Game Poem 25: Danse

The Danse requires at least three players, but will greatly benefit from more – try it with a half dozen, at least. In addition to a number of players, you will also need several regular six-sided dice, approximately twice as many dice as there are players. One of the dice must be of a different color than the rest, preferably one red die among a number of white dice. The players may also wish to each fill a glass to drink from as they play.

The players will take on the roles of the hosts and guests of a lavish party, an extravagant affair that takes place within the walls of a grand mansion while a plague sweeps across the country outside. However, as you may well know, and will surely learn, death may not be held in check by iron gates and stone facades, nor by purses full of gold and goblets full of wine. This will be the tale of how even the noblest fall to the pestilence, and the reaper takes his due on all men.

One player will take the colored die – we will assume that it is red from this point – and give it to the person who will play the host of the party. In doing so, introduce yourself to the group – tell them your name, your title if any, and what your relation is to the host, familial or otherwise. Describe your manner and your station briefly, and describe how you came to be invited to this most exclusive of festivities. If you are related to the host, tell us how, and what your feelings toward your kinsman are; if you are a dear acquaintance, or a partner in business, or a lover, or a cherished old friend, provide whatever level of detail that seems proper to the relationship. When the first guest has finished, someone else will take another die – one of the white ones – and give it to them, introducing themselves similarly. Once they have made their acquaintance to the other partygoers, another guest will give them a white die of their own, and make their own introduction, and again and so forth, until finally the host hands the last guest a die, and at last properly introduces themselves to the gathering, and bids the revel to begin in earnest.

The Danse is to be played out in a series of rounds. Each round commences with the player who holds the red die, so the host of the party will begin the first round. This first player describes what they are doing at the party at this moment. (If the players have drink, they may take a sip from their glass as they do so.) Now, close to the beginning of the festivities, the revelers’ activities will be primarily light and gay – dancing merrily, flirting and gossiping, telling amusing stories, taking advantage of the banquet that has been laid out before them. Do not take a long time to recount your folly; let your description be brief but rich in detail. The other players may raise their glasses as well, and cheer those exploits that they find pleasing.

Now, the current player will roll their die. If they roll a two, three, four, five, or six, then he or she may continue on blithely, and play passes to the person sitting on their right. The next player will describe their behavior at the party similarly, and cast their dice when they have finished as well. Play continues on this way until someone rolls their dice, and a one appears.

If on your turn, you throw your dice and any should come up a one, then the plague has found you. You will be silent for the rest of the game. Drain your glass, and give your die (or dice) to any single player. That person will tell the others how they found you among the revelry, where in the mansion your body lay and how death has ravaged you. This news is, of course, troubling to all those gathered, but there is nothing but to carry on, so the player with the red die will describe how the corpse is disposed of (discreetly, of course), and they will pass the red die to any other player, and take a new white one from the supply to replace it.

A new round now begins with the new holder of the red die, and each player will take turns recounting their actions at the party and rolling once again, until death claims another. At this point, you will notice, some players will be rolling more than one die on their turn, and more still will be rolled as the game wears on – this is simply the nature of things.

Play continues this way, with party guests (and, inevitably, hosts) succumbing to the epidemic, emptying their glasses and passing their dice on, describing more and more desperate acts as the night progresses and the company dwindles. Polite conversation turns to bitter accusations and recriminations, innocent flirtation becomes outright lechery, and the normally refined enjoyment of a simple meal may degenerate into an orgy of gluttony and inebriated debauchery. Any deeds that are described by any of the players should be treated as fact, regardless of their consequences, but they party guests must remain inside the mansion, and may not take the lives of any of the other guests outright – that is the sole purview of the pestilence that stalks the halls of this doomed revel.

Eventually, there will be but two that remain, and then one. The last surviving player will continue to describe his or her actions alone, rolling their copious supply of dice each time, until they too succumb to the plague. When the final partygoer has met their end, set all the empty vessels and dice aside. The party is over, and death has won the game again, as always.

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