Infernal Desire Machines: The Imaginary

I want to live other lives. I’ve never quite believed that one chance is all I get.

Anne Tyler

The deeper implications of Doctor Hoffman’s paradigm now begin to assert themselves:-

First theory of Phenomenal Dynamics:
The universe has no fixed substratum of fixed substances and its only reality lies in its phenomena.

Second theory of Phenomenal Dynamics:
Only change is invariable.

Third theory of Phenomenal Dynamics:
The difference between a symbol and an object is quantitative, not qualitative.


Act 2: Lost in Nebulous Time (The Imaginary)

Relationships between characters, and between characters and free-floating phenomena, may have turned messy during the first turn of the game: that’s all well and good. Now we begin again.

Each player draws one major arcana and briefly frames a scene from any point in history based on the card. Write them on post-its or just keep them in mind; these scenes are ‘out there’.

Players then ‘bid’ by indicating how many cards they would be prepared to ‘burn’ to see a scene enter play. If no-one bids or the result is a draw, then the Ambassador (see below) either frames a scene of his own, or chooses the scene with which the second act begins.

The player that won the bid then uses the imagery of the card(s) she burned in conjunction with the scene’s major arcana to frame the first scene. These cards are placed in the centre of the table. The next player clockwise then chooses how she will become involved in the scene; and so on.

There are two special moves in the Imaginary:-

Augment scenes already taking place by adding a card to those already in the middle of the table. Use the imagery of the card to complicate matters or take them forward.

Evoke new scenes based on the imagery of a new card from your hand or trace. This may be used in conjunction with one of the major arcana used to set up a scene at the beginning of the second act.

Augmenting is ‘joining in’ where evoking is ‘changing the subject’ – but one move will have a tendency to lead to the other. Evoked scenes take place on a different part of the table but conjoin with ‘central’ scenes if:-

  • a) characters cross or interact between scenes;
  • b) players refer to the other scene(s), whether accidentally or on purpose;
  • c) the Ambassador augments an imaginative leap between scenes, whether out of mischief or as a form of psychological engineering.

Scenes that overlap are considered to have coalesced, and their cards are placed together in the centre of the table as part of a pool through which any character may thereafter enter play.

NB: Cards used to evoke or augment scenes in the Imaginary cannot be re-used in Symbolic challenges: they have a life of their own. This doesn’t prevent new cards being burned (from the hand) or re-applied (from a trace).

The Realm of The Imaginary is messy: it’s about the oneiric force of an emerging narrative and the interplay of emotional entanglements that underpin this. Cut if necessary. Discard unwanted cards. Order can arise spontaneously, even at the end of time and space.

Have the Ambassador turn up if characters are going round in circles. If players are arguing amongst themselves, evoke a new scene or go to the next act, The Real – the part of the game designed for discussing where the story should go. Don’t be afraid to punctuate. A free-flowing game benefits from well-timed interventions.

The Ambassador


Luxuriantly glossy black hair so black it was purplish in colour made of his head almost too heavy a helmet to be supported by the slender column of his neck and his blunt-lipped, sensual mouth was also purplish in colour, as if he had been eating berries. Around his eyes, which were as hieratically brown and uncommunicative as those the Ancient Egyptians painted on the sarcophagi, were thick bands of solid gold cosmetic and the nails on his long hands were enamelled dark crimson, to match the nails on his similarly elegant feet, which were fully exposed by sandals consisting of mere gold thongs … I think he was the most beautiful human being I have ever seen – considered, that is, solely as an object, a construction of flesh, skin, bone and fabric, and yet, for all his ambiguous sophistication, indeed, perhaps in its very nature, he hinted at a savagery which had been cunningly tailored to suit the drawing room, though it had been in no way diminished.

Angela Carter

The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman

The Doctor has an agenda. The Ambassador will be happy to explain it to you:-

“The Doctor has liberated the streets from the tyranny of directions and now they can go anywhere they please. He also set the timepieces free so that now they are authentically pieces of time and can tell everybody whatever time they like. I am especially happy for the clocks. They used to have such innocent faces. They had the water-melon munching, opaquely-eyed visages of slaves and the Doctor has already proved himself a horological Abraham Lincoln. He will liberate you all.”


Trace: Hierophant / King of Pentacles
Hand: 3 cards

Trump suit: Pentacles / 25

Augment: Persistent

Rewrite: Epilogue (one scene only)

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