Pray Hear It Told in the Next Chapter

2008 Jan 18

Cross-posted on Story Games.

Spent most of today updating my Water Margin oracle. I typed up all the chapter titles from Pearl Buck’s translation, began converting the names in it to Pinyin (the official romanization system that didn’t exist in Buck’s time), and started hyperlinking listed names to the Wikipedia articles on individual heroes. This is a MUCH slower process than I anticipated, but I think it will ultimately be super useful.

I’ve also been thinking about an interesting way to use this oracle. The chapter titles of the Water Margin are not really problems about to erupt, which is what Vincent explicitly has his situations be for In a Wicked Age. Instead, they are descriptions of what occurs in the chapter. They are always paired, two titles per chapter, the same character is never explicitly mentioned in both titles of a single chapter. So check this out:

  1. Before play begins, you draw 4 chapter titles from the oracle. All characters and places mentioned in the 4 titles are automatically in this chapter, but instead of using the oracle situations as “what has already happened,” you use them as goals to drive the narrative towards. Brainstorming, then, follows along the lines of figuring out “what has to happen for these events to come true.”
  2. Play then proceeds until two of the original four titles situations have occurred. Circle them on the chapter sheet. Those two titles become the actual titles of the chapter. At that point, the two unfulfilled conditions bump to the next story and you draw two more to make a new set. Any characters that are still explicitly listed are guaranteed to be in the next story. Otherwise, they have to make it in from the We Owe List.

For example, say you draw:

  • The two brothers Xie escape from the gaol.
  • All the tigers turn to the robbers’ lair.
  • Shi Xiu leaps from a balcony on the execution ground.
  • Blood splatters The Hall Of The Mandarin Ducks.

So for bravos you have the two Xie Brothers and Shi Xiu. For places you have the gaol (jail), the robbers’ lair, an execution ground (with a balcony overlooking it), and The Hall of The Mandarin Ducks (whatever that is). NPCs might include a jailer, an executioner, perhaps a priest or monk in the Hall, some NPC robbers in the lair, etc.

You know that the four titles above are your goals for this session, but how do you make them happen? Eventually you decide that, at the beginning of this chapter, the Xie Brothers are in jail for banditry and are going to be executed, and Shi Xiu has snuck into the capitol to attempt their release, disguised as a wandering Daoist mystic.

You don’t want to prepare too much. Perhaps The Hall of Ducks overlooks the execution ground (bad fengshui) and has an ornate balcony. Perhaps not. But the rest is to be found out in play.

Let’s say that Shi Xiu gets into a fight with the abbot of the Hall of Mandarin Ducks when he attempts to spend the night there and is rejected because the abbot sees his tattoos and knows him to be a bandit in disguise. In a rage at the lack of hospitality, Shi Xiu battles the monks and ends up killing the Hall’s champion, a local hired thug. Having nowhere else to go, Shi Xiu wanders through the streets and is invited to sleep in the watchtower by a honorable guard who takes pity on the itinerant mystic. After getting pleasantly drunk with the guard (to his host’s great surprise), Shi Xiu falls asleep in the tower. When he awakes, he finds the tower surrounded by soldiers who are shouting. Thinking that they have come to arrest him for murder, Shi Xiu leaps from the balcony at the top of the watchtower, only to see that the tower stands beside the execution ground and the soldiers have actually dragged the Xie Brothers there to execute them.

At that point, the GM calls an end to the session, since the group has completed two of the title conditions and can now call this chapter: Blood splatters The Hall Of The Mandarin Ducks; Shi Xiu leaps from a balcony on the execution ground. The GM also says the following ritual passage:

    Did Shi Xiu manage to overcome a company of soldiers and save the Xie Brothers from execution? Pray hear it told in the next chapter.

So the group would now take the remaining two titles…

  • The two brothers Xie escape from the gaol.
  • All the tigers turn to the robbers’ lair.

…and draw two new titles to go with them. Together, these titles would form the basis of the next chapter.

Booyeah, an “Owe List” of sorts for oracle entries.

3 Responses to “Pray Hear It Told in the Next Chapter”

  1. Marc Majcher Says:

    I just wanted to say that this is hot awesome, and I have been and will continue to greedily watch your progress.

  2. Brennan Says:

    Sweet. This is really exciting to me.

  3. Marc: Yay! I’m glad you really dig it. You gonna be at GenCon so we can play this beast?

    Brennan: I thought you might like this kind of storytelling, since it’s based in a folk narrative style that’s similar to some of the stuff that you’re doing.

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