It’s 6:23 on a Tuesday night and I’m sitting at a table with two others. I know what time because I have a tablet in my palms and I accidentally press the home button.
Medieval music is playing. Lutes and panpipes and percussion summoning devils and stirring souls while the world goes dark.
I am a huntsman, a lonesome man wandering about a wee village tile by tile. My density is one of two paths, I must seek out and collect either cursed or silver items in pursuit of a beast. The nature of each is wrapped up in a moral thicket at the heart of our tale. The weight hits me and I carefully consider the paths.
Turns fly by. The tablet is passed to and fro. I pick up my tiny huntsman and move to new locales. I explore a forgotten ruin to the west. I stumble upon a corpse to the north.
There is scanning of the cryptic Quick Response on items and cards, but it’s smoother and less frequent than yesterday’s crime. It avoids the ennui that mired the previous.
It’s a thrill. The story is slowly revealed and the application driving play presents new layers. I investigate these sites and oddities by tapping glowing icons with a crooked finger. I meet people, those built of 0s and 1s, I make decisions with immediate consequence.
This feels fresh, but it also feels as though it’s kin to the second mom, this a more lithe and stripped down relative with a sparkle in its eye.
Sometimes we pick up the wrong plastic soldier, moving an errant villager or another protagonist. We realize this a turn or two later and correct.
I roll dice and when I succeed I gain new trinkets and artifacts that make me smile. When I fail I move my round skill markers up tracks making it easier for me to succeed later and I smile again.
It’s warm and interesting.
After a period of time, what feels like only minutes, the tension that has been amassing backstage is beginning to ruffle the curtain. I near completion of my destiny and I trigger the end sequence, a series of tests across multiple turns. The final act commences.
But another is also bearing down upon the final pages of their story. A noble seated to my right manages to follow suit, and actually passes me through a series of tests where he edges his slipper across the finish line just before my iron toe. He does so by wielding a large silver blade forged at the hands of a scruffy blacksmith.
I mumble and beseech the gods of yore, wishing a curse upon the noble’s offspring.
Oh, there is one more. A witch, bounding through the snow and pursuing dark rites out of grief. She’s a footnote in our tale as the tome closes and her destiny is left fragmented. This foreshadows what is to come.
The second story is different. We three again read and smile, smile and read.
It is a new land. Lo’, famine and disease spread as swarms of vermin rustle the grass.
I am strong, a soldier with blade and conviction. I am guided by might but also by compassion and my savior.
A woman of faith gets in my way early. As I seek to gather townsfolk in opposition of the rat-tide, she succeeds where my charm fails and begins to gather a small following.
The Woodsman stalks through alleys and embodies solitude. He kicks the heavens like a child prodding a beehive when he breaks into a shrine and steals a suit of iron mail.
But it’s my story, not theirs. I find myself lost in a cellar in this blighted town. I am alone. I am not alone.
An enormous fellbeast descended from the vermin crawling about its feet attacks. As its teeth glisten in the cowering light, with grunt I sever head from thorax.
And my destiny changes thus.
By choice nay, by circumstance. I sought allies, intending to amass a militia to battle back the darkness at our throats. But I am told no. So I do that which I must, because what choice exists? To perform the other would put me behind and at odds with the faithful woman. Never compete with a nun head-on, my father said.
Luck – not skill – leads to more vermin. My tale accelerates while also flattening. I am progressing and moving quickly, but as my legend materializes I realize the intersecting narratives of my brother and sister instead fade.
The adventure feels a bit longer, a being in need of an editor.
When I enter the final act of my story it is very quiet. There is no tension, I cannot die. I can be slowed by the linked series of die rolls but I am truly impervious because that is how this works. The other two are far behind, still wandering around in search of what they cannot find.
A race devoid of thrills. A lopsided exhibition match.
Troubles of yore, we hope for brightness.
Some being, somewhere, decided I am but trope. I gather my guardian and his weapon, I place his miniature in the center of a besieged town. A mysterious corruptor, clad in garb fit for the spreading plague, meanders nearby. In the street a savior walks with outstretched arms.
Hope is for fools.
The app becomes tedious. Sometimes we forget, or perhaps ignore, our molded actors and focus on the digital world.
I visit a blacksmith and mull over my options. After attaining a clue to my quest, I decide to release my caution and steal a coin from the poor sod. I succeed and I’m slightly richer by token but poorer by virtue.
Then I choose to buy some of his wares and he doth not protest.
I had pushed aside concerns earlier, but it’s become certain that the ghost writer of technological origin is dim-witted. Promises of ethical memory are thin and wither.
Others steal from this twit and then turn around in kind and pay him his own coin back.
Since reason is naught to perform every action available when interacting with denizens, we realize ruthless efficiency supersedes any sense of immersion or authorship.
The magic is a mote, turning to ash as it falls through air dead as night.
Replacing stern gaze and taught nerves is laughter. Mirth founded in pity.
Motions occur and I amass a small army. There are a couple of moments where my lips curl and satisfaction is my essence. These are cut short again as I push beyond my competitors.
My eyes close when the app is not in hand. We no longer read aloud the various maxims spat across the black mirror.
Cardboard is rarely scanned because information is futile.
Instead of cherishing other’s contributions to a greater poem, we rush headlong towards victory because that is what the penman wills. I arrive long before the others.
The memory of finale is faint, despite this being the most recent of tales.
We sit around flame and we fill our bellies with liquid so they can fill air with laughter. We do none of those things. I press the home button. It is with purpose.