Coming for the Other City

In this week’s session, we played the duet game For the Other City by Thomas Manuel on the StorySynth engine. We play as two detectives working a case together across the barrier between two cities occupying the same space in different dimensions. Our two cities are: Imperial Rome, expanded and continuous until the twenty-first century—corrupt, unified, and technological—and Kembe, a city in a world of scattered, isolated city-states—honorable, superstitious, and traditional. Detective Junius Rufio comes from Roma, and his partner is Detective Phan Bora from Kembe. Two bodies were found with a calling card bearing the same line of poetry, one in each city, and we are brought together to solve the obviously-linked cases. It turns out to be a long and difficult case, one where no suspects emerged until very late.

For the other city

After examining the crime scene in Kembe, Phan takes June to her favorite teahouse, where they discuss the case and decide they must track down the poem for clues. Perhaps we can discover where the cards were printed. Through contacts at a Roman university, we learn that the line of poetry is from Catullus, who wrote political satire so the crime could be politically motivated, despite sounding like a poem of passion. The Catullus line goes: “I hate and I love. And why? I don’t know … but I feel, and I’m tormented.”

Retracing the Kembe victim’s steps reveals that they went willingly into the blind alley where they were killed, likely lured or tricked there by the killer. Broken glass at the scene ends up being bits of specially treated Roman stained glass. We share a spicy Kemban meal, and Junius begins to appreciate this strange, foreign city. To solidify that connection, Phan gives Junius a small totem of a many-armed monkey god from Kemban mythology, explaining that Kembans believe this brings good fortune, and we’re going to need all the luck we can get to solve this case.

After we follow the trail to a print shop that’s been replaced by a poetry bookstore, Phan insists we allow the bookseller to come for an interview on their own schedule. Junius becomes suspicious of Phan when the bookseller is killed before they can arrive for the interview; perhaps, he thinks, Phan is connected to some sort of anti-Roman plot in Kembe. Next, we turn our attention to the crime scene in Rome, which is a treasure trove of clues. Junius points out the killer wore shoes with an unusual tread on the bottom, and he find a flower unknown in the Roman world at the scene. Phan finds a small piece of twisted metal she identifies as the tip of a ceremonial Kemban dagger, daggers that have a pair of corkscrewing blades that could have created the gaping wounds in the victim’s body. Also, a witness saw the victim calmly walking into the alley with another figure, a tall man with dark hair in his early 40s. Unfortunately, a large grey cloak hid any distinctive Roman or Kemban clothing, so we still don’t know which side the killer may come from.

Junius repeatedly calls into his Roman police headquarters but never has anything to share with Phan; she begins to wonder if he’s hiding evidence from her. Is he truly trying to solve this case? Before returning to Kembe, we find the Roman printer of the embossed cards with the poem on it. Although we can’t identify the purchaser from his records, we learn they also ordered a blueprint that shows a Roman structure situated in what appears to be Kembe itself. Back in Kembe, Phan sees a Roman senator exiting her police station after taking an unusual interest in the case. Later Junius is contacted by his captain, who tells him the case is being closed down, so he should drop it. Rather than give up, we go together to the Roman Senate where Junius sees the distinctive prints from the crime scene in the muddy streets. In the archives, Phan discovers that the Empire will soon face a critical shortage of raw materials and is in desperate need of more.

At last we have enough information to formulate complete theories. Phan believes the Senator is trying to manipulate and push the two cities into a cross-dimensional war because he hopes to save Roma from the impending crisis. She goes to the Kemban government to warn them of the looming threat. Junius, on the other hand, knows that Romans respect nothing as much as treachery, trickery, and violence, so he believes the Senator may be the architect of Roma’s war plans, but he is likely acting in an official capacity to create the pretext the Empire needs to invade. However unlikely a conviction might be, Junius decides to arrest the Senator to expose the plot and possibly avert a war.