After what seems an eternity, Simon and Greg and I managed to get together for a story-telling game. We used many elements of my story toolbox, including Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, several decks of cards showing randomised locations, emotions and characters, and a stack of dice. This time I rolled out some large sheets of paper in case anyone wanted to doodle, as we had found in the past that visuals can help, but no one did.
I took notes at the time and where I have these notes and/or remember I will record the actual decision points that led us down different paths. These notes will occur in square brackets [like this].
Our story-telling games start with some random seed words to help us get an idea of the genre, the time and the place. Instant Game has some tables for this, but a table is by definition a limitation by virtue of what it excludes, so we referred to Brewers to get some seed ideas.
Order of the Garter
And after some discussion we described the following world. This picture developed through the course of the story, but I will write it here as if we had the whole picture at the start:
On a distant planet (or in some future time) hyper-capitalism has reached its zenith. Fantastic advances had delivered unprecedented wonders and luxuries, from synthetic meat products to robotics to new power sources. But only for the few that can afford them. The world is mostly an ecological wasteland, overpopulated at ground level. The population has been segregated into the descendants of the mega-rich, the Cranes, the 1% that live in cloud piercing megacities, and the Worms, the teeming billions that eke out savage lives building and rebuilding in the ruins of the crumbling global metropolis below. For the Cranes, life is a dreamland of plenty, comfort and freedom. Their daily lives are accompanied by purified air, mood matching auto-scents and background music. They are clean, hairless, healthy in their hermetically sealed environments, probably products of genetic manipulation to enhance these traits, and contemptuous of the brutal animals that live on the ground – if they think about them at all. The spire cities are largely independent from the surrounding countryside.
For the Worms, life is a nightmare of disease and privation. Natural resources are all but exhausted. Sources of high tech energy producing materials, such as radio-actives, are monopolised by the Cranes using lethal force. Little natural wildlife or vegetation remains, and that which does is contaminated with industrial waste. The Worms swarm through the middens of the former functioning cities, building over and reoccupying the same ground, but never managing to clear and restart. Traditions are rich down here, one imagines, but at the same time the only prey left are other humans and one gets the impression of a Rapa Nue, only on a global urbanised scale.
Overall, the inhabitants of the Global Slum are ‘free’, in that there is little in the way of government other than local arrangements between gangs. Worms are ‘free’ to work hard, save their money and they too may earn a place in a spire city… except that the price of such an enterprise is astronomical given the paltry sums available.
The Cranes know they are ‘free’ to pursue their own goals and destinies. No governments rule them. Their monopolisation of the wealth and resources of the planet has produced islands of plenty in a sea of privation.
Woven into this we had the Order of the Garter, an organisation rumoured to be powerbrokers in a way similar to the masons or the Jesuits. Themes of religion and false prophets ran through these discussions, but we concluded that though religious differences between the Cranes and the Worms it probably did not impact us directly (yet).
It was a planet of slums. Naturally, there is some kind of activity and economy going on down at ground level but who knows what it looks like? Not us, we discovered after our first question: are we (the protagonists of the story) Cranes or Worms?
We turned out to be Cranes: a cunning ranger, a romantic agent, and a nefarious crone (though we concluded that a crone in this setting probably means someone who looks older than 29).
Satisfied that we had a general artistic impression of the setting, we started the actual ‘story’.
[Where are we? Underwater, the place deck informed us.]
After tossing around many possibilities we used one of the starting conditions: Falling Stars. We had been travelling on a Needle, one of the hypersonic air shuttles that connected the spire cities, and it had crashed. This was a mystery, of course, because needles never crash. The technology was so mature, so automated that accidents of that sort simply did not happen. Clearly it had been brought down by some external agency.
Tuning the cabin wall to be a screen for an external view, we found that we had come to rest half submerged in a vast cesspool. The crashing needle had left a kilometres long scar in the cities. Fires burned behind us. Thousands (of Worms) must have been killed.
A crowd was already forming and there were clearly hostile. Also in the crowd was a well-dressed man, clearly a Crane. What was he doing here? An excellent question. But another one that was equally important was, what are we doing here?
Consulting Brewers we found Cadre, and concluded that we were military professionals and the rest of the passengers were our greenhorn charges. Our task, we decided, was to get these guys back to the nearest city through this clearly hostile environment: a Blackhawk Down training scenario, perhaps. (And at this point it felt a little like an inside out Escape from New York to me.)
Exiting the cabin we were immediately revolted by the smell and feel of the place. Filth clung to our pristine whites and we were all nauseated by the stench. Sloshing out, we decided to approach the mysterious man, but he eluded us through the crowd. A few well placed high energy shots cleared a path and we picked our way over the dozens of smoking corpses.
Our quarry breasted a rise and we found ourselves in a cleared area. [Where does he lead us: Desert, from the places deck.] It was still rubbish strewn but had no structures. More strange in this overpopulated hell was the complete absence of sound. This unnerved us as we had been surrounded since birth with comforting sounds of the megacities, such as music, the human voice, the humming of machinery and simulated sounds of nature.
However, the scene changed dramatically as we descended [Scene interruption: PC Negative. Negligence, Pain]. The Ranger, despite his caution, stepped on some kind of explosive device. Though he was unharmed, the sudden shock sent our naïve troops into a frenzy. They formed a hedgehog and blasted the surrounding area till their powerpacks were empty, vaporising the buildings visible beyond the rim of the depression we occupied and probably killing thousands of Worms that had gathered to watch our progress. As their weapons cooled with musical tinkling sounds, we realised that we were now out of ammo.
The Agent (Simon) noticed that in one of the remains of a sheared building, water was still running. This implied either a pump operating somewhere, or it just implied that the local were not so useless that they could still produce usable plumbing. In any case, we hastily investigated before the surviving locals recovered their wits and ripped us limb from limb.
In the rubble we found a piece of smart paper. The known emblem of the Order of the Garter was still visible, though decayed.
Then we found an entrance to an underground passage, and descending we found ourselves in a large chamber. Along the walls stretching into the far distance there were cylinders that appeared to contain lifeless humans. On investigation we discovered several things. Firstly, they appeared healthy, not decayed. It seemed likely that they were in some kind of suspended animation. Secondly, and shockingly, they had hair on their heads and groins. It was positively bestial as far as we civilised Cranes were concerned.
Searching further we were confronted by four people dressed as civilised Cranes, though they too had hair in the manner of the savages. One was the first man we had seen. With him were another man and two women, the last of whom had a natural authority.
And at that point we decided to quit for the night.
Tune in for the next episode.