Derak in the Scarlet City

The Die is Cast

The waking comes as it has for a long time now: sharp and quick, rousing the consciousness up violently in mid-breath. Perhaps it is something acquired in my travels in the jungles, where the time between sleep and wakedness could bring death. Not that such danger wouldn’t exist in the jungle of man as well.

It is near noon, I figure, but the half-light presented speaks of a cloudy day outside, a rarity of sorts at this time of the summer. A quick inspection of my surroundings also reveals that my two hostesses are both still asleep — something not very special considering the way the City, and especially citizens like they live.

My attention is caught on sleeping Chrysal, her figure painted clearly to my eyes through the thin blanket she is covered under. She sleeps facing me, without paint, her chest slowly heaving in the rhythm of her sleep. I can see the faintest of lines that have started to manifest around her eyes. She can still cover them easily enough, but nothing lasts forever. The old Derak would probably frown at her at this state, yet the man who I am now is filled with only confusion and longing.

The stunt I pulled last night shouldn’t have succeeded! It goes against everything I think is professional or rational. Still, as I see my chest lying there near my makeshift mattress I feel relieved that it is now behind me.

I proceed in getting back to my own garb silently enough so that my hosts are not awakened. It seems that I will need new clothes, now that I can afford it. I then move my focus towards my chest.

I start with the blades and their machinery. Carefully I dismantle the springwork and straps that hold them in their place. Then the gyros and kestros are coming out one by one. The broken ones, go in the pile last, including one of the main gyroscopes that ceased to function yesterday.

Dull ache in my left knee wakes me up from my work and I realize my hosts have awakened and are following my actions with curious eyes. I simply nod to them and continue my work, after spreading one of my ointments amply around the painful area. This is certainly not the first time my joints have taken a toll from the line of my work and nor will it be the last.

My hosts stay quiet, perhaps they do not wish to interfere with my work. I am filled with odd shyness. What I am to do now with Chrysal now that I have managed to get to her with such a great effort.

I continue my work. I use brushes from small to extremely tiny to clean up the parts that have aggregated dust or grime. I apply various oils of different fluency according to the requirements of each part. The broken machinery I dismantle and start to fix them. I inspect the casing of my mainspring. Luckily it is still in perfect working order, as it is something I could not fix easily if not.

— Cloudy day outside, I start and immediately reprimand myself inside. What a dimwit start for a conversation. Is that a smile in the corner of Chrysal’s mouth?

— Yes it is. Perhaps we should eat some breakfast and then proceed to settling our matters.

That has an ominously final ring to it in my ears. Still I nod and continue my work. Sharpening of the various blades is next. As my hosts are working on breakfast, I take care every blade until they are razor-sharp and ready for anything. Now I only need to go through the rest of my stash and arrange my bodybag for my alchemy and the jewels from my stash.

Putting my gear together fills me with newfound confidence. Just like an old man’s cane the familiar things tend to get me back on track. Surely I have to do something! I am not a coward, even with my newfound conscience. It is not possible to run away from my past forever. I have to reconcile it with my head held high or fall trying. Everything I can do to prepare for it can be done in this room, today.

I smile to the women as I attend to the breakfast they have conjured. It is much the same than the meal I had with them yesterday. Perhaps a bit more fruit and less cheese than the one before but nonetheless.

— What are you going to do next, Chrysal asks between the bites. A bold question, in line of bold statements and actions done on her part. I am not to stay in her shadow though. If I am to take horrible risks just to stay close to her, I need to try to make the best of it.

— Three things. Firstly I am going to give you this.

I drop a ruby of considerable value to her hand. I keep my grasp on her wrist for a few seconds and look her straight in the eyes.

— And thank you for all your troubles you have taken for my account. Secondly, I am going to tell you my story of my trip to the faraway lands. It will take a while and will sound like a ramblings of a madman, but nonetheless all of it is true and it explains why I didn’t recognize you even though I should have when you approached me.

— Thirdly I am going to search for the Mask Market using the name of my former mentor Papak as way to get an audience. And when you have heard my story you will undestand why, as it is that I can never be an endsman anymore.

After a small pause I take her hand into mine.

