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Story of the Seed

Falling Piece by Piece

Once, there was war. The gods turned against one another; they pulled the sun from her station, disarranged the seasons in their order, lifted the mountains, upstirred the sea; all the elements of nature were taken in divine hand and made into instruments for creating death.

Once, there was terror. As the gods fought in heaven, mankind in their caves and huts and tents and shining cities said, “This cannot be sustained,” and they went into hiding. The war continued, and piece by piece, the gods were broken, and piece by piece they fell from the sky.

Once, there was silence. The war was over. Every god had been torn to pieces. A wind blew from the east to the west, carrying nothing on it, no smoke of ill omens, no flocks of ravens, fat from the battlefields. The wind was cool and clean, and to smell the wind, mankind came out.

We were the first, you and I and the others, the ones who stepped forth into the new world with no one’s shadow in front of us. We are ordinary children of our peoples, ordinary men and women with ordinary things to do and ordinary things to love and ordinary things to hope for, but now we have become something more, because we chose to be the first.

We are the heirs to the world-that-was-broken. Piece by piece, we gather it up. Piece by piece, we will rediscover and rebuild the world our ancestors made great. Perhaps, piece by piece, we can build a new world, a world without wars.

I tell you this because you must know, and I know you have forgotten. Every day you forget, when that piece-of-god you carry flickers strange colours in the light of dawn and your eyes go all strange and distant. Every day, I tell you this story, and it never gets any easier.

It hurts my heart, because we used to be friends, but now you have a piece-of-god, and it has turned you into something else, and I cannot take it away from you. It is too precious and the price it exacts is too dear.

I am sorry.

What is the story of the seed?

Story of the Seed is something that has been brewing in my mind, in many forms, for many years. This is one way to approach it! I want it to be a kind of heroic, mythopoetic, meditative thing, sort of in the vein of those character-exploratory novels from the near past—The Secret Garden, maybe? The Enchanted Castle too—but set in a lush world of classical times.

There’s a really intense vision of setting I have here that is very hard for me to express directly, so instead, I’m approaching it in a self-consciously Simmy way, laying down the systems of the game as ‘laws of physics’ for how the world works. The rules for pieces-of-god and incarnation, and the seven-and-seven heroic traditions, are a crucial part of this. More than any other systems, they make this into a specific setting; the rest of the rules are there to construct a form of fiction. I’m not sure what that form is, yet; it’s cinematic and mannered, this I know, and maybe it’s the form of a dramatic TV series or a kung fu movie, but I’m not sure yet. I’d like to believe it can be a novel if you handle it right.

The thing I’m trying to describe with pieces-of-god is sort of like Hindu monopolytheism—the pieces-of-god are only windows with which we can see the entire god, the nameless light. They are radiant symbols, which combine and recombine to form a myriad of lesser gods, but we recognise that, deep down, they are aspects of a greater being, and changing one changes the whole.

Meanwhile, the incarnation rules make Pokémon and angels; that is what the gods of this mythology look like, unruly agglomerations of sensation that are barely wrestled into comprehension by the human mind. They should be dazzling, in every sense of the word: a little brilliant, a little shocking, like a sudden burst of sunshine or a blow to the head.

The seven-and-seven heroic traditions tell you something about the central characters of this game. They are not unblemished! Instead, each one is a house built around a hearth of confusion and pain. It’s this core of suffering that propels them to action; it’s the stirring darkness. They’re also strongly gendered with reference to our culture and mythology, but permitted to characters of either gender, as an avenue to explore that. Liam’s Facing the Beast is another take on artists-as-creative force; a key principle in both games is that characters choose suffering by pursuing their creative nature; they can choose to escape it, but by doing so, they forfeit the ability to do anything valuable in the world, or anything beautiful.

This is a game for three to seven players, who will tell each other a story about rebuilding their cultures in the ashes of a broken world.

