Collective Downfall

This week we played the setup of Downfall by Caroline Hobbs. Using the words swarm, steam, and salt, we created a fantastic world where insectoids harvest salt from natural saltwater hot springs to build their nests and interlocking units. We call our haven the Saline Swarm. Our society depends on each individual showing loyalty to their station, to the collective, and to our traditions.

Like many entomons, we each serve a specialized function in the life of the colony. Each mating pair provides eggs to the Collectors who come each cycle gathering our spawn to sustain our communal endeavor. When a particular cohort hatches, the hatchlings are put into a family under a single Carer, each brood distinguished from others by the colors splashed across the hatchlings’ carapaces. Although each brood is intended for a particular function after their molting comes, before an individual joins a functional unit by performing the ritual signal dance for that profession. If someone insists on learning the dance of a different function, there is nothing to be done but welcome them into the new function with the appropriate professional stamp upon their foreheads.

Each function and each structure in our nest is built from the salt that Harvesters bring from the salt plains. We use interlocking structures shaped like blown-glass, with curved interiors coming to a point at each end. The Architects long ago determined this was the strongest and most efficient structures to be erected with the salts. The guild hall for each professional function is stamped with the interlocking shape for that function. Our relationships vary just as in any other civilization, but we are careful to reserve specific greetings for only our most intimate companions. The interlocking of the forelegs creates varied patterns that show the nature and closeness of each relationship. When a particular cohort comes to the end of their cycle, they go together to a specific place in the salt plains and splay as one upon the ground and fade away while the salt-crystal lamps burn in their honor.

We don’t know it yet, but our colony is destined for collapse. The head of each guild sits upon the ruling council, and our cast consists of three Elders on this council. Drax the Pairings Master, who arranges the mating pairs that will produce the broods the colony needs, has been fighting against the council’s loyalty to the old ways. He insists that we need new professions to address the diminishing returns from the salt harvests—explorers or hunters to find new salt deposits or venture beyond the salt plains. If the deposits and yield continue to diminish, our entire civilization will falter. Opposed to Drax is their old friend Lapida the Harvester, who objects to the implication against the harvesting guild and believes we should just put our heads down and continue the work rather than creating fanciful new functions. Asima the Lamp Crafter, who grew up with Drax in the same brood, feels both of them are too worked up. Asima knows Drax isn’t insulting the Harvesters but also that they worry too much. Surely everything will end as it should.

A Selfless Downfall

We got to play Caroline Hobbs’ Downfall at our first (of many I hope!) game night of Story Games Wilmington.

We created a community that lived in domes at the bottom of the sea, using steam as its main source of power. The core value of this community which made it prosper in this very difficult location was selflessness. People here had to continually put the group ahead of themselves in order to have enough to eat and to be able to build a community, so they called their world the Hope Bubble. The Bubblers had some very interesting practices and traditions that they developed through time to encourage this selflessness.

For instance, the most popular form of entertainment was swarm racing. People loved to attend or participate in these events. People would form into huge groups at the arena and then run as fast as they could together. Since participants were so close to one another, coordination and communication where key to keep everyone standing and not trampled by other team members.

One of the hardships that shaped the Bubblers the most, was the dearth of food available in this section of the sea. To solve this, the people from the Hope Bubble had to do regular sacrifices in which a person from the community would wear a bucket of chum as a necklace and go up into the sea to attract swarms close to the bubble. As the swarm devoured the chum and the sacrificed member, the rest of the community would hunt the swarm and get the much needed food.

But probably the most interesting practice this community developed was its form of government. To ensure there is never a conflict of interest among those in power, an Ambivalence Task Force was developed that is charged with identifying people’s interests so that they can then assign positions of power to those that have no personal interest to the realm they are assigned, thus guaranteeing that all decisions made will be selfless.

Ultimately, this ended up being the downfall of the community. While the system worked for a long time, it also lead to having people unqualified or uninterested in government who were not willing to make any decisions when the mail stopped working and the bucket of chum was never delivered. Despite efforts by some to encourage direct action without going through the government channels, the community did not get enough food and died slowly of starvation.

Downfall of the Fittest

Our session of Downfall by Caroline Hobbs was an interesting one. Our Flaw was ‘Survival of the Fittest’ and our elements were fire, death, and trees… what this meant was that the community we envisioned lived in huge trees and would burn every year the weaker family tree. This was one brutal game of Downfall; usually we end up playing goofy themes but the way the Flaw combined with the Elements made for a very aggressive community. Roleplaying the antagonist was perversely fun…

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