— I would gladly wish to hear your story as well. Perhaps we can have a part in each other’s stories of the future.

Rolled ‘4’.

The match starts.

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8 thoughts on “The Die is Cast

  1. I took a Goal Die and started the match. Considering Derak’s position here, he makes a clear decision to confront his past rather than try to shy away from it. Now that he has geared up (and tries to confine himself to Chrysal, we’ll see how that goes) there is really not much more what he can do by hiding. Derak is also perhaps bit moody in his nature, he is in a bold state of mind now when he fixed his gadgetry.

    I got to start the match before Eero, but I am bit worried of the fact that the story might not give too much opportunities for me to get more goal dice, if and when the Monster starts to break things and force Derak to react. Perhaps this is a needless fear, we’ll see.

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  2. Aha, this turn I liked – definitive action is here. Derak gaining a Goal die out of the choice to tell his story implies that discovering connection with people is the first step towards his self-discovery.

    As you said in passing it hints towards gaining a Lover die at some point, but a close reading of the rules clarifies that to us: unlike the Goal, the Lover die is only awarded for a definitive answer about the nature of the relationship – there’s even a list of actions that count here straight in the text:
    – Promising to abandon her
    – Promising to bring her with you when you go
    – Promising to stay
    – Deciding to embrace her
    – Deciding to not embrace her

    This is different from the way the Goal dice work, as with those you get dice for “progress” rather than an end result. The distinction may be clearer if you imagine how the Goal dice would work if they worked the same way the Lover dice do: you would only gain the die once you have the Goal in hand, or decide to abandon the struggle.

    As the Lover’s value is either 1 or 2 (2 in this story), it may be the case that it is possible to gain more than one die off the Lover. You can see how gaining the second die might well imply a dramatic turn; the hero might have changed his mind about the nature of the relationship since gaining the first die. You particularly can’t just repeat the same promise a second time for the second die. And of course further actions towards the Lover after the limit is reached do not count for more dice.

    Because the Lover can only grant you one or two dice, you can’t really plan your entire strategy around her; Goal dice are needed to match the GM’s 4-6 Monster dice. This means that the main significance of the Lover dice comes from being a tie-breaker and a tempo advantage: because you can score both the Lover and Goal dice on the same Go, it’s the perfect way to do a little sprint or manipulate the parity of your dice tower. As you need two good dice for every pick in the Climax, you want to make sure that you have an even number of them at the end; assuming a simple Match where the players trade turns gaining dice, the Lover die can easily turn an odd tower into an even one.

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  3. That is a great sum-up of the use of the Lover Die.

    Also I must say I am happy with the choice of the title for this Go …. as well as the dice itself. I really am going to need it in the future.

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  4. Yes you are. The way the math works in the game, the hero player would “ideally” want to have roughly 2-4 “picks” at the end of the Match – in the so-called Climax. The exact number varies slightly depending on both the dice rolls and the fictional circumstances, but it’s in that ball-park (with a need for just one pick and a need for five picks being rare outliers), and any deficit will mean a certain amount of tragedy for the way the story ends. For each pick you want to have rolled roughly 2.3 dice during the Match – the actual math is a bit complex, but that’s around where it falls.

    So in the big picture the hero “needs” to have the time to roll an average of about 5 to 9 dice in the same number of Goes that the GM spends in rolling 4-6 dice (depending on the number of the Monster). It’s barely possible, and therefore a completely perfect ending is barely within reach mathematically, but very likely it is not. Issues such as skipped dice (Goes where the hero does not struggle for the Goal or the GM doesn’t feature the Monster) and leveraging the Lover for that sweet bonus die have a major impact, and they all need to go the hero’s way, or the dice luck needs to be in their favour very consistently, for the perfect outcome to emerge.

    If you as a hero player even suspect that the fictional circumstances are swaying the given story towards the upper end of that range, you might also as start the Match with a slight tinge of desperation in everything you do, as every additional pick on top of the obvious ones (such as the hero’s personal safety) represents a major hurdle to overcome by luck and pacing. There are particularly two big circumstances that are responsible for the majority of the uncertainty in that initial range of “picks needed” that I started with:
    – Is the Lover in peril in the story, and do you care if they are?
    – Is the Monster something that needs to die?