Sources and Inspirations

These are some things that give you a touch of this game’s visual and mythic language:

  • Facing the Beast: game by William Burke. Another look at the terrible price of being an artist.
  • Gilgamesh: I feel like this nearly goes without saying.
  • Juuni Kokki: A classic “another world” story, this is a great source for fantastical Chinese-esque costuming and beautiful, intriguing monsters.
  • Okami: console game by Clover. The contrast between spiritual and human here, and the rich constancy of the visual style…
  • Ramayana: It’s a wilderness story! This is a digestible slice of epic India, and a good look at what happens when you are exiled from civilisation.
  • Riddlemaster: trilogy by Patricia McKillip. “Some of her ancestors were crows.” The casual but unearthly attitude toward the supernatural here is something worth exploring.
  • Spirited Away: The gods in this story, with their unearthly shapes and needs, are just the sort of thing you’re shooting for here.

This is really only a tiny tiny subset of the things that coloured this game and predecessors over the years.

The Setting

You will do a lot of the creation that establishes details of the setting for your own stories of the seed, but I will give you a starting point.

When I envision the story of the seed, I see vistas. I see a world of wood and water—jungles floored with mist, mossy meadows webbed by rivers, great creaking wooden monasteries with curving roofs, their walls as grey as the sky. In the devil-taiga to the north, everything is implacably green, from the branches to the needle-covered earth to the mossy stones and trunks of trees. Farther south are the survivors of the war, and their country is green too, but it’s relieved by the blue and white of water and the startling colours of flowers: vermillion, saffron, amethyst, mango, incarnadine, black, lime. In this part of the country, the birds sing out their names and ivory-crowned deer browse among the ruins of ancient times. Still farther is the sea of grass, always golden like ripe wheat, where one can just glimpse the horse people, with their steeds and garments the colours of leather and umber and ochre.

I see a people with black hair, brown skin, many-coloured eyes. Those who live in the monasteries rarely speak above a whisper, not for the quiet, but because they are peaceful. They are musicians; they play the flute and the harp, the sitar and tambura, many kinds of drums. They are singers and dancers. I can hear the distant thumping of feet on a hollow wooden stage, the crash of ankle bells in opposition to the beat of a drum. I can hear the snapping of flags in a cool wind. I can hear the sizzling of kebabs over a fire, smell the smoke and ginger.

The people in stories of the seed are young and strong. They are wrapped in silks like tropical birds, their ears are heavy with gold and pearls. Their skin is smooth and their hands are soft and painted in patterns. These aren’t the only people in the stories of the seed, but the stories are about them, the free and beautiful. The ugly, sick, bound, and old are only footnotes in their tales. They are learned too, and accomplished, because that is how priests and artists are.

Too, the people of the story of the seed aren’t just people like we are people; their experiences mark them, and their loyalties change them. They develop markings that show their connection to the earth. Coming from the south, a rider woman might always have grass seeds in her hair. A man from the shore might forever leave sandy footprints. A hawkmistress has golden, unblinking eyes. A firetender’s hands are always black and ashy. They can leave their lands, but their lands will not give them up.

I have talked about a war that brought down the world. I think it was long and long ago, but only now are the pieces-of-god coming to light; you could play a game just after the devastation, but it would be very different, a story of waters returning rather than a story of blooming seeds. But in the game as I see it now, humanity has had time to re-settle and re-build, but not to exult in its station; our clothes are sumptuous but poorly cut, our houses great but undecorated and cold. The story of the seed is a story about turning survival into comfort.

Less lyrically, when I’m thinking of the seed I’m thinking about a romanticised northern India, where the mountains and tea plantations are, where the clouds roll down the rocky Himalaya foothills like slow waterfalls, where tigers prowl among the pipal trees. The sun is cool and bright, and the wind is slow, playful, and delicately scented as it passes over the rooftop gardens of plantationers and petty kings.

What You Need

The Garden Board

The garden of argument - a gameboard

You need a copy of the garden board to play. You also need two matching pawns per character (below); one will move around in the garden, while the other will sit on a constellation, keeping a running tally of how many stars-of-war (below) the character has. Start at the tip of the banner and move inward. You’ll need about thirty coins, too.

Lastly, you’ll need one or more argument sheets. Each argument sheet is divided into four, to record the arguments situated in the four quarters of the garden.

