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[1001 Nights] Falconer, Midwife, Dancer, Master of Sword

Started by lumpley, May 19, 2006, 05:32:11 PM

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So it's Emily, Julia, me and Meg, playing Meg's game in development 10001 Nights. We've set up and we're just starting play. My character's the Sultan's favorite dancer. He's a little better a person than the stereotype: he's got the foppish entitlement, but just enough not taking himself too seriously to keep him human. His foremost rival is Meg's character, the master of sword - on Meg's character sheet it says "I envy Habib all his lovers," and Meg added when she introduced him "because my nose is all broken and mashed, I don't get the girls like he does." Also on Meg's character sheet it says "my ambition is to break Habib's nose."

Like I say we're starting play. Meg's turn is first, on account of how she's the designer, so she sets the scene: a lovely summer evening, we're taking our leisure eating oranges and cashews under the stars. Her character, this swordsman, tells a story.

Now, it's not like now Meg tells us a story, not at all, not at ALL. She has Danash say, "this is the story of the foolish rodent and the housewife. Aziza (Julia's character, the midwife), would you take the part of the housewife, making bread? Habib (that's my guy), would you take the part of the foolish rodent? Malika (Emily's, the falconer), would you take the part of the foolish rodent's cousin?" Of course we will, that's the game. "Now, it happened that one day, a good housewife was making bread, and a foolish rodent and his cousin were watching from the wall -"

I puff out my chest and reach up and mash my nose to one side with my finger. Meg's mouth falls open - are you making fun of ME?

"Cousin!" I say. "I'm going to get that bread. Give me my sword!"


Now the way the game works is, each of our characters wants three things. Thing 1: to not be beheaded by the Sultan. Thing 2: to gain our freedom from the Sultan's court. We're leisured, but we're his. Thing 3: to achieve our declared ambition - like Meg's character's ambition to break my character's nose. In order to achieve these three things, we need dice. In order to get dice, as follows:

I declare that I'm interested in seeing something in the current story resolved. I take a die (any die) from the bowl and set it somewhere visible, maybe attaching a note to it if I'm going to have trouble remembering. "I wonder if I'm going to get any bread?"

We keep going just as we were - the die isn't a call for resolution. It sits there waiting while we talk. As we go, Emily and Julia declare their own dice: "I wonder if the housewife is going to kill the rat?" "I wonder if I'm going to get the bread?" "Is there going to be baked rodent by the end of this?"

Meg can't declare any dice, because her character's telling the story. Her job is to get us to declare lots of dice.

Now as the story goes, gradually these questions we've attached dice to are going to be answered. It doesn't matter which way they resolve. I didn't get any bread, for instance; mechanically speaking that's just the same as if I had: I wondered, and now I know. When that happens, I roll the die. Evens, I get it. Odds, Meg gets it. Now you see why she doesn't declare any herself - she gets half of the dice we declare.

As the story of the two rodents and the housewife goes along, we're all pushing for resolution, but none of us minds which way things resolve. We get dice for resolution itself, not for any particular outcomes.


So here's me playing the dancer playing the rat. Julia's midwife's housewife has caught me under a glass bowl and she's looking for a rock to hit me with. (I think I gave her the idea when I declared a die: "does she hit me with a rock?")

"Please please please hit me with a rock. Please!" I'm saying. "Please oh please oh please oh -"

"Okay, okay already - I hit you with the rock!" Julia says.

"I TAKE IT ON THE NOSE!" I say. I pinch my nose. "Oh no! Now nobody will ever love me!" (I roll the die. Odds - Meg gets it. 'Slife.)

Soon Julia has her housewife slip a piece of poisoned date under the bowl with me. She's going for resolution of "does the housewife kill the rat?" of course. But she's also given me the best straight line in the history of straight lines.

"Hooray!" I say, still pinching my nose, not looking at Meg and her "I envy Habib his lovers" swordsman. "Hooray! With this nose, I thought I'd never get a date again!"


The story ends when Meg has Danash end it. We've each built a small pile of dice in front of us, and now it's time to find out how our fortunes fare.

I have 7 dice. Oh, I didn't say - we each started with 5 dice, so over the course of this story I'd added 2 to my pile and a couple to Meg's. Anyway I divvy my 7 between the three things I want: 1) to not get beheaded; 2) to get my freedom; 3) to achieve my ambition. My ambition is to separate Emily's character, the falconer Malika, from her oh-so-famous lover, by the way.

