The Dungeons of Despair!

A corner of the page showing "Cheat Your Ow..." and part of the text of the game.
Cheat Your Own Adventure image courtesy of Shane Mclean.

Tonight we also played a session of Cheat Your Own Adventure by Shane Mclean. We start on a flight to Zoomtopia, a video conferencing conference, when we discover that the sessions we intend to attend are at the same time as the Snoop Dogg performance. We decide to reserve a spot at all sessions at that time, but when we arrive we learn that the only session that had space for us is one called “The Dungeons of Despair!” As we’re trying to sneak into the concert venue, an event guide shows up and escorts us into the venue’s basement where we enter a dark room with a roaring fire in a center pit. Throwing caution to the wind, we jump into the pit and find ourselves in an empty space, greeted by a man who says, “My name is Despair. Welcome to my dungeons.” He leads us past prisoners chained to the walls and tombs with the names of the interred. We’re unable to find Tupac’s tomb but do get a glimpse Biggie’s; of course, this is an East coast conference. Finally, we’re taken to a clean room in which sits a man in a business suit. He introduces himself as the Zoom CTO and starts a presentation about his block-chain pyramid scheme, which quickly puts us to sleep. When we wake, the CTO has been replaced by Zoom’s CEO who shows us the headlines about Zoom’s conquest of the world through their Bitcoin scheme. Desperate to escape, we ask for a bathroom break (due to conference chili) and at the mention of bodily functions the germaphobic CEO goes squeamish, tells us to use the facilities through a nearby door, and quickly leaves the room to compose himself. Using the large torture chair we’d been sitting in to climb up and use the novelty throwing star from the conference swag bag, we pry open the ventilation grating. A hand drops down which we pull on, pulling down a hideous monster by it’s proboscis that looks like a human arm. We use the stunned monster as a weapon to attack and knock out the returning CEO and crawl away into the ventilation system. By following the sounds of music, we find our way to Snoop Dogg’s performance and come out on stage, joining in with the backup dancers to our favorite song.

Notable wrong turns:

  • Throwing the novelty weapon, which boomeranged back, knocked us over, and caused us to pull the torture chair down on top of and crushing us.
  • Accepting the hand offered from the grate, so being eaten by the hideous monster at the other end.
  • Stopping in the ventilation shaft to take a selfie, and watching the tunnel python strike us.

For a Copied Queen

This week we played For the Queen by Alex Roberts about the retinue accompanying their Queen on a mission to secure peace with a distant kingdom. Our cast includes Loki, the Queen’s erstwhile but gorgeous, part-time husband; Jefferson, a Queen’s Fashion Brigadier and mobile tailor and launderer; Meena, the Queen’s very conflicted councilor and inveterate prankster; and Kelty, the Queen’s Champion and hideously ugly other husband.

As we travel to his homeland, Yalantia, Kelty tells the retinue about Quantus, the sorcerer who rules there with an iron fist, subjugating its people, and his ambitions to rule over all. Kelty fights for the Queen so she can bring peace to the world as she has promised to. We travel through the forests on Meena’s family’s ancestral lands, now ruled by her sibling who has no loyalty for the Queen. When a band of cutthroats ambush the Queen, she willingly hands herself over to them because Loki had asked her go along when he had forewarned her of the attack.

Bright red box shown at an angle so revealing two sides, with "For the Queen" at the top and a picture of a queen below on each side.
For the Queen box image courtesy of Evil Hat Productions.

Kelty rides off and outflanks the sellswords deeper in the forests and returns triumphantly with the Queen. This leads to further pranks played by Meena on both Kelty and Loki, as she remains insanely jealous of those the Queen claims to love more than her. Upon her return, the Queen orders Jefferson to make her a new headdress to mark the occasion. Jefferson recalls how when they first joined the fashion brigade, the Queen had complimented the comfort of the shoes they had made her.

The Queen’s imperiousness, arrogance, and cruelty grow the closer we travel to Yalantia. She sends word to Meena’s family to “Remember Zandriya” and keep the path clear for her procession after the ambush. Meena recalls with pain when the Queen had ordered the execution of Zandriya, her lover and friend. She tries to rationalize the Queen’s decision and behavior, but it doesn’t stop her from fingering the radioactive gemstones she carries in her pouch, radiation that she knows the Queen would die from if exposed to. The Queen even says how glad she is to have killed Zandriya when she had the chance. Unbeknownst to all, the Queen is testing them and their loyalty, so she can choose the one who will be her true consort, but has she gone too far?

The Queen is attacked before we’ve reached Yalantia by Meena, an attack in keeping with her habit for trickery: she laces the Queen’s meal with the pulverized radioactive gem. Only Kelty rises to help the Queen once he recognizes her distress, but it is too late and the Queen succumbs. None are as shocked by this as by what happens next, however, for Loki reveals himself to be none other than the sorcerer Quantus. He opens a portal, steps through, and returns with a duplicate of the Queen, who he sets at the head of the table as if nothing has happened. Was our Queen just another of Quantus’s clones all along? He’s not telling.

A Selfless Downfall

We got to play Caroline Hobbs’ Downfall at our first (of many I hope!) game night of Story Games Wilmington.

We created a community that lived in domes at the bottom of the sea, using steam as its main source of power. The core value of this community which made it prosper in this very difficult location was selflessness. People here had to continually put the group ahead of themselves in order to have enough to eat and to be able to build a community, so they called their world the Hope Bubble. The Bubblers had some very interesting practices and traditions that they developed through time to encourage this selflessness.