Records

For each character you will also need a character record. When you print these out, you get two per letter-size sheet. Simply cut along the middle to separate them. You’ll need pencils to write on the character records, and a collection of small tokens that can fit inside the spots.

You’ll also need a collection of records for pieces-of-god and essences. They’re like character records, but smaller. These come four to a sheet. Print out like two sheets of each and you’ll be set for a while.

Finally, you’ll need some records for seeds. Again, these are four to a sheet; you’ll see how many you need as you start to set up.

Always be prepared to print out new records, or carry some spares to each game.

Getting Started

Seeds

Begin by brainstorming a handful of images you would like to see in the game. They can be any sort of thing: Characters, monsters, places, events, &c., so long as they are visually powerful things that characters may be able to engage with.

You won’t necessarily use all of these immediately, or even soon, but you’ll keep a stock of them on the seed records, so you’ll always have them as a supply of things to see and do.

When you have a set of seeds you like, write them down on records. Some seeds might look like this:

  • A man crowned with lightning.
  • A jaguar-god made of water, with a mane of steam and bones of ice.
  • Someone is dragged through a bazaar, screaming.
  • The copper harps of rain.

  • That infernal clicking.
  • The silence of the bamboo forest, the sound of a lonely flute.
  • The headwaters of a river: A temple cut from the mountain’s living rock.

Characters

Once you have seeds, you can start making characters, with the seeds in mind. You need at least as many characters as you have players, so that you don’t ever have a player unable to play, but you can have more, up to seven characters. Sometimes, I call these characters heroes.

Character Seeds

Brainstorm about the characters as a group. For each, you want to come up with a final statement of the form, “This character is a (personality trait) (profession) who (personal goal).” Try and tie a seed into each character, indirectly if not directly. This isn’t an imperative, but a guideline; the idea is to give you hooks by which the characters can pull the seeds in. The character’s personal goal should follow naturally from his profession and personality trait, such as, “Sawsan Deep-in-Thunder is a defiant priestess who wants to escape the great water temple.” If they don’t follow, as with “Sawsan Deep-in-Thunder is defiant priestess who wants to marry the White-Crowned King,” then you need to connect them with a reason: “but her priesthood will not allow it.”

What’s more, you want to set up contrasts and commonalities between the characters: hooks to pull each other. This is imperative. Each character should hook two others. You can put trait-professions in opposition: A government official vs. a corrupt government official vs. a noble outlaw vs. a scoundrel &c. You can also put a profession in opposition with a personal goal: A government official vs. someone who is harboring a criminal, a maniac bent on destroying the world vs. someone who would prefer to continue being alive, etc. Don’t put personal goals in direct opposition to one another.

You don’t need to name the characters yet. Check out the section on names below.

Seven-and-Seven Heroic Traditions

Once you have character seeds, select a heroic tradition for each character. This is the origin of their struggle.

The heroic traditions are:

Barefoot King
He is a ruler, but he wears no crown; he stands among the common people, turning his back on duty. In this way does he perform government.
Bitter River
It is a source of life and power, but not love nor comfort. People use it without paying it back; it is stripped bare.
Black Peacock Maiden
Love brings them together; they have always been family, and this makes their love unholy.
Choking Crane
His art breaks his bones and drinks his blood. He cannot stop creating.
Clay Dancer
Treasures fall from her fingers and turn the world to war.
Corpse Warrior
He has died, but he must keep on fighting; he is bound by honour or a slaver’s chains. Each day, he dies again.
Cowardly Locust
Its purpose is to corrupt and devour. It fears sacrifice and offerings; it shuns the sacred.
Desolate Vessel
She must create, but she cannot; she’s surrounded by blank canvases and white pages.
Flower of Forgetting
She has forgotten everything. She yearns for understanding, and each revelation whispers to her, “To know the secret is to know your destruction.”
Morning Moon and the Jewel of Shadows
Because of him, she can explain the world; because of her, he can protect the world. They cannot say the name of their love.
Prince of Misfortunes
All our hopes hang on him, and his every act is heralded by hounds of ill omen.
Princess of Iron
She knows nothing of the horrors of the world, and for this they are drawn to her side; she cannot be bent or broken.
Queen of Storms
She knows how to make peace between things; she destroys everything she touches.
Survivors of a Battle Trinity
He and his battle spirit have set down their weapons; now they harm nothing and are more fearsome than ever, in the winter of their grief.

