*** Magus / Barleytown: The Hospitality of the Barley Lord ***
Harp: After a certain space of time traveling in the Oak Hills, during which time the nights grow longer, the air grows cooler, and the trees start to burst out into color, we come into Barleytown just in time for the harvest festival. Although Barleytown is ruled by a noble family--actually, no, let's scratch that. Barleytown is built around this abbey, and the abbot is the de facto ruler of the town. But every year during the harvest festival, they appoint the Barley Lord, who reigns over the city in a mood of revelry, permitting things the abbot would never allow. Think the King of Mardi Gras. And so we arrive just in time the enjoy the hospitality of the Barley Lord.
The Magus, being long-lived and extremely powerful, has residences for himself in pretty much every major city, and so he has a house in Barleytown that we can all go to. It's a chance to sleep in real beds for a change and cook in a kitchen and so forth. The Magus actually seems to cheer up a bit as we enter the town. He perks up a little, looks a bit animated, and announces, "I thank you for coming with me; I know I have been a bit silent on the road. But you all are young. Enjoy the pleasures of Barleytown." He gives--probably not Harp, because she's on sort of an unofficial basis, but to the rest of you, he gives some money and says to go and enjoy yourselves.
He himself is going to go and visit the abbot and consult with him. At the abbey, they pretty much stay indoors and let the revelry go on outside for as long it lasts, because they understand people need to let their hair down once in a while. They will be hearing confessions for weeks afterward of what everybody did.
[She looks at Caspian, indicating that she is done. Caspian places his token.]
Caspian: We'll be in the Inn of the Axe and Fiddle.
*** Caspian / The Inn of the Axe and Fiddle: A Song of Your People ***
Caspian: The inn is loud, very loud, especially on the eve of the barley harvest and such. I'm thinking loud music, lots of raucous laughter. Caspian's sitting at the bar, looking excitedly at a big, wooden mug that's filled with a frothy foam at the top. Vago's there, looking at him like, "Huh?"
"They tell me this barley brew is what all the farmers work for year-round, that this is their happiest time of year--that you can taste all of their work and effort in the craftsmanship of this brew."
Vago: "I can't imagine these people being any happier than this. Look at them all. No burdens. Even the innkeeper who's giving out the beer--he's so happy to do it."
Caspian: "What do you think, Piccolo?"
Piccolo: "Oh, uh, you know, I haven't had as much opportunity to taste the beers as maybe the two of you have, but it certainly warms my belly."
Vago: Harp wasn't given any money by the Magus in her unofficial capacity, but did she come out anyway?
Harp: Oh, yeah. Ever since the incident with the plums, she's let her hair down a little bit.
Caspian: They drink for a while at the inn; everybody's up at the bar. It's funny because, maybe about a beer or two in, Piccolo's like, [drunkenly] "Okay, this is, this is really good stuff." He's kind of ...
Vago: He's on his way down.
Caspian: He's on his way down, and as we keep drinking, everybody's getting drunker and drunker, but Caspian just keeps smiling, like "Oh, all right, this is what we do." He's drinking just as much as anybody else; it just doesn't seem to faze him. As the band stops, people are at that point where they sing along to anything. He says, [to Vago] "Do you have any songs--songs of your people, from where you come from, where you 'picked up your roots'?"
Vago: "My people didn't sing. My people weren't permitted to sing. My people were under the whip, and if we sang, they would have taken it that we had spirit at all, let alone good spirit. It wasn't permitted. I've heard song, but never a song that I would revere enough to repeat."
Caspian: "I see. Innkeeper, perhaps another barley brew for my friend Vago. Quite all right, quite all right. Harp, perhaps you know a song--a song of your people?"
Harp: "You want to hear a song of my people?"
Caspian: "I would."
Harp: Harp has had a few. She's probably the type who turns pink when she gets alcohol, so she's very flushed and is just at the stage where her inhibitions are about ready to go. She sings a song that is full of double entendre, something along the lines of "There was this woman who owned a farm, and she had this strapping young lad and was saying 'You want to stack my barley for me?'" This is an actual Irish folk song.
Caspian: I believe it.
Harp: Only it's in Gaelic, so you'd never know it was filthy.
Vago: You just have to assume, because it's in Gaelic.
Harp: Yeah. So she sings that and isn't even embarrassed. She'll be tremendously embarrassed tomorrow, but right now, no.
Caspian: She's just feeling the beer?
Caspian: [to Vago] "That's a nice song, wasn't it? She had a servant, like Piccolo--a big, strapping boy who moved her barley for her."
Piccolo: "I've got a song."
Caspian: "Good! A song of your people?"
I start singing a song about how, long ago, Barleytown wasn't cleared; it was a huge wood. There were people coming from far away, the people who had lived in Barleytown. They were fleeing--who knows? Disease, war, famine. They came to the forest and started clearing it. The men of the forest were strange men--beautiful, but strange; they were resistant, but they made a deal with the people who came, saying, "If you allow your daughter one day to marry my son, then I'll let you clear this area." It was made in earnest, but years later, the man tried to renege, and it led to a battle at Swine Hill. In the end, the man agreed to have his daughter married, and she was taken away and never saw him again; but once in a while, you see people who, they say, are descendants of the forest men.
