You were murdered… by someone else on the ship, or perhaps by your own hand? You can’t remember. You remember the Queen… whether you loved her, hated her, or (more likely) both, you still remember her. But your last thought as you died was of something else, something you can’t quite remember. That elusive memory that won’t come is what brought you back–you need to remember and you need to find it. It’s not just a need, but a NEED strong enough to bring you back.
You come back to the strangely muted sensation of seabirds pecking at your half-rotted flesh. You brush them off and stand. The seabirds perch around the ship or circle overhead, cutting the still night with forlorn cries.
There are other bodies on the deck. Some may have risen before you and others are just rising. You know you should remember them and all kinds of strange, muted feelings and half-memories flutter through you as you look at them. One of them murdered you, you think, and you think you murdered one or more of them first. Why? You can’t remember.
Around you and your… companions?… is the crew, all half-rotted, too. You don’t remember if they are the same crew, but you suspect not. Unlike you and the other newly risen, the zombie crew silently goes about their duties, paying little attention to you. Looking at them fills you with a nameless dread, so you look away.
There’s a star in the sky. It’s the only star in the sky (you don’t think that’s the way it should be, but you can’t quite remember), but it burns bright and baleful… and alluring. The star stirs up your longing, your NEED. Somehow you just know that the star is pointing the way back home (whatever that is), back to where your NEED can be satisfied.
And so begins play.
Some Notes on How Play Will Look…
What CHARACTERS are doing in the game is recovering their memory and all the HUMANITY, DESIRES, and traits that go along with it, then trying to remove the curse (or perhaps turn it to their own ends).
What PLAYERS are doing is simultaneously building new relationships between their characters and the other characters on the ship in the PRESENT while using FLASHBACKS to create often contradictory relationships from the past and to create their past DESIRE.
Basically, a “relationship map” and the character’s driving goals are discovered in play–and they will often contradict with what has been played out in the PRESENT before that. It’s likely (and fun) that two characters might be becoming friends, then right in the middle of a cooperative bid to get a mutual goal, one of them remembers that they hated the other character and that their “friend” murdered them in cold blood….
Flashbacks as Conflicts…
It’s also worth mentioning that your character’s past is not completely in your hands. All flashback scenes are conflicts with other characters and those characters benefit from twisting your character in a way they can use (more below) while you want to to make your past most useful to yourself.
It’s established that their old characters were bad people. Part of the question of the game is what happens when their zombies (who are more than just a continuation of their pre-death selves) begin recovering those memories. They have a lot to feel guilty for. It hurts. But at the same time, remembering and dealing with those is central to play (and how you gain narrative power in the game and how you resolve the curse ultimately).
FLASHBACKS are always a conflict between you and at least one other character. I’ll talk more about the details later, but they stand to gain by twisting your background into giving them handholds to control or manipulate your character (such as weaknesses, griefs, sources of guilt, phobias, etc.) while you want to turn the flashback to give you the same kind of handholds to control them. This is played out in the FLASHBACK, but has mechanical benefits in the PRESENT. It also has mechanical benefits in further FLASHBACKS.
Those benefits in the PRESENT are important because you have to overcome other characters to take many types of actions. The standard types of actions you can take against another character are “Gain Power” over them to get what you want, “Hurt/Repel” them to keep yourself safe from them, or “Connect” with them to try and change those handholds and relationships from the past into something different.
Some Facets of the System…
Every player has a NEED. At the start of play, the players decide on a single, brief image of a person, place, or thing. That’s it. You don’t say what it means or how it fits in yet. It’s fine for the players to have some rough ideas of where they think their NEED will go, but they should stay flexible becasue play can take the story in interesting directions. Below are some examples of NEEDS:
- A young girl playing in a garden
- A gem-encrusted golden chalice
- A humble, but well-maintained cottage in the country
- A simple golden band
- A beautiful man laughing
- A cold fireplace
The NEED itself is a palpable force within the character and is separate from the object of the NEED.
The NEED will develop in play (for example, the first time the NEED is brought into a FLASHBACK, there’s some benefit to the character invoking it). Over time, it will be fleshed out. It’s important to note that the starting image isn’t necessarily the NEED itself–it’s often an image. (For example, the gem-encrusted chalice above could be a religious symbol showing a deisrefor faith, something the character saw through a window as a starving child that became the symbol of his drive for wealth and his dedication never to be hungry again, or it could have been on the mantle place and it stuck in his head the first time he made love to his now-dead wife, representing that lost love). That’s part of the reason to avoid getting too locked on what it means early on.
But the NEED is a mindless, gnawing thing. In order to have the volition to act, the characters need to develop and remember their DESIRE. This more goal-oriented, specific, focused wanting gives the characters the volition to act. It’s their power in encounters.
DESIRE is gained both through flashbacks and through the emerging relationships being developed in the PRESENT. I expect DESIRE to be a score that changes over the course of the story. A higher DESIRE score gives significantly higher narrative control (specifically, a higher chance to win cnoflicts). It is also used to help get your way in both the FLASHBACK timeline and teh PRESENT timeline.
Like I mentioned above, the characters don’t have most their memories yet. They have to earn and recover them in play (through flashbacks). As they recover memories, they also recover their HUMANITY, which in this case is not their “innate goodness” or anything like that, but rather all the complexities, memories, relationships, fears, desires, and failures of the past.
In fact, since the events that took right before the start of play are the players murdering each other, it’s pretty clearly not going to be pretty as they begin to remember.
But regaining memory and the resulting HUMANITY is the only way to take any kind of action–the other players, the crew, the seabirds, even the possible off-ship encounters all require memory and HUMANITY to know how to act, how to get a fingerhold on another character, how to manipulate, beg, or persuade others, etc.
Now that I’m getting a feel for how I want the game to run, I’ll start working on the actual mechanics….
Note that all names of facets of the system are working names and subject to change. Also, all systemnotes above are rough and likely to change signficantly when I start working out the details of the system.