Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Roleplaying Poetry

So, why have I spent my time blogging these ideas, rather than writing rules and playtesting? Well, I have to wait a bit. Willem has gone on a little trip, so the Myth Weavers will have to wait until he gets back before we playtest Ben Robbins' game, Microscope. I want to play The Fifth World's history! When we finish, I'll have the story of how a globalized history fragmented into bioregional histories that we can only speak of in the plural. I'll have lots of good ideas, great scenes, and a breakdown of major periods will pass through.

See, I got Nørwegian Style last week. As I'd hoped, the book has proven full of great ideas to inspire the kind of play I want from The Fifth World. It did leave me with the disappointment of learning that "roleplaying poems" don't actually come in poetic form. They just provide short, intense play. But, I've taken some inspiration from an experimental and somewhat incomplete game called Virtue as well, to consider some other possible meanings of the phrase, "roleplaying poem."

Nørwegian Style had other ideas for me, though. The first game in the anthology, Matthijs Holter's Fuck Youth!, includes reading the rules as part of play. In fact, reading this game moved me all by itself.

That night, I had one of those wonderful, sleepless nights, the kind where you can't sleep because the ideas just keep coming, each one more exciting than the last.

Naturally, not everyone in The Fifth World thinks of the collapse of civilization the same way. I thought of an isolated order of monkish scholars maintaining a library, partly inspired by the monks of the Dark Ages, partly homage to A Canticle for Liebowitz. The book you hold in your hands never breaks character. It presents itself as something like, "The Fifth World, With the Commentary of the Scholars of the Distant Halls." "The Fifth World" here refers to well-known, old poem. I can imagine an introduction that begins says things like this: "It seems that every land has its own version of this poem. We hear of performances lasting hours, or even days, though the text itself cannot possibly last this long. Many scholars, after studying the text and witnessing oral performances, believe the poem provides a framework for storytelling, rather than a text entirely unto itself."

I can layout the book like a Talmud: the poem itself on the inside, with commentary, explaining the rules in simpler language but written like the interpretations of these monks, in the outer margins. Like Holter's game, you read the poem as part of the performance—and here I get to why I've hit a snag in writing the game. It needs a good pedagogy of play and good warm-ups that help tell the creation story. This becomes even more important if you have to set scenes at places you know. Our Microscope game will give me historical periods that every land goes through; that gives a structure to the creation stories, and a structure to developing the places where you set the scenes.

I think reading the poem will help set the tone, create a good flow for the game, and establish a good pedagogy of play all at once. It also makes the book interesting in and of itself. That one I'd keep short, as the most generic version of the poem, kept by the monks. It would end with an invitation, asking his brothers to record the versions of the poem in other lands and send them back to the library for study and preservation. That neatly sets the stage for a series of land-specific books, like, "The Fifth World, as Recited in the Restless Land." It would include the different variations (like bead colors) relevant to that land, but also include notes and illustrations for the brotherhood about life in that land.

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