Evens are good. For 1) not getting beheaded, if I roll no evens then I get a big black X. Three Xs and the Sultan has me executed. For 2) getting my freedom, I need to roll 7 evens over the course of the game. For 3) achieving my ambition, I need to roll 5 evens over the course of my game - but the other players can spend their own ambitions down to sabotage mine.

I put 3 dice toward not getting beheaded, and roll 2 evens. The Sultan's not displeased with me. I put 2 dice toward getting my freedom, and roll 1 even. I'm one-seventh of the way to somehow leaving court and becoming my own person. And I put 2 dice toward achieving my ambition, but roll no evens. I'm no closer to breaking up Emily's character and her boyfriend than I was.

The evens go back in the bowl, I keep the odds. I go into the next story with four dice in my pool.

And next we share what we rolled and say what it means. This is just a big free-for-all, which is great.

Julia gets a big black X toward her character getting beheaded! It turns out that the Sultan overhears someone saying the words "Aziza the midwife" and "poisoner" in the same sentence. He looks upon her with suspicion.

Meg gets two evens toward her character achieving his ambition. Which is, breaking my character's nose! Meg says that he's taken to talking shit about my guy in public and to my face. Hmph.

Emily gets an even toward her character achieving her ambition, which is to have a child. She goes to the midwife, who gives her a special tea to drink every night.

And I get my even toward my character's freedom. Julia says that the Sultan's fallen sick, and so doesn't have any attention for dancers.

That's that. Part 2, after the break.


We're back!

The person with the fewest dice left, that person's character is the next storyteller. Emily, as it happens. So she sets the stage: another night, under the moon, the flowers blooming. "This is the story of the hermit and the djinn," she has Malika say. "Habib (that's me), you're the hermit; Danash (that's Meg), you're the djinn; Aziza (that's Julia), you're the river running by the hermit's cave."

It's fun to play a character playing a character. I didn't play the hermit as I would maybe have, but as Habib would - and Habib's a funny guy.

In the story, the djinn was trapped in a bottle in the belly of a terrible man-eating fish who lived in the river. Julia got to play both the fish and the river. My hermit guy needed a bath, and bad - the first die I declared was "do I get a bath?" - but I didn't want to go into the river with the fish in there waiting for me.

The fish and I had a very funny back-and-forth about how it should convert to Islam and stop eating people, eating people being unlawful, but it wouldn't, so I went back into my cave for a year and studied and came out again next winter saying that if it remained a heathen fish then it was lawful for me to eat it, but it pointed out that it had itself eaten the faithful and so I'd be eating them too, second-hand, and surely THAT was unlawful, so I went back into my cave to study and when I came out again the NEXT winter it declared that it had converted and given up its unlawful appetites so I should feel free to come straight into the water and have my bath, but I didn't quite believe it, and I was like "what's this bottle here? I kick it into the water."

In the water it hit a rock and the lead seal broke and the djinn came out. It demanded to know who'd released it, and although I made my case very well, it decided that the river had released it and deserved a wish. For a little while it looked like the djinn was going to side with the fish that IT had opened the bottle, though, which didn't strike me as safe, so I retreated into my cave again.

The river wished to be given the shape of a beautiful woman for one month, so that I'd fall in love with her. So that's what happened. It was the most wonderful month in my hermit's whole life and I declared a die: "does the river get pregnant?"

At the end of the story the river gave birth to a new kind of fish, and I traded my happiest month away to the djinn in order to become a fish myself to raise the baby-fish. This trade of mine broke the heart of the river, though - she wanted me to always remember our love - and gradually she became salt.

I was all downcast. "I never figured out that the woman had been the river!" I said. I said it in Habib's voice - he was commenting on the tragedy of the hermit never knowing. But Meg was RIGHT THERE with Danash's voice: "yes, sometimes these stories, you have to pay some attention and have a wit or two in your head in order to follow them. Keep trying, I'm sure you'll catch up one day."


We all rolled for crap to not get our characters beheaded, that time. Emily, Julia and I each got a black X - Julia's second! We decided that in the Sultan's family legend there was talk of a river-woman, and that he'd heard of this story and felt that we were being quite disrespectful of him and his ancestors. Also I got another even toward my character's freedom and Meg got another even toward breaking my character's nose.


My story next. I set the stage: The Sultan's in a foul mood. A) He's pissed at all of us; B) he's recovering from his illness, but his physicians are still forcing him to rest all the time, so he's impatient and irritable. We're slinking around and here we are in a little room, none of us wanting to go out there into the hallways and courtyards and accidentally meet him.

