A bit more on the essential choice

The helicopter cameras showed it, but we didn’t know what we were looking at. I recorded some of the feed. It’s not illegal to own it, despite what people think. He’s not that kind of dictator. He doesn’t care what you say about Him, and He takes full ownership of everything He did. He just thinks it was right.


The ‘copters saw the city swallowed. Every shadow opened. Every single one. The buildings crumbles and fell into a billion tiny sinkholes. The people, the ones that They hadn’t killed, just vanished into the Between. The ‘copters kept their lights and their cameras on it. About five seconds in, they killed the sound feed.

It was bad enough we had to see it. No one wanted to hear it.

I’ve heard that some of the crew jumped from the copters. I’ve heard one of the copters crashed when the pilot had a heart attack – or maybe he put the copter down on purpose. Who wants to live in this world?, I’ve heard, is what came over the radio, but I know that’s not true, because I was listening, and there was no sound. Just the Holy City vanishing into the Between.

When the dust settled, there was nothing but black. The shadows hadn’t closed, they’d joined like mercury. Nothing below the copters but a puddle of blackness. And then every shadow in the world opened. The shadows in the room with me opened. We all heard the voice, again speaking English in that weird, stilted, not-quite-accented voice that we would come to know as His.

This is the end of your world. This is what will become of ideology. How many lives lost over the centuries for this place, which you now see is so impermanent? No more lives lost for Jerusalem, not after tonight, not ever again.

Have your riots. Convene your armies. Launch your missiles. Rant, rail, gnash your teeth. I will allow you that, for you need time to grieve your world. But when I speak to you again, know that it will be as your authority. You will do what I say to do, or They will come for you from the Between.

There is no question. There is no debate. There is no compromise. There is only the world and the whole of humanity.

Much of the world didn’t know what to make of it. Hell, much of the world didn’t understand it. But the Internet was still global at the time, and translations – a lot of them inaccurate, a lot of them with Biblical or Qu’ran quotes appended – starting making the rounds. While He never addressed them, I can’t help but feel like they proved His point by doing that.

Some folks did analyze exactly what was going on. They started combing historical archives, Dead Sea Scrolls, Biblical Apocrypha, conspiracy theories, anything, anything, for a hint of what was happening. What was the Between? Was it Mictlan? The Underworld? Hell? Heaven? Was He an angel? God? Satan? The Antichrist?

The short answer: No. The longer answer: It’s 10 years later, and we still don’t know exactly who or what He is. But I’ve heard some good theories.

Any given action in the game can be cooked down to the essential choice of the game: Light a candle or curse the darkness. The former means that what your character is doing is proactive, confrontational, and assertive (or even aggressive). The latter means that your character is being passive, reticent or non-confrontational. Note that neither choice is inherently right or wrong; it just depends on the circumstance.

For instance, if my character runs across a gang of people trying to rob another survivor of his food, my character might choose to do one of the following:

  • Fight them off
  • Yell at them and shame or intimidate them into running away
  • Tell them that the creatures from the shadows were just here, and that violent action is likely to attract Them back

Any of those are, by definition, lighting a candle because they are actions designing to work against and change what is happening. But, on the other hand, I could:

  • Run away
  • Hide and try to help the survivor once the attack is over
  • Join in and hope I get a cut

With these actions, I’m cursing the darkness. My character might, privately, think it sucks that this poor guy is getting assaulted for what little food he possesses, but that’s the way it is, I can’t help him without getting hurt, how’d he get that food anyway, or any other justification I’d care to name. In any event, I’m not changing anything. I’m just accepting the way things are.

In a curse the darkness story, every player (not character, and I’ll get to why in a minute) has that essential choice to make – light a candle or curse the darkness. But you can’t just decide to light a candle. You have to build up the will, the fuel, the fire to do it (and one way to do that is for a character or two to die in your control, which is why the ultimate decision rests with the player rather than a single character – but we’ll get to the specifics in a future post about systems). Once you’ve made that decision, it’s there. The candle is burning. You are a light in the darkness.

But you can, at any time, decide to curse the darkness. In that instance, you accept what is happening. You don’t have the energy or the inclination to fight. Maybe you just have too much to lose, maybe you think it’s hopeless. Or maybe you think, like Him, that in aggregate things are better. In any case, once that decision is made, it’s made.

A curse the darkness story ends when each player has made his or her choice. How much “wick” every player’s candle requires to be able to burn dictates how long the story will be. Less “wick” for a one-shot, more for a multi-session story.

Next post, we’ll talk a little about systems, how about?


3 responses to “A bit more on the essential choice

  1. Pingback: The Essential Choice in Play « curse the darkness

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