Sunday night was Crystal's birthday party. Her actual birthday is April 14, but for any number of reasons, we couldn't put together her party until then. It went really well, by the way. Lots of food and friends. Plus, shrimp!
So, at the end of the night, a few of us were left, having done cleanup duty, and it was time to bust out a game. There had been food, there had been drink, and 1001 Nights seemed like a convivial way to end the night.
I suggested, Crystal approved, and we were off to the races. Despite being interrupted a couple of times by children with nightmares...or something...I'd say that the game was a success.
Here are our characters:
Malika the Sultan's new wife
Played by Crystal
Smell—like sweet fruit
Taste—Trained in high taste
Touch—soft like baby's skin
Clothing—Royal rich satin white and pink kaftan and face veil
Rashid for his freedom to come and go and by respected
Amira for being loved and respected for her talents instead of her appearance
Melia for being wise and understanding people and the world
Ambition—to see the world
Melia the seamstress
Played by Raquel
Hearing—I overhear conversations where no one realizes I'm there
Sight—I'm often not seen even when I'm in plain sight
Smell—I love the smell of flowers
Taste—I have simple tastes
Touch—I have sensitive fingers
Clothing—a light gray thob'ob
Rashid for being noticed when he walks past
Malika for her beauty
Amira for being surrounded by friends
Ambition—to gain social recognition at court
Rashid the Captain of the Guard
Played by Seth
Hearing—I jingle because I always wear mail
Sight—All the women watch me as I walk by
Smell—I smell of oil and sweat
Taste—I love the taste of pistachios
Touch—My hands are rough from many hours of weapons drill
Clothing—a turban wrapped around a spiked helm
Malkia for her cultured upbringing
Melia for her calm, unhurried life
Amira for her infectious laugh
Ambition—to become a famous artist
Amira the Sultan's food taster
Played by Gabrielle
Sight—I am a pleasant, round person
Smell—I smell of a kitchen
Taste—Epicurean taste. I delight in good food.
Touch—Soft and smooth
Clothing—bright orange head veil with jewels dangling by my face
Rashid for the respect he has
Malika for the adoration she has
Melia for the skill she has
Ambition—to make this palace renowned for its fine food
We really enjoyed the character creation system. It's all Color, but it's really good Color. Personally, I think the Envies are the crowning achievement of the game. Not only do they give context to our Courtiers' interactions, they are also a subtle method by which all the other players can add detail to my character. Of course, as I stressed last night, the Envies don't necessarily reflect reality, but they do reflect each character's perception of reality. Sometimes, that's more important.
The Unfolding Stories
Actual game play was a hoot. Next time, I would like to start earlier to allow for more time spent in the Court. As it was, we probably spent half of our time playing out Court scenes and the other half playing through stories. This was actually a bit different from what I was expecting. I was thinking that this would be more like Baron Munchausen, where the noble storytellers are really just an excuse for the stories to exist. In 1001 Nights, the Courtiers really are the main characters.
So, our unfolding story ended up centering on Malika, the Sultan's newest wife. In retrospect, I think that the other courtiers were all trying to position themselves as her closest friend. I don't even think that there was malice in it. Well, except maybe for Rashid. He definitely had a thing for Malika.
As we worked through the events that happened at court, we gradually found ourselves developing a rivalry between Rashid and Amira. At one point, Rashid even had his men instigate a brawl in the kitchens, thus attacking Amira's Ambition. I think that Rashid thought Amira was the one getting him in trouble with the Sultan (he racked up two reprimands; one more would have finished him). In fact, I think that we decided that Melia was the one who was passing word back to the Sultan.
The storytelling was fairly easy, once we actually started doing it. The suggestion of starting off with a nursery rhyme or fairy tale that you already knew was really helpful. By the time that you give the situation a desert feel (e.g. Little Red Riding Hood turned into the story of the Red-Veiled Girl and the Desert Jackal) and assigned characters, you had already deviated from the original story enough that you weren't just retelling the story.
Plus, betting Gems was really neat. Something that we started figuring out as we went is that there are essentially no dumb Gems. Because the Gem resolves when the event happens or when it conclusively doesn't happen, the Gems provided guidance by either "attracting" the story by players trying to make the event happen or by "repelling" the story by players trying to avoid that event. The more Gems, the better.
I also liked the gamey nature of storytelling. I liked how the GM could pay to interrupt the story as a tactical move. In fact, of the three stories that we told, two of them were interrupted in this way: one because the GM had gotten really far ahead, and the other because the GM was getting left in the dust. This played well in the larger fiction as well.
Roleplaying games as party games
Of late, I've been thinking about roleplaying games that fit into different time and commitment slots than the traditional "one-shot" or "campaign" models. 1001 Nights seems to fit this mold. In general, the rules are few, and they can be taught as the game is played. Since character creation is entirely Color, there's no need to explain strategy at the beginning of the game, making it quite accessible for new players. In fact, I would be interested in giving this game a whirl as the central event of a party. It would probably be a simple matter to stage, and it could be a lot of fun. The forthcoming A Penny for My Thoughts by Paul Tevis would qualify here as well.
So, I'm curious. Are there other games available that fit into this mold?
1001 Nights doesn't seem to get a lot of love on the Internet. It's not that it's a bad game. Actually, it's because it's a good game. It was a fun, relaxing, non-controversial way to spend an evening. It's hard to say much more than "We had fun!" But that seems to be a ringing endorsement to me.
Oh, and by the way, did everyone notice that I did roleplaying and there was nothing controversial? Yeah, it can happen.
It has been a long time since I last played (it was with the beta rules) and you're perfectly right, there was this "we had great fun! no point talking more about it" feeling.
There was a little controversial tone to play, as one of the characters at court was an imprisoned homosexual crusader. We had an obscene scene or the other, but we never really did anything about the issues of religion, polygamy and homosexuality that we would have been confronted with if we had played Dogs or Dirty Secrets for example. The player of the crusader was quite successful though, if I recall correctly. Maybe controversy can be played upon to attract player attention and make a bit of easy slapstick humour.
I need to play 1001 Nights again soon, thanks for the lovely and inspiring write-up!
For party games, try out Eero's Zombeja! Ovella! My brother and I have successfully played it in under two hours (definitely in under three) on a few accounts and it's great for 4-6 players. You can even give a die to additional "spectators" without main characters, who lend it to whoever they feel should have it and do some little narration from time to time. You can easily organize a zombie or horror night around a game of this and perhaps a movie or a halloween party.
I have the same response: wow, that sounds great! Next time I write a game, I'll try to make it hard to play and controversial and all that.
Two quick things I want to highlight, though.
QuoteAs it was, we probably spent half of our time playing out Court scenes and the other half playing through stories. This was actually a bit different from what I was expecting.
Yes! Don't skimp on or skip over the Court scenes! If you do, you're missing a big chunk of the game. The opening Court scenes establish the Courtiers relationships, and if you're stingy with them, there's not nearly as much to go on in terms of pointed attacks in the Story level.
QuoteI also liked the gamey nature of storytelling. I liked how the GM could pay to interrupt the story as a tactical move. In fact, of the three stories that we told, two of them were interrupted in this way: one because the GM had gotten really far ahead, and the other because the GM was getting left in the dust. This played well in the larger fiction as well.
Excellent. That last part, about the interruptions feeding into the fiction, is a big part of how the fiction can move forward. We've had games where weeks and months pass between Stories, because the interruptions have moved the fiction forward into increasingly tense political situations in Court.
For other party games, don't miss Psi Run by Chris Moore, and Julia Ellingboe's got a new one in the works that's really a doozy. Look for hers at GenCon 08, and hopefully Chris's too.
We played Psi Run once and it was a ridiculous amount of fun. I'd definitely put 1001 Nights in the same category.
I truly enjoyed how the stories the Courtiers told ended up being metaphors for what was going on in court. In one story Amira's character kept trying to form an alliance with Melia's character against Rashid's character. In another story Rashid's character, the Desert Jackal, and Amira's character, the Grandmother, were fighting over the Melika's character, the Red-Veiled Girl. Crystal intentionally slipped at one point and Melika said something totally out of character to Amira.
I would love to play this game again. I only figured out the Gems about half-way through and I think I could do way better next time.
Seth- No, we didn't deal with anything controversial, but the story still revolved around marriage, sex and babies. We still couldn't break free from our common role-playing orbit, but I blame Crystal for that :-)