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Heads of State: Palace Gates & As I Lay Dying

Started by redivider, May 06, 2006, 11:24:45 PM

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Last weekend Alex, Josh & I played two Heads of State games in succession, using the same dictator (Alex's Star of Freedom). A small milestone in passing the half-way point of 5 out of the 9 games from the collection getting a test run. The further we go into the games the more it seems like they will work as a series, as multiple perspectives on one theme. Another interesting development is that during the games the Star of Freedom morphed from being a dictator of a fictional south american nation to being sited specificially in Uruguay, where Alex has roots.

1. Palace Gates: sort of like Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous or Cribs crossed with political psychology. Players describe stories from the Tyrant's life based on objects found in his palace. The game is directly inspired by the opening passage of the Autumn of the Patriarch by Marquez.

We established a few facts about the palace (a modern structure built on top the ruined first floow of the old colonial prison), named 5 citizens who were exploring the building, then brainstormed 20 objects that might be found in the Star's home: a bassinet, 60s soft porn, Incan totems, mint Rolls Royce, letter from FDR, Encyclopedia Britanica missing one volume, orchard of cherry trees, photo of young woman holding flower, library of memoirs of great men, cavalry saber, antique cannon, preserved human hand, 8 track cassette of Carmen, photo of his military academy graduating class with all faces but his scratched out, old torture devices, Rise and Fall of the Third Reich with copious underlining and marginal notes, heliograph, medal of St. Christopher, collection of hot sauces.

Then we each rolled for one of the items, took turns describing one of the interlopers entering a room and finding the object, and narrated stories from the Dictator's life inspired by the objects. The severed hand became a trophy from a fomer ally, the collection of unusual torture devices presents from the CIA (typically sent with expired dissidents attached), the copy of Rise and Fall left over from a Hitler study group the Tyrant had established with students and profs from the national university.

After this round of stories we tried a more complex system of generating room contents. It uses grids of story elements, based on the method that George Perc used to write the novel Life: a users manual We created 4 lists (animals, motives, sins, and ime periods) each with four specific elements. The overlay of these lists on grids created a kind of story map of the palace. As our interlopers moved to new rooms, the grids identified 4 elements that had to include in a story. I got: snake, adultery, pride, and period of Tyrant's climb to power. Alex got: spider, theft, greed, and tyrant's decline. Josh had: gerbil, apostacy, lust, and height of power. They both used their animals symbolically, which was more subtle than my strangling anaconda.

We didn't play for long but this game seems to work pretty well as a warm-up, since the physical detail of objects were evocative ways of inspiring stories about the tyrant's past. Alex had the idea that an option could be to reverse the time frame and have each move build part of the palace. Josh thought that for the grid method you could add in one extra item from the list of objects. Player A would decide where to move, player B would choose an additional object, and player C would have to use all these elements in a story, crating a rotating challenge.

2. As I Lay Dying: the Tyrant drifts in and out of consciousness, remembering his life. Players take turns leading scenes of these memories. You have a choice of narrating the memory by yourself, collaborating with one or more other players on an acted out scene (in which you inform the other actor(s) of the 'point' of the scene in advance, or improving a scene with other players who do not know the point of the scene. Scenes/ memories can take the form of dreams, stories told by the dying dictator, or bedside conversations. This gives 9 combinations of narration method/ story form, each with a different chance of becoming a fact about the dictator's life (rather than being regarded as a rumor).

We chose three facts from earlier games and wrote them down on cards to start off the Tyrant's time line. Then we took turns leading a few scenes. We scrapped a rule where the player who was observing the scene granted a bonus or minus to the roll to 'stick' the memory. Instead, the oberving player got to decide which cards/memories on the tabel supported or opposed the new memory, and therefore modified the stick roll.

Two examples of how the scenes impact the timeline of the dictator's life. I led an improv scene where Josh was the dictator and I was Che Guevera passing through Montivideo. My intent was to establish that the dictator-to-be had socialist leanings at one point and may not have been as tight with the CIA as it seemed. But I failed to telegraph this strongly enough and Josh's dictator was non-commital. Alex decided that my roll would not impact all the CIA-related cards in the time line. Later, after we had created some interesting cards on the Tyrant's childhood, relationship with his father, and possible adopted status, Josh tried to wipe them all out by an improv scene in which he was a psychiatrist and Alex was the dictator and Josh revealed his theory that the 'father' was just an elaborate psychosis. This scene went on longer than most since Alex did a good job of deflecting the questions. Josh made his roll so he succeded in demoting all the facts about the Tyrant's early to rumors.

When we moved to the obituary phase the dictator had no certain past before the time he graduated from military academy. We divided up the fact card equally between us, early life, middle period, and late to create the dictator's obituary. Since Josh and I had tied for having the most of our scenes end up as facts, he got to state how the dictator died, and I got to choose his last words. 


Great fun these Tyrant games, maybe some day I can be one...

These are a great game, I have nothing constructive to add other then I can't wait to explore the next 4!

Thanks Mark!
~ alex