Bring Out Your Dead: Eulogies II

A few more games from the Bring Out Your Dead jam for games unfinished and abandoned, spoken of briefly.

The Jewel of Alithia (Celia).  This is a treasure-hunt piece in a very light, child-friendly vein. There’s a puzzle that involves rescuing a kitten; an angry goose poses a significant obstacle. The difficulty of play seems about right for that audience, too. The title suggests the kind of high-fantasy which generally involves jagged-mountains-and-wiggly-river worldbuilding, but this is mostly absent; you’re an AFGNCAAPish adventurer poking around a sorta-medieval castle, making friends who help you. (I am very keen on parser games where your crucial verbs work through allies.)

undervillageUnder the Village (Laura Michet). A Le Guin-ish piece of social SFF; the protagonist is an amphibious fish-person in a river-delta world. The granularity is kind of at a Choice of Games-style arc, a career or a lifetime. (The author describes it as bildungsroman, which of course makes me want to name this genre of CYOA a bildungswahl.) The writing has a first-draft feel to it, but the storytelling’s confident and I am hungry for more details about this culture. (Also, that cover / background art is highly effective at supporting the setting.)

Prince Prospero (Bruno Dias; one of two storygames). A powered-by-the-Apocalypse storygame based on the Poe story Masque of the Red Death. The standard line is that Powered by the Apocalypse games should be driven by scarcity: of security, of resources, of emotional support, the proportions depending on your themes. Masque is very much a story about privileged people desperate to reclaim their newly-imperiled security.

The roles all have names which strongly code their culture: the Hunter is Germanic, the Medic’s Muslim, the Protege and Cleric Italian, the Convict a decidedly-medieval French (perhaps Occitan?) This is a useful shorthand for characterisation – not to mention a very Gothic one – because we’re all somewhat familiar with the tropes of national character in Renaissance/Enlightenment Europe – Germans are rough, melancholy and practical, Italians cultured, corrupt, decadent and effete, French hot-blooded radicals. (7th Sea does something similar.) Anyway, these are good names. I am a sucker for trawling name-lists, particularly historical name-lists, and pulling out the really good ones; and Bruno has done a very fine job of it.

I liked that just at the point where I was going ‘hmm, so these characters are cool but I’m not really sure how I would structure play’, the document comes up with some very clear structural elements.

I really like the list of pre-rolled NPCs and their motivations. It is not a new idea, but I haven’t seen an example explicitly included in an actual game before, and I am totally stealing it. Anyway, I am super-tempted to run this, even though I have way too many things that I want to run and too few opportunities.

Stepchild (Hanon Ondricek). One of the things about StoryNexus that this really brings home: the way that SN notifies the player of changes in state is pretty disorienting if you do very much of it, and the many clickthroughs also enforce a slow pace that makes it harder to get your bearings. It’s very noisy; a lot of mechanics are displayed well before you have a sense of what they mean, a lot of effects interrupt you mid-action. I get the sense that this wants to be disorienting, but a lot of my previous experiences with Hanon’s games have run afoul of – well, my experience is that his games are interestingly distinctive but I usually can’t entirely grok what the intent is.

I don’t quite grok where this is going, either. There’s a sort of Gormenghastish vibe of a decrepit monarchy attended by scuttling servants, with moments of wacky slapstick shading into grotesque. The protagonist has a childlike perspective despite being adult or close to it, and is looked down upon by his family; there’s clearly something going on with his mental development, but he seems to acquire and shed phobias almost at random, so I’m not sure how seriously I’m meant to read it. I feel as though we’re working with the simple-third-son trope here; this seems like a tricky thing to do sympathetically, and I’m not sure that it’s there yet.

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