The Tragedy of GJ237b

A role-playing game for no players

system design by Caitlynn Belle, setting design by Ben Lehman


GJ 237, vernacularly known as Luyten’s Star, is a largely unremarkable red dwarf star located in the constellation Canis Minor. It is twelve light years from Earth, a distance which renders it invisible to the naked eye. The star itself is only notable for it’s close proximity to the much larger star Procyon, which appears as bright as Venus in its planets’ sky.

Luyten’s Star is orbited by two planets, the outermost of which, GJ 237b, is capable of sustaining a biosphere. This is not particularly unique. Humanity, in its wanderings, has encountered many such planets, met them, and studied them, and colonized them, learned to live in their biospheres, or given them new ones.

Like on many worlds, multicellular life never developed in GJ 237b. Unlike those worlds, most of which had a few bacteria or amoeba clinging to life on the edges of volcanic vents or in moist underground caves, the single-celled life on GJ 237b thrived in abundance, developed its own eco-systems, its own evolutionary niches, its own rich complicated ecological web. But even in this, GJ 237b is not unique.

What makes GJ 237b unique is that it is the only biosphere, other than the Earth’s, to have developed meaningfully intelligent life, even at a single-celled level. This intelligence was utterly different than humanity, utterly alien, completely unrecognizable to the human probes or the human explorers that followed them. It is not that they had a simple analogue to human society. They had a rich, nuanced, complicated system of communication and social organization which we not only will never understand, but we can never understand, because we lack even the ability to comprehend their thoughts.

This intelligent species — or, more accurately, intelligent clade (although even the term “clade” is a terrapomorphism), because genetic variation may have formed, for them, not an engine of evolution but a means of communication — prospered and thrived in the rich ecosystems of GJ 237b. They developed technology — although utterly different than our technology — art — although utterly different from our art — and even, we believe, limited space travel. But, fundamentally, whatever society existed is fundamentally unknowable. We can only look at the remaining artifacts, some recorded biological samples, the records from our initial probes, and guess.

This is because, as soon as humans arrived on GJ 237b, our very presence caused a catastrophe which destroyed not only the intelligent life, but their entire ecosystem. The exact nature of this collapse is not well known — it is presumed to be a virus carried on the ship’s cat — but nothing now remains of not only the intelligent life, but any of other life from their planet. GJ 237b is a now a cold, dead rock, a monument to the worst mistake humanity has ever made.

This game is about the societies and cultures of GJ 237b.

Materials for Play

  • a print-out of these rules
  • paper, both lined and white
  • character sheets
  • pencils and pens
  • at least one set of 4 12-sided dice in unique colors.


Arrange the above-mentioned materials for play around a table in a room which is not part of a regularly trafficked area. Ideally, it should only have one door.

Playing the game

Stay outside the room. Do not go in.

The game, being played in the room, is about the history, societies and cultures of GJ 237b. It is not something that you can play, or even understand.

Do not enter the room. Don’t look at it, either.

Ending play

When someone opens the door, they are the human explorers that have arrived on GJ 237b. The game immediately ends. We do not play out the catastrophe.

©2017 Ben Lehman and Caitlynn Belle

this edition has been lightly edited for obvious typos and to replace the word “d12s” with “12-sided dice.”

this game was funded by our patrons: Saul Pwanson, Josh Symonds, Andrew Cain, Alissa Mortenson, Adam Kenney, Michael Wight, Aaron Lim, John Leen, Eileen Koven, Jonathan Reiter, Lapo Luchini, Flavio Mortarino, Lester Ward, Jessica Hammer, Chris Hall, Gregor Hutton, Vincent Baker, Anders Smith, Jake Baker, Fabien Hildwein, Red Ed, Peter Ciccolo, Johannes Oppermann, Cheryl Trooskin-Zoller, Kevin Li, Quintin Smith, Robert Day, Aaron Friesen, anna anthropy, Sam Anderson, omas Novosel, Stuart Chaplin, Rob Abrazado, Charlie Etheridge-Nunn, Taylor Smith, Kathryn Hymes, Brad Gravett, James Stuart, Carlton Wilbur, Tayler Stokes, J Li, Nathan Harrison, Matthew Klein, Brian John, Mike Sugarbaker, Tony Dowler, Noah Illinskey, Edoardo Baruzzo, Christoph Boeckle, Jonathan Walton, Epidiah Ravachol, Peter and Carolyn Lehman

original eBook at: