It is 9:38 PM on Saturday night, and Carlos and I are officially done demo-ing our game Negocios Infernales at Boskone.
The convention was so generous as to give us THREE demo spots, right in the game room. We had any number of tables at our disposal, and three 50-minute spots to show newcomers some of the mechanics, ideas, and mini-games that make up the whole Negocios Infernales TTRPG that we’ve been designing together, forthcoming soon from Outland Entertainment.
Not only did we have demo spots, but they gave us a slot to do a writing workshop called “Using Games to Write,” where we hosted one of our Infernal Salons (as we did at WindyCon in November, and during the Strange Horizons fundraiser in October as well), wherein we drew cards for our participants, set a timer, and wrote to the prompts offered, then immediately took volunteers to read what they had just written aloud. Pretty much everyone who wrote read.
And it was, as usual, surprising and glorious. I suppose it shouldn’t be surprising anymore, but beauty and craftsmanship is always sort of freshly astonishing, isn’t it? Like… you don’t get tired of a really spectacular dawn, no matter how many you’ve seen.
Carlos and I wrote to prompt too, in solidarity. I was going to type mine up here for you, but both he and Robert V. S. Redick insisted over dinner that it need just a bit of polish to be complete flash story… And that I needed to send it out for publication and thus not put it on my blog, so… Sorry.
However! I wanted to share with you two of the different Character Creation sheets I made during two of our demos. The first demo was so full that all Carlos and I had to do was run them all through the act of Character Creation, but for demos two and three, there were fewer people, so we got to participate. ALWAYS A PLEASURE.
For the afternoon session, I created GOLFILLA “FILLA” DE LA CALLE
With the other players during the “Character Creation” mini-game, we each took turns drawing four cards, one each for MOTIVATION, ROLE IN COURT, MAGIC, AND DOOM. (See below for more about the seven suits of La Baraja del Destino.)
Negocios Infernales is a game where players have perfect information about each other, though the characters may still keep secrets. We can use any part of the card–the suit, the adage, or the image–to inspire our role-playing, or–at this stage–our character creation.
MOTIVATION is your character’s engine: what gets them revved up, what drives them to do what they do, to go where they go, what stops them cold.
I drew a Sangre card that read: You will see your true reflection in the edge of an axe.
My Motivation, therefore, was: Whoever I am, I have never seen it reflected in my own appearance. I wear my skin like an ill-fitting garment, handed down to me from a house of charity, cast off a hundred times till it is mostly patch and vermin. I want better. I want a reflection I find beautiful.
ROLE IN COURT is exactly that: but it is also my secret “Clark Kent-like” identity. La Reina needs a legit reason to keep her secrets wizards around. If word got out that the uber-religious queen of zealous Espada kept wizards in her court, we all would get auto-da-fé’d back into last year (before the aliens came).
I drew a Lágrimas card that read: After the world ends, you won’t mind rainy days.
My Role in Court? Minister of Drains. An over-fancy title for the court plumber. It was not long ago that Espada was open gutters and cesspits, but the sewer system isn’t as yet incredibly sophisticated. I’d like to change that. THE CLEANEST DRAINS IN THE WORLD.
MAGIC. Keeping in mind our characters’ Motivations (and that, as wizards we are the type of people who would willingly “sell our souls” to “devils”–i.e., aliens, but we don’t know that–to gain “magical” powers), we choose our Magic next. It’s a demi-god/X-Man level of power, not a godlike/Supermaan level of power. It has to be able to be active and useful in the moment of roleplay, used to solve a variety of problems.
I drew a Hueso card, which read: Ruins are ruins for a reason.
In the excitement of the card draw, I began to riff on what I saw, forgetting to consult my actual motivation. You can see where I crossed out my first thought and spun it into the next iteration. If we had gotten to the roleplay (we only had a 50-minute demo, so we just did Character Creation and World-Building at Boskone), I might have tweaked it further. As it was:
Initially: I can find the weakness in structures–organic or otherwise–and encourage them. Speed illness, bring decay, age out of time, scour and flense to the bare bones beneath. Then, later: But also: find flaws to fix them. (This, I thought, would be useful as a plumber, and as a person who has problems with their own appearance.) Organic and otherwise (architectural, for example.)
DOOM operates mechanically–if it fires at all–much later in the game. It’s a way to forestall a lose condition by personal sacrifice. Whether or not your wizard would choose to “activate their Doom” for this reason is another matter entirely. Suffice to say it acts like a sword of Damocles hanging over your wizard’s head. For their part, the aliens would have given you your “powers” freely, with no strings attached. They just want you to evolve and join the Cosmic Consciousness. You, however, are constrained by your culture and belief systems to believe that you deserve terrible things to happen to you because you “sold your soul to devils.” You INSISTED on a Doom.
Mechanically, a Doom cannot result in the death of your character. (You still have to be able to play!) Oh, no. It’s a fate WORSE than death. A living (and intimately personal) hell.
I drew an Aire card that read: There cannot be a soul. There must be a soul.
