S/Lay w/Me: At the precipice of Hell

Last night, Oliver and I ventured into the bold, uncharted lands of Ron Edward’s “S/Lay w/Me,” a two-person game of short, Sword&Sorcery stories. We played two games, the first with me playing “I,” the second with Oliver in that role (for those unfamiliar with the game, “I” is the player responsible for creating a lover and a monster for the “You” player’s Hero; the game text is formulated in the first person from the point-of-view of the “I”).

Preparations

The game starts with “You” making a very brief character by reading a short, ritual statement, then choosing a brief character concept which is fleshed out by a ten-word description of the Hero’s physical appearance. “You” then chooses a general setting from a list of one-line descriptions, which it is then up to “I” to flesh out. Finally, “You” chooses a Goal that he wishes to obtain.

Oliver chose the concept “I am a scholar with my head spinning with knowledge and wisdom, but I am still able to kill,” and described himself as “a monk in flowing robes with steel gauntlets.” He chose the location “what remains from when they tried to dig to hell,” and the goal “the bones of a fallen angel.” Thus, he handed the reins over to me.

The “I” then fleshes out the location, and creates a lover and a monster for the Hero to deal with. “I” also sets a Lover score (the number of times the player can script “Goes” aimed at the lover) and a Monster Score (the number of dice “I” can roll before the “Match” ends – see below).

I described the location like this:

The city of Honour’s Gate, built underground as a base for the Apostle King’s failed crusade on Hell. Today, the city is inhabited by the degenerate progeny of the diggers, called the dross, and by a cadre of angels, standing guard by the gate to the abyss.

The Lover:

The Angel, Seraphina, who is a low ranking angel in the guard. She is old, but does not know anything about love – because she has only met the degenerate dross. She knows, that if she loves a mortal, she will thrown from Heaven’s Grace.

In game terms, she loved him: Innocent, Forbidden, Open-Hearted, Knowledgable. Her score was 2.

The monster:

The Demon Raniel, who is a fallen angel. For a thousand years since the battle in the abyss, he has waited. But now, the Prince of Hell has given him the chance to leave it – in return for opening the way for the hordes of Hell. Fast, Deceit, Civil, Singly. Score: 5

Some parts of the Lover and Monster was changed during the cause of the game as the story evovled. For instance, Raniel changed name (Raniel is his final name) and was suddenly acting alongside his brother, Aramiel (which, I guess, would mean he was acting “in a group”).

Playing it out

I started the game by simply reading out my description of the location. Oliver then described how his Brother of the Steely Hand ( a name which appeared during play) arrived as part of a company of pilgrims travelling to the point of this holy war. We had a little negotiation, as I had thought of it as a monument of shame to the Apostle King’s hybris. We agreed that the pilgrimmage was an act of rememberance and penance for the shame of the forefathers.

I then set the first go (which must somehow contain the lover, though “I” am not required to tell who it is).

The company has been trecking downwards for a couple of days underground. In the tunnel, magically glowing crystals have been mounted to light the way. But in the thousand years since the age of the Apostle King, many of them have dimmed or gone out, leaving long stretches in complete darkness.

Now, the pilgrims see a light of a different hue: ahead, they are approaching the gates of Honour’s Gate, lit by huge torches, as well as by the flames from the raised swords of the angelic guard at the gate.

At the gate, the pilgrim’s giude raises his iron-bound staff and pounds on the gate. A trio of angels decent upon them, one male and two female – one with red hair, like the flames of her blade, and one impossibly bright, with hair as fair as light (the Lover).

The two females go around the group, fixing each in turn with her gaze, then returning to their sergeant, pronouncing their half to be of pure intentions.

Olivers Go: The pilgrims proceed to the centre of the city, to the great Seal that has been erected on top of the shaft that leads to the battleground at the border of hell. Here, each pilgrim deposits a stone he has carried from his home, both as a sign of the burden of guilt carried by all of them, and as a symbolic gesture to keep the Seal to Hell firmly in place.

My go: Around the Seal, six angels pace. They go, evenly spaced, every second looking inwards at the Seal, to prevent anything from passing it from below, every second looking outwards, to prevent anyone from the crowds of pilgrim and dross from approaching the seal.

Suddenly, a stone lands feebly quite close to the monk. On of the outwards looking angels immidiately spots the culprit, and grasps the guilty dross by his throat, holding him several feet from the ground.

The monk gets to the ground, and asks the angel to have mercy on the dross. The angel tells the dross that he will temper his justice with the offended party’s mercy – but that the wretched creature should not expect such leniency in the future. The Monk then retreats from the Seal.

