After the World Drowned

In this week’s game, we played After the World Drowned, a StorySynth Jam game from David Harris in which we play the inhabitants of a future Earth, 100 years after a cataclysmic flood has raised ocean levels so only the highest elevations rise above the water line. We are members of a new community, The Ideal, which hopes to build a better world, one that doesn’t pillage nature but harmonizes with it. Each of us has come to the Ideal for different reasons. Penelope is a young woman raised by her recently deceased grandfather who longs for stability and has a deep fascination and love of animals, including her pet sea turtle Shelly. Rissa always looks for the logical approach to a problem, seeking evidence and testing ideas before building a new solution. Sema Buchle recently ran away from her parents out of love for the oceans but, more fundamentally, seeking to understand what broke the world and how it might be healed. And Delaney has a special connection with nature, having once literally lived with the birds, a feral child raised on a remote island by albatrosses for the first years of his life.

A sea turtle with brown coloring drawn on white paper and a sketch of a young woman with braided hair.

Act 1: the People

Delaney brings with him to the Ideal a pearl-handled foldable knife he used to cut fishermen lines and nets in his old community when they endangered birds. He remembers the strife this caused there and fears how others will react to him carrying it, so he keeps the knife secret. Sema decides to be his friend, however, fascinated by the mystery of the young man’s origins., having only recently learned that the flooding of the world is a recent phenomenon. Delaney doesn’t find his past that remarkable and generally doesn’t talk about it, but he indulges Sema and always gives an answer to her many questions. Penelope had to overcome the death of her grandfather and sail the seas alone for the first time to reach the Ideal. After arriving, she quickly runs into trouble when she releases animals penned in an Ideal enclosure, unable to bear seeing them caged. While she learns to compromise and allow some animals to be kept for the good of the community, Penelope encounters and grows close to a lemur she names Tom-Tom, who becomes a regular around our village. Early after her arrival, Rissa recognizes this is the place for her when she’s told, “This is how we do things here,” as two parties resolve a dispute by presenting their evidence and laying out their reasoning before the collective. Rissa lives with quiet shame, however, at having lashed out and killed a flying fox bat when it surprised her one evening.

Act 2: the Place

Sema keeps moving her belongings further from shore, convinced the water continues to rise, and begins putting her belongings in whatever plastic she can scrounge from the lost world. She’s reminded, however, of her childhood by an interior grotto that the seawater regularly reaches and replenishes, and notices with wonder how prolific is the plant life here, full of fruit trees and verdant forests. When an elder member passes away, Delaney initiates a ritual of taking strands of the deceased’s hair and weaving it with strands from the survivors, putting them together on a toy sailboat, and launching them into the sea. Delaney finds how to fit-in by looking to the birds, how they take only what they need for the moment, unlike humans who hoard and covet. When he shares his outlook one day with Rissa while criticizing her plans to increase fishing or clamming yields, she begins to understand what it truly means to live sustainably—she must accept that now is enough and not worry about what may happen tomorrow. As she contemplates these ideas, she sees what is limitless in the Ideal: sunlight, seawater, and wind. Penelope sees a rodent making off with the last of our storehouse of dried apricots, and sheepishly brings to the community the importance of sealing off the food stores from the wild animals. Despite having been here for some time, she continues to sleep on the docked boats, just as she did when her grandfather was alive.

Act 3: the Creatures

Penelope has grown to appreciate how the people in the Ideal study and learn before acting. We cultivate plants who complement each other and can grow in symbiotic harmony, producing abundantly without competition. She also notices the natural lands that were lost when the village was built and how that has led to conflict with some wild creatures. She works with Sema to identify which plants we need to restore the balance between our island’s flora, its fauna, and ourselves. In addition, Sema builds sanctuaries on the island for any displaced animals and migrates their homes to the new habitats. Throughout this, her obsession with the world before the floods has grown, and she feels herself drawing nearer to uncovering the key to the flood’s cause. Rissa gets involved with improving the system of runnels and barrels that collect rainwater, trying to integrate them with the forests and use the forest’s natural funneling process to gather the rain more reliably. While working in the interior, she encounters Sema’s grotto and finds it an apt metaphor for our situation: we too must learn to wait for the world to come and restore us rather than try to force ourselves upon the world. Delaney has noticed the birds following his fishing boat, seeking the fish they know he sails to find. As the terns and gulls grow increasingly comfortable with him, he feels honored by their trust and validation.

Epilogue: Why do you feel positive about the future?

Rissa is moved by how we put aside personal ambition for the good of the community, are each committed to making it work, and act in good faith toward one another. Penelope loves how conscious the community is of the environment and how precious we treat each resource. Delaney admires how we each live for the group and live for today, accepting that this now is enough. Sema feels hopeful as she finally unlocks why the world flooded and believes it could be reversed someday.