Through the Ansible

edited August 2007 in PBP Discussion
Through the Ansible is a game I wrote a while back. It's kind of an Ursula le Guin tribute game. If you haven't read any of her "Hainish" stories, you might not understand some of the terms I've used here. Here's the rules in 500 words or so. Let me know what you think!

Through the Ansible is a play-by-post game for three or more players. It takes place in a single thread.

In Through the Ansible, you play a Mobile from the Ekumen, sent though space to a new, unexplored world. Your posts to the thread will represent that Mobile's reports, sent through the Ansible back to the Ekumen. Your reports can be anything: Descriptions of the local customs, tales of exciting adventures, musings on the meaning of truth, or stories of your character’s relationships with the other Mobiles, and their relationships with the local people. The Ekumen values any knowledge, any understanding. However, the other Mobiles may contradict your reports. Far from home, the nature of truth becomes a slippery thing. Reports are inconsistent, contradictory and vague. It's up to you, as a player, to decide for yourself what part your character will play in the story, to interpret the world through your character’s eyes, to present a version of the world that reflects your character as much as the new world.

Players should write a brief description of their character, 200 words or (preferably) less. Avoid a lengthy backstory. Describe the world your character comes from, any physical differences from Terran humans, and the things that are important to the culture there.

You now need to select two keywords. These should be words that you want to be important to the game, but that you don't have a strong preconception about how they'll be interpreted. Words with stronger implicit meanings are probably better than vague words, but that's up to you. Write your keywords at the end of your character description.

One player should make a list of all the keywords chosen by the players. Each time a player posts, they must choose at least one of the words from this list, and use it in their post. You may wish to use bold type to make this use clear to the other players. You can use the word in any way you'd normally include a word in your post. It doesn't have to be the central theme of your report, or even an important part, although strongly defining your interpretation of the keyword might give your report a greater influence on the game.

Once you've used all the keywords in the list at least once, you can't post anymore, The game is over for you. The other players may keep posting until they too have used all the keywords. Finishing before the other players is not a bad thing. Your reports have set the scene for the story that will be concluded by the other players.

It's expected and encouraged that posts will be inconsistent with each other. One report may describe a disastrous flood, another a punishment from the gods, and another a glorious cleansing. One might even deny, or ignore, the event entirely. That's up to you. What is "true", what "really happened" is never resolved, except by what is referred to by the reports.

Other People's Characters: It's ok to write about the actions of other people's characters, in terms of what they are doing, and what happens to them. Explicitly, it's ok to report that their character has died.


  • edited August 2007
    This sounds interesting. I have to admit, though, it's pretty borderline with what I would consider a game at all, especially when played-by-post. It really feels more like a group writing exercise, which isn't a bad thing, but I have a feeling if I wasn't gaming elsewhere, this wouldn't really scratch my gaming itch. As a group writing exercise, though, I think it's really cool!

    I'm also not sure how I feel about the lack of direct interaction between the participants. As it is, other than using the keywords everyone generates, you could potentially end up with a bunch of reports that have no connection to one another whatsoever.
  • edited 2:05AM
    Yeah, those are good points.

    I guess where I see the "game" coming in is in how you interpret the other players' posts, and how you throw them difficult situations back. So, for example, if I write about my character being a hero to the native people, and you write about how they all secretly hate me, and are planning to kill me, I'm presented with two choices. I can keep writing my "hero" narrative, and ignore the dark undertones you're giving it, or I can try to work it into my story, and maybe try to redeem my character somehow. Depending on how I deal with it, I might end up with a character who is read as a monster, blithely believing his own heroism while the natives plot his demise, or as a naieve, symathetic character who tries his best. My skill at reinterpreting or manipulating your post determines how my character is understood. It's a "game" in as much as it involves negotiating and interpreting the actions (posts) of the other players.

    You're right though, that it's not really going to scratch that itch for overcoming a challenge, or exploring a world. What would make this feel more like a "game" to you? (Bearing in mind that the core concept of this is a game in which none of the events in the game are "true", in the sense that everything is open to interpretation)
  • edited August 2007
    What would make this feel more like a "game" to you? (Bearing in mind that the core concept of this is a game in which none of the events in the game are "true", in the sense that everything is open to interpretation)
    Good question; it's always easier for me to deconstruct games than to build something useful myself. I'll think about this a bit and let you know!
  • edited August 2007
    One thing I think would help would be if each new report was required to incorporate an specific event, person, item, etc. (referred to as an element from here on) from a previous report written by someone else. The nature of the use could still vary wildly in interpretation, being viewed in completely different ways, but it would draw stronger ties among multiple stories, particularly if there was some way of assigning a specific report to a specific player to draw an element from after the initial report is completed, insuring that multiple players don't all draw elements from only one other report (of course, players are still free to incorporate other elements from any other reports as well, as long as they also pull from their "assigned" report). This would solve several of the issues above by increasing player interaction as well as giving it a slightly more "gamey" feel by giving the players more direct influence on the overall content of the game beyond what they write themselves. I get that this is the purpose of the keywords that are already included in the game, but I think this would give a little more structure and reinforce that feel, as well as providing interesting combinations among elements and keywords that come from two different players.

