Infernal Desire Machines: The Symbolic

Narrative Structure

1. The City Under Siege (Symbolic)
2. Lost in Nebulous Time (Imaginary)
3. The Elaboratory (Real)

Act 1: The Symbolic Order (of the City)

Consider the nature of a city. It is a vast repository of time, the discarded times of all the men and women who have lived, worked, dreamed and died in the streets which grow like a wilfully organic thing, unfurl like the petals of a mired rose and yet lack evanescence so entirely that they preserve the past in haphazard layers, so this alley is old while the avenue that runs beside it is newly built but nevertheless has been built over the deep-down, dead-in-the-ground relics of the older, perhaps the original, huddle of alleys which germinated the entire quarter. Dr Hoffman’s gigantic generators sent out a series of seismic vibrations which made great cracks in the hitherto immutable surface of the time and space equation we had informally formulated in order to realize our city and, out of these cracks, well – nobody knew what would come next.

Angela Carter

The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman

Locations equal to the number of players are granted a) a trump suit, b) a connection to one or more of the characters, and c) a number of (unseen) cards appropriate to the size of the challenge they present.

Each of the four suits of the Tarot supplies a ‘tenor’ or context to the scene, and each player plays cards from her hand (which are burned) or her trace (which can be re-used throughout the game).

A Challenge may take place between players, between player(s) and NPC(s) and between players and an aspect of the environment. Cards used must a) match the trump suit, or b) be of a related suit narrated into the action by a player:-

Wands – sphere of STRENGTH.
Opposed to Cups, related to Swords/Pentacles.
Swords – sphere of AGILITY.
Opposed to Pentacles, related to Wands/Cups.
Pentacles – sphere of KNOWLEDGE.
Opposed to Swords, related to Wands/Cups.
Cups – sphere of PSYCHE.
Opposed to Wands, related to Swords/Pentacles.

How other characters and NPCs ‘feel’ about what you’re doing may complicate your task. Base difficulties are:- Easy: 10 / Average: 15 / Hard: 20 / Nah: 25Symbolic success in any task is likely to rely on more than one card, or the presence of at least one minor arcana:- Pages: 12 / Knights: 14 / Queens: 16 / Kings: 20.

The loser’s score is subtracted from that of the victor in physical contests, the result being the level of injury. Every increment of ten equals one life lost; each life lost means the loss of one card from a player’s maximum of five.

The Symbolic Order overlaps the Realm of the Imaginary, affording each player the opportunity to narrate an aspect of their unconscious desire into the scene through the special move Phantasm.

A card (from either trace or hand) may be burned to introduce an apparition into a symbolic location. Don’t be shy about this. Let rip. These are long-buried emotions taking shape.

Cards burned to introduce phantasmagoria into locations may not also be used in challenges. Phantasms may, however, ‘meld’ into the cards (and therefore the ‘meaning’) of any location.

In the case of the first location, the Opera House, an aspect of the opera being performed could ‘come alive’ or a scene from any film set at the opera might make itself felt – the swordfight from Scaramouche, for instance, or Mozart’s dad coming down the stairs in Amadeus. The action here is pataphysical – ie connected metaphorically to something that is already occurring symbolically.

Other locations around the city include the River, the Underground and the Coast of Africa, or indeed any other single location chosen by a player. The suspension of time and space means that any location may connect to any other via the Realm of the Imaginary.

The Imaginary, a version of which was used in the Playstorm at Indiemeet, contains two special moves, Augment and Evoke, each of which relies on the imagery of the Tarot. The Real invites players to use one of two further special moves – Inrupt or Rewrite.


The Opera House

Peacocks shrieked and fluttered like distracted rainbows and soon they let down the safety curtain… It was Dr Hoffman’s first disruptive coup.

Angela Carter

The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman

Trump Suit: Cups.
Punctuation: the fat lady sings.

Rising out of a city-wide plethora of plants and trees and fauna, the Opera House also contains the mythological jungle that surrounds it; any character may be part of its audience or cast, anything may be expressed if done so with ardour. Cards are awarded for singing, gesticulating, passing out in an unbearably florid manner. Introverts may leave by the back exit.

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