Tore Nielsen, Neal Stidham and Brian Wille did me the great honour of playing Black Dog Dérive over Hangouts last night. Tremendous fun.
Ville Vuorela’s game STALKER: The SciFi Roleplaying Game is available here.
We lack – we need – a term for those places where one experiences a ‘transition’ from a known landscape onto John’s ‘far side of the moon’, into Hudson’s ‘new country’, into Berry’s ‘another world’: somewhere we feel and think significantly differently. I have for some time been imagining such transitions as ‘border crossings’. These borders do not correspond to national boundaries, and papers and documents are unrequired at them. Their traverse is generally unbiddable, and no reliable map exists of their routes and outlines. They exist even in familiar landscapes: there when you cross a certain watershed, treeline or snowline, or enter rain, storm or mist, or pass from boulder clay onto sand, or chalk onto greenstone. Such moments are rites of passage that reconfigure local geographies, leaving known places outlandish or quickened, revealing continents within countries.
What might we call such incidents and instances – or, rather, how to describe the lands that are found beyond these frontiers? ‘Xenotopias’, perhaps, meaning ‘foreign places’ or ‘out-of-place places’, a term to compliment our ‘utopias’ and ‘dystopias’. Martin Martin, the traveller and writer who in the 1690s set sail to explore the Scottish coastline, knew that one does not need to displace oneself vastly in space in order to find difference. ‘It is a piece of weakness and folly merely to value things because of their distance from the place we are born,’ he wrote in 1697, ‘thus men have travelled far enough in the search of foreign plants and animals, and yet continue strangers to those produced in their own natural climate.’ So did Roger Deakin: ‘Why would anyone want to go to live abroad when they can live in several countries at once just by being in England?’ he wondered in his journal. Likewise, Henry David Thoreau: ‘An absolutely new prospect is a great happiness, and I can still get this any afternoon. Two or three hours’ walking will carry me to as strange a country as I expect ever to see. A single farmhouse which I had not seen is sometimes as good as the dominions of the King of Dahomey.’
The American artist William Fox has spent his career exploring what he calls ‘cognitive dissonance in isotropic spaces’, which might be more plainly translated as ‘how we easily get lost in spaces that appear much the same in all directions’. Fox’s thesis is that we are unable to orient ourselves in such landscapes because we evolved in the close-hand environments of jungle and savannah. In repetitive, data-depleted landscapes with few sight-markers, ‘our natural navigational abilities begin to fail catastrophically’. Fox had travelled to Antarctica, to the American deserts and to the volcanic calderas in the Pacific to explore such monotone spaces – but David and I had stumbled into one a few hundred years off the Essex coast.
That the was name of the story on which SF writer Jane P Richards was working in our game of Left Coast last night.
It’s a great game: brief, full of flavour and very playful about the long-mooted relationship between madness and creativity. The set-up procedures are a little intense – lots of lists and things to remember – but part of the game in themselves, really; once we got going, we found it easy to play into the themes and out the other side.
The Squatter in the Loft was a tale of a soldier returning from Vietnam with a magician from the medieval city of Angkor Wat living in his head. It was a thinly-veiled portrayal of Jane’s annoying neighbour Elliot Spangler and it quickly emerged that Jane had (a) failed to get the story published and (b) been reduced to selling a “slice-of-life” series of pieces on Elliot to the nearby San Francisco Examiner; this, in turn, had attracted the attention of the FBI, who had sent agent Felix Hamilton to pose as her new landlord.
Space Monkey’s performance as Elliot Spangler was hilarious and Simon and I struggled to hold it together. We agreed that it felt like the pilot of some tripped-out sitcom and we’ll probably return for another episode.
A nefarious combination of train strikes and work and childcare commitments are wreaking havoc with our group at the moment and it felt good to be playing again. Back to Trail of Cthulhu next, as we finish off events in London before moving onto the wonderful Dreamhounds of Paris.
Last night’s Stalker two-parter ended tragically with Mistral watching White Wheel spinning endlessly at the heart of an all-encompassing Black Dog and Deptford Dave realising he was a replica of himself. Next we’re going to try Dream Askew, a game I’ve wanted to play for some considerable time. The guys were picking their outfits as I left.
Seven double-page spreads designed to be used as prompts for improvisation, creative inspiration or random tables provide the spine of the story: pre-generated characters, maps and guidance for play form the scenario’s second half.
Right now, the scenario is freely available only as a desktop PDF but other formats may soon become available:-