Archive for the ‘Story of the Seed’ Category


Slave to the Inside Light

September 16, 2007

Maybe that’s not how the story of the seed works at all.

Maybe, instead, it is a battle between the stirring darkness and the nameless light:

Every heroic tradition has its Crown, the thing it must be; the drive to claim the heroic crown is urgent and visceral, and its achievement is a moment of exhilarating relief. But it has its Darkness as well, the struggle that follows it forever and ever. The Darkness is not idle, either; it lives and breathes. In its murky viscera, it nurses a plan, an ultimately self-destructive urge that thrashes and mangles everything it can touch. See for instance the Black Peacock Maiden:

Black Peacock Maiden

Crown: I must love and have my love returned. In my world, you are the moon, the air, the sea; nothing matters but us. How will I claim your heart?
Shadow: I will take what I cannot have, and be most desirable to those that are forbidden me; my face will launch a thousand ships. My love has no rules. I will find the love that destroys you.

Every piece-of-god has a core of Light, its bright fountain of truth, and a thing to which it awards its Wreath, to which it is unthinkingly loyal, to which it bends without a flicker of insouciance.

I dunno. The seed is blooming and changing, well see what comes of it.


Wandering through an Endless Palace

September 12, 2007

So, here’s a new way to think about the seed.

Every situation is a tile, a chamber with four doors. It’s the metaphoric place an argument is argued. Each door has a sign, and inside the chamber is a pot of coins. Some chambers have gardens instead, and they don’t have doors or coins, only doorways and wind and water. When you settle a chamber’s argument, it turns into a garden.

You can exit a chamber by passing through one of the doors. To do so, you have to read the sign and produce the emotional key it describes: anger, sacrifice, joy, sadness, whatever. If the sign has nothing written on it, you can decide what to put there. When you leave, put a coin in the pot of coins. The point of this is that it creates emotional inertia in the chamber. Maybe you don’t have to describe your movements unless you are interacting with another character or breaking a door.

You can force a door to which you have no key, but it costs you stars of war, one star for every coin in the pot. This changes the door, inscribes the new emotional key on it based on what you did.

Maybe, if you do what Hungry Darkness wants, you can scatter the pot of coins.

When you pass through a door, you enter the nearest chamber in sight; you can’t pass through a door if you see no chamber. If you enter a garden, you can stop there or you can pass through it, without turning, into the next chamber. But if someone is in the garden, they can stop you, by saying, “Stay and (do something) with me.” Then, you have no choice but to stay, as to go would give affront.

Where do you get your keys? Your hero soul and your pieces-of-god give them to you.


Story of the Seed Play Kit

August 27, 2007

seed-tiles.jpg I decorated some glass mosaic tiles so we can use them to tell stories of the seed; a gap is opening up in our playtest schedule, so I need supplies for it. The rhinestones turned out, in sunlight, to not really have a lot of fire; I think when I get a chance I will find some better ones at the craft shop and remake these.


How to Use Seeds

August 11, 2007

Until now, I haven’t given you anything concrete and procedural you can do with seeds. (See the main document for a brief intro about seeds.) Don’t mistake that as “I haven’t given you anything,” though, because the other stuff is important too. But here’s some thoughts on the purpose of seeds and ways to make them more useful for you.

Seeds are around to serve as a combined brainstorm-in-a-bottle, communication device, record-keeping tool, and setting-bible for your game.

So, a seed record has a number of lines to write things on it. On the big top line, write down the initial concept of the seed. Keep the seed records close at hand, and as you incorporate them, write down the ways in which you used them. A seed doesn’t have to correspond to exactly one thing in the fiction, and the ways you use it don’t have to be completely direct; maybe “a man crowned with lightning” inspires you to include “a knight with armour made of ice”, so then write that down on the seed.

Similarly, when you need to make some element—when you have to add a character to a scene, or set a scene in a new environment, or just embroider an existing element with some more detail, when you create an essence or a picece-of-god—glance over the seeds and see where you can incorporate one or more of them.

If you do this diligently, then your stock of seeds will slowly become a kind of setting bible. Seething bibles are neat!

That doesn’t really explain how seeds are a communication tool, though. So, like, here it is: If someone makes something you think is pretty cool, then you can make it a seed. Maybe you think the ice knight was keen, and so you say, hm, seed that, and later you build it up into a whole brotherhood of ice knights. That’s a specific, ritual message to the creator, “I am intrigued by this particular idea and wish to see it again.”

If you’ve got a seed that’s lain unused for a long time, then you should point it out; after you point it out, if no one starts using it then, you can file it away for a few sessions. Maybe the game’s going in a direction that that seed doesn’t fit in at the moment, or maybe it’s just not very exciting to anyone. Don’t discard it or disbar anyone from using it, but just take stock every so often and see if you can reduce clutter on the table by setting aside the seeds that are less active.


The Ancient Varnams

July 23, 2007

Varnam is a sanctum—the holiest holy of a temple, the emotional centre of a dance, the ritual climax of a story.

In the stories of the seed, all the great arts—dance, music, story, song, and battle—have old varnams passed down from forgotten ages. Almost like living people, they have names and histories, and different kinds of strength and weakness. To possess a great varnam is to have a powerful and unpredictable ally.

