Yokai Street Magic

Welcome to Abythys! A melodious city on a windswept, rocky coast where humans and yokai—nature and animal spirits—live together in relative peace. In this week’s session, we explore three major neighborhoods in Abythys using I’m Sorry Did You Say Street Magic by Caro Asercion.

The Downs, the industrial neighborhood of Abythys, centers on an ancient garbage pit full of scavengers. That pit is surrounded by poor trade-smiths always busy making things, creating a cacophony of sound throughout the Downs. Workshop Row is where these tradespeople live and work, honing their crafts daily. Jutting askew out of the pit is the Abacus, a plinth of mystical stone that no one recognizes as the fulcrum around which the city’s magical heritage turns. No one now alive that is except Leila, a sea spirit who presents as a hermit crab and is older than the city itself. She was here when the people brought the Abacus down from the heights, removing it to make way for their temple to the winds. She is the memory of the Downs but is hard to find, buried as she is by eons of castoffs encrusted onto her shell.

Flow chart showing the layers of the city we created in our game.

The Aviary is a district filled with high-rise buildings with mirrored faces that glint in the sunlight, providing superior views for the elite of the city, including noble birds and bird yokai. Atop the highest tower sits the Murmuring Temple, filled with wind chimes and a central bell that peals across the city. It’s said there is no corner of Abythys where you do not hear the murmur of the chimes, rustled by the wind coming off the sea. Mr. Mayor, a rat yokai determined to keep up appearances, can often be found at the temple, seeking to cleanse himself of the taint of his past in the Downs. Another landmark in the Aviary is the Book Atrium, a library where bat yokai fly unmolested by the sounds of the temple and protect the precious books in turn, including the sacred grimoires hidden in the back room. Fr. Steven can perhaps be found in the Atrium more frequently than at the Temple, his curiosity about the world and wish for freedom bringing him here on many occasions. However, he is such a nervous creature, he still cannot find his way among the shelves and must always seek help.

Along the rocky shore are the Caves, eerie and creepy and mostly underwater hollows where the spirit council holds session. It’s a place of miracles, the people say, but mostly a place for yokai to gather and socialize. The council itself meets in the Celestial Grotto, a cavern that can only be reached by traveling through an underwater tunnel. This fount of magic is full of light, the walls dappled in multifarious colors as mystical energy pulses through the room, so powerful it’s palpable on the skin, washing over you like the tides. Amara is an elegant, proud spirit in the form of a beautiful crane who protects the grotto and comforts the spirits who visit. After one meeting, she greets and converses with a yokai who looks like a walking coral reef about recent events.

One such event is when, at the Aeolian Festival, the wind ceases its constant swirl, bringing the city to utter silence. While this made many fearful the gods were angry and ready to abandon them, others found the silence soothing, a relief from the constant churn, including people in the Downs who experienced a moment of transcendence, and Amara herself, who wishes the silence would return. Another event is the theft from the Atrium of a spellbook on transformations, after which Fr. Steven cannot be found. While many wonder what lapse in security or policy could have allowed such a thing to happen, most worry more about why the thief wants the book. Some believe the grimoire could allow humans to steal yokai’s shapeshifting powers, but others, like Mr. Mayor, wonder if perhaps the book could be used by yokai to become more fully human.

Thank you for visiting Abythys with us! We look forward to your next visit.

Wizard’s Quarrelous Dram

We played Wizard’s Querulous Dram by Jason Morningstar this week, seven wizards meeting to negotiate the merging of the kingdoms of Smallwood and Black Mountain. Early on, Ingrid the Agreeable of the Wizard Council proposes the Princesses—Aster and Tiffany—be paired, so most of our discussion focuses on that possibility. Hegedus the Fair from Smallwood thinks that a brilliant idea, and Belobor from Black Mountain (the Wizard of No) agrees that pairing has possibilities. Gyongi the Proud from Smallwood argues that Aster must be regent and Tiffany the consort: throwing parties is more the consort role, Tiffany’s strength, whereas Aster is the better decision-maker.

Title in wavering script for The Wizard's Querulous Dram
The Wizard’s Querulous Dram cover image from Bully Pulpit Games.

