“Last summer, during odd days, I worked at this sixfold problem—at the attempt to eliminate these six great drawbacks. I was alone, in camp, and had to puzzle it all out with three dummies before me,—but I worked hard at it, and suddenly the great idea dawned upon me: Choose your own partner!” [via]
“THERE are six major drawbacks to Auction Bridge. Here they are: 1. Mismated partners. You get a fiend for a partner and can’t shake him off. 2. Mismated hands, The two good heart hands never seem to come together. The good spade partners are opposed to each other, etc., etc. 3. The frequency with which bids are set. in actual practice only nine out of thirteen are successful at auction. 4. The fact that you are liable all through a rubber, for your partner’s mistakes. 5. The bickering, fault-finding, nagging, and exhibitions of bad temper. 6. It is not good game for the gambling type of player, as only two people can win—or lose—and they must always win or lose like amounts.” [via]
“This game looks like great fun. Tarot cards and pyramids; what’s not to like?” [via]
I’m going to try really hard to keep this relatively brief, and avoid going down the rabbit hole of talking about everything there is to say about this game and the topic of Looney games. But, I’ve got to say something!
“Gnostica is an abstract territory based war game. Tarot cards make up the often-changing board, and players use Icehouse pieces to represent minions that control those territories. Every tarot card has a power, and when a player has one of his pieces on a territory, he or she may use the power of that territory through that piece. Players also have a hand of tarot cards which allow them to use those powers through any of their pieces. Territories are worth points when occupied, and the game ends when one player challenges the other players and has 9 points on his or her following turn.” [via]
While you do need a deck of some kind, you don’t really need to use a tarot deck. I made my personal deck out of blank note cards. Actually, I made both a Gnostica and Zarcana deck, because I wanted to play the two similar games and compare. However, there is no denying that a real tarot deck would look awesome during play, and have to bonus of freakin’ our both the squares and the uptight. It has always been my plan to dedicate a Thoth tarot deck toward this purpose, but I’ve not yet done that.
Other than a deck of cards for territory, you’ll need a number of Looney Pyramids. Think of the pyramids kind of how you do a deck of cards, something that is used to play a large number of games. There’s a whole lot of history to these pyramids, which you can find and read; but, you should take a gander at IcehouseGames.org Wiki, the fan-built wiki of games that people have designed for play using the pyramids to get an idea of how these are used.
There are actually a large number of pyramid colours that have been available over the years, though currently there are two sets of colours that come boxed together. In order to play a game of gnostica, you really should have five boxes of Looney Pyramids so that you have a stash of 15 of each colour, since 3 of each colour come in each box. The pyramids themselves come in three sizes, each having 1 to 3 pips on them, so a complete stash of 15 pyramids of the same colour will have 5 of each size.
And, I can personally vouch for the way that one can become a little bit obsessed with all the various accessories and tchotchkes.
If you’re interested in the Looney Pyramids, and games you play with them like Gnostica, you may also want to look at some other nifty games from Looney Labs, like Fluxx (including a planned Cthulhu Fluxx at some point!) and Chrononauts.
The Looney Pyramids and Fluxx games are part of a set of games that have flexible or self-amending rules, and I personally find the way I think about playing these games to be similar to the way I think magically. I keep meaning to write my thoughts about that down, and had the notion of a class on “Games Magicians Play” where I would share my thoughts with others. To just put this out there then, I find the need to be flexible and adaptable, while still maintaining a focus on intention, to be an excellent way to play with magical thinking outside of ritual.
Of course, for me, this all started with Peter Suber’s Nomic, which is one of the first games of self-amendment I ever explored. Problem was, it just wasn’t fun. And, if the single necessary and sufficient Nomic rule is “all players must agree on the rules of the game” then it seems to naturally follow as a corollary that “all games should be fun” … you know, unless you’re into the kink of playing games that aren’t fun, I suppose. But, these games from Looney Labs have always seemed to fit that necessary and sufficient core rule and its corollary; they have always maintained a consistent level of fun and interest for me that no other games have sustained.
Check out Gnostica, or the other Looney Labs games, and let me know what you think about my hypothesis about them being a game that mirrors magical thinking, or if you have games you think other magicians should know about consider letting me know or sending me a review of them.
Miskatonic School for Girls caught my eye as interesting (Amirite?), but when I got to the image of the player’s board … yeah. Oh, my … This project is fully funded, and how; but, there’s still time to participate if you like the idea.
“The Miskatonic School for Girls is the first deck building game where you get to build your opponents deck. This unique feature creates a totally different play dynamic from other deck building games.
If you haven’t already guessed, Miskatonic School for Girl’s setting and themes are rooted in the Cthulhu Mythos. While H.P. Lovecraft may have written his stories with a far more sinister tone, our game is lighthearted and cheery, because we’re twisted like that. Play as a house of students at Miskatonic as they try to survive with their sanity intact. This is going to be a challenge as the entire faculty consists of mind-rending creatures and insane cultists! Gather friends to help stave off these wretches, and while you’re at it, why not send a few of those wretches to the other houses… Hey, nobody likes a tattletale, but when you’re sanity is on the line, you’d start snitching, too! If you can manage to be the last house with any amount of sanity left, you win!”
