The Sundered Lands: some reflections

Last week I had a chance to try out The Sundered Land with some friends, and more specifically the mini-game A Doomed Pilgrim in the Ruins of the Future. I don’t want to speak for everyone – on the contrary, I hope that anyone who wishes to do so will add their contribution – but I found the idea of a game that welcomed such a large number of participants satisfying and intriguing. Here, however, I want to focus on an ambivalent and very interesting aspect, which reminded me in part of my experience with S/lay w/me: the nature of the constraints of the participants’ narrations, and the spaces for mutual maneuvering between each of them in determining the direction of the Pilgrim. I think my impressions since my last experience with Ron’s game have shifted in more curious directions.

During my first game, I participated as the “Bringer of Doom” for our Pilgrim, a warrior on his way to the Grey Hills and assaulted by the guards of a king, his mortal enemy. Mutual contributions drove our hero inside an abandoned tower to nullify the numerical advantage of his assailants. Here I was able to introduce a contribution of my own:

Pilgrim: they will not let me free to continue my journey. I sneak into the tower, and barricade the door with what I can. What do I see inside? Anyone can answer that.

Me: A half-destroyed room, covered in glowing phials and strange oblong feathers.

In my head, I already had an idea of what I wanted to see: a harpy and her lair of treasures, composed of vials of memories. However, contributions pushed in another direction:

Pilgrim: in the room I look for something I can use to start a fire. Do I find it? Anyone can answer.

another Bringer of Doom: you hit one of the cruets, half full of a yellowish liquid. As it falls to the ground it breaks, and the liquid turns into a blaze.

So much for the harpy, I thought. But I cared, and I wanted to see her in the game. So I introduced a human-faced kite upstairs anyway. I’ll spare the rest of the playthrough, but here’s the point: that modification had gotten in the way of a cool image in my head, and I didn’t want to see it modified. That’s something that puzzled me: did I not respect the player’s input? And if so, does that mean that the game pushes but doesn’t force you to incorporate other players’ contributions into your own subsequent statements? I don’t want to turn this into some form of justification for doing right or wrong, but the topic of constraints is intriguing and this seems to me to be a necessary point to explore.

There is, however, an interesting element to the story: when the hero escaped and the story ended, we never clarified what those cruets were doing there; the story of the kite – a member of a mysterious Circle and trapped in Hell in an attempt to pursue some ritual – never clarified what they were for. That element was left up to the interpretation of individual table participants; I found it oddly satisfying, as an element of lore not explicitly explained but certainly connected to the situation – something that for a Dark Souls fan turns out to be bread and butter.

There’s also a second element that reconnects me to S/lay w/me: the limits of the participants’ narrations. These are actually very loose, and the recommendation to “see the Pilgrim to his doom” left room for some interpretation in responses during the game. During the first game, for example, many of the questions were used to introduce elements of background, rather than danger to the Pilgrim: the kite and his membership in the Circle, or the crime of which the hero was guilty – the murder of a distant cousin of the king his enemy – did not immediately make matters worse, but provided guidelines to more vividly define the characters. Conversely, I noticed how much, both in the settings of my questions as a Pilgrim and in my answers, I tried to come across as narrow as possible. I had occasion to praise in my actual play of Swords of The Skull Takers the unstructured, unconventionalized nature of the narrative and its effects on the levels of fiction. I believe that leaving it up to the individual to delve into certain elements in their own ways and at their own pace is an engine for sincere and heartfelt contributions. This may have answered my firts doubts, but I’m curious to hear some other’s bell.

3 responses to “The Sundered Lands: some reflections”

  1. It was reading this, I understood we didn’t play the same game


    I was in the mood of playing a play by chat.

    Negative aspects:

    A) A huge load of pedantic questions on who can answer, breaks my immersion.

    B) Nobody was listening.


    Let's start from the latter.

    Premise of the Pilgrim:

    {I have:

    – Long, uncut and loose hairs.

    – Instincts sharpened by a violent life.

    […] } 

    I have lost the first visual information after 15 minutes. Nobody really wrote about his appearance after this. All the short session was focused on actions. 