If a Smallwood heir is to be regent, Belobor suggests, why not a pairing with Prince Chadwick as regent, to which Volkon, the Thaumaturge of Darkness from the Wizard Council, assents provided Tiffany remains the consort. Hegedus and Ingrid and Zoltin the Serious from Black Mountain all agree that is not a good idea. Even Belobor was thinking Prince Winthrop would make a better pairing with Chadwick than Tiffany. Kostrin the Knowledgable from the Wizard’s Council pipes up for the first time insisting the capital must be in Black Mountain, so if as we all seemed to agree, the regent’s home should be the new capital, he backs the Black Mountain heir as regent.

Moving on to the remaining questions, we find very little disagreement. All agree that Chadwick would be a capable leader of the new unified army, or at least some Smallwood general. And Gyongi and Kostrin suggest that both kingdom’s delicacies can be served at the wedding; why not taste all the flavors! And no one objects to following the Black Mountain practice of burning swamp witches; in fact, everyone is enthusiastic about it.

When it comes time to vote, the choice of pairing is all but unanimous: 6 to 1 in favor of Aster and Tiffany. But the question of who is regent comes down to a single vote, and Tiffany wins the honor. Black Mountain shall be the new capital with a Smallwood general to lead the army. We agree by acclamation to the final two questions just as the last few grains of sand tumble to the bottom of the five-minute glass. We all, then, may keep our lairs, towers, or laboratories, and the unification of the great kingdoms of Smallwood and Black Mountain is finalized.

For a Galactic Crown

For this week’s session, we drew a crowd of players, but not everyone made it to the end. As a group, we completed a story using For the Crown on For the Drama, in which we play as a group of people seeking to replace the dying king of an interplanetary mélange of alien species known as the Luma system. Gustav, our current ruler, has trapped himself in a gravity well and is slipping past the event horizon, soon to be lost forever. We are Prince Plambus, the illegitimate son of Gustav, who resembles a young anthropomorphic elephant; Queen Melanie, Gustav’s current wife, a fish-like amphibious alien; Duncan, a synthetic AI lifeform well-respected at court who is programmed to be a chimney sweep (if only we had chimneys); Captain Cosmos, a cyborg and a space pirate who tricked the king into naming him to the royal council; and Siren, an activist for equal rights and the welfare of the people.

Cover image of For the Crown

Our story begins with Siren deciding Captain Cosmos becoming king would be a disaster that must be averted, so she digs up and releases information about the many murders he has been implicated in, which creates an uproar across the society. This is quickly overshadowed by the threat of an invasion from outside the system. Duncan the synth is tasked with protecting the kingdom with Gustav unavailable, and he reaches out to Captain Cosmos, the ruthless space pirate and his pirate fleet, to repel the invaders. Cosmos agrees as a way to rehabilitate his reputation, but bribes the court physicist to nudge Gustav closer to the point of no return while he’s away.

Next, we learn how Melanie became the Queen: after meeting Gustav at a party and realizing how hopeless he is, she woos and marries him in order to help him be less of an ass (and to live in the palace). Her step-son, Prince Plambus, has a major crush on Siren, one of the few members of his father’s court who paid much attention to him, a fact that is better known throughout the palace than he realizes. For her part, Siren resents Gustav not only because he’s a lousy ruler, but also because after appointing her to his council, he repeatedly ignored her ideas and laughed off her suggestion of a holiday to celebrate the people. Realizing the Prince is most likely to be chosen as the next king, Captain Cosmos sends a trained bird to assassinate the boy, but the naive child feeds and adopts the bird when it lands on his balcony and remains safe.

Meanwhile, Luma is suffering a food shortage, so everyone looks again to Duncan for a solution, but this time he doesn’t know what to do, which undermines his reputation as the infallible Duncan. His spirits are lifted somewhat when the Queen reveals to him that she saw his face in a melon, a sure sign of the intertwining of their destinies, and loves him…his wonderful Chinese cooking. Duncan attempts to persuade the Prince to speak well of him to his stepmother by sending him threatening letters, but Plambus doesn’t quite understand the suggestion. Siren meets with Duncan to try persuading him the throne isn’t for him, a simple chimney sweep, but Duncan brings up embarrassing facts about her mother and family, leading Siren to storm off. Having been excluded from the society of the court for so long, she is ready to see it tumble. The court has largely turned its back on Queen Melanie as well, recognizing now more than ever that she is just a gold-digger who married Gustav for the fame and money.