When you create a character, you are not constrained by the gender of the traditions. Your Morning Moon can be a man! Your Choking Crane can be a woman! This is not going to be an invisible decision, though. The effect of making this choice should be that you’re conscious of the character’s role as a boundary-crosser, and you have some options to deal with that, via what you do with your beliefs: You might try and shore up that boundary by creating a new, opposite-gendered tradition to serve as a counterpart, or dissolve it by diving in and fighting the reactions that say you’re assuming the role improperly, or redefine the role of that tradition, or whatever. But whatever you do with it, you’ll be confronted with it.

Names

Names are powerful. A name shapes how you think about the thing it identifies. In the stories of the seed, names aren’t empty; they are descriptions, or hopes, or sometimes accusations; they always say something. Characters’ names are usually in two parts; one part is in some foreign language, and the other part is an English epithet. This gives you two places to inject cultural colour and one where you can talk about the character.

In the absence of fantasy languages, use natural languages to pull names from; that makes it easy for you to grab incidental names for characters with cultural proximity. I like to use northern Chinese words, or Mongolian, or Manchu, for the people of the horse, and a mixture of Arabic, northern Indian, Farsi, and a smattering of assorted Native American languages for the rest of the world.

Epithets can take many different shapes…TO BE CONTINUED

Tied to the Earth

Codes

What is a name? A name is a name. It is a part of a character that is still and constant, never at stake, never forced to change. It is an irrefutable argument.

What is a belief? It is something a character believes or feels. It could be a sense of loss or fear, a thing he thinks is precious, a memory of love, an argument against slavery or for it, a suspicion about someone’s infidelity, a treatment of cultural etiquette, or something else. Beliefs are constantly changing in the ebb and flow of conversation.

What is a decree? It is something true: a fact of the world’s interaction with god or a fact of its own ability. Consider the phrase, spill water on the earth to make peace. As a belief, this would mean, “You should interpret spilling water as we do an olive branch—it’s a ritual way of saying, now this fight should end.” It’s a point of etiquette. But, as a decree, this could mean, “When I pour water on the earth, conflict is extinguished like a fire. Harmony immediately prevails.”

Collectively, we call these three things codes.

The last thing you need to do to describe a character is to select or create some codes…TO BE CONTINUED

Arguments

An argument is an ongoing question about events in the game. Players can advance an argument, which means they offer an assertive answer to it. Advancing an argument means that, unless there is a significant change of affairs, the answer that the player offered is the correct answer to the question.

The kind of argument I find most immediate and easy to explain is one that asks about the status of current events. Think of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: “I want my comb!” and “Who has the Green Destiny?” are two good examples of arguments. So is, “What’s going on between Li Mubai and Yu Xiulian?” An argument doesn’t have to be a multiple-choice question. It also isn’t necessarily a representation of straightforward conflict between characters; as their motivations shift, the characters may advance very different answers than they did previously.

An argument can also represent a supporting character, someone who is not one of the heroes. This kind of character is disposable, because arguments have a limited lifespan; for recurring characters, use a seed or an essence (below). An argument-character can be something like, “What does the Emperor in Amber really want?” or “How do you defeat Jhular Seven Serpent?”

You can even have arguments about the past, like, “What is it that brought me here?”

You can see that the garden is divided into five parts: four plazas and a fountain. Each plaza is the space where one argument is discussed; you have room for four arguments at any given time. To start with, think about the characters and seeds, and come up with at least two arguments that interest you and involve the characters. Select plazas to place them in, and record them on the argument sheet.

To start with, think about the characters and seeds, and come up with at least two arguments that interest you and involve the characters. Think about the heroic traditions, too, and involve these in the arguments. 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. Suppose you have a character, maybe she’s a priestess at Red Cliff, and she has an argument: “I want to go home.” How do you use her tradition to contextualise that?