For instance, the most popular form of entertainment was swarm racing. People loved to attend or participate in these events. People would form into huge groups at the arena and then run as fast as they could together. Since participants were so close to one another, coordination and communication where key to keep everyone standing and not trampled by other team members.

One of the hardships that shaped the Bubblers the most, was the dearth of food available in this section of the sea. To solve this, the people from the Hope Bubble had to do regular sacrifices in which a person from the community would wear a bucket of chum as a necklace and go up into the sea to attract swarms close to the bubble. As the swarm devoured the chum and the sacrificed member, the rest of the community would hunt the swarm and get the much needed food.

But probably the most interesting practice this community developed was its form of government. To ensure there is never a conflict of interest among those in power, an Ambivalence Task Force was developed that is charged with identifying people’s interests so that they can then assign positions of power to those that have no personal interest to the realm they are assigned, thus guaranteeing that all decisions made will be selfless.

Ultimately, this ended up being the downfall of the community. While the system worked for a long time, it also lead to having people unqualified or uninterested in government who were not willing to make any decisions when the mail stopped working and the bucket of chum was never delivered. Despite efforts by some to encourage direct action without going through the government channels, the community did not get enough food and died slowly of starvation.

Follow Us, Not Those False Gods

Tonight we played Follow by Ben Robbins with a group of people who had haphazardly fallen through a time portal into ancient Greece before the time of Socrates. Realizing our advanced knowledge and limited technology make us akin to gods, we decide to convince the populace to worship us rather than their traditional deities. Our fellowship includes bodybuilder and social media influencer Vlad Stronk, casino bum and con artist Ms. Ann Thrope, agitator and chaos agent Liesl, social activist and the mathematician whose calculations created the time portal Zane, an inventor and businessman calling himself Edison, and the artificial lifeform he invented named Grumpus. Other people who passed through the portal are Dr. Johnson, Mary Martin (no relation), CEO Dave, Lizzy the idler, and Marta the product hype maniac.

Follow rpg logo over alpine mountain peaks
Follow logo courtesy Lamemage Games.

We start by trying to undermine the people’s attachment to the old gods who stand in our way and who we must supplant. Edison begins by showing the Greeks how to build elaborate aqueducts to bring fresh water to their homes and their fields, which turns some’s thoughts away from the importance of sacrificial offerings. Stronk organizes the first ProteinCorp Games to show how powerful he is by lifting a man he claims is a son of Hercules while the man is lifting weights. Thorpe takes a picture of Lizzy with her handheld and convinces onlookers she has used it to take over Lizzy’s body in a shakedown of the peasantry, threatening to come back and do the same to them if they don’t cough up the proper tribute. During a public debate about whether and how much grain to release from the communal silos, Liesl sows discord by heckling debaters, encouraging selfishness, and starting a grain riot when she has her followers open the grain gates and start a dash for the grain. Grumpus participates in a parade honoring us, but his float (and his alone) is intercepted by priests of the old gods who try to disrupt his progress, but Grumpus wins a drinking contest against one priest and with his great strength, walks away unscathed. Through all this, Zane and Dr. Johnson have been attempting to better the people by teaching them advanced mathematics and the things it can make possible, but the constant parades, con jobs, protection scams, athletic games, aqueduct construction, and grain riots interrupt their every effort. In the end, Lizzy dies during the grain riots when she is too laid back about getting out of the way of the onrushing crowds, and we fail to convince people to stop worshiping their traditional gods.

In retribution, we decide to destroy a city as an example to the people of our power and the consequences of defying we gods who live among them. We start with a scene of Zane and Edison brainstorming approaches and options, then follow it with a montage of Edison constructing a beautiful machine for knocking down fortifications that consists of an elaborate scooping shovel built around a team of oxen that we call the Oxdozer. Meanwhile, Vlad works with Dr. Johnson to create a series of catapults for firing his team of megajocks into the city’s political amphitheater where they slaughter the assembled leaders. Liesl uses the Oxdozers to knock down the city’s temple, encourages and starts a round of looting, and drives the survivors toward the ships in the bay, saying she will allow them to leave, but then begins fire-bombing the fleeing ship using the catapults when they do. Thrope meanwhile makes a hot air balloon and begins dropping sweets and other goodies on the people of another town to announce our arrival and sow the seeds for our next conversion. Unfortunately, our efforts may lay waste to a city but have no impact on the worshipping habits of the local populace.

Zane decides to leave us behind and becomes a wandering monk, wise to the ways of the universe and advocate for social justice wherever they go. Vlad decides that instead of godhood to seek worldly power and goes to Sparta where his self-discipline and amazing abs will make him their natural leader, and immediately begins to teach them the tricks of the media influencer trade. Ms. Ann Thrope basically continues what she has always done, duping people for money and keeping one step ahead of the law. Liesl gives up on the Greeks and moves north to live among the barbarian tribes who better appreciate her chaotic lifestyle. Grumpus had wanted to find acceptance and love, but decides he must settle for fear and takes up piracy. Edison finds a small island to the west and builds an elaborate palace festooned with mechanical wonders that comes to be known as Atlantis, which Grumpus proceeds to sink as revenge against the creator who never acknowledged his humanity.