Tuesday, 23 February 2016

The Week in Stories

The Dust Cover Dust-Up is finished, and I can return to some of my irregular features. Gaming stories on Tuesdays, old science fiction stories on Thursday. When I've got something to write about, anyway.

So, we had the second sitting of our crazy reincarnation game, Not Fade Away on the weekend. It was a bit of a shorter session, but I think that worked out well enough - sometimes having less time means more focus.

It is a sprawling story, and in many ways we're still feeling out the edges, both of the plot and how our characters relate. There are bound to be some scenes where we're just trying to figure things out - but what I'm really impressed by is how meaty some of the scenes we're doing already are, and what they bode for things to come.

Time Periods We Played In:

Millennia-ago Arizona, where my Pilgrim, Torch, had her first Awakening, thanks to Smoke, the Pilgrim who, in the present, is offering everyone the elixir of eternal death. Torch was confused and little wary, although less tense than she will be later. Smoke showed her their enemy, the Rakshasa, shapechanging monsters that feed on souls.

The Decline of Rome, where Stone, in Aquitania, was also Awoken for the first time, by Torch as a visiting Roman dignitary. We saw some of Stone's happy home life, and his deep belief in the supremacy of Rome.

A Caravan on the Silk Road, Time Period Unknown Here, Torch and Timber bantered playfully around a campfire, with Timber asking to be thrown off a cliff so that he would know what it felt like to fly, promising to find her again in his next life and rub her feet when she's an old woman. (Or man - we didn't actually define what gender either of them were in this one.) (She didn't throw him off a cliff.)

But probably the most important scene in the past was in

Ancient India, where North was already Awoken, but not particularly benevolent. Scratch that, he was a ravening ruler out for conquest and killing. He knew of his previous lives, but they weren't making him a better person.

Let's detour to the rules (such as they are) for one brief moment. Or at least, to character creation. In the mechanic we nabbed from Amaranthine, we each have lines about the way each two characters always interact, once interacted, sometimes, and never. The once ones all look like scene ideas, things we have to work in at some point. Things that honestly, we should be driving towards.

I just don't think any of us were expecting this one quite so early. North's "once" for Timber was "once I killed you."  I know I was expecting it to be somewhere in the middle of this story, when North had long been Timber's acolyte and once had to turn on him, or kill him to save him.

I didn't expect it to set up North's following-the-Messiah complex quite so neatly.

As the scene developed, North was accepting the surrender of a small town by giving them the choice of dying or losing a hand each. Out of the terrified crowd walked a child - Timber. Unafraid, the child challenged North, then managed to get him to come down off his palanquin. With a touch, Timber showed North he wasn't alone as a Pilgrim, gave him some of Timber's memories. It was an earthshaking moment. Except, what do you do then?

His soldiers were restless, his advisors outraged, and the whole situation could have slipped away - until Timber told North to kill him. Right then, right there. He'd come back to find North in a future life.

What better way to make an acolyte for life after life after life than to literally die for them, at their hand, willingly and with love?

It crystallized that relationship in a way that I wasn't expecting, but was extremely powerful.

Back in the Present, the Pilgrims collectively discussed Smoke's offer of the elixir. Timber delayed making a decision, talking to Smoke's companion about the life he'd led since the battle in World War II.  North and Stone got in an argument, as they always do, about the enemy, what they were, what they mean, and whether they were defeated.

Stone apparently believes the Rakshasa might be out there somewhere, flashing back to the World War II battle and seeing Smoke there as a child battling beside the other Pilgrims, obviously traumatized by his experience. Is his desire to die for good due to that trauma, or a much older weariness for life?

As they argued, we also saw North in the same World War II battle, fighting ferociously after most of his companions had fallen. Back in the present, North was sure that the Rakshasa had been killed, but seemed to like the idea some might still be in hiding, giving a renewed purpose to his life. Stone tried to sell North on a plan to help humanity, or whatever comes after them, but North was suspicious.

Then we got to see North and Torch together in the present. North was initially worried about Timber taking the elixir, but seemed dumbfounded when Torch seemed to be seriously considering it. They discussed being in the world as reincarnated beings, Timber, and Torch's children. Torch pushed North to say that he didn't want her to die permanently, but all he would commit to was the immediate moment. Ouch.


Two things that need to happen and one thing I regret:

There were a couple of Torch's scenes that I really enjoyed, but then made me immediately start thinking about contrast, and how to do that.

For the scene with Torch and Timber, I liked this scene for what it set up about the way these two characters interact, but also for what it made me realize it needed as contrast. Which is two very loose things that we'll have to set up. I am trying not to plan too much. We've seen Torch and Timber happy around each other, so at some point, that has to be contrasted with a) conflict in the past, where Torch deals with Timber's overwhelming personality by pulling away, and then b) finally, in the present, just getting so, so angry at him. (That will at least be partially displaced anger at North, but also just the accumulated tension of centuries of relationship.)

Conversely, we've now seen Torch and North at their most difficult, a scene that was as much about pushing each other away as pulling each other closer. It's an interesting place to be, but it feels like we need a scene in the past that shows what they were like when they were good. (Even if it was brief.) If we have that, it makes where they are all the more interesting.

Which brings me to the regret. It was a short session, I knew one player's ride was going to be there shortly, and we were trying to squeeze just one more scene in. So my regret is that when North delivered a devastating line at the end of the night, I broke out of the scene too quickly. It was the right moment for an ending, and I'm not sure I would have had anything to say, but I should have stayed in it for just a few moments longer to have a reaction and let that moment hang. Dammit.

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