Finding a way

Oliver’s go: The Monk goes to one of the bridges up to the angel’s bastion, hanging above the seal, at the top of the cave in which Honour’s Gate is built. He proceeds up one of the narrow marble bridges that lead to the bastion, and ask the angelic guards at the gate for an audience with the captain of the angelic contingent, Adamantus.

Adamantus receives him in an amphitheatre in the bottom of the bastion. At the centre is a whole, through which hangs the great crystal which is the main source of light in Honour’s Gate.

The Monk asks Adamantus for permission to go past the Seal to recover the bones of the Angel. Adamantus refuses his request blankly, berating him and his order for thinking they have any right or duty to castigate the fallen angel – an angel’s duties are to the Lord alone! [Thus starteth the match!]

My go: We now zoom from the closeup of the haughty Adamantus down through the hole, past the crystal, and down to the Seal below. The six guards are going their prescribed rounds, not letting a thing get past their attention. Suddenly, one of the mounds of rocks on the seal collapses, stone tumbling down its side. The closest inwards looking angel fixes it with its gaze.

But while he is looking intensely at the fallen pile, a small stream of glowing embers and flames flows out from under the Seal. It flows under the cowl of one of the pilgrims, who spasms, as if in rapture. Then, he rises and leaves, his eyes glowing red under the cowl.

Oliver’s go: Though having been denied by the angels, the Monk does not cease his attempts to go past the Seal. Instead, he seeks out the other group resident in Honour’s Gate: the dross.

Going into a dross neighbourhood, he is quiclky accosted by a gang of dross, telling him to give up his valuables. He objects that he is a monk, sworn to poverty – but the dross counter by pointing out his robes, made of sturdy, new cloth, and his gloves of the finest steel.

He then states his purpose with going into their neighbourhood. The dross quickly change their attitude, and they take him to a cave down a narrow corridor. Here, the leader of the pack turns out to be the King of the Dross, who is more than willing to give him what he wants – provided he will perfom a small favour in return.

The dross king tells him how his forefather was the chief engineer responsible for the tunnel to Hell. He had a censer, which he unfortunately had to leave behind when he had to flee for his life out of the tunnel. If only the monk could bring this with him back, the king would gladly ensure the passage. The monk is told to appear at the Temple of the Twenty Columns four hours later.

Meeting the Lover

My go: As the monk is leaving the Dross, I decide to reintroduce the lover.

As he walks down the streets towards the Halls of the Pilgrims, glowing red eyes are staring at the Monk. A cowled figure starts following him, and is reaching out to grasp him from behind. Suddenly, Seraphina swoops out of the sky to cut down the former pilgrim.

Oliver’s Go: The angel and the monk go alongside each other to the Halls of the Pilgrims. Outside they sit down, talking until the monk has to leave to go to his meeting. He parts with hoping they will meet again.

My go: …but all is not well. The head of the slain pilgrim-turned-demon suddenly ignites, and, hiding in the torches along the way, follows the angel and the monk. As the monk turns away, it flows over and hides in the flames of Seraphina’s sword.

Down the Hellhole

Oliver’s go: The monk now meets up with the dross king and his cohort in the Temple of Twenty Columns. In the floor is a hidden trapdoor. Underneath is a tunnel, leading to a smaller, cobbled together looking relative of the grand Seal above.

Two Dross mystics open the Seal to let the monk through. Before he passes, the dross king reminds him that he will not be allowed through without the censer.

Outside is the immense expanse of the bore hole. Straight down it goes, with only two (seemingly) small paths leading down the side. The monk proceeds towards the bottom.

My go: The monk walks downwards for what could be hours or days – time flows strangely here. He passes skeletons both human and otherwise – and close to the top are several skeletons, and even a few rotting corpses of what appears to be dross.

He reaches the bottom. Here, everything is covered in piles of debris from the horrible war. Whole hills and paths are formed by the piles of bones and armour of the fallen.

Suddenly, from behind a pile of bones steps Raniel. He sneaks up behind the Monk, and moves to strike him. But the monk hears him, and catches the sword in his gauntlets. He is thrown clear by the force of the blow.

Oliver’s go: the monk and the fallen angel battle amongst the debris. Suddenly, they turn a corner – and there is the Chariot of Aramiel, and with it, the remains of the fallen angel.

