Floating After the World Drowned

This week we explored the post-apocalyptic solarpunk After the World Drowned by David Harris in which we portray a group forging a paradise in a world after the waters have risen so only the highest points, whether natural or technological, are still above water. We are Mara, a crafter and weaver who set out on her own to escape her overlarge family; Dobbe, a warrior from an amphibious species who finds humanity fascinating; Ernestine, a refugee from a wealthy family who grew up in high-rise hotels and wants to spread beautiful design around the world; and Stuart, an older man who still remembers the time before the cataclysm and fears his age has left him unable to compete with the younger generation for scarce resources. Will we be able to forge this Ideal into the community we all need?

In the first Act, we learn that Stuart used to be a technician and taught his old community about how to use the remains of technology from the before times, using solar cells for power. He also names the long-bodied herbivorous lizards on the island, whose bodies sway as they run, swingbacks. He appreciates the leadership Jade offers the Ideal because she applies it so gently and with such empathy. Mara is frightened to discover someone she remembers from the raids on her family is a member of the Ideal, but she doesn’t know how to respond. She remembers how hard it was to leave her family, but with so many, it seemed necessary. Mara throws a stone in frustration and hits one of the swingbacks, which only fills her with guilt and regret. Ernestine keeps her sketchbook of designs a secret, afraid that people will see her work as frivolous and a waste of time. Ernestine gets into conflict with Mara when the latter discovers Ernestine has draped over a log a blanket Mara wove. They go back and forth about why she would do that, Ernestine explaining that she just thought it looked nice, beautifying things, but Mara concerned how it will rot in the rains. Dobbe has trouble assimilating to the human community, missing her old friend and sparring partner, Penny, so she latches onto the first human who pays her any attention, the same raider who Mara fears. The violence in their pasts is one of the things that draws and binds them together.

In Act 2, Stuart admires the broad-leafed ground cover that grows all over the island, dominating the underbrush, but chooses to live near the shore, facing east so the sun wakes him each morning as it rises. Mara leads us to building our houses in trees to avoid the ever rising waters, and retires one of her weaving materials, a native vine, as it becomes scarce from over-use and the encroachment of the broad-leafs. Dobbe takes comfort from the fighting staff she brought with her from her days as a warrior, and carries it with her whenever she goes off to her secret place to practice and recenter herself. A dispute arises in the community when one of the Ideal tries to adopt Dobbe as a pet, not understanding how humiliating that would be. Dobbe doesn’t take kindly but refrains from violence and allows the human to apologize without bringing the rest of the community into the conflict. Ernestine grows frustrated by the lack of a proper indoors once she discovers macaques eating our stores of fruit. She vows to find a way to use the combined skills of our diverse group to solve this problem. Her solution is a watertight room, sealed but carefully balanced, so it floats on the rising waters.

In Act 3, we see Dobbe adapting to living on land, sunning herself on the rocks away from everyone, but also learning not to lean on violence or power to deal with problems. Ernestine doesn’t stop with her floating room, which is sustainable and works with nature to create interior spaces, and goes on to lead us all to compost in the space the Ideal cleared long ago. Once the soil develops, she plants seedlings to restore the land to its previous state. As the Ideal continues to expand, in order to no longer take up the land, Stuart uses his technical knowledge and Ernestine’s floating design to help us expand out into the water instead of across the land.

In the coda, we each reflect on what makes us hopeful for the future. Dobbe finds hope in how she has managed to find peace living together with another species, proving it can work if you stay open-minded. Mara feels glad to be useful and sees our rustic utopia as the natural result of everyone working toward a single, clear goal. Stuart thinks it’s not just the goal, but the spirit of cooperation rather than competition that explains our success. Ernestine is the most ambitious, believing the floating rooms are a technology that can be used to reclaim the floors below the water’s surface in structures like the high-rises she grew up in.

Around the Whirl by Summer

We played another StorySynth game this week, Around the Whirl by Randy Lubin, in which we tell the story of a pair of childhood friends who are perfect complement each other: outgoing Nella and bookish Bly. When a friend promises to buy us that mystical artifact from the Endless Market we’d been coveting if we can travel around the entire archipelago by the summer solstice, we readily agree. Getting out of this town will be a welcome relief from all the grime and crime.

Our first trip is aboard a luxury liner full of wealthy aristocrats, who we try to fool into believing we belong on board. When one of the wealthy families knocks the ship off-course to knock-off the scion of a rival family, the ship veers dangerously close to the vortex at the center of the Whirl. We discover the plot and warn the other family, then assist the navigator in getting the ship back on course. In the process, our humble origins are revealed, so we’re unceremoniously dumped at a mining outpost, fallen on hard times as their output has dwindled. After we make music, sing, and tell interesting stories at the local tavern, the town of miners insist we stay and provide more entertainment. We instead instruct their children in how to play the concertina, recorders, and drums and put on plays, so the children can entertain their parents without us.

