Dance and the Dawn: What's the game like?

The Dance and the Dawn is a game for 3-5 players and is played over a chessboard. One player plays the part of the Narrator (and will control the Duke and Queen, as well as several Lords), and the other players will each control one of the Ladies. The game is a bit of a fairy tale and a bit of a puzzle: each Lady is trying to determine the character of the various Lords, and must pick one at the end of the game.

The game is inspired by the imagery and symbolism of chess: each character is represented by a chess piece, and each piece has its own characteristics and implications. (For example: Ladies represented by the Knight piece are likely to be willful, driven and reckless.) There’s a light setting with plenty of room and guidelines for you to fill in the rest; the text also includes some suggested settings and pre-created characters.

The flow of gameplay is structured: there are three dances (with duels being held as an interlude between the dances). Within each dance, the players move their Ladies and their chosen dance partners around the board. The Ladies exchange questions and answers with their partners, attempting to gain a Lord’s favor while understanding the past. To quote the text: “They will dance until dawn, when each Lady will select one Lord. If they select their True Love, they will find a happy ending. (If they select someone else, their outcome will be less pleasant.)”

In playing the game I’ve experienced a most interesting series of characters, rivalries, couplets, intrigues and witty repartees. (And I’ve also opened up some interesting conversations.) I hope the game does the same for you.

[How to Host a Dungeon] and the GrimDark Song of the Pyrple Wyrm

I played How to Host a Dungeon the other evening, and it was a surprising amount of fun. It’s solo game of procedural dungeon creation, with emergent narratives and everything.

Let me tell you about my dungeon.

grimdark-hthad

In the Primordial age… three rivers cut through the bedrock below. (The River of Delusion, the River of Phantasmagoria, and the River of Fantasia. These rivers would ultimately crash together violently into a single source as they left the dungeon. Many creatures would be destroyed by its hidden plagues and other dooms within.) In the Civilized Age, a corrupted society of Elves created their underground city (Lumijic) and its two colonies (Couvre and Coir) amidst these rivers, as they dug deeper into the rich mitral vein around them. Their lust was too great, and they fell into anarchy and destruction.

Years passed, and the Human City of Vashilo was established – unknowingly – on the surface above the buried city of Lumijic. The humans did not venture far, as the horizon was marked by an eerie and Colossus of the Fallen One, the last ruler of Lumijic. Civilized souls stayed away (although it is said some human misfits would meet mightly to burrow beneath it, seeking treasures below the surface). The people of Vashilo meekly attempted to farm their lands, and yet were again confronted with defeat: a Purple Worm made it’s lair below the site of their castle, and would prey upon the farmlands repeatedly. The humans grew craven and resigned; farmers would plow their lands in morbid silence, knowing that the Worm was lurking below, biding its time before ending their meager lives.

West of them, clans of Druegar and Gnolls made war on each other: the Druegar mined the sistervein of Lumijic’s mithril, while the gnolls grew in number, preying upon the Druegar. As each hoarded immense mounts of treasure, villainous Mind Lords were attracted to the Dungeon, and they established a lair neer the ruined Elven colonies. They began to extend their reach, and yet these villains are a mere footnote in the history of this dungeon.

The first heretic of Adreas the Mad Bard, sent by the King of Vashilo to destroy the monsters below. He immediately entered the lair of the Purple Worm, but was seduced with the promise of treasure if he would make war against his people. He attacked innocent farmers above and was ultimately killed; it seemed the power of the Purple Worm was defeated.

But this was not to be. A mercenary band of rogueish adventurers again took up the King’s offer and quested below, and again the Worm offered an offer for betraying the human kingdom. They accepted, and short order burned away the surrounding farmland and the castle itself. They returned to the Worm again, seeking payment, and were sent an another quest: to destroy the upstart Mind Lords.

Perhaps the Worm hoped the Mind Lords would defeat this mercenary band, but it was not to be: they quickly dispatched the Mind Lords, taking control of the power of the Mind Pool for their own. They finally returned to the Purple Worm and, being unsatisfied with his payment, destroyed the Worm and took its name – “the Pyrple Wyrm” as their own banner. And so, this mercenary band plundered its way through the entirety of the dungeon – destroying the selfish Gnolls and greedy Druegar, raided the ruins of Lumijic, and plundered the vast gold of the underground for themselves.

This was a cool outcome, if a bit grimdark. If I wanted to convert this into playable setting, I would have had player characters start their quest as the choatic mercenaries returned from the Worm (so their quest would include quelling the Mercenaries, as well as investigating everything below).

Or, I could simply take this all to be ancient apocalyptic apocrypha for the tribe of nomadic halflings that would inhabit the surface lands several years later. They of course would develop many cultural phobias regarding the color purple, and would fear elevenkind and humankind as evil and corrupt. They would venture no further than the Colossus, and certainly not venture into the human lands. But, eventually a party of adventurers would question what they were told and explore the terrain below the Colossus, and ultimately uncover the history behind the fall of Vashilo.

Dance and the Dawn: a retrospective, and some news

The Dance and the Dawn was developed in the course of the “Iron Game Chef: Fantasy” contest, where participants had a week to develop a fantasy-themed game in a week’s time, using a number of pre-established elements, such as “Dawn” and “Island”.

I developed the game in a mad rush over a few days (1 2 3) when I should have been working on my exams, and yet I ultimately created a game I was quite proud of. The game was reviewed and ultimately earned the rank of 1st-runner-up.

The game has undergone a great deal of revision and playtesting since then, but I think it has the same charm. I’ve gotten good feedback on it. (Indeed, some friends of mine were inspired to make a LARP spinoff based on the game. That’s quite a compliment.)

The Dance and the Dawn will be released at GenCon ’09 at the Design Matters booth, and I’m very excited. I’ve been collaborating with various game designer friends (including Elizabeth Shoemaker for copyediting and Nathan Paoletta for design), and I’m quite happy with the results.