While You’re Far Away

This game was published in the first issue of Catharsis Magazine, after an Exalted-themed playtest on Snail Space with Joshua Kashinsky.

The PDF of the Catharsis layout is available here, thanks Elizabeth!

There All Along

You already know the rules to this game, but I will remind you of them. This is a game based on casual anthropology, by paying attention to what people already do. It did not burst from my head like Athena; it was there all along.

Separation Anxiety

This is a game for two players.

The players assume the identities of two characters (in the literary or dramatic sense) who share a special relationship. They could be lovers, siblings, a parent and child, old friends, new friends, lost childhood sweethearts, or even acquaintances who’ve never met face-to-face. The nature of the characters and their relationship is freely determined by the players.

The two characters are, in the fiction of the game, physically or geographically separated and are regularly writing letters to each other. Their reasons for doing this are also open to interpretation by the players. Perhaps they are new lovers separated for several hours and are obsessively writing email after email to each other. Perhaps one character’s parent is off fighting in the war and may not be home for years, if at all.

Finally, the players need to determine how the letters will be exchanged. Will they hand deliver the notes to each other? Will they send them through the mail? Will they transmit them via email? Will they post them on an online forum?

Decide on the things mentioned above before play begins. The exact details of their relationship and separation will be determined during play, but the foundation needs to be laid.

How Letters Are Written

One player writes the first letter.

Each letter may include any or all of the following…

  • Addresses: Perhaps it is labeled with the addresses of both parties, but perhaps not if it is delivered by hand or through other means.
  • Date & Location: Each letter may carry the date and/or location in which the letter was written, such as “The Twelfth of November in the Year of Our Lord 1793, Cordoba.”
  • Salutation: The greeting that opens a letter, probably addressing the recipient by name, title, or metaphor (“Dearest One”).
  • Main Body: The body of the letter is typically composed of multiple paragraphs, each of which revolves around a single broad topic. Of course, some letters have more structure than others. Some letters may have a body that is one long paragraph; others may contain paragraphs that wander between various topics and are not strongly focused. Generally speaking, the body of the letter is the only part that is not optional. A short note that simply reads, “Keep an eyes on the man who delivers this letter,” is composed of one body paragraph that is one sentence long and a single attachment (see below).
  • Attachments: To borrow from modern email terms, attachments are anything included in the letter that is not part of the text of the letter: pictures or symbols drawn in the margins, photographs, gifts, etc. In certain types of missives, the person carrying the letter might even be considered an attachment, if they are being recommended for a particular position or task.
  • Valediction: The closing of the letter, generally including the sender’s name and titles, but also traditionally a remark of some kind (“Sincerely,” “Your loyal servant,” “Forever Yours,” etc.).

Preparing a Response

While one player has to begin by writing the initial letter, the core of the game is responding to letters sent by the other player. New topics will of course be introduced as the letter-writing goes on, but responding to letters is what creates the dialogue that drives the game.

In preparing a response, all components of your fellow players’ letter should be considered. Generally speaking, you respond to a past Salutation with your own Salutation, doing likewise with all other letter components. However, you can also choose to respond orthogonally, objecting to a particular Salutation nickname in a responsive Main Body paragraph or with a well-chosen Attachment.

However, your character may not consider all aspects of the letter they received to be worth responding to. They are also free to ignore or simply fail to acknowledge particular subjects, provocations, direct questions, Attachments, or anything else that does not please or inspire them. If the other player chose to ignore certain aspects of your previous letter, you are welcome to press them a bit, especially if their response or acknowledgment is very important to your character.

Additionally, differences in writing style may mean that responses are often indirect or limited. Perhaps one of the letter writers is very blunt and eschews anything but a few terse Main Body paragraphs. Writing styles can, of course, change over time, especially if one character convinces the other to raise or lower the amount of florid detail or formality in their writing.

Traditionally, when it comes to Main Body paragraphs, a thorough response might take the form:

  1. Acknowledge a topic presented by the other player.
  2. Introduce new information about the topic, relative to your current situation.
  3. Elicit a response from the other player by attempting to relate your current situation to their experiences and feelings.

For example, a paragraph might read:

    I regret to hear that Old Sadie has finally passed on. I swear I thought that dog would outlive all of us. They keep us so busy out here, but I did take a minute to walk off by myself and think of that little puppy I brought home to you seven years ago and I’m not ashamed to admit that it brought a tear to my eye. I’m sorry I won’t be there to help you bury her, but you should see if one of the neighbors won’t come over to lend a hand and maybe a shoulder to cry on, since I know how much you loved that old mutt.

So, following our structure guidelines, this breaks down into:

  1. Acknowledging the news that the dog, Sadie, has died.
  2. Describing what the character did upon receiving the news.
  3. Offering sympathy and suggestions on how to handle things.

It is my hope that, in taking on this structure, the letters will seem to flow pretty naturally, since this format is especially common when it comes to writing to loved ones who are far away.

Potential Complications

For some players, it may be important decide — before play begins — that anything written in the letters is considered to be true, or at least an honest reporting of events from the letter writer’s point of view. In other games, the players may be interested in having the letter writers try to fabricate events, hide their true feelings, or make up more pleasant events to cover up embarrassing or disturbing things. For example, a parent off in the war may only report pleasant experiences to their child. In either case, players should consider this option, especially if they are playing the game for a second time.

Ending the Game

The game can end in multiple ways.

  • Perhaps the characters are reunited and cease writing letters.
  • Perhaps circumstances make it impossible to continue writing or for the letters to be delivered.
  • Perhaps a conflict between the characters causes them to stop exchanging letters.

When one of these things happens, the players should together create an epilogue of some sort, deciding what happened to the characters’ relationship in the future or, if it seems more appropriate, leave it as a mystery, as if they’d simply discovered a box of old letters in a stranger’s house.

One Response to “While You’re Far Away”

  1. Daniel Yokomizo Says:

    Hi, the link to the pdf is broken, you may want to fix it.

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