After writing the Fantasy Heartbreaker essays (2002 & 2003), I knew I’d be playing a lot of them. It was harder to convince people than I expected, so I eventually resorted simply to forcing them upon players. Lately, apparently it’s become easier, so that interested parties throw in with me in playing Legendary Lives and Darkurthe Legends. My next foray into these troubled but not shallow waters is Undiscovered, specifically its only sourcebook supplement, Discovering Dusters. Our group includes Helma, Sam, and Lorenzo.
Of all the hearbreakers, this title is atypically bland and among the least exciting to me, except for the exact angle of this particular character ‘race.’ I’ve been developing my understanding of what interests me about it so much, as you can see in Monday Lab: Halfbreed, especially my additional bit (linked in that post) with examples including the dusters.
In non-symbolic fantasy role-playing terms, dusters are simply the coolest option in the game and also unusual in terms of hobby tropes: serpent people, but rather than being scaly or snake-headed, they are shapeshifters, not only into snakes but also snake-like monsters. The supplement clarifies that they are the only nonhumans in the setting who can interbreed with humans, and provides a nuanced look at half-dusters, who must have one parent of each type and are thus represent individual dramas, and dravers, who are effectively humans with a fair amount of duster ancestry, and thus present more of an undramatic (but still charged) ethnicity or tendency.
Symbolically, the content unsubtly, I’d even say straightforwardly draw upon Native American issues, plains & desert, general invocation regarding spirits and totems, there’s a tipi on the supplement cover, the entire duster concept is defined by ethnic cleansing and disenfranchisement, they have low affect (a lot of “impassive Indian,” with implications of “how” and “ugh”), and of course, the whole halfbreed concept in the first place. specifically . I wrote about it extensively in my Comics Madness posts What you mean “we?” and Who is Coyote (warning: lots of TMI).
I’ll repeat from my introductory video for the players (first in the playlist): the question is not whether this sort of invocation is intrinsically good or bad, nor whether it’s been done badly more often than not (it has) – the question is whether we can do it not badly. My position is that this is a worthy challenge and not to shrink from it. I think a big part of that entails not forcing it or reaching for messages, but working mainly from within the setting-fantasy, but also individually riffing on the relevant details which seem likely to us to be legitimately dramatic rather than troperiffic.
Anyway, in case it’s not clear, we’re completely ignoring the majority of the setting, not merely “far off,” but eliminating it. There aren’t any alfar, dwarves, et cetera, nor any psionics, nor Empire of Vrod, nor many of the other concepts or rules that occupy most of the game text. Unlike my games of Legendary Lives or Legends of Darkurthe, both of which adopted the in-game setting in full, we’re rewriting the whole book into “desert duster fantasy, subset human contact, period.” Player-characters must be desert dusters, half-dusters, or dravers.
So far, we’ve met to finish character creation and share ideas or questions about the rules in use. My screen capture was disobeying me following the latest platform and program updates, so our meeting is audio only (we could see each other at the time). I was able to fix it so the play sessions will be visible.