Sunday, August 16, 2009

Latest & Greatest

I finally have some time to work, and not a moment too soon. I just sent in my registration to run two playtests of the Fifth World at GASPcon X. I actually hope to help really bring a significant indie presence to that con this year, but more on that later. For now, I need to get a set of working rules, so I can get to playtesting! I watched Ten Canoes, and it occurred to me that a post pulling together everything I hope to achieve here might help me focus my efforts.

After reading Nørwegian Style, I took some inspiration from Matthijs Holter's game, Fuck Youth! which introduced me to the idea of reading the rules as part of play. I like that idea. It plays into the "pedagogy of play" idea that Willem & I have spent so much time experimenting with. It also reminds me of oral tradition, where you have a combination of very rigid, conservative structure, along with extemporaneous restyling, because the structure allows, even demands it. Having a recitation involved as part of play, with play taking place in response to the reading, gives you that combination.

So long as we have something we need to read, why not make it beautiful? Why not use that to set the tone? I want to give a new meaning here to the term "roleplaying poem." I also like the idea that Paul Tevis used in A Penny For My Thoughts, making the game rules themselves an in-setting artifact. I imagine the rules written as this poem written either now or perhaps a generation from now, trying to evoke the new world, copied by an order that mimics Dark Age monks who add illuminations, as well as their scholarly commentary in the margins, making it look almost like a medieval Talmud. That could provide a vehicle for presenting the different regions, too; the poem differs slightly in different regions, and this isolated brotherhood sends out the call for their members to collect these regional variations, along with notes from their field work, and send them back to the order's headquarters. I always had the notion of an anthropologist's field notes stuck in the back of my mind, actually; and it seems like it might fit into the idea of showing a setting, like James Gurney's Dinotopia or Will Huygen and Rien Poortvliet's Gnomes.

But that will come later. To start playtesting, I need that poem. How to write it? For local variations, I'd love to make it bleed local poetic traditions, maybe even reflect some of that "rhythm and lilt of the local soundscape, tales for the tongue, tales that want to be told" that David Abram writes about (1997:274), though I have my doubts as to whether I can really rise to that challenge. But hey, I made this open source for a reason—precisely for those parts I knew I couldn't achieve on my own! For the first iteration, I think I'll go classical—as in the classical epics. Open with an appeal to the muse—and just like John Milton turned the muse for Paradise Lost into the Holy Spirit, I'll look to the genius loci for my muse (a touch I really appreciated at the beginning of Terrance Mallick's most recent film, The New World).

If someone of our age wanted to write a great epic, what would they choose expect iambic pentameter, trying to echo the rhythm of Shakespeare? Naturally, I'll need to write it at least in e-prime—and e-primitive, as much as possible.

The poem will start off with the creation story—a quick, poetic overview of how the Fifth World came to pass, and hitting on the major themes. Then, it starts creating characters, around the table (sunwise, or clockwise, though that will vary by region—for instance, the Haudenosaunee dance counter-clockwise), from youngest to oldest. I don't want to talk too much about the rules here, especially since I want to leave that much open to adapt on as I write.

Hmmm, have I set enough restrictions for myself here?

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