    This would probably also necessitate a bit more structure in terms of who writes when, so that one player wouldn't write all of his/her reports in one big go, thus removing the possibility of including others' story elements.
  • edited 2:05AM
    Hmm. I see what you mean. Maybe if people have to incorporate something from the poster above them, that would work ok, and it wouldn't put too many new restrictions on who can post when. So what are the rules for incorporating. I think it would be cool if you got to choose what the next person would use from your post. Maybe in every post you put one sentance in bold type, and that's what the next person has to use. So, for example:

    "Yesterday I climbed in the Yerot mountains, through the rainforest and out onto a plateu. Flying lizards the size of my forearm swooped at me, and perched in the trees, screeching. Rana, my guide, says they're very smart, and that the mountain tribes hold them sacred. I said I was interested in meeting these mountain tribes, but Rana deflected the question. I can't tell if it's because of the danger (which she never stops reminding me of), or because she wants to keep me to herself."

    And the next person could write:

    "The megalithic carvings display a variety of forms, but the native achaeologists assure me that they're all from the same culture, a collection of tribes who inhabited these mountains several thousand years ago. A dominant motif is of a kind of bird, or winged reptile. Some of the carvings show these figures as the same size as humans, or larger. Whether this is some extinct species or a mythical being is impossible to tell, as yet no remains have been found. In any case, this research is purely academic, as the mountain tribes were apparently wiped out by the more advanced lowlanders many years ago."
  • edited 2:05AM
    Take a look at Lexicon by Neel Krishnaswami. It does something similar to what you're talking about.
  • edited 2:05AM
    Hey, that's cool! It is very similar in concept to what I'm trying to do here. I like it. I especially like the possibility of creating characters and stories within the Lexicon. Thanks for the link!
  • edited August 2007
    I've only read The Dispossessed, but it's also my very favorite novel, so I think I could plug into this. (Left Hand of Darkness is on my queue somewhere too.)

    As for the game, I'm a touch confused on the setup: so we're all Mobiles from different worlds, but we're all on the same world, reporting on it? Otherwise: I'd be up for giving it a try. It might not be too "game-y", but I'd be happy to try it and adjust.

    I think this is a game that could be served well by a kibbutzy "What if?" thread from audience members (as well as participants) - a brainstorm thread for events that might be really cool to happen, and the players are encourage to pull from and/or adapt those events.

    EDIT: Another suggestion - for the first go, how about a shorter game, with just a few (like, 3?) players?
  • edited 2:05AM
    Awesome! I hope you like Left Hand of Darkness. It's probably one of my favorite books ever.

    Yeah, the rules above are a bit confusing because I trimmed them down from about 1,500 words, which had many more examples and explanations. We're all mobiles from different worlds, sending in reports, which may or may not be from the same world. You might choose to report from a neighboring world, or a world with similar issues, or the same world far in the past or future, or whatever you want. Ideally, to promote maximum interaction between players, there should be strong points of connection between the worlds you're reporting on. It's better to be on a different planet far in the future that's dealing with issues raised by the other planet, than to be on the far side of the same planet, persuing a wholly independant theme.

    I'm with you on the game benefiting from discussion and audience participation. I imagine the game being played in both the play thread (where the actual reports are written), and in the out-of-game thread, where we dicuss and negotiate how the game will progress.

    What's your opinion on the "rules as written" versus the "incorporate a sentance from the post above you" versions of the game?

    I'm really stoked that you're interested in this. I might work my way up to pitching it pretty soon. I think that three players would be a fine way to play first-off. I really like short-form games anyway, and I think it would be fun to try to get some meaningful exposition of theme in such a short space.
  • edited 2:05AM
    I'm fine trying out that rules mod, or some other kind of mod that increases interconnectedness of stories. (I like what the keywords thing does, too.)

    I don't quite get how unreliable fiction (i.e. questions of What Really Happened) will really come into play, except in cases where you're discussing the past-world-A's actions towards world B's or vice versa; it seems a bit limited, but we should just play it and try it out, and modify it from there.
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