The stars aligned and I found myself with willing participants to play Ribbon Drive, by Avery Alder. Here’s the publisher’s page about the game, and the embedded video is my musings from a couple of months ago about wanting to play it, and why.
It's a single-session game intended to go three to five hours, although it was designed before multiple-screen play was common, so we had to adapt some things to the screen venue. Each person is supposed to prepare a mix CD and we use a CD player during the session. (For older people, a "mix CD" is an unnecessary non-upgrade of a proper mix tape; for younger people, a "mix CD" is the quaint precursor to a playlist.)
Per the rules, we randomly selected one of the four playlists we’d brought and as its first song, we listened to ..
“Severance,” Dead Can Dance (The Serpent’s Egg, 1988)
Severance, the birds of leaving call to us
Yet here we stand endowed with the fear of flight
Overland, the winds of change consume the land
While we remain in the shadow of summers now past
When all the leaves have fallen and turned to dust
Will we remain entrenched within our ways.
Indifference, the plague that moves throughout this land
Omen signs in the shapes of things to come
Tomorrow's child is the only child.
The vision was instant, immediate, and consistent among us: a road trip through a bleak late autumn and winter landscape, ruined by misuse and neglect; practically in black-and-white but if not, then certainly stylized; this trip should have been made long, long ago, but we did not do it then. Whether doing it now means anything any more, no one knows, but we’ll try. The vision of a tough slightly older Range Rover style vehicle settled in hard as well.
We talked about a couple of different locations, including the Finnish-Russian border, but settled upon Highway 81 running north along the Appalachians. Then we started the second song to find ...
“Deeper Down,” My Dying Bride (A Line of Deathless Kings, 2006)
An unfortunate journey Through a bleak sea of loneliness I carved through the waves of grief In a black vastness of self doubt
I have never felt so alone So pitiful and wretched and low I'm tried by a terrible wind
The misery and the pains blow Fill my vast sails of ruin Steer me towards the bleak end A horizon of purples and reds The still waters of my welcome end
The clouds of grey come overhead A storm will hunt me down And rip the guts out of my body Then I would surely drown
The unforgiving wind searches And lashes me like a whip The self-pity overwhelms me My heart sinks like a ship Thrashing out at torment and pain
The maddened sea engulfs me I let myself be swallowed up The magnificent weight upon me Deeper I go, deeper down
Didn't think it could get any blacker The cold bites, the pressure builds I think I no longer matter Can't tell if my eyes are open or closed
The grieving waters swallow The pain I'm in through my life of sin The Devil will doubtless follow When lovers die, friendships fade
When kin all lie forgotten The gates of agony spew forth Your memories, stinking and rotten
So deep now, I feel so numb I'm ravaged by utter loss The guilt, the grief, the astounding pain
My body, they all will wash I hope I ne'er return to life
Oh, Christ, just let me go Let death devour my simple soul Let my misery grow
This cheerful little number led us to talk about characters in their 50s and 60s who regretted not taking this trip when they should have, as they’d been associated with a nascent social movement and it was supposed to have begun with planned events at a remote location. We placed the supposed destination at or near the Canadian-U.S. border, and riffed a little on how it had vanished without a trace, not even with internet records of any substance.
This led us to the creation of ...
- Cyrus, 55. Futures: I’m going to leave my mark on the manifesto, I’m going to see the Pacific Ocean before I die. Traits: I’m ravaged by utter loss, Sharp as a tack, Get off my lawn. (Ivan)
- Casey, just turned 16, genderfluid. Futures: I'll see an authentic place for once, I'll find out how I was conceived. Traits: My kin lie all forgotten, Why can't we have both?, Bite me, boomer (me)
- Aaron, 60. Futures: I will get Meaning back into my life, I will find out what happened to the Movement. Traits: In constant physical pain, I think I no longer matter, I'm hopeful I'm wrong (Pedro)
- Tree (Terri), 50. Futures: Bury the Ghost of a friend, Never going to love again. Traits: Ex-Navy, 9mm, Not a racist (Sean)
As you can see, I threw in a reversal by including a very young character, who wasn't an intended curve ball but rather arrived in my head quite involuntarily when the song’s line about “my kin lie all forgotten” really jumped out. I went with the idea that Casey knew their biological parents were part of this movement but didn’t know exactly which ones, including the potential for someone or someones on this road trip. We decided they’d mainly been raised by Tree and close friends.
There’s a lot to talk about concerning the game as such as well as our specific experience, so I’ll list some topics we can do in separate comment streams. I’ll ask that we pass over anything to do with “so, how did you manage it by screen, why didn’t you [fill in unwanted suggestions] instead,” et cetera. We figured out a way to do it, that’s all. The topics I’d rather dig into are ...
- Playing and playing alongside a genderfluid teen by a bunch of straight men well beyond the top of the hill (OK, Pedro’s not so old, but still ancient by Casey’s standards).
- How the music worked for us as atmosphere and prompting, especially after its very strong start for the pre-play steps.
- The rules for Obstacles, activation of Traits, and Detours.
- Extensive details about the interactions among “turn to frame a scene,” Backstory Authority, Situational Authority, the start of a new song (not a new mix, that’s easy), and shifts in location and time.
- Rules for Futures and the possibly positive act of explicitly manifesting those rules in a pushy way for others people’s characters, or whether that’s more storyboarding than play
And of course, what happened to our characters, what happened in the past, who became the protagonist if anyone (I give it away in the lead image), and what it all may mean.
The first playlist was Ivan’s, titled Null. Play also featured Pedro’s, untitled, and mine, titled In the Box. We didn’t get to hear Sean’s, called Nothing is Easy. [Correction: we began with Pedro's, continued with mine, and ended with Ivan's.]
Although we recorded the play session, IP law would frown upon us posting it here (Adept Play is an income-generating business), so I will make select portions privately available in an unpaid capacity, as patrons will discover soon. My plan is to reconvene the group as soon as we can in order to recap and discuss, and to include it here.