    I find meaningful to highlight the informations in the premise weren't tuned with how the players actually played. It seemed nobody knew what was happening and themes just are way to highlight the problem.

    "In my head, I already had an idea of what I wanted to see: a harpy and her lair of treasures"


    "So I introduced a human-faced kite upstairs anyway."

    This what you wrote in the chat:

    {There is a man in the ceiling. The face is that of an old man, but his body is that of a kite.} 

    I faced a kite, not an harpy. We really were not able to express what we wanted. 


    Before this scene, another bizzarre event happened. 

    Premise of the Pilgrim:

    { […] 

    I've been crossing the Grey Hills for three days now. To get my bearings, I make my way to a steep, grassy hill that houses a tower that I know is abandoned.

    As I climb, something alerts me to a looming danger. What is it? Anyone can answer.} 

    Bringer of Doom:

    {Noise of horses galloping with armed men} 


    {From what direction?} 

    Bringer of Doom:

    {They are descending the hills, following a wild bear} 


    {Did they see me? Everyone can answer} 

    Bringer of Doom:

    {Yes, and many of them stopped their horses, confused by your appearance} 

    The bear never ever appeared again. 

    First of all I may point out why the bear appeared and why the bringer of doom really wasn't interested in it. 

    The first answer to the premise was mine, but it was too short. I read the rules too literally and wrote a simple "bear". I agree with the decision of the Pilgrim to not use it and, instead, let the real answer be the next one. 

    That Pilgrim made me a favor: he wanted to introduce the bear, but without considering it a real element for the next interactions. 

    I really am pleased, but forcing elements in, brings inconsistencies, and the bear is just another example. 

    Concerning the lore I never felt it was "certainly connected to the situation" because of what I just wrote: everyone was trying to just pull out some ideas, without thinking of others and/or the story itself. 

    I felt it just like a mess. 


    Bringing on the first problem:


    Hell, I really disliked them. I accept it to be a fetish of mine, but text is the main interaction in a written game. 

    Each one of the Pilgrim messages ended with direct questions and "everyone can answer". 

    You could ask me: what would you prefer? 

    a) write who can answer only when someone in particular has the right to do so. This helps.

    b) Don't ask every detail. They are fundamental, but you are just extracting what you want from players. Let them write the details by themselves and ask only when meaningful informations are required or for the ones you personally like to hear.


    In the very end the session didn't take too long, so I can't valutate the game itself. I found some inconsistencies or "lacks" while playing. 

    In my opinion this game could probably work if you already know how to play by chat, ending up being just a set of rules on rolls, roles and premises, really not helping to develop the game "inbetween" the end and the very beginning.

    • A short clarification: to me,

      A short clarification: to me, everything which resembles a bird /man or some strange mix between them goes by the name of "harpy". Sex apperance is not really important (I usually imagine female harpies, but not always); you saw exactly what I was describing, nothing less, nothing more. I believe that this part is a false flag.

      I find more interesting your comments on the bear and, more generally, on the details you brought to explain how everyone was basically telling his own story. Because I partially agree; again, I want to think that there was something different that made me enjoy the session, but if you can take into account other's people narration, but you must not, does it mean that reincorporation into the next statement is left to the GoodPlayers? Are we not talking about a failure of the game in providing meaningful constraints?

      On the other hand, here's my question: if that damn ursine mammal, or the physical appearence of the hero, do not tingle any sudden inspiration into your next statement, do we really need to see them around just because another player introduced them? Maybe the bear, as I have imagined, was just an excuse to introduce the knights as they were hunting: do we really care about the fate of the animal? That's why implementing strict rules about narration in this game (like using key words at the end of your statement to force another player to include your contribution) do not really seem as the best solution to me. 


    • “if that damn ursine mammal,

      "if that damn ursine mammal, or the physical appearence of the hero, do not tingle any sudden inspiration into your next statement, do we really need to see them around just because another player introduced them?"


      The fact is that nobody even cared of saying if he run away. He just disappeared from the text. 


      I have to think more to reply on the other question.

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