Vago: "That song had a lot of words. Are you from here?"
Host: Maybe even, as you're singing the song, other people join in, because they know the words.
Caspian: If it's a local one, yes.
Harp: "You're quite the scholar of local history."
Piccolo: "Not much on the writing as much, but that's how we keep our records, through the song."
Vago: "That is good tradition."
Caspian: "A book or a scroll, but from the heart ... you'll write one one day. I know it, Vago."
Vago: "I can't write."
Caspian: "But your heart beats, and you're not under the whip anymore."
Harp: [drunkenly] "Did you say you can't write? That's so sad!"
Caspian: "Innkeep, another beer."
Harp: "I'll teach you to write. You've gotta write!"
Piccolo: "Harp, why are there so many of you?" He falls off the stool.
Caspian: "No more beer for him."
Vago: "We're going to have to take him home."
Harp: That was fun. That was the first scene we've had with all four of us, I think.
Caspian: Yeah. I was like, "Let's get everybody in so we can mix it up."
[Vago places his token on the market.]
*** Vago / The Farmer’s Market: What You Need for the Journey ***
Vago: The following day, Vago is charged with provisioning, so he's here in the market. The market is sort of dreary right now. People had been full of revelry the night before, and people tonight are probably going to be exploding again, but for right now, they're hung over and quiet. People are toned down.
The farmer's market is kind of an open area. There are buildings, but there are stalls out in front. He's walking along--again, slowly, because his head hurts too--making purchases here and there. He stops by the blacksmith. The clanging at first is echoing in his head, and then, in the back of his mind, the baying of hounds is echoing as well. He thinks, If they come--or if anything else should come--I should be armed. Vago will take some portion of the money that he was given by the Magus and buy a spear. He will perhaps return back carrying a sack of goods over his shoulder and a spear in his right hand.
Unless anybody wants to react to that, I think that's fine for that scene.
Host: I just want to check in a little bit. We have about about twenty more minutes left in the slot, so let's go ahead and do a couple of scenes so that everyone has a chance to do a scene in Barleytown with their characters, and then we'll take a moment for questions.
[Everyone agrees. Piccolo places his token on Swine Hill.]
*** Piccolo / Swine Hill: A Battle Fought Long Ago ***
Piccolo: Long ago, Swine Hill was just that, a place where people would muck their swine and have them roam, but after the battle, nothing would grow there. But in the mud, there was a great deal of making or baking of, almost like tablets, but in the ground. This is sort of another historical record. Piccolo has taken Harp here because she's a scholar, to show her the historical record of this. "These people weren't writers," I'll say. "This is pictures. I don't know the word for it, but all these are just pictures, history with pictures."
Harp: "It's amazing!" I look at the expanse of tablets.
Piccolo: "Here you can see the deal being made. Here you can see the building of the old abbey. Here you can see when the deal was broken. And this very large one, this is the battle itself. Notice the detail."
Harp: "The workmanship is exquisite! How old are these?"
Piccolo: "I can't say, only that they're very, very, very old."
Harp: "Amazing. Do you suppose they were made with magic?"
Piccolo: "I don't know. But one thing that I never noticed before--I guess I just never knew--this figure here, doesn't this look like the Magus to you?"
Harp: "It does! But it's hard to tell what his function in the scene is. He's standing off to the side, and that gesture--is he disapproving? Is he influencing it? Or is it just something that the artist thought looked nice?"
Piccolo: "All I know is, if it was him and not just a predecessor, he must be very, very old."
Harp: "He must indeed."
Piccolo: That's all I got. Do you want to continue? Anything else?
Harp: I think that's a good place to leave it. It leaves a lot of things open for possible interesting future developments.
[She places her token on the Old Abbey.]
*** Harp / The Old Abbey: Confession ***
Harp: The next day, Harp is going to the old abbey, to have a look around it as a historical site. [To Caspian] Somehow or other--it's up to you how this happened, but she's going to go with Caspian. Because we haven't had a scene together.
Caspian: No, we haven't, actually. All right.
Harp: So, we are given the freedom to wander about and look at it after I express that I'm a scholar and interested in it, or who knows, maybe you're there to talk to the Magus.
Caspian: Sure. Well, I'll follow along because you say you're going to the old abbey, and I'm like, "Oh, the Magus speaks with the abbot on occasion in private. It would be nice to see the abbey."
Harp: "I've heard it's a fine example of early architecture. It dates from shortly after the founding of the town, I believe."
Caspian: "Interesting. Let's see it."
Harp: So we walk about; we check out the towers and the chapels. We're allowed to climb the bell tower, where we can get a view of the whole town spread out beneath us, and the fields that are golden with barley, and everything that looks really gorgeous. Somehow, the mood just seems right, and Harp just blurts out, "I have something to confess to you. I've been terribly envious of you."
Harp: "Your position as the Magus's apprentice. Were you born with magic?"
