26 December 2005

I Digress: Lions on the Precipice

Lions is wacky, GM-less Dogs in the Vineyard for 3 pairs of players, which can be couples, friends, whatever. But it's fairly important that each player has a pre-established, fuctional relationship with the other person in their pair. It's less important that the pairs know each other well, but that helps too.

Each pair will be portraying a single Ghost Lion, so there will be 3 Ghost Lion characters for each play group. There may occasionally be scenes in which two or even all of the Ghost Lions appear together, but, most of the time, they will be operating independently. In a given scene, the 6 players will represent:

1. The Spirit of the Lion/Lioness [Insert Name]
2. The Flesh of the Hunter/Huntress [Insert Name]
3. Wanderer Woman
4. One Twin
5. Lion Keeper
6. The King of Life

Lions names are questions, such as the lioness Where Do The Elk Go? or the lion Why Do Birds Sing?

Human names are answers, such as the hunter Across The Mountains or the huntress Forgotten Sorrow.

Each of the player roles has a general goal/purpose in the game, as follows:

1. The Lion Spirit = Death
2. The Human Flesh = Life
3. Wanderer Woman = Tradition
4. One Twin = Reciprocity
5. Lion Keeper = Dynamism
6. King of Life = ?

The King of Life (a.k.a. the Judeo-Christian-Islamic-Mormon God) is something I'm trying to figure out. It would make sense for him to be "Life," but it would be ironic and cool for him to be something else entirely. I thought about making him more complex and contradictory, giving him precepts such as:

A. I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. (Matt 10:35)

B. You alone we worship, and to you alone turn for help (Qur'an 1:4)

C. Jesus said, "Blessed is the lion which becomes man when consumed by man; and cursed is the man whom the lion consumes, and the lion becomes man." (G. Thom 7)

D. Then the Lord God said, "It is not good that man should be alone." (Gen 2:18)

E. ...and because thou art merciful, thou wilt not suffer those who come unto thee that they shall perish! (1 Nephi 1:14)

One of the interesting parts of the game is that the King of Life gives great power to those who follow him, but joining the King means giving up everything that you know. Plus, the King is pretty antithetical to the Ghost Lions and their mission, so he often serves as a foil and convenient target. I especially love the quote from Thomas, which is 100% perfect for this game. The King is totally about empowering the Flesh against the Lion, which, in his view, is a demon that needs to be expelled. While Lion Keeper wants the Ghost Lions to create a dynamic, empowering tension between the Human Flesh and Lion Spirit, the King of Life wants to seperate one from the other, banishing the lion half away forever. And, the great thing is, like Dogs the game itself offers no moral judgement on either. The King of Life can indeed become the salvation of struggling Ghost Lions, or he can be their worst enemy, but that's all up to the players.

Wanderer Woman is the sage who convinced the People to give up their great cities on the plains and return to hunting and gathering. The People are going to be strongly based on the Hopi, who formerly inhabited the great cliff cities (such as Mesa Verde and others), but abandoned them long before Europeans and Euro-Americans arrived in those areas. Her teachings are about the seperation of sacred powers (female from male, human from the spirits, human and animal, etc.).

One Twin is the greatest hunter of the People. He teaches about reciprocity between the human/animal and human/spirit worlds and the close connections between the sacred powers.

Lion Keeper was never human, but the greatest of lions and their spirit guardian. He sends the lions down from the mountain to punish the People and just to shake things up. He gets bored easily.

The Three and the King of Life don't necessarily get along. Wanderer Woman and One Twin are the heroes of the People and get annoyed when Lion Keeper or the King threaten them or their way of life. There are tensions between Wanderer Woman and One Twin as well, since one teaches seperation while the other teaches connection. Sometimes the Three unite against the King, to protect the People and the Old Ways. Sometimes they cut deals to get what they want.

The core of play, though, is the conflict between the two halves of the Ghost Lion, the dead Lion Spirit and the Flesh's memory of life. Both players representing the Ghost Lion call on the same pile of traits and can use them for contradictory choices.

More later.


Anonymous Thomas Robertson said...

First, interesting... Are you thinking to use a structure similar to Polaris in which players play matching roles for each other? I've found that the back and forth dynamic that that offers is pretty powerful.

Oh, and what Thomas focused the King like that? I sure don't remember saying something so dang cool, but I'm not surprised it happened: Thomas is a name that comes with brilliance.


6:26 PM  
Blogger Shreyas said...

I know I tend to complain when I think things are neat.

But, uh...

I just cannot reconcile the Native American mood you seem to be shooting at here with the lion, which is to me a strongly Asian/African symbol.

1:38 PM  
Blogger Jonathan Walton said...


Lions is somewhat indebted to Polaris, but that's not quite the direction I'm going to end up heading. You'll see as I flesh this out more.

And the Thomas is the one I quoted ("G. Thom." is the official abbreviation of "the Gospel of Thomas"), Didymus Judas Thomas, Jesus' twin brother, according to some Gnostic traditions.


Dude, they're mountain lions.

Does that help?

2:21 PM  
Blogger Neel Krishnaswami said...

A couple of random ideas.

King of Life as Blake's Urizen the lawgiver? There you have the creator of the world who has fallen into solipsism and sexual prudery....

King of Life as the Unknowable? Like, "you shall not put the Lord your God to the test" or the whole book of Job. He's there, and he's incomprehensible. Like a reverse Cthulhu, who loves and cares about you in some incomprehensible non-Euclidean sanity-destroying way.

King of Life == Abstraction? The problem Dogs face are figuring out how to apply a set of general-purpose moral laws and social roles to individual people who may not quite fit.

10:37 PM  
Blogger Jonathan Walton said...

Good suggestions, Neel. Definitely things to think about. Though, I admit, whenever I come across mention of "Urizen" nowadays, I hear Bruce Dickinsen screaming the lyrics from his Blake-inspired album, The Chemical Wedding :)

1:41 AM  

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