Keeping in mind my Motivation, my Doom was thus: At the moment of my Doom, the person I have always wanted to be will walk out of my body, separate from myself but full-formed. I can never become them. They are their own being: a lost possibility, an eternal reminder.
I really liked my “Golfilla” character. Poor tragic plumber! I should have liked to see what shenanigans she and her co-wizards got up to!
A few hours later, for our evening demo, I made a character for ESTRELLA DE LA VEGA, LA DOÑA DE LA TAPIZ!
I must have gotten really warmed up by that evening (it was a long two days of delicious workshops, concert rehearsals, panels, readings, and my DARK BREAKERS BOOK LAUNCH), because I REALLY enjoyed our third and final demo!
For MOTIVATION I drew an Espacio card that read: Tools re-write reality. (I was particularly pleased with this draw, as it had been one of the three I’d gotten during our workshop, and resulted in a piece of flash fiction only the day before!)
Concentrating at first mainly on the Espacio border, I wrote: There are fish in the sky! Faces in the stars! Every star is a lamp lit to light the darkness of another world. These are things I’ve known since childhood. These are things my family laughed at me for. For these thoughts, I am reviled. But I’m right! I know I’m right!
For ROLE IN COURT, I drew and Aire card: The soul loves all. The mind, but some.
For this one, I focused deeply on the thread, the mouth. I was reminded of a Jessica P. Wick story. I wrote: “I am la Reina’s Doña de la Tapiz. I embroider promises in the flesh, punishments, debts, forgiveness. I stitch lying lips closed, a mark over the heart of a celibate dedicating themselves to the goddess. I stitch the left hand of a debtor, the right hand of the newly married…
(I was so excited about this, I wanted to go on. Think of Ugolin stitching Manon’s ribbon over his heart in Manon des Sources, shouting, “Je t’aime, Manon! Je t’aime!” Yeah. That’s the stuff.)
For MAGIC, I drew a Hueso card that read: Will you die at once, or by degrees?
(Note: when the aliens give us wizards “magic,” it can also be a piece of tech, not necessarily a power we make happen with our minds. Both are allowed! I was playing around with tech this time, inspired by the execution’s hood and cloak. I was thinking both of my Motivation and Role in Court this time, while imagining what my character would “barter her soul” for.)
I wrote: I was given a black cloak and hood by the Benefactors, stitched of a material black as the sky between stars. It is impervious to destruction. It is buoyant in water. It flies. It conceals me in darkness. It enables me to slip through shadows into other places–not always the places I intend to go. (Also, I haven’t really gotten a hang of the whole flying thing.)
Note: it is fun to have a power that you can easily see backfiring. It can also be hilarious in-game, especially when you fail a magic check!
Lastly, for DOOM, I drew a Rayo card that read: Is that the cry of a dying star?
Thinking particularly of my Motivation, I wrote: On the day my Doom befalls me, I hear and see the death of the stars in real time. Their cries reach me: the great collapse into singularity, the crushing, universe-bending well. How they scream. How they scream.
I wish I could tell you all our World-Building we did in the last two demos, but since we each acted as a scribe for one of the other players, each of our personalized Espadas was scattered in different packets that the players got to take home.
In the game itself, there would be one shared sheet for World-Building that would be part of that game’s memento: a collaboration between all players, kept in the “Annals of Espada.”
It was REALLY cool though.
A Little More about 7 Suits of La Baraja del Destino:
🧜🏾♀️ Lágrimas: The Tears of Life
Things break. The world is full of melancholy. But tears can be joyful. Pain can save us. Our insignificance is both woe and comfort. And one never knows what strange secrets the unfathomable seas may hold.
🐷 Carne: The Meat Of Life
Carnality, desire of the flesh, consumption, gluttony. The triumph of self-interest over community. The instinctual and the impulsive. Whatever else we are, we are always our bodies.
❤️ Sangre: The Blood of Life
Loyalty, affiliation, kith, kin, connection. Sacrifice and duty. Some ideas are worth dying for. The desire to be moral, even though you fall short so very, very often.
💀 Hueso: The Bones of Life
We all must perish. Time is relentless, aging and weakening inevitable. What shall be your legacy? Focus on the big picture. Stay strong: until you can’t. And then, when it’s time, die well.
🌬 Aire: The Breath of Life
Intellect, religion, philosophy, art. Dreams, plans, life’s vicissitudes. Fate, ever capricious, blows us to and fro. Rarefied beauty; unspeakable nightmares. And at the center of it all, your soul.
⚡️ Rayo: The Spark of Life
Raw power, elemental forces, energy, electricity, fire. The engine of both miracles and cataclysms. The hidden reserves raging in every living thing. And sometimes, those reserves are unleashed: with wild, unpredictable results!
🛸 Espacio: The Spaces Between and Beyond
The immensity of the cosmos humbles us. But if we continue to build marvelous tools and ask hard questions, perhaps someday we will better understand both the universe and our own recondite hearts.