, some paper and pencils and a bowl. A sense of humour and a knowledge of cheesy action movies or comics would also be helpful.

In the game players take on the roles of evil geniuses, sitting in the lounge of the Bedlam hospital and telling anecdotes about the old days. Players are encouraged to come up with a name for their genius and an idea of who the they are and what they attempted which got them locked away. This will come in handy when the game starts.

Playing the game

Players skim through the dictionary and pick out ten words each, they then write these down on slips of paper, initial them and put them in the bowl. The bowl is then mixed and each player draws out six words (taking care not to reveal them to his opponents). These are the players Keywords.

The player who mixed the bowl is called the Doctor.

The Doctor starts the game by asking another player a question. Typically, “So, how are you today?”, though it can be anything as long as it gets the game going. This player, (called the Narrator) then starts to tell an anecdote about his failed plans for world domination, his aim is to use up all hisKeywords. When a Keyword is used the word is shown to the other players and then mixed back into the bowl.


Players can choose to challenge the Narrator, and attempt to highjack the story. Challenges cannot be used to dispose of your own keywords. Challenges can only be used after a sentance is finished.

Valid challenges:

Veto : The player declares that a keyword cannot be used in that context. The Narrator can either accept this or players can vote on the validity of the challenge. All players get one vote. The Doctorgets an additional vote and the player who originally initialled the keyword gets an additional 2 votes.In the event of a draw, the Narrator wins.

If successful the challenger takes over as Narrator and the old Narrator draws a new word from the bowl. If the challenge is unsuccessful, then the challenger draws a new word and the Narratorcontinues.

Divert: The player butts in as his genius declaring a slight alteration to the story. Such as “That’s not what happened, you forgot to tell them about XXX”. The Narrator continues, but both he and the challenger pick up another Keyword.

Thwart: A player butts in and describes how the villain was foiled. He then draws 2 Keywords and begins to tell his own anecdote.

In addition to these challenges the player who is currently the Doctor can also intervene and ask a question, to which the Narrator must respond before continuing his story. The role of Doctor then passes to the first player on the Doctor’s left (eventually reaching the Narrator at which point it stops until he is successfully challenged.)

The winning player is the one who gets rid of all his Keywords first. The player can only win, however, if the ending to his story is reached as well. If he just leaves it hanging, then he must pick up another keyword and attempt to resolve the anecdote.

Have fun!

Mixing it up – Some alternate rules

The drugs do work

In addition to putting in keywords, players can also each put in one change of play drug (put them in after drawing initial keywords). If a player picks up a change of play drug, then it comes into effect and the player must draw another keyword as well. Changes of play induced by drugs stay in effect until another is drawn. Typical changes of play mightinclude:

Players must speak in rhyme or pick up a keyword. Players must call other players by a particular title or pick up a keyword. Players must include a colour in every sentance or pick up a keyword. All drug effects are cancelled.

Bedlam was based on a concept by Matt Machell and a rules mechanic by John Wick. Thanks also to the people at who made helpful suggestions. This version © 2002 Matt Machell