Epitaph for a Wise Woman

We played another session of Epitaph by Marc Hobbs, this time set mostly in villages in Imperial Russia. Our departed is Miroslava Valerievna, a village wise-woman who uses tarot cards to diagnose and brews magical soups to cure.

Miroslava was born in the village of Czelmic in 1654. Her father told us how difficult she was as a child, and how at three years old, she would refuse to walk except in the early morning hours while he was occupied with chores. One day, he notices another set of tracks next to hers and leaves a bowl of porridge out for their invisible companion. After that, Miroslava walked more easily and frequently.

Overhead shot of group of people sitting around a table covered in dishes while a warm glowing light shines from the right.
Epitaph cover courtesy of Less Than Three Games.

Her uncle Iosef ran the village tavern. One day when she was eight, he sent her to clean out the storage area. Inside, she found a set of Tarot cards with the major arcana blank. As she looked at one card, a vision of herself as an adult appeared on it as it became the World card. She learned from this that Fate would guide her to wherever she needed to go. When she was eleven, she became lost in the woods, collecting plants and herbs. She was saved by a large, bearish, fur-trimmed Russian man who lived alone in the forest. Afterward, he appeared on one of her cards as the Hermit, and Miroslava felt the weight of magic in the world and what that could make possible.

As a teenager, her friends and family suggest many suitors, however none worked out, each ending in some comedic mishap. She saw then the truth of the Fortune Tarot: life is chaotic, so one must become the center of the storm. The first time she ever concocted a potion to help someone, was when she was twenty-five and working for the village apothecary. A woman waiting to see the apothecary confessed her loneliness and troubles to her, so Miroslava decides to make her a special soup, adding various herbs to bring good fortune, which soon follow. It’s funny, she thinks, how she’s never been able to recreate that exact soup, and she’s unsure which ingredient actually helped the woman.

We catch up with Miroslava when she is fifty-four and looking for an apprentice so she can pass on the wisdom in her sheaf of magical soup recipes. She chooses a bright-eyed teen girl who’s always caring for others with kindness, her younger siblings, her elders, her parents. She knows once she’s taught Gariazanel that her legacy will be secured, Fate once again showing her the way. Thirteen years later, Gariazanel brings home a girl from the poor house, Lyamina, and asks if she can be allowed to teach her, to take her as her own apprentice. Miroslava makes like the decision is difficult, but she sees that Gariazanel is growing into her role and that her legacy will spread beyond this generation. Five years later, she’s ready to leave them alone for a time and goes to the university in Kyiv. We hear from Vira Ivanenko, a scientist and debunker of superstitions, how Miroslava came to the city and had everyone at her feet without meriting any of it. Vira herself worked twice as hard as anyone and still struggled to be accepted, and Miroslava’s “magic” only made it less likely they would take a woman scientist seriously.

Miraculously, or she would likely say fortuitously, Miroslava lived another thirty-five years to die, back in Czelmic, at the age of 107, surrounded by her students and their students and many villagers. At the funeral, the villagers speak about how she outlived everyone who was alive when she was a child, which surely must be attributed to the way Fate always put her just where she needed to be. Lyamina plants yarrow at her gravesite, since that was the first plant she was asked to fetch for her. One day, not long after the funeral, strange footprints and a bowl of porridge are found on her tombstone. And Gariazanel makes her best impression of the friendship soup every year on the anniversary of Miroslava’s death and hands it out to the village.

Truth & Daring & Appleaches

We returned to Truth & Daring by Tim and Kristin Devine in this week’s session as a group of kids living in rural America, determined to succeed and shake off the dust of this small town. Our crew includes Aveline, an upper-middle class collector with a love of emeralds; Gonzo, a curious kid from the city who loves exploring the strange detached houses in town; Hina, a very shy girl who aspires to overcome her stage fright and audition for a play; Michelle, a brainy new kid with a love of tools; and Cassie, a scientific girl whose goal is to win the science fair and the scholarship that will let her escape. Together, we comprise the Future Millionaire’s Club, who meet in Hina’s family barn.

Our story begins when Gonzo shows up at the clubhouse carrying a photo with a strange-looking blur in the bushes in front of a house with a porch. He borrowed the picture from the house of the Magician, a game warden who has a habit of appearing and disappearing without warning. Cassie and Aveline recognize the Petry farmhouse in the photo, and Aveline raves about the delicious lemon-apple jam and pies the family have been selling at the market lately. Hina and Michelle think the picture looks like an alien, but it’s not clear enough to know for sure. Aveline leads us in a discussion of what we know and what we need to do. We decide to lure the Magician away from his house, so we can sneak in and loo for more clues. Hina will call and use her voice distorter to sound like an adult saying an animal is caught in a trap across town. Michelle will create that fake trap to look broken and will sprinkle fake blood around to make him think the animal escaped.

Once they have finished their work and the magician has left, Cassie and Gonzo sneak back in by crawling under the house and up through a loosened vent. They discover more pictures hidden in a desk drawer, one especially clear and close-up. It looks similar to a rabbit, but is clearly alien, covered in fur with enormous eyes and strange antennae. On the desk is a map marked with a circle around the Petry farm and the words “strange apples” written in ink. As the two shimmy out from under the house, the pin Cassie wears on her hairband falls off.

Pink three-eyed fuzzy alien looks intently at POV camera.
Picture by Sebastian du Toit from his Artstation.

When we can, we visit the Petry farm. Aveline buys some peach apple jam and discovers that the fruit seems to be neither peach nor apple but somehow both. We decide to investigate the tent behind their barn, where we find seven small trees tended by aliens like the one we saw in the photograph. We see one bury blueberries and strawberries together in a hole, sprinkle something from its antennae, then a tree sprouts up in seconds covered in blue strawberries. Determined to study this fruit for her science project, Cassie snags an appleach and eats a blue strawberry that Aveline picks. Since Cassie seems okay, Michelle eats one too, but soon after, the two of them get incredibly sleepy and lay down for a nap. Aveline and Gonzo drag the two outside and wakes them with water. The whole time, the aliens seemed friendly or indifferent to us. Over the next week, we each prepare ourselves for whatever comes next. Michelle buys a Polaroid camera. Gonzo spies on the Magician and sees him making cages. Aveline avoids the rest of us but returns to the farm several times. Cassie carries through with her experiments and analysis of the fruit. Hina is rehearsing to maybe audition for the school play.

When we arrive back at the farm and enter the tent, we discover Aveline already there with the aliens! On her trips this week, she has guided the aliens into creating a fruit tree that grows emeralds. But before we can sort it out and get our pictures of the aliens and their work, Gonzo warns us the Magician has pulled up in his truck. He sets up cages and traps at the tent entrance and comes around to flush the aliens into his clutches. Gonzo goes outside to sabotage his truck, while Aveline and Michelle interrupts him, take his picture, and try to scare him off for trespassing. As we’re arguing with him to get him to leave, the aliens become agitated and the grasses and vines grow at exponential rates, pushing us all, including the Magician, out of the tent. No matter how hard we try, we’re not getting back in today. When we return the next day, the aliens seem to be gone, so we donate our alien fruit to the Petry family, so they can grow the special trees. It may take a lot longer now, but they’ll be able to keep the farm afloat.

Aethelred Academy

We visited StorySynth again (which has been expanded and improved) this week to try out Aethelred’s Academy for Aspiring Heroes by Greg & Randy Lubin, in which we play aspiring heroes at the Academy seeking certification in various skills. We had three students appear before the Quest Giver to receive their tasks.

Her paper-kite butterfly dress billows as Origami strides into the examination hall to defend her answer to the Interior Decorating skill quest. The challenge was to design a beautiful kitchen for the academy to serve its diverse student body on a budget. Origami’s room has cement tables to withstand the pressure of our more massive students, but she’s decorated everything with origami cranes and butterflies in the school’s colors. The Quest Giver thinks this more a dining hall than a kitchen, but since Origami actually completed the decorations and wants compensation for the work, we decide to certify her with no fee.

Nogard arrives for his shapeshifting test, which is to navigate an obstacle course that can’t be navigated entirely in human form. He must become an ant to pass through a straw, a whale to cross a water room, a zombie to turn the tables on salespeople, an ankylosaur to break a lock, and a frog to hop across stones and exit the course. Although he isn’t the most subtle in his choices, the committee awards him his certification since he transformed into so many different creatures.

Last is Cobblepot, a very typical student wearing school colors and carrying a satchel full of study materials, who seeks to get certified in pyromancy. The Quest Giver tasks him with the care of a clutch of four dragon eggs. They must be kept in fire for a week until they hatch. Cobble pot leaves briefly to get a push hot food cart to transport the eggs to a fire pit in the school’s picnic area, keeping a swirl of flames about them throughout. He keeps the fire pit burning for a few days, but the effort to keep the fire hot enough but under control is too taxing. So, he transfers them to a kiln in the art department, which can be lit and kept roasting without as much constant attention. He brings the hatchlings back in a week, and the committee awards him the pyromancy certification for his creativity and effectiveness.

Follow My Canoe

This week’s game was a short session of Follow by Ben Robbins using the Championship quest as a team of synchronized freestyle canoeists. Our crew consisted of young hotshot Clancy, who seeks fame and fortune; Mel, a declining veteran who wants to teach these kids the right way to play; Lucille, our team captain out for the perfect routine; and Susan, a new player who struggles because she doesn’t know how to swim and fears the water. Our support team includes our manager Linley, team mascot Mr. Limpet, our driver and roadie Porter, and Lucille’s wife Cassandra.

Our story begins with the team preparing for the big competition. Clancy is always showing off his skills, but our Captain, Lucille, remains unimpressed and criticizes him for his lack of teamwork. Another time, Clancy is training with Susan and helps her when they need to get into the water. Back at the picnic area, Mel meets with Limpet and Linley and discuss the liabilities that Clancy and Susan present for the team. Training doesn’t go so well for the team and we lose that challenge.

On the day of the competition, Mel confronts Clancy about his showboating, which Clancy justifies as improved choreography. Mel explains how you have to develop synchronization before you build up the choreography. If he wants to make it big, he needs to make the team successful when he’ll be the centerpiece of the celebrations and promotions. Lucille and Clancy are chosen to represent the team in the pairs competition and begin working on their routine, where Clancy’s choreographer ambitions get a chance to shine.

On the bus back home, we think about all that happened at the championships. Lucille and Clancy’s pirate-themed duo event was a big sensation, and the team pulled through and finally did a clean routine. We worry over the loss of Susan, who quits the team to finally learn to swim, and the disappearance of Mr. Limpet, who swam off after the competition, looking remarkably like a fish.

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 Querulous 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.

Gladiators Microscope the Stars

Our game this week was a session of Microscope by Ben Robbins in a star system initially dominated by the last humans, but that ends with a galaxy populated entirely by those who come after humanity.

Concentric circles create the illusion of a tunnel with microscope written below.
Microscope badge courtesy of Lame Mage.

Our story begins with the wealthiest people on Earth mastering immortality, enhancing themselves so effectively they easily dominate the entire planet. They come to call themselves the Golden Gods, but their competitiveness results in a series of God Wars that leaves the rest of humanity dead or dying, civilization largely in ruins. In the end, only one God remains on each continent, seven people suffering alone through decades until they reach a breaking point. Their Ennui Years end when the scion of the Musk fortune realizes he can’t achieve everything alone and reaches out to the others to finally fulfill his family dream and conquer the stars. They escape our world together, each claim a planet, and create new life forms to populate them. This Age of Creation is the summit of the Golden Gods reign, as they soon begin competing again, wars fought by proxy in gladiatorial arenas. Can a Martian defeat an Europan both on Mars and on Europa? They pit their creations against one another to find out. Eventually, a gladiator rebellion succeeds, deposing and killing the Golden Gods, overwhelmed at last by the masses arrayed against them.

Over the centuries, the planets of our system grow less hospitable to life, and the gladiatorial people leave seeking new worlds. These people, united in their search, build a New Empire in which immortality treatments are not only banned but come to seem sacrilegious, an affront to life itself: to live is to die, a fitting motto for gladiators. Their Empire flourishes for centuries, but the supply of fuel for the ancient faster-than-light engines inherited from the Golden Gods eventually dwindles, which attenuates then severs the connections between the planets of the Empire. Before the last of the fuel is gone, the imperial worlds send out Space Arks in what comes to be called the Great Scattering, life once again slipping past the eclipse of annihilation. The Arks arrive on strange new worlds many lightyears apart with no way to return to or communicate with their origins.

Each world has its unique challenges, contrasting environments in far-flung systems orbiting different stars. It’s only natural the people on these new worlds evolve independently, particularly in their cultures and myths, which answer questions specific to each ecosystem, vast oceans evoking different stories and explanations than dry, rocky escarpments. Each world becomes its own civilization, unlike any other. Our story ends with a heretofore unknown Golden God—a secret love child of two of the last humans—watching over the dispersed descendants of their parents’ creations. They find it curious how these peoples change over the eons, but they cannot quite escape the limitations of their view from eternity. To them, the life that endures is the most fascinating.

