Tinkari is an ingénue, a sacred prostitute from the brothel-temple in the heart of the city of Kalrim. When he said he wanted to see the world, Mother rolled her eyes and said he’d be back soon; the world was full of ugliness and discomfort, when he lived surrounded by soft bread and music, by pleasure and beauty.
The Children of Shama have strict hospitality rules that require them to offer sustenance and shelter to anyone lost in the desert. On the whole, this works out well, since it gives some assurance that one will be rescued if one finds oneself alone. It also means that, should a Child of Shama set out across the desert, they will be able to intercept other tribes and know that they will be offered water and at least minimal provisions.
But the owner of this tent doesn’t know what they’re doing. They’ve made the mistake of traveling in the day and sleeping at night. The tent owner awoke to find these two travelers approaching with curiosity, preparing, as the sun rises, to make camp for the day and sleep through the high heat.
They are concerned that this foolish person will be a waste of their water, their coffee, their meager bread, and their lamb jerky provisions. They’d be happy to help someone across the desert, fulfilling their duty. They’re less sanguine about giving it to someone who is clearly just going to die of exposure in the next day.
To the south and west of the Center of the World lies the Desert. Few would cross its expanse alone, as no roads may survive the winds that wash them away in waves of sand, scouring every footprint to nothing. To those from the Center of the World, it is a vast sea of sand and rock, untouched by rain, populated with ferocious wild donkeys, herds of camel, and little else but the unpredictable Desertmen.
The Desertmen, though, know it as their home, Nagash-Ayat, She who Hides Treasure. They call themselves the People of Shama and their many tribes know its wadi, its oases, its seasons and tides, its monsters, its hidden delights.
For almost 15 years, I’ve been working hard to eliminate the device of “character generation” from my roleplaying games. The tradition, like an awful lot in RPGs, comes from wargames, where your choices about your character at the outset are strategic decisions that affect the outcome of your tactical decisions in play. But if our play is not about optimal tactical decisions, surely those initial choices can be something other than optimizing resource allocation.
By contrast, in fiction, the process of establishing the “normal” for the character, as well as what they want and why, is called “character exposition.” With fiction once again as our model, let me explain where I’ve gone and where I want to be for A Traveler, Alone and Shock:2.
Heroes have deaths. In fact, sometimes it’s the crux of their whole story, per Le Morte D’Arthur. And, like so many myths, they’re inconsistent. Did Herakles die? Or did he ascend to Mt. Olympus? It depends on who you ask and what their interest is in the answer.
The image of the lone adventurer, exiled from their home society, means a lot to us in American culture, with our adoration of the Exceptional Individual. But roleplaying games aren’t, in general, designed for it, and thanks to Tolkien (and our general love of social behavior), we often play in ensemble casts, anyway.
In Shock: and The Bloody-Handed Name of Bronze, I’ve tried to give us a couple other options. In Shock: your Protagonists often don’t know each other at all; the effect you have on each other is through the medium of your shared world as it changes, where each of you is a perspective on the changes that are occurring around you — and the impetus of that change. In The Bloody-Handed Name of Bronze, you often play with one other person. One of you portrays a lone Companion while the other Knows the Will of the Names of the World. That gives us room for single character stories (though, oddly, it’s harder to do stories about two protagonists like Gentlemen of the Road.) But it still doesn’t change the social dynamic.
And, of course, we use our imaginations in solitary form with mechanical guidance all the time. That’s reading.
The Gulabadam sat at the newborn campfire ruminating, his prodigious jaw grinding slowly at the plain, salted barley flatbread that he found so delicious. His tail wrapped around his waist, sitting in his lap like a pet, and his huge, bovine eyes glittered in the firelight and dawn gloaming.