Time has passed since we last played a story-telling game. Most of my efforts for the better part of this year have been in skirmish miniature games. Flashing Steel is with Ganesha for review. Raygun Gothic is progressing slowly but surely behind the scenes – we have a new dice mechanic, and have narrowed the focus so that it is no longer a ‘generic’ science fiction set. But you get tired of one style of game after a while. It seemed time, therefore, that we tried our hand at something different.
Mythic remains our preferred game approach; Greg and I have worked out a comfortable method of play, neither of us leading, discovering the setting, era and mission as we talk. Where Mythic shines is in the internals of keeping the action going. The random elements are rich enough to spark the imagination. What it lacks – for our purposes – is a randomisation mechanism to find the setting. Greg and I choose not to play in defined settings. Just making things up tends to become stale as we can only imagine to our prejudices. We have used Brewer’s a lot in the past with success. But even then it can lead one to well known paths.
Greg found a new free for download product called The Instant Game. This has a set of rules for character development and action, but this is not its strength. What it does have is a number of great tables to help you find a setting. More than a simple list (which is a reflection of cultural prejudice, as I mentioned earlier – some people may be interested in Boston 1770 as a setting, but it has bugger all interest to Australians, for example), it adds a layer called Tone. The tone modifies the setting. Take the example of an Orwellian setting (again, many people would shrug their shoulders at the thought of a dystopian corporate/fascist future, but it speaks to me). This implies all kinds of dark adventures: terrorist freedom fighters, torture (re-education) chambers, and so on. But what if we laid the tone of B-Grade over it? Or Comedy, or Romance? See how it changes? Great addition. I recommend it to Mythic players as an addition to your toolket.
Anyway. So we rolled to find out setting and tone, plus some ‘things’, and ‘opposition’. Our first attempt came up with Tiny People, Heroic, Atomic Monster, Secret Society. After chewing this for a while we came up with either a Star Wars Ewok world, or a 1950’s Gozilla world with pygmy natives. Neither of those things really grabbed us as a place we wanted to tell a story in and, more importantly, we did not feel that we had really created anything new.
On the next attempt we got: Skyscraper, Mythic (an omen if ever I saw one), Fury Dragons, Government Agent. Now we were talking. This was a hard set of ideas to reconcile.
We spent a long time (up to an hour) discussing how these elements made a setting. We proposed ideas and discussed them, discarding the ones that did not develop the setting, refining until we came to an understanding of what this place was. The following is what we came up with.
This was a First Age setting. The immortals still live. The land is a defined area, and that is the whole Universe. In the centre of this land is the Tower, the place where the Dragons sleep. The Dragons were the creators of the universe, but were, by their nature, destructive and fickle and uninterested in the affairs of humans, exactly analogous to the Grecian Titans. It is an article of faith that the dragons became tired and fell asleep, and it is their dreaming that keeps everything ticking along. The worst thing that could happen would be that they should awake, shattering the dream, and everything would fall back into primal chaos. Or so the believers in the old religion tell us.
Greg’s character was a priest of this old religion. Mine was a cynical guttersnipe who had attached himself to the church as the one place that gave him care and employment.
The government of the land was a Revolutionary one that had managed to achieve power some years ago. One of their central platforms was that the Dragons were a myth (because they were unseen in the Tower, of course), that man was a free agent, and that believers in the old religion were dangerous reactionaries.
The action started at the Federation Day carnival, where Mythic informed us that a murder had occured. We concluded that we had been followed and my punk character had ambushed him and bumped him off. Agents were on our trail. But why? We asked Mythic three questions (no more than three – a house rule we have), and found that we were on our way to meet a Restless Fixer. He had passes for us to enter the Tower. Through random rolls in both Mythic and Brewer’s we found that the government were after an artefact that could wake the dragons (so their offical claim of disbelief in them was propaganda). They wanted to wake the dragons because they believed the story of them holding the universe together was a fairy story, and that they were merely powerful creatures that could be used – presumably to solidify their rule. We knew that the government were after the secret (an artefact) that could wake the dragons. Our job was to get it first and make it safe so they could do no such thing.
To get the passes, which we wanted in order to find out the truth about the dragons (we had three conflicting theories on their origins now), the Fixer wanted someone sprung from gaol. This person was a Shewd Devils Advocate: a firebrand Barrister who was notorious for exposing government mistakes and inflaming public passions.
Did we have the power to release him? Yes we did, or at least the priest did. So we went to the prison and Greg’s character simply signed the papers. Then we got out of there fast before the Revolutionary Guards descended on us. We told everything we knew to the lawyer, who promised us he would spread the word of the intention to wake the dragons. Any way you looked at it, such as act would be a disaster.
The tower was a country within a country. Priests carried out the ancient rites. People lived their whole lives within the vast structure, much like the Forbidden City. Our passes were quite senior, and we were shown to a chamber where one of the most important rituals took place. It was a gauzy, 70’s chamber, with tinkling glass sculptures and organic, bubling light shows. There we were giving a dreaming drug in order to commune directly with the dreaming dragons who slumbered hundreds of floors above. In this dream we discovered yet another version of the dragon myth, and this one was probably the true one as we had dropped into a different plane of reality.
The dragons were in fact put to sleep by the people. It is not the dragon’s dreaming the enriches the land. It is the collective dreaming of the people that prevents that dragons from waking and destroying the universe. The relationship was symbiotic. This power is enhanced by naturally occuring blight that affects grapes. It was therefore in the wine the clergy use in their ceremonies. So the connection between religion, the people, dreams, and the maintenance of the universal balance was revealed. This was the secret that the government agents were after. So it was distributed and could not be simply grabbed and used. But the wine industry could be squeezed by taxing it out of business, for example.
Armed with this knowledge we returned to talk to the Barrister. We gave him everything we knew and between us concocted a plan. Since the government clearly suspected something like this, hence their pogrom against the old religion, they would need to be fed something that sounded close to the truth. The connection between dreaming and the dragons was well known. Even the direction of the control (people to dragons, and not the other way) had probably been deduced by them – they just did not know what was the mechanism.
Brewer’s came to the rescue and returned Corn Laws. We would spread the word that it was another kind of plant rust, say one that affected the grain that beer was made from. This agreed, the Barrister set about building a smear campaign that would subtly introduce this idea into the public conscious, and so allow the government to ‘uncover’ the wrong answer and start supressing the production of beer.
This would make things tough for the beer makers (but not the crucial wine makers) for many years, but it gave us – the defenders of the old faith – more time to figure out how to topple the government.
The end. Drunk, we quit to dream.