Last week, I played my 28th session of a game in development called Crescendo with the game designer (Nathan Hicks).
The title of the post is taken from a discussion the day after our session. I suggested writing a post about it called “reincorporation is a helluva drug” and Nathan responded by saying: “You just keep folding it back in and back in and back in and all of a sudden, you’re got this really deep situation going on”.
Crescendo is a fantasy role-playing game that is very faithful to the spirit of its source material (Gene Wolfe), in my opinion. The backdrop and cosmology in Crescendo must be created as a part of preparation. Our setting started with a planet in peril due to the pending extinction of some magic fruit trees that sustained all life on the planet. It seemed like a no-brainer to play a character who was set on saving the planet. So, I made a young rustic woodsman named Sorin.
I won’t try to summarize the previous 27 sessions. But during those sessions, Sorin has done terrible things and endured catastrophic losses. He is still going somehow. These first 27 sessions were played between Nathan and me. In the 28th session, we were joined by another player. Crescendo has procedures that are intended to place the visitor in the middle of the action.
The visitor player was given a powerful, enraged earth elemental who had awoken due to the events Sorin triggered in the previous session. Our game is science-fantasy on a grand scale. At some point during play, with external intervention, one of the towns developed advanced weapon systems and destroyed their enemy, a medieval era town, to win the war that was raging between them. Sorin had no love for the victorious town, and the earth elemental was already set on the task of destroying it as an affront to nature. But Sorin was not going to let the people die, so he came into conflict with the elemental.
Sorin’s toughened up over the course of the game but he was objectively no match for the elemental. We reached a moment in play where a character the elemental was predisposed to had vouched for Sorin so that they could negotiate. Sorin made a big speech about the war, the advanced weapons, and how evil people would put them to use, etc.
At this point, the visitor player commented that the speech was persuasive, but they were still mulling it over in terms of how their character would respond. I was at a juncture here. Sorin was in a situation many sessions back that was reminiscent of this one, but the roles were reversed. I contemplated not bringing it up because I think it brushed Lines for both me and Nathan at two points. Without going into detail, a group of satyrs had done something terrible to one of Sorin’s loved ones. My Lines were brushed here. Sorin (and me the player) vowed to avenge the deed.
Sorin was powerless to enact revenge for a few sessions, but later he found himself in a bargaining position with some powerful angels. He asked the angels to remove all satyrs from the face of the planet. (I think) Nathan’s Lines were brushed. We had to step back a bit and talk about how the angels would respond. Their response was that some satyrs did something wrong, but it was not right for all satyrs to pay. They reached a bargain, and those satyrs were destroyed, but others were left unharmed.
I told the two other people that I could add something that might nudge the elemental in one direction or another. Nathan knew exactly what I was referring to and said: “please do, my eyes are watering over here”. The visitor player also expressed interest in hearing what Sorin had to recount. So, I recounted the story about the satyrs and the angels and translated the lesson to the elemental’s perspective: some of the humans in the town committed evil acts, but others were innocent. That swayed the elemental, who allowed the remaining humans to escape the town and then levelled the buildings and weapon factories. Sorin and the elemental made their peace and agreed to cooperate.
This was a powerful moment of play for me and Nathan. Even the visitor player commented that something special happened in that scene. I have done a lot of “long play” in my life, but this is one of the rare moments where powerful past events reincorporated themselves in such a meaningful way.