"I'm going to tell the story," I say, "of the learned scholar of Islam and the lusty young shepherd."

"Oh THAT story," Emily says. You may recall that on my character sheet it says "my ambition is to separate Emily's character from her lover."

"That very story! Now, Aziza [Julia], you'll be the learned scholar of Islam. Malika [Emily], you'll be the lusty young shepherd. Danash [Meg], you'll be his beautiful fiance, a sheep."

OH MY GOD I OWNED THEM. You shoulda seen their faces. Oh lord. I shouldn't laugh so hard at my own jokes I guess but this was FUNNY!

"On this day," I said, "the lusty young shepherd went to the learned scholar of Islam. 'Oh father, oh father,' he said, 'I must marry my fiance, but my family will certainly not allow it! Will you help me?'"

I score ONE ZILLION dice in this story. There's an initial flood: Emily's "is the scholar understanding?" Meg's "is the SHEEP understanding?" Julia's "is the ram understanding?" Emily's "is my family understanding after all?" Then as events progressed, it's like, "does my mother catch me?" "do I get shot stealing my family's prize ewe?" "is the sheep a modest muslim sheep, as yet inviolate?" "do they come to blows over the sheep?" "does the sheep choose me over my uncle?"


It ends with Emily declaring her last die: "having given up on my foolish love for sheep, do I ever find love with one of my own species?"

"No," I say, "you never do. You never do."


We divvy and roll our accumulated dice. Julia, naturally, puts the most of her dice toward not getting her character's head chopped off, and succeeds. Emily wins a couple more evens toward her character achieving her ambition - having a child, recall. Meg wins a couple more evens toward her character achieving his ambition - breaking my character's nose. And I win ... my character's freedom!

Like I said, I'd scored a zillion dice. I put like 10 toward my character's freedom and I won!

So when someone wins, everybody says an epilogue for their own character and the game ends. And something really striking happens.

My character just sort of falls out of the Sultan's notice, I say. A better dancer takes his place and one day he just leaves. Now he's a dancer out in the provinces.

Emily's falconer, Malika, fails to achieve her ambition. Her child's stillborn, Emily says.

Meg says that her swordsman stays close to the sultan - he was the only one who never got a black X. But "he's lucky he left," she has him say. "One of these days, I was going to break his face for him."

Julia's midwife, Aziza, also fails to achieve her ambition, which was to retire somewhere quiet. Her apprentice (whom we established back between Em's story and mine, I think) was attending Malika and failed to do her job well, with tragic results. It had been her apprentice because at the time Aziza was delivering the Sultana of a healthy baby girl. Faced with the contrast, Julia says, the Sultan sees what an asset Aziza is and never ever lets her retire.

I'd never expected, in a million years, that we'd so humanize the characters.

I liked them. My character was the one who made it out, but we sort of had been allies, after all. Now, the next day, they seem even fond to me.

Anyway, striking. That's the game.


Emily Care

This game was incredibly fun. It's certainly the best playtest out the door I've ever been involved in.  There are a couple key things I noticed:

1) You can trust the group to run with your ideas.  Like Meg says, we all have a million ideas in our heads.  We hear them before bed as kids, we read them, watch them, tell them all the time. But often when role-playing we judge them & feel like we have to be "original" or "clever" (yes, I've been reading Johnstone: ) and freeze up if we are called up on to come up with a "story".  But letting you ask, instead of tell, changes that dynamic completely. Instead of having to come up with stuff, we all just could express our interest, what we wanted to know, which lead every story in interesting directions that the originator never would have thought of. In playing, it felt like the game unlocked the flood-gates of our creativity. This leads me to:

2) You don't have to know where things are going for them to go some place great. When it was my turn, I had no idea what to say.  Partly inspired by the discussion of improv going on lately & the book Impro, I just trusted myself & said the first durn things that came out of my mouth: djinn, hermit, river.  The players took these and ran with them, and created this amazing story out of dust & imagination. The mechanics give you a great incentive to take risks, the framing device of a story within a story gives you freedom to not have to come up with "important" things, but just amusing things, passing the time.  And the fact that they are all tales gives you the freedom to bring in aspects of your own narrative heritage that you might otherwise never bring to the table. 

It's just great.  I can't wait to play again!

Koti ei ole koti ilman saunaa.

Black & Green Games