    As it is, we’re entering the Match with both of those “swing issues” largely wrapped in mystery. It may be that Petteri grabbing the initiative in the dicing, and rolling what almost certainly amounts to a good die, has launched him a goodly way towards flawless victory – or it maybe the case that it has merely helped build a silver lining for what amounts to an awful situation no matter what you do. Depends on if Derak currently lives in a story universe where he needs 4 good dice, or one where he needs 8 to get everything important done.

    It may be interesting to note that in both of our prior episodes in this campaign the Lover has been in peril and the Monster has needed to die (or at least the hero has found it in their heart to slay it in favour of other concerns) – the swing issues were active concerns in both Climaxes. Historical data suggests that the hero may end up regretting a “bare minimum” dice tower at the end.

    I’ll also add that if the dicing system seems horribly unfair to the hero, it’s good to remember that stories thrive on tragedy. The possibility of getting the “perfect ending” is nice to have, but the fact that the hero will likely end up having to make hard choices at the end is what makes the game interesting as a game.

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  5. Indeed the seeds of tragedy are always present. Not that Derak is not already tragic enough.

    Perhaps a campaign of s/lay can end up in either piling up the tragedy enough for the character to decide to quit (or have a heroic death or whatever) or on a particularly good set of luck he can end up redeeming himself and settles in somewhere.

    I seem to have left you with an interesting situation regarding to the match. The story seems to demand some kind of an information exchange next, rather than bringing in monster and hitting Derak to the head with it. We’ll see how it turns out.

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  6. Yeah, it’s possible that I will need to pass on the Monster on this Go for plot continuity reasons. It’s a natural part of play, and one that actually produces more uncertainty into the overall game outcomes than the dice roll results do. The story that comes out is largely driven by the hero player’s need to feature and extend the struggle for the Goal, and the GM player’s need to feature the Monster.

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  7. A nice new addition to the story – it’s really nice to see Derak finally revealing some of his thoughts and feelings about his situation, and opening up to someone for the first time.

    The analysis of the dicing and authorial decisions being made is also really good; makes me appreciate the design of the game more. There are a lot of interesting dynamics hidden in a deceptively simple procedure.

    It occurs to me that Petteri may have written his previous Go as a setup for Eero: he saw what he did as a pretty foolish move, and was expecting to be punished for it. In practical terms, he may have been angling for some tragedy and trouble for Derak, but also perhaps trying to lure Eero out for an opportunity to show him the Monster.

    (Is any of that close to the mark, Petteri?)

    However, Petteri doesn’t know the nature of the Monster, which Eero has already determined, and some of that information may have prevented Eero from doing so. I won’t say more than that, since it would give away some other details of a yet unwritten story, but it’s amusing.

    If I’m right about all of the above, then it’s a funny miscommunication of sorts: two players feinting at each other, and neither willing to strike.

    In a similar way, has Petteri here intentionally maneuvered Eero into making another Go without gaining a die? The rules of S/lay w/Me allow for the possibility of the Monster and the Lover being one and the same… but if that’s not the case, it may be difficult for Eero to bring in the Monster in any organic way. If that’s intentional, it’s an interesting strategy in what is otherwise an entirely collaborative storytelling game.

    (My suspicion, though, is that Petteri is simply curious about Derak’s past, and would rather have Eero write about it, so he can discover it himself!)

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  8. To me it seems that all of your speculations are true, Paul.

    Perhaps I did align Derak for a failure, or at least I was suspecting something like it to happen. I most definitely am interested about Derak’s past in the dark, yet I am currently not knowledgeable enough to portray Chrysal in anything that is deeper than a casual conversation, so it is natural to toss the ball to Eero at this point. After we have seen more of her, I can better grasp how she is aligned to the situation so I can probe their relationship better.

    It was not my intention specifically to prevent Eero from gaining any dice, but it surely is a good bonus as we know I will need every dice I can get to support my character. As stated, I think the continuing of the narrative (or literary logic, whatever the term) is king here: if I am driven in a situation where I must write a turn without advancing the goal because of literary concerns, then it is the dice that has to go.

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