Butterfly Princesses & the Mantis Regent

We played the setting of Butterfly Princesses of the Swordlands by Richard Kelly, but since we were online, I switched out the mechanics with a heavily modified version of the Lasers & Feelings ruleset. The Swordlands are bucolic valleys populated by faeries with butterfly wings, each of whom is a princess in line for the Monarch’s throne. Princess Necritia is a macabre mage with death’s head moth wings who seeks to promote the essential but much maligned decomposers of the forest. Princess Comma has tan spotted wings and seeks to organize the Swordlands to be less chaotic and more like the ordered ants. Princess Periwinkle has metallic blue wings with orange accents like the leaf-wing butterfly, and she just wants to bring everyone together in love and friendship. Princess Monarsis is an artiste with purple and emerald wings who wishes to make the Swordlands itself into a work of art. Finally, Princess Fortuneflame is a creature of the forests and hunter whose wings resemble those of the purple emperor butterfly.

Our story begins at a birthday party for Comma at her families abandoned bee-box estate. We each present our gifts to the birthday girl, but inside Monarsis’s gift of flowers emerges an orchid mantis in pink, whose dignified and precise movements grab Comma’s attention. At the end of the night, the mantis (whose name is Chrysalla) makes an offer to all the Swordlands—she would willingly serve as regent until the princesses mature and are ready to vie for the throne, allowing them to properly enjoy their youth. Monarsis and Comma find the idea especially appealing, but Necritia is dead set against it, already feeling excluded and slighted by how we all have treated her, with her dust and spores floating everywhere, during the party. Periwinkle escorts Fortuneflame and Necritia outside together to defuse the situation.

Pink orchid mantis disguised as a flower on a green plant.
Orchid Mantis image from El Guanche, used via cc by-nc 2.0

Later, sitting outside, Comma and Periwinkle discuss the possibility of a Mantis Regent. Comma’s is enthusiastic, but Peri worries about how much disagreement this could create, and what do we even know about what Chrysalla might do as regent. When Comma mentions the human threat, Fortuneflame, who had been perched above them in a tree, mocks them for believing in such myths, but then Monarsis and Chrysalla arrive. Asked questions by Periwinkle, Chrysalla states she wishes to make the Swordlands more ant-like, but that humans are immaterial, a phantom threat, prompting Comma to think she should be Monarch. Fortuneflame finds this prospect very unappealing, so she visits Necritia and convinces her to campaign for Queen herself on a promise of equality for all, mushroom and earthworms and princesses alike. Recognizing the threat, Monarsis visits Comma to argue for the Mantis Regent and discuss her attachment to the ants. It comes out that Monarsis doesn’t believe in humans, but knows that Bigfeets are real, which could be an ally against humans if they turn out to be real. When Chrysalla arrives, they discuss what the mantis may do—seeking a balance between the chaos of anarchy and the rigidity of ant-archy.

Our story concludes at a political rally with a debate between Necritia and Comma. Necritia plays to the crowd with talk of equality, and Comma tries to argue for learning a bit about productivity from the ants. Fortuneflame interrupts telling Comma that people do believe in equality and that means acceptance, so it is okay for her to admit that she is part ant, no one will judge her. Mainly join in, admitting to being mixed, including Fortuneflame herself, Monarsis, and various members of the crowd. Upset, Comma runs off crying, but by this point, all the ado has activated something in Necritia, who has unconsciously begun to emit some narcotic spores that mellow everyone out. Chrysalla comforts Comma, asking her what she would say to any little princess in the crowd who may be part ant, to which she replies: “everything will be okay.” Monarsis marvels at how beautiful everything has become and yells out about seeing such beautiful wings. Periwinkle arrives at this point, opening the door and seeing everyone in their euphoric state, puddled together about the room. “Finally,” she says aloud and joins her sister princesses.

After this, all the princesses agree to make Chrysalla the Mantis Regent. But what happens next? Some of us believe that Chrysalla will eventually work her way through the Butterfly Princess population, eating us one at a time for years. Others think that Chrysalla may demand regular sacrifices of male mantises for her enjoyments, but surely will otherwise lead us to years of peace and prosperity.