Feb 9 2011

Game Poem 37: We Are True Men

We Are True Men is a game poem for two or more male players. You will need something to drink, and a glass for each player. The beverage may or may not be alcoholic, but it is strongly recommended that it is.

The players in this game will play the roles of soldiers from an ancient empire. They may choose to be Romans, Macedonians, Vikings, Egyptians, Persians, Mongols, Samurai, Carthaginians, or men of any other well-known imperium, whether from the real world, or entirely fictional. Whomever they serve, they will be great warriors who have served together for many years, fought in and won many battles, and who know each other better perhaps than they know themselves.

The soldiers of the empire are gathered together tonight, the evening before their greatest battle. Although you have never seen defeat before, this will be a fight like none other, and it is very likely that you will die on the field tomorrow. The players will identify their enemy, and decide they are fighting, and why the battle tomorrow will be so great and terrible. The enemy may be historical or fictional, but they must be named. The dangers that you will face in the morning must be described in detail. This is an enemy greater than any other, and you have all survived many years of war, and you know that even though you may die, your death will be a noble and glorious one.

At the start of the game, the soldiers are gathered in their camp on the night before the fray to come, drinking and telling stories of your past triumphs in battle, bonding with your brothers in arms before facing the carnage that will surely follow the next day. When all of the players have come together, drinks in hand, the boldest of them will come forward and raise his glass in a toast to the greatness of the assembled company, and their valorous triumphs past. He will point to another player, name them, and describe a specific moment of significance of theirs from a previous battle. Perhaps he showed great bravery in the face of overwhelming odds, saved the lives of his fellow warriors, or lead his men to certain victory; perhaps he is simply a masterful soldier, who has slain his enemies in some spectacular fashion.

Whatever the great deed may have been, after the tale has been told, all present will cheer their comrade, raise their glasses to join in the toast, and drink heartily. The player who received the honor of a toast must then approach the one who gave him the accolades, and make some physical sign of brotherhood with him. A clasped arm, a strong hand on the shoulder, a sportive blow to the chin, a manly hug, whatever seems appropriate. They must then declare, “WE ARE TRUE MEN!”, which will be met with another cheer from those present, as they make a bold statement relating the praise that they have just received to how fate will treat him in the coming battle. He may describe the manner in which he will defeat his adversaries, or how they will die with honor, or how he will throw himself on the sword of an enemy, trading his life for that of one of his brothers here.

That player will then turn to another, singling them out, calling them by name and similarly describing a heroic act that they have performed in a previous battle. Again, all present will cheer, toast their comrade, and drink. Again, the player who was toasted will make some physical act of fellowship with the one who toasted him; this act must be somehow greater than the previous ones. It must be more forceful, more intimate, or showing that the two men are closer to one another than they were earlier. This is important: each sign of brotherhood must be physical, and they must escalate in some way as the game progresses.

After the physical act, the player who was toasted must again declare “WE ARE TRUE MEN!”, lead a cheer, and relate their commendation to the coming day. After their boast, they will call out another player, toast them, and the game will continue around in this fashion until it has reached its end. As the game progresses, as the warriors drink and toast each other, their behavior will become more intense. It is possible that previously unspoken rivalries will be aired; it is possible that garments will be pulled aside to display wounds from past conflicts; it is possible that the men will simply embrace, drink, and sing together songs of victory – or grief for brothers lost.

This circle of boasting and tribute and rugged bonding will go on through the night, becoming more ardent and enthusiastic until the sun comes up, or until all of the warriors have run out of drink. (If you wish to continue playing, you may always refill your cup as many times as you like, of course.) When the evening ends in whatever way it may end, hail your brothers in arms once more with the cry, “WE ARE TRUE MEN!”, put out the campfire, and return to your tents. If there is any thing that you wish to do or say to your fellow soldiers before you go to do battle in the morning, now is the time to do so, for tomorrow it is very likely that you will die, and the things the need to be done or said will be left undone and unspoken for all time.

Apr 7 2010

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.