For Games on Demand’s Friday at 8pm, there were enough folks pitching games that I didn’t have to run… sweet! And Christian brought 1001 Nights, a game by Meguey Baker where you play members of the Sultan’s Court, whiling away the sultry nights by telling pointed stories to advance your own ambitions. In other words: playing a story bullshit RPG about people telling bullshit stories… fantastic!
We started by creating some characters. Our court consisted of Sarkoush, the astronomer (played by Christian), Ibrahim the cartographer (played by Cal), Hajar the guild master (played by Ron), Augustine the visiting prince (played by Rob), and Tartush the royal matchmaker (played by me).
Character generation has an interesting twist, where in addition to your name, and role (per above), you also describe your character in relation to the five senses. For example, for me:
I look like I was once a beauty.
I smell like too much roses.
My hands feel like sandpaper.
I am the taste of bitterness.
The sound of clicking of my pen against my teeth.
Beyond that, you simply need a goal (mine: To Get Married - aka Retire), and then distribute a few boxes in categories around making that goal happen, in various categories: Ready, Willing, and Able. These boxes tell us how much work is required to prepare yourself, others, or other necessities to make that goal occur for your character.
From there, we took turns. When you’re the active player, you set the scene at the palace. We then take turns showing where are various court characters are in that scene, and finally the active player shows us where the Sultan is among us. After that, the active player starts to tell a tale.
The basic premise of telling a tale is, put simply: to throw shade. You are telling a tale that denigrates the other characters. In game, you also sign players the role of portraying various in-story characters in a way that parallels disagreeable traits of those same player’s character in the Sultan’s court. A story within a story, and all very meta.
As you are telling the story, you can have the other players at the table assist in portraying these in-story characters. All the while, you - as the active player - can continue to narrate the story to your own designs. As the other players, who are playing these in-story characters, it’s encouraged to lean into your character’s negative traits within the story being told.
Because this was our first time playing the game, including Christian, it was a little difficult to feel like we were bringing it all together every time. In some cases, each of us told a tale as a narrator, and had the other players role play their in-story characters. In some cases, we sort of just told a fable, without much - or any - input from the other players. It was also a little difficult to come up with a tale on-the-fly while also keeping track of our court characters, and also keeping track of these new in-story characters simultaneously. A lot of data!
We ended up telling about 3 or 4 stories, and wrapped up with some nice little epilogues for our surviving characters. One of my favorite parts was how the last story was being told during the beheading ceremony of our foreign prince, who had insulted the Sultan one too many times.
Mechanics in game
Mechanically, the game is interesting… as the story is being told, you, as the player and court character, think of questions you want answered by the narrator. When you do, you pick up a die. When you find the answer to that question, you roll the die, and depending on if the result is odd or even, you either get to keep it, or you must give it to the narrator. An example might be a story about the Sun looking for someone to share their palace. As a listener, you may ask “Who will the Sun ask?” and grab a die. If the story continues with “The Sun went to the hawk, to see if she was interested”, then your question was answered… roll the die and assign it to yourself or the narrator, depending on the result.
The story comes to a conclusion when the narrator desires. This could be when you’ve reached your maximum number of dice you can gather as the narrator (which I believe was 8), or whenever you have found a nice conclusion, or maybe some other metagame reasons. Regardless, the story either resolves, or perhaps you have some court intrigue or other thing interrupt the story.
When it does end, any players with dice in hand from unanswered questions, get to ask those questions of the narrator (and then roll and assign those dice). If you can no longer remember the question for that die, then you must return it to the center, unrolled.
At this point, everyone may have some set of dice they’ve won during the story (perhaps zero, perhaps more), and they assign them to their goals… however, you must then roll these dice, and only get to check those boxes if you get a successful result (even vs odd). Similarly, you need to decide whether to place any of these dice (assuming you have any!) into a special area called “Safety”, which determines whether or not the you have insulted the Sultan. Too many insults, and off with your head!
All up, I could see how the game progresses, and roughly how it works. It does some interesting mechanical things, and can have some really magical moments. Honestly, I worry about playing with non-story gamers. It feels like the imaginative load is high, and the scene framing and fable telling feels like it takes some finesse to really sing. All that said, I haven’t personally read the rules at all, so will reserve judgement for another play through, which I’d be more than happy to do.