Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Across the Endless Sea: Introduction (#1)

When I was around 11, my mother brought me a compiled edition of C. S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia.

It was a thing of beauty: tall and hardbound, and very heavy indeed to my child’s hands. The front cover was blazoned with a watercolour map of Narnia, giants marching and Aslan’s great head peering out at me. I must have read it a dozen times cover-to-cover as a child, my insatiable hunger for fantasy latching on to the world presented within.

I loved all of the Narnia books, but my favourite was the Voyage of the Dawn Treader.

These days my relationship to Narnia, and Lewis’ work, is more complicated. The sheer transparency with which he parallels Christian motifs and symbols I find jarring; his treatment of Susan (and Lucy) I find uncomfortable. But still, I find a magic in reading about the Dawn Treader’s voyage across the sea into the East: about the islands encountered along the way and the mermaid kingdoms just below the surface of the ocean. 

It’s a magic that’s far from unique to C. S. Lewis, of course.

The closing chapters of A Wizard of Earthsea, as Ged departs to chase his shadow and sails the Archipelago, have the same wonder (as do parts of its sequel The Farthest Shore).

Terry Brooks’ trilogy The Voyage of the Jerle Shannara spends the first and third books telling of an airship voyaging across strange and distant seas, sailing amidst the clouds and stopping at strange and enchanted islands, and captures the same essence.

The ancient Irish folktales of Immrama concerned the same motifs, as do animated films like Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas and Kubo and the Two Strings.

Even works like Moby Dick and its many cousins have something of the quality in question about them.

There is a long and proud tradition in storytelling of this motif: the surreal fantastical voyage across uncharted and dream-like seas. Bizarre creatures lurking in the deeps below, savage weather raking the deck, islands and impossible encounters delaying the journey’s progress.

And so, Across the Endless Sea

Across the Endless Sea is a storygame, a collaborative experience for up to five players chronicling the voyage of the People (as they call themselves) through the Endless Sea.

I’m going to be chronicling the design process publically here on this blog, opening the refinement of this inchoate game up to outside scrutiny and hopefully starting a dialogue of commentary and feedback that will allow me to make this game better, stronger, and stranger than I could have on my own.

Mechanics-wise, I’m going to be borrowing from the Playbook/Move structure of Vincent Baker’s Apocalypse World, and the innovation of having each player take on both a protagonist and an aspect of the story’s antagonism from Avery Alder’s Dream Askew.

My goal is to create a game that captures that feeling of wonder and dream-like reverie that I loved in Voyage of the Dawn Treader as a child.
  • I want it to be GMless, not least so that I actually get a chance to play it (unlike anything else I write).
  • I want it to be inspiring, the text capturing a mood to put the players in the game’s tone and mood.
  • I want it to be invisible, a framework that helps create great stories and guides creativity in organic and unobtrusive ways.
  • I want it to play with ideas of collaboration and opposition in RPGs/storygames, allowing fluid movement between the roles of environment and explorers.
  • I want it to leave a space open for groups to shape their emotional landscape: longing, or bittersweet, or joyous, or desperate, as the group deems appropriate.
  • I want to be able to release it for first-stage playtesting on my Patreon by the end of April.

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