Gazing on such wonderful sights, we did not know what to say, or whether what appeared before us was real, for on one side, on the land, there were great cities, and in the lake ever so many more, and the lake itself was crowded with canoes, and in the Causeway were many bridges at intervals, and in front of us stood the great City of Mexico, and we – we did not number four hundred soldiers!
Bernal Diaz del Castillo, Conquistador
John Keyworth’s game Intrepid Histories is in external playtesting and it’s easy, graceful and rewarding to play.
First we created Divergences for the world in which our version of the Conquest of Mexico (1519-21) was set:-
- Animals have the gift of language.
- Aliens have previously visited the Aztecs.
- Birdpeople of the Mexican isthmus use the thermals of nearby volcanoes to fly.
We chose to add two characters each to the base characters of Hernán Cortés, Doña Marina and Montezuma – this is many more characters than a game of Intrepid Histories really needs, but we were going for the grand sweep of history and a large supporting cast – and narrated a vignette for each of the characters we introduced.
I added the historical character of Pedro de Alvarado – called ‘Tonatio’ or ‘He Who Brings the Day’ by the Mexica (Aztecs) for his shock of red hair – to the ranks of the Conquistadors and Tlillancalqui or ‘The Keeper of the House of Darkness’ to the notables of Tenochtitlan, a bird-priest with whom it very quickly emerged that Cortés had been exchanging secret messages. Simon introduced Geromino de Aguilar, a Conquistador from a previous expedition kept as a slave by local Maya since 1511, and “Il Dottore”, an alcoholic veterinarian from the Spanish colonies in the Italian peninsula. Space Monkey went for Father Sebastio de Huscalia, a pyromaniac priest who was Confessor to Cortés, and Antatechapachtli or “He Who Speaks with Ants”, a Mexican with enormous ears who acted as diplomat for Montezuma.
The game proceeded from here with hardly a break in the flow over about two hours for the three of us. Father Sebastio burned mutineers, heretics and passers-by with equal abandon, Doña Marina stabbed Geromino de Aguilar in the back for trying to warn the Tlaxcalans of Cortés’ forthcoming betrayal at a wedding feast and Antatechapachtli sent pictographic processions of ants back and forth in such a way as to cause the animals to intercede in the Conquest of Mexico. We were both enlivened by the history and utterly surprised by the outcome of the game. You can’t ask for much more than that.
I added four historical events to John’s four-act structure and, much as I’m emotionally attached to the events at Tlaxcala and Cholula during the real-world Conquest, I’ll very likely do away with those and bookend the scenario with the first and last events: Cortés burning his ships to put down a mutiny and the Siege of Tenochtitlan itself. Our siege ended with Aztecs and Conquistadors fighting back-to-back in a losing battle against the insurgency of the animals.
Next, onto the surreal vistas of Itras By.