My Go: Above, Aramiel’s soul splinter has acted. When Seraphina looks at her sword, it bewitches her, causing her to follow the monk. She discovers the Seal of the dross, flies into a rage, kills the mystics and jumps into the hole beyond. Here, she starts to fall, landing on top of Aramiel’s Chariot.

[This was the end of the Match. Oliver had won, earning two good dice. He chose to save Seraphina, leaving Remiel free and himself wounded. Seraphina would leave with him]

Raniel knocks the monk away, and starts the ritual that will reincarnate Aramiel in Seraphina’s body. All the bones dissolve, and flow into Seraphina.

But the monk is not out of the picture. He overpowers Remiel from behind, interrupting the ritual. Then, he presses the palm of his gautlet with the holy symbol of his order impressed on the metal, into the hole in Seraphina’s chest. The gauntlet, hot from Remiels fire, brands Seraphina, closing her wound.

Enraged, the five splinters of Aramiel’s soul grasps the monk, burning him with their fire. At this, Seraphia awakens. She jumps up, cutting the flaming tendrils with her sword. The monk falls into her grasp, badly burned and barely conscious.

Seraphina jums up, flying upwards on her burnt wings. She goes out through the hole where the dross had their seal, and comes out onto the square of the great Seal. A great crowd of pilgrims and dross gather, looking at the spectacle, and down the hole where the two came out, until three angels force them away. Adamantus flies down, landing at a building and coldly observing Seraphina and the monk – she has removed herself from the Lord’s grace, as far as he is concerned.

But unseen to anyone, the last pilgim suddenly spasms. He stands up, and leaves the area, Raniel’s eyes glowing through the cowl.

In the end, Seraphina and the monk leave, the angel supporting the monk who is wrapped like a mummy underneath his robes.

Thoughts on this round

This was our first round, and had to sort of feel our way around.

Oliver had made a Hero who was unlikely to ever engage with any lover – a chaste monk. To go with this, I’d made a chaste angel… not the best combo. In fact, I think you should strive for both heros and lovers who are not actively against sexual interaction.

We seemed to be going through the goes very rapidly. This may partly be because a Go is only vaguely decribed as a “significant, forward-moving event.” In the end (after both games) I came to the conclusion that we needed to think it as setting an entire scene, stating, to ourself or to the other “this is what happens at the end of this scene.”

And there is probably more – but I don’t remember, and I have another post to write about this. So, until next time.

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4 responses to this post.

  1. First impressions: I like the very light nature of this game, the booklet is short at to the point, but still very evocative, especially the high quality art and Capitalized Words. The setup is deceptively simple, you get a very dynamic starting point out of a few sentences and off the story goes. Also, the SIS becomes very consistent because of the sharply defined genre and narrative elements and the fact that you only have to integrate two visions instead of the usual four or more.
    But this is also where I begin to encounter trouble with the game, I am not genre-savvy enough to understand all the little implied tropes of sword & sorcery, (which is painfully obvious in the above narrative, to me atleast). I am also flustered by the lack of input into the game except from the setup and final story resolution: Usually when I roll dice I get to somehow integrate the result into my telling, but here I have to just roll a die and put it aside until the end. Without feedback it becomes disconnected from the story (in my mind.)
    I fully agree with the problem of what constitutes a “significant, forward-moving event” and thus a Go, it also leads to timing problems within the story, I don’t know how far along the narrative each scene is, especially as the You player.

    To me this game is a bit too far out on the freeform storytelling axis to be in my comfort zone, I prefer games that carefully surf the balance of an enforced narrative structure and freedom to create worlds. But S/lay manages to turn that around so I get an enforced freedom and a hidden narrative structure, not quite my cup of tea. I feel there’s a certain assumed playstyle that the author expects the players to be completely comfortable with, which is a problem with many indie games and which makes it hard to get into the format of play from books alone.
    Still I see the game as a challenging exercise in storytelling and controlling a narrative, I am looking forward to trying it again, becoming better at creating the “proper” stories intended (but never literally specified) by the game.

    Reply

  2. […] Læs også Peters anmeldelse, Olivers tegninger og Elias’ spilrapport. […]

    Reply

  3. […] hero er en udbredt ting, (ja jeg er opmærksom på, at der findes andre forsøg på dette så som: S/Laytek w/Me og Jisie.) Men på et eller andet tidspunkt dukkede titlen Hævntogt frem, og den er bare så fed […]

    Reply

  4. […] og min aften med S/lay w/me (der kan læses om den første af vores to historier og mine oplevelser her) og den sidste er en bonus: lidt øvelse i lys og drapering. Først har vi Elias’ Amazone […]

    Reply

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