I imagine the varnams appearing in play as a character reaches out in desperate effort during a struggle; there is as a thunderclap, and then the world is stilled and silenced by the beauty of this ancient treasure. The four gracious varnams are expressive, undeniable outcries, their power wrapped around a core of pain or crisis, and the savage varnam is the opposite, an exquisite killing whirlpool anchored by its performer’s unshakable peace. In the varnam’s wake there is astonishment, exhaustion, awe, and all manner of deference; it takes something from all of us.

How’s this work in the system? As yet I don’t know, although I do know that a varnam has a name and a purpose—The Rain Walking Back, proof against storms, Pearl-Dropping Fingers, which sows the seeds of war, Scent of Pine & Fire, which makes one pleasing to the eye and ear and nose, River Fortress Rising, a defence against monsters, and others. They may have a subsystem of their own, because they don’t have an obvious implementation to me just now.

Maybe they make an argument become still! The user spends all his stars of war, and in a scene, anyone can spend as many stars as remain there to remove just one. That way, you only ever use it as an extreme last resort, because it means that you’re exhausted and have seriously delayed getting what you want out of the argument too.

I think I’ll actually make a list of the varnams and what you need to do to get them, eventually. This is a part of the game, like the heroic traditions, that I don’t want to leave to chance. Or, like, to players.

(for those of you that can read IPA, that’s pronounced ʋɝɳʌm as far as I can tell.)


The Seed strikes back!

July 9, 2007

Hi Jon! Let’s talk about things!

You’re right, as far as I can tell, about the ancestry of this game. I like having this ‘mythic heritage’ game as a sort of chronicle of where my head-in-design in at any given time, and it’s a lot of fun to pull structural bits out of older games and see how they fit together. Like Legos!

I have to think a lot about those challenges you’ve pointed out, I think, ’cause they aren’t exactly parallel to the challenges I see, and they’re interesting and hard! I’d really like to tackle 3.4 in a serious way; how do you herd creative people so they receive the shakti you are trying to impart to them, while enabling them to bring out the goodness inside them?

Following that, I’m really excited that that section about heroic traditions works for you! It’s hard to let go of formalities and talk in terms of guidelines and blurry thought processes, for lots of reasons; my personal #1 is that it’s hard to trust gamers to follow them. #2’s something like, I have these intuitions, right? It’s a long process dissecting those intuitive leaps into something that is accessible for people that don’t have the Borgstrom weakness (squee!).

Anyway, we’ll catch you next time on Critical Strike, when I post some thoughts about…something. Maybe the avatargame, although I have covered that in earlier posts. We’ll see.


Critical Strike on the Seed

July 8, 2007

So Shreyas and I were talking about picking one day each week, probably on the weekend, to write about each other’s projects instead of our own. We need a name for it. Right now, we’re calling them like: Write About The Other Guy’s Stuff Days, which is lame. Maybe we should just call them Critical Strikes. “Boom, hit you with my constructive criticism! Take that!”

In my head, Story of the Seed is part of a series of Shreyasian designs that includes multiple versions of Torchbearer (the game Shreyas was fiddling with when I first met him on the Forge in 2002) and goes through In Darkness He Is Waiting (PDF draft) and a few other things, like the first time he fiddled with boardgame-like setups in Ninegun Choir (PDF of character sheet).

Now, not to pigeon-hole Shreyas, but here’s the continuities I see between them (this is how I think, partially from my pseudo-academic training, looking for continuities and differences):

  1. Strong focus on aesthetics, both of the game text and, more so, of the rules itself. The rules should seem really pretty when you consider them in your head (or look at their physical representations in character sheets or play objects) as well as being capable of producing neat stuff at the game table.
  2. All of them, I think, reflect Shreyas trying to come to term with or, really, produce an expression of his own mythic heritage, the stories that he grew up with as a kid and young adult. Many of these are about India, but not all of them are, and even the stories about India are not necessarily stories from India, so it’s a very diverse batch.
  3. Many of them are very difficult to play if you are not Shreyas, Mridangam being the classic example. There are multiple reasons for this:
    1. Many of them started out as thought-experiments and have only secondarily become playable games,
    2. Shreyas has a little bit of that Rebecca Borgstom genius that makes it harder for him to communicate his insanely awesome ideas effectively, since sometimes he just thinks orthogonally from other people,
    3. His ornate, poetic writing style (which is awesome and a key part of #1) makes it more difficult for him to convey some of the subtleties and specific details that he has in mind, and, most significantly of all,
    4. His projects really demand that players take initiative and ownership of the game (making it their game and not Shreyas’ game) and put a fair bit of effort into making it work, since he really wants people to grab this stuff and run with it (though he has specific directions in mind for them to run in).

#3 above is basically a list of what I think Shreyas’ main challenges are, as a designer, and most of them involve being able to effectively communicate his desires for the game to prospective players. His last post, Using Heroic Traditions is a great example of him making it work. There, he is really up front about the limits of his ability to tell players what he wants them to do. He says:

    I can’t really tell you obvious, visceral ways to do this, because the traditional conflicts are very inward-turning, so instead I’ll give you strategies.

And then he gives examples of the kinds of things he wants players to do. Which is totally hot. Who needs hard rules when you have examples and guidelines? If you teach people how to do something, then they don’t really need rules, since they have some idea of what the result should look like and can keep aiming for it. I honestly think this kind of writing/design may be a really cool thing for him to explore further.  It enables him to put forth beautiful ideas for other people to riff off of, instead of going into complex explanations.  Surely the former is also more fun, no?

Anyway, there’s some initial thoughts. Maybe next week I can talk about why Minotaur excites me so much.