I’ve been recently chatting with a newer Gauntlet member named Noella. We connected at one point around atheism and the idea that they were looking at starting a secular group at their university, and we chatted a little about the Secular Student Alliance.
And then Noella put together a Gauntlet game around this very topic, of sorts… a game of Dialect, the RPG about language of a community in isolation and how that language eventually dies off. Except instead of using one of the pre-made Backdrops, Noella made a new one called “Children of No God”, that explores a community of non-believers, surrounded by those that are religious. Here is the pitch from the Backdrop:
Everyone believes in some God or Gods here, except for us. We’ve banded together against the religious hegemony. We are the non-believers, the atheists, the agnostics, the humanists, the secularists, the non-theists, the rationalists, the free thinkers. Maybe our beliefs are the same, maybe they are all different, but we share a common goal. We foster intellectualism and debate, but most of all we keep each other safe.
A nice little combination of two things I’m very much interested in: role playing games, and atheism (in its various forms: humanism, secularism, and so on). I’ve written about playing and running Dialect before, so won’t repeat the basics of that game again here.
We ended up with 5 total players: Noelle, Sabine, Mikael, Gene (who was playing his first Gauntlet game!) and myself. We quickly found a rough setting for our game, going with some nameless city in the Roman Empire (prior to that whole Christianity thing, with polytheism being abundant). Our three Aspects included:
Our non-belief: “See to Believe”, the premise that we needed to be shown a thing before believing it)
A sanctuary / meeting place: We settled on a specific “park”
A random aspect: We went with a tradition of everyone from our various backgrounds and cultures bringing and sharing foods, and wrote down “potluck”.
We decided we’d have rough groups in our community of skeptics (who were associated mainly with bakers), rationalists (mostly wine makers), and general freethinkers (who were called “eaters” since they comprised of everyone else, and therefore fed off the potluck). It was an interesting choice to associate these schools of thought with these broad categories of people, even if it was strictly true, just to see what traditions and prejudices would form based on this.
Character generation is one of my favorite parts of this game, where you each get 3 cards with archetypes, and choose one of them as the basis for your character. I went with the Celebrity, which states that I choose one of these aspects that my celebrity is based on, and the rest I don’t really care about. I could’ve chosen the non-belief as my main aspect, but was interested in seeing where things would go if that wasn’t my priority, and went with “potluck”. My character was Vesta, and she had been using the potluck to source different foods and cooking styles, and impressing people around town with her culinary expertise and experimentation.
We had Aries the Sage (Sabine) who was wise and good at giving advice to those in the park, Flavius the Ruler (Gene) who believed that the park was part of our problem (as he couldn’t control it), Claudia the Healer (Mikael) who actually thought our un-belief was the source of our problems, and Evander the Magician (Noella) who was assigned to the group from the religious authorities to help convert them back, but was in fact going through his own crisis of faith.
Within the first few rounds we established words (through discussion and role play) that included the word Death as “Chelis” (a corruption of Chair-less… someone missing and an empty chair), “Clear” as a word meaning Wonderful (a clear day meant we could meet at the park), and “Bake” in the Norwegian pronunciation meaning Work (as we work must be seen to be believed, and the products of that work were bread from our bakers, a large source of our tribe). More words were to come, and after about 2 hours of play we had finished the first age, and were ready to explore what happens as time moved on, and things shifted in the community.
The second age came with the complication that the authorities were on to us in a bad way, and to blend in we’d have to work together with another minority religious group. In this case it was the Temple of Dionysus, and Potluck turned into a proper Feast… instead of an unstructured sharing, we now had a production of food, and rituals, meeting weekly instead of sporadically. The second age also comes with more complex concepts of language, such as Portmanteau and Euphemism. We had the word Traiter as “Eyer”, for example, but the Portmanteau took this and Work / “Bake” and created “Bakeyer”, the work of being a traitor… acting shady. This originally came about due to people being untrustworthy as spies for the government religious authorities, but quickly became used as a word that the minority religious group used to say we atheists were shady, and then just as quickly became a word (in the third age of the game) that we used for ourselves as an honorable term. It was fascinating watching the meaning change so quickly from scene to scene, in a way that felt authentic.
The third age of the game brought the death (Chelis?) of our language and community, and some fairly sad moments as characters were disavowed of their marriage due to their non-belief, or not able to express their culture and words due to changes and removal of allowed vocabulary by the community. We had a few sad epilogues at first, but also some hope. A young teacher and daughter to the leader of the minority religious group actually teaching about some of our traditions we thought would be lost.
In the end the game exudes this melancholy feel (that I’ve experienced every time I’ve finished the game), and just gives you food for thought for days to come. It once again reaffirmed that the game is a sort of immersive and strange experience that I highly recommend people try.
Noelle did a great job running their first Gauntlet game, keeping the game well-paced so it fit within the 3.5 hours or so that we needed. I’ll be honest that I’d have loved more time to experience some of the scenes and really get into character, but that would’ve also made this a 2-session game.
The experience of using Roll20 for the cards was hit and miss. Some of the writing on cards or putting them on the “table” wasn’t trivial, but then again the shuffling and dealing cards worked exceedingly well. It’s definitely a tool I’d like to become more familiar with, however I have to admit that using Google Hangouts, Google documents, and RollForYourParty does most of the things I need.
Noella has posted the Backdrop, and so here it is: Children of No God backdrop for Dialect.
For those interested, the video was recorded and you can view the actual play. Unfortunately you don’t get much of a view of the game board as we’re playing, but the above screenshots should serve to give you an idea of how it looked.