Maybe she’s a black peacock maiden. So that means that her story is about love and family and how they come into conflict, so maybe someone comes to Red Cliff, and he is beautiful and sweet like new incense, and they fall in love before she sees the insignia on his horse, and they are the insignia of her house! They must choose—each other, or the family? Is it worth it going home to a place where their love is a crime?

Then you can provide opportunities for her to approach this question, such as by bringing in other members of the family, or threatening to reveal their love, and so on.

Or, maybe she’s a barefoot king, and though she is not abbess at Red Cliff, whatever happens there is done under her guidance. The temple collapses in confusion at her absence, and sends word by messenger to beg for her aid. But the house needs her to perform the duties given to a lady of a noble lineage. What loyalty wins out?

Given this, you can add pressure to that tension—offer reasons to choose one over the other, or make one sound as though it’s in great need…

The heroic traditions are there to lead you to questions like this, and help create foils and antagonists for your characters that allow them to confront them.


Great! Now we’re set up. (I know, that was a lot of homework. Sorry.) Let’s play.

How to Play

Initial Movements

First, assign ownership of characters to players. Each player has one character; if you have extra characters, then the extras are shared. During your turn, you can use your own character or a shared character.

At the extreme start of a story of the seed, none of the characters are in the garden. You’ll take turns moving your character pawns into the garden, placing them in one of the twenty indented-square chambers. Only one character can occupy a chamber. Once every character is moved into the garden, choose who will begin the game capriciously. That player moves his character pawn to a different part of the garden: from one plaza to another, or between plaza and fountain. He must enter a part where another character is present, and that character’s player will set a scene. If there are several characters in that place, then the players should choose who sets the scene amongst themselves.

The Concept of Scenes

Anatomy of a Scene

Garden Scenes

Scenes in the garden permit of conflict. In the garden, characters can advance arguments and participate in conversations. FOLLOWING SECTIONS REQUIRE EDITING

Conversations

Sometimes, when you are talking with a friend, you have a secret intention. You want to change him, make him more like yourself. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t; this is how to determine that.

Indicate to your friend that you hope to influence him. Slide your character sheet forward and line up its edge with the edge of his, so that they touch and make a single rectangle. Secretly, each of you marks one of the messages on your character sheet. Conveying this message is your agenda. Sometimes you’ll have more than one agenda, but let’s talk about the base case first.

Now carry on talking and interacting as you would. When you express one of your beliefs, you are said to be performing an overture. Place a stone on the centre of the belief in question.

Now your friend will respond; if he shows agreement, he slides the stone to the spot on the inside, next to where the sheets touch. If he shows disagreement, he slides the stone to the spot on the outside, and he expresses the basis of his disagreement via one of his own beliefs, placing a stone on that belief’s spot as well. Once he’s responded to your overture, he has the first opportunity to make one of his own.

Once you are both done making overtures, reveal the agendas that you’ve expressed (don’t mention ones you didn’t) look at the stones on your sheets. If your agenda was rejected by the other character, then he acquires a message that opposes it! Put some chips on this new message, as many as you have stones on the outside of your sheet—the intensity of his counterreaction is based on how strongly he disagrees with your entire worldview.

Similarly, if your agenda was accepted, the other character gains that message, with chips equal to the stones on your inside. Also give him a star of war—unconsciously he recognises that he has been controlled.

Finally, see which side of your sheet has the most stones. Add a chip to the beliefs with stones on this side, and take one off the beliefs with stones on the other. If you take all the chips off a belief, then remove it from your sheet.

In this way do we influence the hearts and minds of our fellows.

Arguments

When you are influenced in a conversation, in addition to accepting some of your friend (another person in the interaction)’s beliefs, you receive a star of war. Stars of war indicate your distressed, clouded thinking, and your ability to undertake extreme measures to accomplish something. This means:

In a conversation where you have more stars than your friend, he can have an extra secret agenda, and thereby apply extra influence on you.

