The Essential Choice in Play

Through Shadows: The Old Theater, Part 1

Debbie Reynolds graced this screen. Rita Hayworth. Grace Kelly.

I don’t know these names. Just reading old posters.

Ronald Reagan? That can’t be right. He was a politician, wasn’t he?

I wander around the theater, looking in closets, opening doors. Nothing to eat. Candy counter is empty. Soda fountains long since tapped. But this place doesn’t look picked over. I’ve seen buildings that are just empty shells, skeletons with every shred of useful stuff gone. This place…maybe scavengers figured there’d be nothing worth the risk? Awful dark in here.

As if reading my thoughts, the shadow in the corner Opens, and a woman walks. Out. She has a gash on her arm and she’s bleeding like crazy. I have a spare shirt in my pack, and I rip it apart and mop up her wound, tie it tight. Nothing that needs stitches, though I wish I had a bandage. But you work with what you’ve got.

She calms down enough to thank me. I nod. I’m watching the corner. I’m not sure if the shadow closed or not.

“What happened?” I ask her.

“The bastard stabbed me,” she says. “All I wanted was an orange.”

I nod again. I’d think I’d stab somebody for an orange. “Then what?”

She looks at the corner, thinking the same thing I did. “They heard me scream. They came for him.”

I shut my eyes. Obviously, he’s a bastard because he should have just shared the orange. But you never want to think about what They do to people.

That shadow still hasn’t closed.

I’ve talked before about the essential choice. It’s so important to curse the darkness that I could capitalize it, but I’m gun-shy about Too Many Capitalized Words. Anyway, the essential choice, you might recall, is something I discussed here: Light a candle or curse the darkness. I mentioned that it has an effect in play, and so leading up to Removal Challenges, I want to explain that.

A session of curse the darkness can be a one-shot, a three or four-session story, or a 50-session chronicle, or anything in between. The way that you gauge that is with the essential choice. Every player has to make it. As I mentioned in the earlier post, you build up to lighting a candle by buying points of “Wick”, and then filling them in on the character sheet (I don’t have a mock-up yet, but as soon as I do I’ll post it). Length of story is therefore determined by how much Wick every player needs before s/he can light a candle (remembering that you can curse the darkness any time).

Removal Challenges, too, get classified by the essential choice. Character Challenges don’t, because they’re there to help define the characters and resolve actions that don’t have immediate risk. But Removal Challenges (and I’ll talk about the systems for them soon, because it kind of builds on this) are, in themselves, a way to make the essential choice.

I love examples! Let’s say that my character is facing off against Them. We’re in a bar, and just to make it even more exciting, the place is on fire. My character might decide to grab a burning torch and try to drive back or harm the monsters. He might, instead, decide to run, hoping that the fire will confuse Them. One of these actions is lighting a candle, the other is cursing the darkness.

What does this mean in play? I can generate Wick by surviving Removal Challenges, but not by cursing the darkness. I can’t light the fire to change the world by hiding from the change. If I make the choice to light a candle and survive, I get one point of Wick. I can also get Wick by trading in five Memory Points. Once I have the requisite number of Wick points, I can tell the GM that I’m lighting a candle. Once lit, it can’t be extinguished, even if my current character dies.

Of course, if I don’t think it’s ever going to happen, I can just curse the darkness. From now on, I can’t take actions that would fall under lighting a candle. I don’t have the strength of will to change the world. That doesn’t prevent me from acting or even helping other people, just from taking direct action against Him or Them. The good news is, though, that once I’ve cursed the darkness I don’t generate Between Points nearly as easily.

Stay tuned – the story in the Old Theater is going to continue, and we’re going to get into the systems for Removal Challenges next!


6 responses to “The Essential Choice in Play

  1. Pingback: The Old Theater, Part 4 (Plus Removal Challenges) | curse the darkness

  2. Pingback: Actual Play from Con on the Cob! | curse the darkness

  3. Pingback: Actual Play: The Severed Bridge | curse the darkness

  4. Pingback: Actual Play: The Severed Bridge (part 2) | curse the darkness

  5. Pingback: Actual Play: The Severed Bridge (Conclusion) | curse the darkness

  6. Pingback: Actual Play from MarCon: The New Pope | curse the darkness

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