Who is a Narrator?
Let’s start with the main point: as the Narrator, you don’t need to make any rolls! All the consequences and opposition stemming from the environment in this game are incorporated into the outcomes of Actions and the rolls of the players. If you need to add something to the story, just say what happens.
In this game, the inner world of the Protagonists reveals itself through their interactions with each other and with the outside world. At the beginning of the story, the characters will be hollow and may seem one-dimensional. That’s okay! Throughout the game, they will come alive and their emotions will gain depth and gravity.
- Show that the world does not care. Almost no one knows that the Protagonists are ill, and those who do, usually treat the matter with formality or indifference. Others may offer sickly sweet condolences, in truth merely fulfilling their ‘civic duty’.
- Show that the time is running out. The illness increasingly gnaws at the characters. Let them feel that, with each Life Die, the end draws ever closer. It becomes harder to go up the stairs, their hands shake more violently and there are fewer and fewer chances to make it in time.
- Each of them is being haunted by their past mistakes and failures. A wrong choice between career and family, a deal with the mob, a father sent away to the nursing home or a game cartridge with a favorite game which you’ve been failing to return for twenty years – all of this should make the characters restless, preventing them from calmly accepting the inevitable.
- Try alternating between drama and action. Everyone grows tired of constant drama, as well as of omnipresent explosions and car chases. Add a little bit of good ol’ action to ease the tension at the table or present the characters with heartache and hard choices to set off the emotional rollercoaster for another loop.
- Ask questions and use answers. If you can’t come up with the appropriate solution or content for a dawning situation – ask your players. More often than not, the best and unforgettable plot twists are created by them, not by the Narrator. Feel free to use that to your advantage.
Montage and Outcomes
When a player wants for their character to do or to achieve something, first off, think – is this scene important and should you spend time on it?
To determine this, answer the following questions:
- Will this scene lead to some ambivalent choice?
- Will it help telling something crucial about the characters, or show them from a new perspective?
- Would there be a major price to pay in case of failure?
If the scene is worth it, after all, play it out. If necessary, ask for a roll.
In case of failure (no 5s and 6s), you may:
- Say that nothing came out of it and choose another option from this list;
- Say that it worked, and choose a more severe version of another option from this list;
- Deprive the Protagonists of a certain Element due to it being exhausted, lost or damaged;
- Create a new Pursuer;
- Add one to three Marks to the existing Pursuer;
- Demand a price in the form of time and effort, which will lead to the loss of the Life Dice;
- Present the Protagonists with an ambivalent choice or a threat – make them act, for example, by sending a Pursuer after them;
- Make the current or the overall situation more complicated, narratively speaking, without reflecting it, mechanically.
Preparing for the Game
We suggest you include the following additional aspects into your preparation for the game.
You should, if you don’t want the risk of the players reacting poorly to the revelation later on or if you don’t know them well enough. For many, terminal illness is a taboo, and violation of that taboo may lead to an extremely negative experience. That is why it is safer to inform the participants ahead of time. In addition, this will allow the players to get into the right mindset and prepare themselves . If the participants are inclined to view the story from a movie director’s perspective rather than getting into the characters, it will be more suitable for them to find out along the road.
You should not tell them if you know your players well and are confident that terminal illness is not a taboo topic to them. This approach enables you to spring the information onto them at the right moment for the players, as well as their characters. This will allow for a more vivid emotional reaction and tie the players and the characters closer together as they share in this hardship. This approach is more suitable for players who are inclined to live through their characters’ emotions as their own.
In any case, before the first scene, you need to hand over the character sheets to the players, tell them about the application range of the Approaches and warn them that they don’t need to create the entire character from the get-go. Some facets of their past, destiny and personality are better off as blank spots to be filled in as the plot progresses. It is preferable to elaborate on the Elements, Preparation, Life Dice and Aspiration Cards after the initial scenes.
You may want to prepare, ahead of time, some ambient soundtrack which may help them to get into the right mindset. Slow- or medium-tempo rhythmical instrumental pieces, that do not draw the player’s attention away and are appropriate for the dramatic and the action scenes alike, would fit nicely. You may compile a playlist of compositions, so that you won’t get distracted by having to switch between tracks and ruin the atmosphere by doing so.
Choosing the backdrop
Any modern city can become a backdrop for your game. Which should you choose? It depends on what you want to see (and feel) in the game.
If you want to make the game less personal and grave, but more cinematic and dynamic, you’d be better off choosing a more ‘movie-like’ place. It could be a small American town near the Mexican border, a metropolis on the East coast, or a quiet and respectable provincial town in Germany. Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door, In Bruges, Seven Psychopaths and Trainspotting may serve as good examples that should help you pick a relatable and exciting locale.