Performing certain acts puts your mind at ease, which extinguishes your stars of war.

  • For 1 star or more, decisively change an argument and place a coin in its plaza if there are fewer than six coins there. When you do this, you must harm someone in keeping with one of your beliefs. If the argument has as yet lain undecided, this costs only 1 star. After that, it costs 1 star plus as many stars as there are coins. Each decisive movement should be an escalation over the last. If you paid 4-6 stars, then your action can have decisive effect in another argument as well, as a consequence, but this does not add chips to that plaza. The side-affected argument must have fewer coins than the main.
  • For 7 stars, decide and conclude an argument. Clear off the coins from its plaza; now no argument occupies it, so there is room for a new one

When an action is decisive, it means that if events are allowed to continue unperturbed, the result will be as the player proclaimed it, without significant changes to his reasonable prediction. That might be because a chain of events are set in motion, or because a temporary resolution has occurred. If it is conclusive, then a decisive event occurs to which there is no response. That decision cannot be changed.

Fountain Scenes

Scenes at the fountain occur the same way as any other scenes—when a character enters the fountain and another character is already there. In the fountain, the purpose of the scene is to remind us that the characters are humans, who understand one another as fellow humans.

There are no mechanics for fountain scenes. Conversation does not occur there and arguments cannot be advanced, either. Instead, the characters simply interact with one another. You could make the topic of a fountain scene something like the following:

  • Sharing a meal or drinks
  • Walking and talking
  • Mutually coming to the aid of a third party, and setting aside differences for a while
  • Playing a game
  • Joining in a community activity, such as raising a communal building or participatng in a ceremony
  • A romantic overture
  • A fight about something that’s not really important
  • Gossip

This isn’t an exhaustive list. The point here is, really, just to show off the characters as they are when they are themselves, and not as they are under pressure or when enacting some duplicitous scheme. They express human needs and others satisfy them.

Supporting Elements

Seeds

Essences

Some characters are important, but not centrally important; stories pivot around them as axes, but they’re not really about them. These sorts of characters are essences; they exist to support or illuminate a main character. Essences have beliefs.

More specifically, you can detach a subset of a character’s beliefs and embody them in a secondary character, and it becomes the interface for affecting those particular beliefs of the main character. Let me try and explain via example here: think about Avatar. In The Waterbending Master, Katara needs to deal with her stubbornness, so she embodies that, and systematic Water Tribe sexism, in Master Pakku, so that she can force it to transform into something else—the deep, thoughtful strength of mature water people, and an awareness and respect for traditional gender roles, but not slavish devotion to them. Her bending duel with Pakku is a stage for her to create changes in herself.

This sort of meditation on the self isn’t the only way that essences can be used. Characters that move in distant circles can reflect on each other too. I don’t really have a good example of this, but intuitively, it makes sense to me—the exaggerated quasi-character goes through some pivotal crises, and this highlights and punctuates a change in the main character that isn’t precipitated by conflict.

You can create or dissolve an essence from your character during your turn simply by stating that you are doing so. It is a shared character for so long as it exists. When you dissolve an essence, fold its codes back into your character. You can recreate an essence that was dissolved; dissolution is a mechanical concept without a reflection in the fiction.

Pieces-of-God

I will tell you something about the gods of the peace. They were once glorious and fierce, beautiful in their changing forms. In ancient times they spun creation out of the glittering void, they spoke languages written in the stars and sunk in the seas and buried in the earth.

There was one goddess who was the sun, who always held a mirror before her face, who embraced all things lovingly in her white-and-burning arms. That makes three arms, and in the fourth there was a coppery sword. She was carved from a single jewel, a yellow pearl all embroidered in fire.

There was one god who was a tree-eating fire, who was robed in grey and black, who carried a bamboo rattle and cawed like a crow. His skin was like silk damask in every colour of red and blue, rippling in a hot wind; his eyes, two white-hot coals.

There was one creature who was the night, a sleek four-legged thing with white marks on its black-linen pelt. It was red at its nose and red at its tail and its paws were white and sharp as winter. It had twenty-eight eyes white as milk, running down the spine of its back, and they would blink one after another in a slow wave.

