Game Poem 31: Bear Season

This game requires around four to six players. Together, you will play the part of a bear in its natural habitat, each of you taking on a different aspect of the animal. Each player selects a part of the bear to embody, no two choosing the same. One player may portray the teeth of the bear, another the claws; one may choose to speak for the bear’s nose and sense of smell, and someone else may take the part of the bear’s eyes, and tell what it sees. Someone may choose to be the bear’s hide and fur, or its stomach, its hunger, driving it towards food and prey, or the bear’s heart, its courage and instincts, or its fear and wariness towards mankind.

Oh yes, there is also a hunter out there somewhere. Perhaps he hunts the bear, or maybe he is after some other game, and has merely wandered into the bear’s territory. Will they cross paths, and if they do, will one pose a threat to the other, or will they find a way to pass each other without a confrontation? Choose an object, a marker to show where the hunter is in the circle of players. If you can find an arrowhead, or a spent shotgun shell, or something similar to represent the hunter, excellent. If not, any kind of stone or metal marker will do.

Select one player to hold the hunter’s marker to begin. The player on their left will begin the bear’s story by taking on the role of Nature, and set the initial scene that the bear finds itself in. They will describe the season, what time of day it is, and the bear’s surroundings. The bear may find itself swatting trout out of a rushing stream on a sunny summer day, or curled up sleeping in a hollow, waiting for the last winter snows to melt away. It may be rummaging in leafy underbrush of the forest, or climbing a tree to find a meal of tasty fruits and acorns, or snuffing around after a mate in the spring.

Once the stage is set, the Nature player may add a detail or two, something that might interest or intrigue the animal. In turn, the other players will describe how their aspects of the bear would react to the the setting and the details presented. If the bear finds a burrow, its nose may smell a litter of baby foxes, its claws may wish to dig it out, or its sense of curiosity may simply growl into it, to see what happens. In a winter storm, the bear’s fur may simply wish to seek shelter under a snow drift, but its stomach may wish to press on to fill the bear’s belly before settling down.

The one restriction on the aspects’ descriptions is this: if a player holds the hunter’s token, they must incorporate an element of danger into their part’s bit of narration. Does the nose smell a human nearby? Perhaps the ears heard the crack of gunshots in the distance. Or is that the howl of wolves? The hide may be reminded of an old scar, or the heart may remember being bested by an older bear in a scrap last season. Whatever it is, the additional narration must potentially pose some kind of direct or indirect jeopardy to the bear.

When all the other players have described what their aspects sense or desire, the Nature player chooses one of them to focus on over the others, and tells the brief tale of how the scene is resolved. Does the bear eat its nuts and berries and fall asleep peacefully under the oak tree? Does it find a place to hibernate through the winter, or find a mate in the spring? Is it bitten on the snout when it goes digging recklessly into a badger’s den, or clumsily fall into the river while fishing? Or was that indeed a pack of wolves howling into the night, harrying the bear until the dawn?

Normally, when the scene is ended, the player who holds the hunter’s marker passes is to the player on their right. However, if the Nature player chose the description that held additional danger, the one described by the player holding the hunter’s marker, the hunter’s marker will immediately pass to that player who took the role of Nature. The player on their left will then become the new Nature player, and set a new scene for the bear to experience and react to.

One thing. If the player who is playing the role of Nature begins their turn describing a scene, and they also hold the hunter’s marker, they must incorporate the hunter himself into the scene. The hunter’s presence must by physical and immediate. All of the bear’s aspects must directly address the hunter’s sudden appearance in their reactions. When choosing an outcome, the Nature player must resolve the conflict between the hunter in the bear in some way. The scene will not necessarily end with the demise of the bear or the hunter, but if it does, the game will end when that scene ends. If both the bear and the hunter survive the confrontation, pass the hunter’s marker and the role of Nature as usual, and continue until one of them kills the other, or until you feel that the bear’s story has been fully told. If both carry on through this story, it is entirely possible that one or both of them will appear the next time this game is played.

Leave a Reply