“During your turn, you’ll buy your new friends with friendship points and use nightmare points to send faculty after the rival houses. Eventually, those Faculty will end up in a players hand, where they will hold class, teaching your innocent students about the horrors around them. This has a detrimental effect on your house’s sanity.
Due to the overwhelming power of the dark truth, it’s just a matter of time before your house goes completely bonkers. The last house left with any sanity is the winner!”
Oh, and that image of the player’s board?
Quite a while ago actually, I wandered into a local game shop and happened to start looking through the small press roleplaying games. There were several that struck me as interesting, but one in particular not only struck me but has stuck in my mind. Thinking over the last month or more about ALA’s National Gaming Day, which was today, I found myself thinking about this game once again.
De Profundis is a game created by a Polish designer Michał Oracz, and has been translated to English in two editions. The first edition was from Hogshead Publishing, and is still available through Chaosium. The second edition is available directly from Cubicle 7, as a PDF and print bundle, or many other outlets, such as in a downloadable PDF via DriveThruRPG.
What struck me at first about this game is that it outlines a way to play through correspondence, whether that’s physical snail mail, through email or maybe even in an online forum; and that play progresses not through rolling dice and consulting tables, but rather through the players telling the story of their characters as part of a collective narrative.
“Sometimes when I’m working on the game I enter a strange state of consciousness, as if someone were whispering things in my ear. Have you heard of ‘automatic writing’? You must have. Well, it’s like that. Or almost, because I still need to use my brain. In the next letters, ‘ll describe the game. I wonder what you’ll think. I have this eerie impression that if only I had the right key, and unlocked the right door in my brain, the whole game would just fall out, complete, finished, as though it were already there somewhere, and I just had to peep through the keyhole to see it. I can feel it’s close, but I can’t reach it; I just grab at bits of it and piece them together like parts of a torn photograph. Not everything fits yet, but I know they’re parts of a coherent whole.” — De Profundis
So, the participants in this build a emergent narrative by weaving together their separate personal narratives. The letters develop a story that has a life of its own. And, not only that, but that story then becomes part of the life of the participants.
“So, imagine a tree with many branches, walking on three legs. That’s what De Profundis is like: like a symbol for the three-legged form of Nyarlathotep. It has three parts, rests on three pillars: part one is Letters from the Abyss, part two is Phantasmagoria, and part three is Hermitage. They’re all inextricably interconnected, together forming a whole game.” — De Profundis
These three parts, “Letters from the Abyss”, “Phantasmagoria” and “Hermitage”, are three kinds of psychodrama which are acted out via correspondence, in the field and solo, by the player alone. So, the whole is characterized as different modes of psychodrama. It was when I read the description of the nature of pure psychodrama that this game became stuck in my mind, and if you’ve participated in any group trance work, you’ll recognize this immediately.
“Psychodrama is close to a role-playing game, but without a game master. The players create everything themselves, from their characters to events in the game world. Every participant is a player and a game master at the same time. You don’t need anything to play a psychodrama session: a description of the world, character sheets, rules, a scenario. The players – gathered in a darkened room – simply close their eyes, and one of them describes a place. They all go there in their imagination.” — De Profundis
The primary mode of play is the first, “Letters from the Abyss”, and it is formed by the interwoven letters of those participating. If you aren’t sure what that looks like, just remind yourself by taking a look at the text of Bram Stoker’s Dracula and some of the complete works of Lovecraft.
The other two modes are both more personal and more real than the first, each a kind of escalation of the magical, archetypal and narrative practice, where the game develops a kind of feedback loop into the reality of the participants, and the whole emerges greater than the sum of its parts or the individual participants.
This kind of diceless and personal narrative driven roleplaying reminds me of of many things, but in particular of both Amber and Toon. In Amber, the system developed to roleplay in Roger Zelazney’s stories, dice are not used but rather there is a reliance on narrative. Also, I remember reading the instruction in Toon, a roleplaying game about being cartoon characters, that if a player could explain some way that to do what they want to accomplish, and the more bizarre and convoluted the description, they should be allowed to do so, no matter what the rules might otherwise say.
The creative and narrative nature of this game also suggests to me some of the same foundation as can be found in HipBone Games’ Glass Bead Game which I posted about earlier this week.
A collection of the letters and journals from a complete session might look very much like the text of Dracula or a fully formed Lovecraft tale, but is moreover a kind of magical journal for not just a personal practice but a record of a group trance.
I’ve been exploring a bit of the influence of esoterica on fiction, and visa versa, over at the Cadaver Synod: Esoteric Fiction and Fictional Esoterica. What if, instead of setting the game within the Lovecraftian tales of the Cthulhu Mythos, a bunch of people interested in the Western Esoteric Tradition, including gamers, writers, readers, magicians, Jungians, and who ever else might be both creative and crazy enough to want to join, were to tell each other a strange emerging tale, a shared narrative, using this method, using shared, sequential narratives and perhaps, for recording field and solo modes, personal journal entries. Now that would be interesting!
All that would be needed is a venue, such as a dedicated website or a blog, where correspondence and journals could be posted, a framework for the setting of the story, and a bunch of crazy kids interested in forming a secret psychodrama
cult club … you know, maybe not something to start up smack in the middle of NaNoWriMo, but what about starting that up in the coming New Year?