This is how to understand the gods of the peace—they were like idols, living symbols of their power and office. Then they become gods of the war, and from their idol-flesh they made body-weapons. Their skin turned to armour, their voices boomed with mantras of destruction, terrible light shone from their eyes. They made war on each other, and these things all were torn apart and fell from heaven, piece by piece.

To make pieces-of-god, we reenact this process; we think of a god of the peace, we give him shape, we make of her a weapon, we break it in pieces.

So, ask yourself some of these questions, and see where they lead you: What things do we play about, when we speak to this god? What is his responsibility? What will she do if her rites and festivals are not observed? Why does he remain happily in his place? What about her cult? You can go into some detail her, but you don’t need to—remember that this is lost in the haze of prehistory, it’s just a structured brainstorm. All you need to know for sure is, what things are connected to the god in the minds of man?

Now break pieces off. The broken things of god are tarnished, bent, or wounded, but never utterly bereft of form and function. A piece-of-god is unmistakably a thing of divinity, no matter how debased; it is somehow unearthly, or in a state that cannot exist sustainably among mortal things.

See here, maybe the sun goddess’s mirror was full of faces and hot fire; maybe now it is cracked, but still warm; it still cries softly in the night. Maybe her sword is broken now, and when it moves through the air it leaves a curtain of verdigris suspended there, a ribbon arrested in its motion. Maybe the tree-eater’s wings were severed, and now they are crow wings, but they still flutter with stubborn energy. His rattle is half burnt away, but it contains five seeds. The night-beast’s eyes are strung on a necklace, made milky and blind, but sometimes, they still all blink slowly in turn. One of its claws is black now, long and sharp as a sword, and always coated with ice and snow.

Given this, you can describe the piece’s decrees and beliefs. Maybe the severed crow wings are the fire-god’s bitterness and hunger, maybe they look like this:

Severed Crow Wings
  • I can fly.
  • My blood summons scavengers.
  • Bloodshed is necessary for survival.
  • We are alone in a world of wolves.

You can introduce a piece-of-god during your turn, with the acceptance of the other players. Once it has been introduced, it can move around freely; characters may give it to one another, or it may be forcibly manipulated via an argument. You can’t actually have arguments directly with a piece-of-god; it must be incarnated, below.

Incarnation

One of the resources you can call on in a conversation is your stock of pieces-of-god.

You call on these by spiritually merging with them. In doing so, the human body is transformed; it is the vessel of an incarnate god, and so it overflows with radiance. The manner of the transformation varies based on the disposition of the vessel, and on the piece-of-god itself, but just as pieces are universally incomplete, incarnations are universally unhuman. Stars fall from their fingertips or their voices sound like the toll of bronze bells. Darkness stirs in their throats, or their skin turns to silken alabaster. Incarnation is always immediately apparent.

Besides softening certain codes or making others accessible, incarnation involves an additional entity—the piece-of-god—into the conversation. It has its own secret agenda, and it suffers the effects of conversational influence independently from both characters. However, it’s controlled and contained by the character who incarnates it; when he has the opportunity to respond or offer overtures, he may use his codes or the piece’s, and when it comes to the end of the conversation, his codes and the piece’s are both measured to see how it turned out for him.

The piece-of-god doesn’t reference its incarnator when measuring the outcome of conversation from its perspective, however, and both it and the human can achieve or fail at their agendas independently because of this.

You can keep invoking piece after piece, if you like, but invoking extra pieces costs a star of war, and you can’t be sure what you will get! You say, “I feel (this feeling),” and indicate a player, and she will choose a piece from among your pieces or hers that has that feeling within it, and you will incarnate that piece-of-god as well as the ones before. Each time you add another piece, you must select a different player, and if she is unable to offer you a piece that satisfies the requirement, then she will select another person to make that offering in her place.

You observe that invoking many pieces-of-god is a way to raise the stakes of a conversation, since each one represents another influence that your interlocutors may be swayed by, and each one becomes vulnerable when it is incarnate.

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