Choose a name that is at least remotely suitable for the area and start playing. Don’t try to realistically recreate the city or the culture of its citizens! Play in a way that would allow every player to imagine a similar situation on a big screen – you won’t need anything more complicated.
If you want to tell a more personal and emotional story, it would be better to choose an abstract city that might’ve existed near the place you grew up in or the place you live in. For the sake of the atmosphere, you should describe situations familiar to your players. Also, the player’s affinity with the event will be stronger if the game was full of little commonplace things.
Such little things will bring the players closer to their characters, make their stories more personal if you will. At the same time, there is a risk of making the game too emotionally taxing.
Before the start of the game, you should discuss expectations and wishes with each participant and choose the most suitable option for your particular playstyle.
The first scene
The Narrator’s monologue (an example of which is presented below, you may read it aloud at the beginning of the game) may be a good start. The narration should attune all the participants to the required dramatic and doomed tone, paint the background in broad strokes, and recount how the Protagonists found themselves in this predicament. However, the most crucial objective of the narration is to nudge the players towards fulfilling the Aspiration Cards without any distractions.
It’s morning. The car races down the nearly empty highway, drawing closer and closer to The City. Perhaps one of you has lived their whole life there; one of you may have escaped it or have hidden within it; one of you may have squandered all of their dreams there, or maybe even found true happiness. What ties you to that city? We will find out later. For now, only one fact is of importance to us. This city is the only significant city on Earth – at least, for you. For the two of you, speeding in this car on the gray asphalt. Mere hours ago, you didn’t even know about each other’s existence, but now there is no soul more understanding and close, than the person sitting alongside you in this car, your recently found comrade in misery. Heading towards the city, of your own volition or not, you’re thinking about what happened a short while ago, utterly changing your life. At least, what’s left of it.
A door; maybe with a nameplate, maybe not, but the image of it is ingrained in your memory. This very door witnessed you coming to terms with the new rules of the game. Or, to put it boldly, the rules of loss. Every person walks their own path to this door. For some, it was a years-long wandering among healers, therapists, doctors and hospitals. For some it’s just a sudden collapse in their everyday humdrum. Alas there is a new, previously unknown world behind this fainting spell: emergency room, screenings, a talk with a doctor. It all comes down to the door, though. Behind it, a doctor delivers a verdict – you don’t have much time left. Not years, not months, not weeks. Not even days. Heck, probably less than that.
Silence. Submerged in it, both of you rewind the events of your lives inside your heads. Dreams, recollections, mistakes. All that was kept on the backburner or buried deep within your memory. Some other time, until things look up, never – all of these categories have turned into smoke in the blink of an eye. Now, there is only this moment. This moment, to make right the most grievous mistakes of the past and to make the most precious dreams come true. There’s just no time for anything else.
A person. The other one, riding in this car. You know nothing about them, but right now, no one in the whole wide world would really understand you: they would ignore you, express hollow sympathy, or even worse, would not be able to live with the new you. In this person, you see the qualities you’ve always lacked when dealing with people, in a physical sense, and otherwise. Well, two condemned have better chances than just one, right? Gradually emerging from the rabbit hole of dismay, you realize you have not yet decided on your destination. It’s time to make the first step towards the fulfillment of your desires. After all, there’s so much left to do, while you’re still here.
At the start, it is recommended to show the events of the recent past, when the Protagonists learn about their dreadful impending diagnosis. It would be better to make this scene a part of the Narrator’s monologue. In the same broad terms, describe the symptoms and prognosis, without getting into specifics of any diseases.
This scene may be roleplayed, but it is incredibly complicated for the Narrator, as well as for the players because it requires extremely serious roleplay and powerful emotional response from each participant. Episodes of such intensity are usually climactic, not introductory, so the participants (including the Narrator) may fail to roleplay it adequately, thus giving the game a bad start.
You may roleplay this scene, but only if there is a high level of mutual trust at the table, and the players gravitate toward getting into the characters and reliving their emotions and fears.
Still, it’s a huge risk.
Don’t forget that the game starts with a clean slate, for characters, as well as for the whole backdrop. To ease the players in, first of all, you should ask them questions about their environment and gradually move over to the characters.
Throughout the monologue or after, alternating between the respondents, ask players the following questions:
- Whose car is it? What’s special about it?
- What does the landscape outside the window look like? Which country is it, at least roughly speaking?
- What city are you headed to?
Go ahead and ask questions until all of you would get at least a rough idea about the game’s backdrop. As soon as you figure out the location – cross over to the Protagonists. For starters, give them time to allocate Approaches, and then ask each player the next set of questions:
- What does your partner know about you?
- What’s your name?
- What catches their eye in your appearance or behavior?