Caspian: "It was a bargain, as it were. The Magus often talks about how non-magical folk--'the bright children,' we call you, because your lives ... You don't understand. You believe we have the gift, but we see it as you--you're the ones with the gift. You're not the first to come in and try to drink from the scrying pool, thinking that it would give you visions ..."
[Harp hangs her head. The others laugh.]
Piccolo: She's embarrassed.
Host: Bright red.
Caspian: "... or it would help you to gain power or whatever it is that you seek. But in order for me to gain the gift, as you would say ... My mother, you see, she was very sick. But a bargain was struck with the Magus that she would pass peacefully in the night, and I would carry on after he would be gone. Though I have abilities, or I can change the world around us, there is always a cost, a great cost, and I must confess I envey you."
Harp: "A cost to you, or to someone else?"
Caspian: "To us. It's always a great personal cost."
Harp: "But surely, if you can do good things, isn't it worth it?"
Caspian: "Absolutely. But pain is a hard thing to hold onto, to try to bury. It always comes back, like a bad dream. I envy you because you're a scholar. You've lived; you've seen so much. With the gift that's been given to me, I don't see the world the same as you, and it's difficult for me to explain; I just don't have the words."
Harp: "I see. [Sighs.] Well, they do say that half the world always envies the other half."
Caspian: "The grass is always greener, as they say."
Harp: "Is that what they say where you come from?"
Caspian: "A traveler once said it. I'd never heard it, myself."
Harp: I'm okay ending the scene there.
Caspian: That's fine.
*** Post-Game Wrapup ***
Host: Now we're going to take a moment to reflect. We're going to go around in a circle, and when it's your turn, feel free to share a moment you enjoyed, an appreciation of another player, some piece of advice, perhaps an epilogue for your character, where you see your character going, something that challenged you, something you might try differently, or an emotion or memory the game prompted.
I'll just go ahead and go first. I just want to say thank you so much for sharing this beautiful story with me. It was lovely. I watch people play this game a lot, and to me, it's kind of like watching my favorite TV show over and over again, but it's different every time. There were so many lovely moments right from the beginning, so I just wanted to thank you all.
Group: Thank you!
Vago: I had kind of mentioned to you earlier, I found it challenging to set the scene before I put my character into it. When you play most roleplaying games, you're so invested in "How does my character fit into this? How does he react to this?" But forcing the setting of scene first really fleshes it out for the rest of the table to envision what's happening. That's cool to do as a player instead of putting that burden on a single GM. I think that was a cool aspect, and that was something that was challenging.
Caspian: Whoo, man, I don't know where to start. If you could come back to me ... Jesus, I'm just drawing a blank now. It literally blew my mind.
Harp: I have played a fair number of indie games, and I'd say this is the kind of experience that I like to get from them, where you have all kinds of detail and the story goes in unexpected directions. You get really deep characterization, don't you?
Harp: I certainly had no clue when I just wrote down this stuff [she holds up her card] what kind of character I was going to wind up being.
I don't know if I should say this, but I had an idea how the story might end up in my mind.
Host: You can say that.
Harp: Well, based on the conversation with Caspian, my idea is that the reason magic is dying is because the Magus is doing something to take it out of the world, because it's not really a blessing. So that's his gift to you, that he's going to set you free from having to follow after him.
Host: I like it.
Caspian: Yeah, yeah.
Harp: Poor Harp, but oh well. She'll learn.
Piccolo: I really liked that one scene where we were all in the inn. That was the only scene where all of us were together, and I think that was something that, if we didn't do it, then something would have been lost.
Harp: Yeah, it kind of anchored the whole thing.
Vago: It put the party together as a party.
Vago: [To Harp] You ended your comment with "Poor Harp," but Harp is the scholar that got to report and watch the Magus taking magic out of the world. Nobody else gets to see that. You're going to go down in history.
Harp: That is true.
Host: You're going to write a thick philosophy on this.
Piccolo: And sometimes what you need isn't always what you want.
Caspian: I think just the interplay off of players, and stuff like that ... I'm becoming more and more of a fan of collaborative storytelling games just for that, that you don't have any expectation on you that you have to be "Okay, I'm always this character" or "I'm always doing this," or whatever. Having to set up a scene and direct other players and just bounce ideas off each other--I dunno. I don't have the words. [laughs]
Harp: I love how they've made the prompts just specific enough to get your mind working, but there are so many different ways any of these could go. Can we see what the rest of the scroll looks like?
Host: Sure, check it out.
[They unroll the scroll and all exclaim over it.]
Harp: Wow. It felt like we were progressing pretty well through a story, but now I see we barely started.
Caspian: We barely scratched, yeah.
Harp: How long does it usually take you to play through a whole game?
Host: When I play, usually three three- or four-hour sessions. Not as long as a D&D campaign. I would call it short-form.
Vago: Sure, because you're not going to be stopped by rolling dice out in combats.
Host: You get a lot done. It's like two years of D&D campaign packed into three sessions.
Harp: What's really cool is, you could do this same thing with a different set of place names and get a totally different story.
Host: You'll find the next time you play it, it's going to be completely different. Every time.