Tuesday, 9 February 2016

The Week in Stories - February 9th

Phew! It's been too long since I wrote one of these. The Dust Cover Dust-Up took over my extra writing schedule for a while, and gaming dried up for a couple of months. But we started a new game just this last weekend, and the first session went really well, and I want to talk about it.

It's an ambitious project, another kick at the can of trying to play in multiple time periods at once, to both see our characters as they are and as they were, and use that to explore how they changed. This time, the scope is all of human history, as we're playing Pilgrims, people who are reincarnated over and over again through history, sometimes coming into contact with each other, and sometimes not. (If you want to hear how this idea developed, you can read my husband's blog post about it.)

For millennia, their lives have been defined by the Enemy, the Rakshasa, genuine immortals who can shape-change, and feed on the essence of humans. (Souls, perhaps, although no Pilgrim has ever had a genuine encounter with a divine being.) They are aided by the Hungry Ghosts, who can possess human hosts. 

Sometime in WWII, the Pilgrims had their own personal Gotterdammerung with the Rakshasa. Some were lost forever, devoured by the monsters. But in the end, they prevailed. Many had thought that the end of that millennia-long war would be the moment when the Pilgrims could finally slip off the wheel in less gruesome fashion.

They didn't. Whether they died on that day or in the following years, they Awoke again in new lives. What had they been fighting for? Some were pleased to see the fight wasn't over, others downcast. The fight, however, was over. So what now?

It's 1999. Our four Pilgrims are called to the house of a fifth in Paris. 

(Rules digression: For character creation, Bill used a mechanic from another game, Amaranthine, to help us build relationships with each other. The core of it is coming up with a sentence for each of the other characters for how they ALWAYS interact, what ONCE happened, what SOMETIMES happens, what NEVER happens. I like it a lot, and it sparked things right away.)

Every one we're playing has been both male and female, and from almost every corner of the globe. So I'll be using "they" a lot as a pronoun below.

The four characters are:

Timber, who first awoke in ancient Egypt. Timber has been at the epicentre of more rebellions, revolutions and general attempts to kick over the can and save the downtrodden than you can shake a stick at. They've died young a lot, inspired thousands, and are an almost irresistible force of charisma. People die for them. Or kill for them. They're like the sun, blinding and overwhelming. In this lifetime, they're a Greek man who works to dispose of unexploded munitions and landmines.

For centuries upon centuries, their fiercest acolyte has been North, a warrior who, as a king in ancient India, was converted by Timber to the cause. They've been comrades, warriors, lovers, and North's attachment to Timber verges on worship. When North awoke in this time period, they consoled themself that even if they hadn't been pure enough to slip the wheel, Timber undoubtedly would have. In this incarnation, they're a Chechen orphan in her early 20s who has thought her memories of previous lives were madness and has been on anti-psychotics. She's angry and destructive. 

North is obsessed with Timber, but in the shadows, there's another Pilgrim they've had many relationships with, Torch. It's less idealized, but almost as strong. Not strong enough, however, for North to ever put Torch first. Torch has taken most of the Pilgrims we've met as lovers at some point, but feels the most for North, even when she never wants to see him again. (Pronoun slip, but "even when they never want to see them again" is just too confusing.) Torch enjoys Timber's company, but is wary of them. (We've described it as a bit of an Arthur/Lancelot/Guinevere triangle, with Timber as Arthur unaware of the depths of the other connection. Timber's the fulcrum around which the other two turn.)

Torch tries to stay out of Timber's master plans, believing instead that their mission should be to accumulate information about the Enemy, with an eye to using it at some future date. They prefer the shadows and silence to the bustle and energy of Timber's life. With the Rakshasa gone, Torch is also undergoing a crisis of faith. The information they'd accumulated and hidden so assiduously never served its purpose. In the present, Torch is a Norwegian woman in her late 30s, mother of two.

The accumulation of knowledge is something Torch shares with another Pilgrim, Stone. The two are close friends, even if they disagree on what knowledge should be preserved and what it should be preserved for. Torch has been focused on helping the Pilgrims survive and triumph, while Stone's interest is turned outwards, to the mass of humanity. Both disgusted at their failings and hopeful of their future, Stone thinks that the Pilgrims have a duty to help humanity. Stone is skeptical of Timber's crusades, and North has occasionally thought that Stone's interest in the Rakshasa might extend to collaboration. In the present, Stone is a young Angolan woman.

So we have four people who have known each other for a very long time, and how do you get started? Bill eased us into it through a series of questions about how our Pilgrims felt about Paris, and about the fifth Pilgrim they were coming to meet, Smoke. Then there were initial scenes where Timber and Torch met, and North and Stone, and we watched them play out.

It was not a dice-heavy session. What strikes me though is how many good moments there were off the bat. There was a scene between North and Timber that was really powerful, where Timber was completely confused as to why North was so upset to see them alive.

I'm playing Torch, and I was having a lot of fun exploring how very tired Torch is of having to fight for North. The immediate thought is that the scenes in the past will have to be a juxtaposition to that, with earlier selves sure they can convince North to choose them. But now, as soon as she saw North see Timber, there was just an weary "Are you fucking kidding me?" So how we got to there, it'll be interesting to see.

I immediately want to see two-people scenes with all the various permutations in the present, and am even more eager to see how they interact with flashbacks to previous lives. I've got a good feeling about this one. 

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