Prince Plambus is famous for showing up at parties throughout the system, crying “Happy Cake Day”, and serving royal confections to all. However much this may ingratiate him with the people, he uses his standing to promote the cause of Siren after his father finally completes his months-long fall into the gravity well. His mother abjures any interest in the throne, knowing that seizing it is more likely to get her killed than obeyed. And Captain Cosmos disappears, perhaps deciding the throne is more responsibility than a rogue like him would ever want. Siren leads a people’s march to the capital to petition to become ruler, but Duncan remains interested in leading himself and cuts her off just after she’s entered the palace and is about to receive a celebratory cake from the Prince. Duncan attacks her with his battle-broom to end her reign before it begins, but Plambus steps between them, and the broom hits the cake instead, sending cake bits flying everywhere. With the support of both the Queen and the Prince, Duncan is seized by the royal guard, and Siren is proclaimed the new ruler of Luma.

A Supernatural Fiasco

This week we returned to the foundational story game Fiasco by Jason Morningstar using the Supernatural Files playset by Bug McBride. We didn’t complete our story, only completing one sequence of scenes, so consider this a pilot episode for a miniseries. Our story is set in New York City and environs, centered around Finders Keepers, a curiosity shop on the Lower East Side run by an elderly seeker and collector of the old, the odd, and the unexplained named Alphonse and his protégé Jebediah. Jebediah was raised in an upstate community that forsakes modern technology and remains out of step with the rest of the city. He doesn’t realize it, but Gemma Stone, a shy patron of the store, carries a brightly burning torch for him. Her fascination with the supernatural brings Gemma not only to FK but also to an occult group that seeks to learn the truth about a legendary curse. The group’s leader is Vincent Everett, a charismatic megalomaniac who dresses only in white suits with black silk shirts, a red tie, and matching round sunglasses. Vincent has squandered his family’s fortune on building his network of followers and in his search for a horn-tailed snarl, the key to unlocking the mystery of the curse. Crystal Everett is the estranged sister of Vincent and an artist whose paintings of cryptids and other impossibilities have found an audience in NYC’s underground art scene. Unbeknownst to most, Crystal shares something with Alphonse: an obsession with uncovering the truth about the death of their mutual cousin Samantha in the woods far upstate by an unknown assailant. The death was attributed to an animal attack, but no wolf or bear or cougar leaves injuries like what Samantha suffered, and they believe something more insidious may be to blame.

Fiasco - A game about powerful ambition and poor impulse control from Bully Pulpit Games
Fiasco poster from Bully Pulpit Games.

We begin with Alphonse returning to the store from a curio-finding expedition upstate with a unique object, a hand-made book purportedly written by the nineteenth-century psychical researcher Erastos. Alphonse shows Jebediah a page in the book describing a creature called the horn-tailed snarl and drawings of the creature’s mouth, pointing to the unusual teeth with their strange shape and serrated edges. He believes these teeth match one associated with Samantha’s death and sends Jebediah crawling through old stacks for other Erastosean items in the store. Across town, Vincent has gathered his followers at his art-themed nightclub and announces that Alphonse has found a book with information on the horn-tailed snarl they seek. After exhorting and exciting them, he tasks Gemma with infiltrating the store and securing the book. Realizing that this is the store where Jebediah works, she goes to the park to spy upon him when he appears to feed the carriage horses, as she often does. Today, she speaks to him and gives him a gift, a book on Dragonology that she says she thought he would enjoy. They walk together back to the shop, and inside she convinces him to let her take the Erastos book. She clutches the book and leans against the door, sighing loudly, over-the-moon with their interaction.(Alphonse’s eventual reaction: “Wait, so you just gave her the book?!”)

In her studio, Crystal paints in the afternoon sun streaming through the loft windows when Alphonse rings her buzzer and comes upstairs. He shows her the page about the horn-tailed snarl taken from the Erastos book and tells her of his suspicions regarding Samantha’s death. As he reads her Erastos’s verbal descriptions, Crystal draws multiple versions of the snarl from all angles, each one depicting a slightly different beast by emphasizing competing details. Is one of these a true likeness of the creature? When Alphonse leaves, someone follows him back to his shop and reports back to Vincent by phone once they arrive. Vincent pays a visit to Crystal, who is not happy to see him, and he asks her to give or sell the snarl drawings to him. Suspicious of his sudden interest, she deflects his inquiry but claims to have reference photos she took when the creature appeared in the alley behind the loft. When Vincent tosses money at her and tries to leave with the drawings, Crystal convinces him they need time to cure properly or they’ll be smudged, so he leaves saying he’ll return tomorrow. Later, Vincent plants himself in the alley wearing night-vision goggles, waiting to see what she photographed.