At the beginning of this year — long enough ago that there are more than a few readers of
this journal who weren’t reading at the time — I began, for the first time, to run a
My primary reason for not having run one sooner, despite my gaming experience, was quite
simple: I didn’t have an idea for a game. Unless you’re going to run D&D modules or the like
(which didn’t interest me), that’s a pretty substantial reason. During Thanksgiving vacation
two years ago, though, while in Boston, I began to ponder certain things. Namely, the setup
of the game Changeling: The Dreaming, which concerns itself with faerie souls that
shelter from the disbelief of the world by incarnating themselves in mortal human bodies.
When the host dies, the fae is reborn in another one, and so goes through a series of
incarnations over time.
As far as I knew at the time (and I wasn’t far wrong), the published game materials never
made much use of this fact, which seemed to me very interesting from a narrative viewpoint. I
have friends who have run Vampire games that span generations and centuries; couldn’t
you do the same thing with changelings? Then you could explore the different ways the same
fae concept expresses itself in different time periods. But the fae rarely remember much of
their previous lives, so that would be awkward from a game-play point of view; the players
would have to act while ignoring half or more of the events that brought them to their current
. . . unless you did it backwards.
Thus was born the concept for my very first game, which I named for the movie on which I
was broadly modeling its structure: Memento.
I won’t go into all the details of the game; that often turns into a “you had to be there”
kind of endeavor, where it’s fascinating for those who were involved, moderately interesting
to those involved in the local, continuity-linked games, faintly interesting to those who play
RPGs in general, and dead boring to everyone else. Also, for continuity reasons, there are
certain details I shouldn’t publicly divulge yet. But the game reached its conclusion on
Saturday, and there are a few things I want to say, which require a bit more context. So
please bear with me.
For reasons having to do with the game materials, I wanted the story to run from about 1350
to the present — or, more accurately, from 2006 back to 1350, and then rebounding once more
to the present. Unlike the movie Memento, the different segments wouldn’t be
coterminous (and thank god for that, or I would have truly gone insane); they’d be scattered
across the intervening time. Well, there are really only two parts of the world where I even
begin to know my history well enough to cover that span of time, those being England and
Japan, and had I set the game in Japan, I would have been driven batty by my players’
unfamiliarity with the geography, language, culture, and everything else. England it was, and
since I wanted it to be centered in a specific location, so that the place, too, could build
up depth of personality over time, I chose London. (Which turns out to be a bloody
fascinating place, in case you were wondering.)
Also, a friend made a suggestion to me that I structure the time segments around some
distinct set of things; her example was the signs of the zodiac, where each part could
have to do with one sign or another. I dinked around wth lists of things, ending up on the
“chieftain trees” of Ireland and various other bits of Celtic/British Isles tree folklore,
from which I chose the seven sacred trees of England (or Albion). That cross-bred, somewhat
out of nowhere, with the seven traditional metals of alchemy, which led to my lovely structure
now having some content to fill it. And, what with one thing and another, the game began in
In case you were wondering, running a weekly game is tiring. Running a weekly game where
you have to research a new century every month is extra tiring. And running your first-ever
weekly game where you have to research a new century every month and you’re doing the
overarching plot in reverse? Yeah. You can fill in the rest. But, as I said in a
post some time ago, I feel the
effort was worth it.
Memento ended this Saturday. And I’ve already told my players how fabulous I think they
were, so I shan’t embarrass everybody by gushing here . . . about that part of it.
Instead I’ll gush about something else. ^_^
They gave me thank-you gifts at the end, which I feel the world should know about. One for
each segment of the game. I’ll list them here, with a brief explanation of their meaning:
- 1916 (birch): a box of opium-scented incense. Birch-related materials are apparently hard
to find in this town, but one of the PCs was addicted to opium in that segment. What makes it
even better is that they didn’t find out until the last game — after they had bought
the incense — that opium had played a larger role in that part of the story than they had
- 1828 (willow): a metal pendant stamped with a willow tree. The trees figured in their
respective segments in a variety of ways, but this one was more literal than most; a faerie
spirit trapped in a willow tree was their major antagonist.
- 1759 (holly): a garland of artificial holly leaves. I intend to hang this up somewhere
just as soon as Thanksgiving is past and I can, in good conscience, decorate the house for
- 1651 (oak): a rubber stamp of an oak leaf, accompanied by a gold ink pad. It’s all the
more appropriate because another friend went to London this past spring and, knowing about my
game, brought me back a die-cast metal stamp of a holly leaf.
- 1589 (apple): an onyx bracelet. The fae ruler of Albion at that point was probably one of
my most vivid NPCs: Invidiana, Elizabeth’s dark mirror and Queen of the Onyx Court.
- 1489 (alder): a gorgeous jewelry box that plays “Over the Rainbow” when you open
the bottom drawer. I don’t know if this is the fanciest tree-related present because I made
them cry the hardest in this one ^_~ . . . but it’s stunning. And the rendition of that song
from Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow is what I played when they had to close the
last gate to Arcadia, the fae homeland, stranding themselves in the mortal world.
- 1399 (hazel): a hazelnut latte-scented jar candle. It’s burning on my desk as I type this
The final one, though, the tour de force for which I must declare one of my players
certifiably crazy, is the picture. Normally my tendency online is to refer to friends by
their online handles, but in this case she deserves some advertising. I have, hanging on the
wall of my library, an original watercolor painting by Avery Liell-Kok, matted, framed, and
behind glass, of the four PCs in their 2006 incarnations, along with the major NPC I played,
the faerie-blooded man who was assisting them. She painted it in a night. Granted,
that’s my own damn fault; she obviously couldn’t tell me why she was pestering me to
tell her what exactly Nicholas looked like, and I didn’t get around to deciding that until
Tuesday, four days before our last session. But the thing is freaking awesome.
Anyone who wishes to assist in the “convince Avery she is, in fact, ready to market herself
professionally” project is welcome to come by and take a look at it, and reflect on the fact
that she spent just one night on it. (If I can get a decent photo of it, I’ll post it here,
but the glass makes that tricky.)
So let all and sundry know: though it sucked my brain out and killed my short story
productivity for much of a year, the only regrets I have about Memento stem from my obsessive
perfectionism, which tells me I should have done more research and handled this a
little better and put in certain details about that NPC. In other words, stupid
things. The game was awesome, because I had awesome players.
And some day, I’m going to write a novel that covers centuries of London history — whether
forward or in reverse, I don’t know — and I’m going to dedicate it to the four of them, and
also to their characters. It won’t be the same story, but it will be a story that exists
because of them.