Game Poem 12: The Azoné Butterflies
The Azoné are a tribe of fantastic hunters and warriors, and they have lived at the edge of the jungle since their reckoning began. Each season, as their young men and women approach adulthood, they prepare for the ceremony of Stála, in which the youths demonstrate both their worthiness as defenders and providers for the tribe, and their attractiveness to prospective mates. The Azoné value equally skill in deadly combat, and the ability to construct and wear battle garb of exquisite beauty. It is the balance of these two traits that make the Azoné “butterfly warriors” (or “Tyriá”) truly great.
Each player will take the role of a young man or woman, between the ages of fourteen and sixteen, who is preparing themselves to take part in the coming of age ceremony, during which they will create their own exotic clothing and weaponry, and then venture to the place of Stála, in a clearing near the edge of the jungle. There they will strike the great wooden bell that hangs there three times, and face the beasts that emerge from the wilderness. If they survive, and return to the village, they will have their choice of partners, depending on how fine their battle raiments were, and how bravely they fought.
First, you will create the beasts that your Tyriá will do battle with. Each player will create three creatures by writing numbers from one to nine on three slips of paper. The number will determine the strength of the beast, and all three numbers should sum up to thirteen. They may all be about the same strength, or there may be a mix of very strong creatures and very weak ones – you will not know until the ceremonial bell is rung. If you wish to write down one adjective or attribute that describes the beast on each slip of paper – “talon”, “red”, “moaning”, “woolen”, etc. – you may. Then put all of the slips of paper in a bowl, mix them all together, and strike the bell to begin.
Each player will face three creatures during their trial, in three rounds. To start a round, a player will write down two numbers between one and nine: the first is how beautiful and elaborate they have made their battle gear, and the second is how deadly the gear makes them in combat. The two numbers will add up to ten, so you may choose five and five, one and nine, or anywhere in between, but always, the more beautiful you make yourself, the less effective you will be in fighting the jungle beasts, and vice versa. You may change the numbers between rounds, as you change your ceremonial battle garb, but you should not tell the other players what you have chosen until everyone has decided.
Now it is time to fight. Each player will draw a slip of paper from the bowl, and, beginning with the oldest, reveal the numbers they have chosen, and describe how they have outfitted themselves for the fight to come. For every three points of beauty you have chosen for yourself, you may describe something about your battle garb that is exquisite or beautiful. A peacock-feathered cloak, jewel-colored leggings of knotted silk, a long knife made from the pressed petals of the scarlet glass-flower, or any other thing that you can imagine. Likewise, for every three points of deadliness you have chosen for yourself, you may describe something about your equipment that is particularly effective for defeating the jungle beasts. An iron spear with a jagged obsidian hook-head, your elder brother’s spiked and beaded bamboo chest-plate, a net made of thick vines with tiny barbs woven throughout, and so on.
Then, look at the number on the slip of paper that tells you how strong the beast is that you must fight. In a single short sentence, give an impression of what the creature looks like, and how it approaches you from the jungle. Now compare the beast’s number with your own, and determine the outcome of your battle. If your deadliness is higher than the strength of the beast, you defeat it easily. Narrate your victory, and mark down points for both your deadliness and your beauty. However, if your deadliness is less than the creature’s strength, you lose the fight, and are wounded. You do not mark down any points for this battle, and if you are wounded a second time, you will be killed. Take the time now to briefly describe how you are defeated. If your deadliness is exactly equal to the creature’s strength, you will just barely defeat the beast – you are not wounded, but you only mark down points for your deadliness, not your beauty. You may again narrate your victory, but describe what you lose during the fight. (Are your clothes or weapons destroyed? Is your skin scarred? Did the beast die under an ill omen?)
After each player has fought their beast, they may choose a new set of numbers for their beauty and deadliness for the second round, which proceeds as before, drawing new creature numbers and fighting again, oldest to youngest. After the second series of battles, the surviving players may choose new numbers again, and fight the third and final round of creatures. When the last jungle beast has been dealt with, the newly mettled Tyriá return to the village, and determine their fates.
Each player totals the points for their beauty in battles that they won against the creatures of the jungle. The player with the highest overall attractiveness wins the game, and has their choice of mates from the Azoné tribe. Take a moment to narrate how you are received, the greatest of the new Tyriá warriors, and describe the mate that you have chosen for yourself. The other surviving warriors may briefly do the same, in order of descending beauty, each receiving rewards from their people slightly less glorious than the ones before them.
The last thing you must do is determine the fate of the village. The first duty of the Tyriá is to defend their people from the beasts of the jungle, and it is said that if they have not proven themselves to be capable enough warriors, then the wilderness itself will reclaim them. Total up the deadliness scores from all of the warriors’ successful battles. If the total score is at least ten times the number of players – so, forty for four players, for example – then they have performed their duties well, and the village is safe for another year. Celebrate! However, if they did not prove to be deadly enough, then the beasts of the jungle will overrun the village and destroy the Azoné people. If this is the case, describe the terror and sadness that befalls your tribe, and vow to protect them at any cost, next time.