To leave town, we must travel through the mines themselves, traveling in small carriages, but the primary path through the mountain is blocked by a massive boulder. After must arguing between the various members of the expedition, we lead the group back to the last junction and a rising passageway, then dig our way to the surface. On the other side, we come to a beach with a flexible tube leading under the waves. After walking through the tube, we enter a giant soap bubble, filled by a miraculous city of great beauty and excessive civic pride. Unfortunately, a protest by the Nomen, who object to the city’s constant construction churn, devolves into violence. We convince the rulers to give the Nomen their own neighborhood where they can maintain things as they are rather than constantly upgrading as happens elsewhere in the city.

List of the transits and settlements of our session of Around the Whirl.

Reaching shore after leaving the submerged city, we had to pass over a chain of snow-capped mountains. Near the peak, we came across hot springs tended by peaceful people, but their rivals from the valleys attacked using their flying machines, trying to seize the magic stones that heat the springs. We trick the raiders long enough to escape ourselves by giving them a hot bag of normal stones. On the other side of the mountains, we come to a mechanical city of gears and pistons populated by walking automatons and coveralled engineers. To help one inventor win a scholarship during an anniversary contest when her advanced, humanoid android cannot yet speak, Nella, coated in gold and pretending to be the android, is locked in the exhibition. Bly and the inventor concoct a heist to get her out using their knowledge and the actual android.

On our final leg back home, we are riding a passenger flying machine with enormous mechanical wings, when a small group try to hijack the ship using swords and pistols. The Captain has barricaded himself on the bridge, but we know the ship’s secret and open the door for the hijackers. When they get inside, they cannot figure out how to control the ship and eventually give up, evacuating using parachutes. We make it back shortly before the solstice, exhausted by our adventures but also happy to have such magnificent stories to share.

Magical Streets of Ravenhelm

This week we played another session of I’m Sorry Did You Say Street Magic by Caro Ascersion and created a Victorian city of the supernatural and steam-driven super-science called Ravenhelm. The River Mana serves as the primary dividing line between the science and supernatural sides of town. The bridges that span the river are tended by the Plongeurs, a guild of mechanics and plumbers known for their precision and elbow grease, who coordinate the raising of the bridges to allow for ships to pass up the Mana.

On the east side of the River Mana, lies Tinker’s Row, the neighborhood dominated by machinery, filled with metalworks, gadgetariums, and gearworks, where the many craftspeople of the city live. The heart of the Row is a metalworks called Smythe’s Smithy, an open air market known for both fine craftsmanship and the welcoming guffaw of its proprietor. Another landmark in Tinker’s Row on Clockwork Alley is the Hall of Science, where the winners of the annual invention competition are on permanent display, including the staticky Tesla coils that dominate the entrance to greet visitors. It is also the starting point of a race between a young inventor and his rival, the former’s jet-carriage competing against the latter’s automated velocipede. As they careen down toward the river, both vehicles crash, but the young inventor wins the foot race back to the Hall. Unfortunately, you can’t win a vehicle race on foot. At the edge of the Row is the Community Archive, called the Bookhouse by most, which welcomes those who enter Ravenhelm from the east and contains many books and pamphlets about the great city and its technological marvels. The Archive is tended by the Head Librarian, who is an agent of compromise able to broker alliances, even between the supernatural keepers of the Candy Apple and Eternal Night from the western side of the river.

A crane waits at a bus station overrun with water.
Image courtesy of Caro Asercion.

On the western shore lies the Bitter Apple Woods, full of great trees that create a vast, shadowy forest in which supernatural creatures dwell in homes scattered amongst the trees. The two biggest landmarks in the Woods are the Candy Apple Church and the Eternal Night Planetarium & Café. The Candy Apple Church is deep in the woods and was long ago abandoned by the believers, so the vampires took over care of it. It’s known for quiet and tranquility, but when two young vampires break tradition to marry elsewhere, the repercussions ripple across Ravenhelm. Across the Woods, at 1 Milky Way, lies the Eternal Night Planetarium & Café, a night spot where you can watch the stars while listening to eerie orchestral new age sounds. Thanks to the intervention of the Librarian, Eternal Night and Candy Apple agree to work together to keep weddings in the Woods and out of Le Grand Ville.

Le Grand Ville is the neighborhood to the north of the other two and spans across the River Mana. Therein live the rich, powerful, and famous, or those who wish to appear so, looking down upon those too strange or too proletarian to live there. The Grandioso on Halindroso Road is the fanciest and most advanced restaurant in the world, using high technology and animated objects to provide exceptional service and delicious dinners to any who can afford their pristine, upscale attentions. The Grandioso is the reason that the Eternal Night and Candy Apple had to band together because it became a venue for vampires and other supernaturals to hold their events. There is quite the scandal when royalty is found to be living at 344B Coventry Lane, creating whispers and rumours about the Heir’s Hideout after having lived there uneventfully for so long. The Heir’s best friend is a kindhearted klutz who makes a mess of the Heir’s surprise birthday celebration. But the biggest event was the arrival of the Queen to bring her son home, an event that caused a stir and an opportunity for the Grandioso to court royal patronage.