YELLOW MUSIC CHAMBER

A music room will yellow walls covered in peeling paper, with racks of iron flutes. There is a guzheng on a stand in the middle of the room, and lots of split-reed screens. Three people are comfortable on this set; four are cramped. Indoor set; there is no weather.

The Mist-Robed Gate

I did a re-factor of this game, originally seen at Raven Swallows the Sun, this evening 'cause we want to try playing it soon.

See the new version.

The basic premise of this game is that, sometimes, your feelings are more important than you. So, you allow yourself to be hurt in pursuit of your emotion, and when you're caught between conflicting feelings, you end up manufacturing crises in order to make decisions about yourself. This is emotionally tempestuous arthaus wuxia, in the vein of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, House of Flying Daggers, or Hero.

To play in the Mist-Robed Gate, you need several players—say at least four—and one of the scenario booklets. You'll also need:

  • Copies of the character profile card
  • Several different boardgame-style pawns, one for each player
  • A knife that you don't mind cutting paper with; it should fold or have a sheath
  • A large cloth, with a bold and elegant pattern for preference, or failing that, solid red, or some other color. Make it a cloth you really love, not an ugly fragment of drapery.
  • A table you don't mind stabbing

I might mention some other things you could use to simplify life, later on in the text.

<h1>Setting Up to Play</h1> <h2>What's in a Scenario?</h2> A scenario booklet is sort of like a DVD jacket; it tells you a little bit about the game you're going to play, sets a visual mood, and names the starring cast, but it doesn't tell you the whole story. It includes:

  • A diagram showing the social landscape, or several
  • Some character profiles, in varying states of completion
  • Some set and prop cards, maybe a map of how the sets interconnect
  • And maybe a track list for a soundtrack

<h2>Scenario Diagrams</h2> A scenario diagram is used as an easy reference for the mess of conflicting loyalties and identities that the characters must navigate. Each booklet has one or more of these. Here's an example:

It shows a number of social groups, and within or outside the groups are spaces to place pawns. Being located inside or on the edge of a group shows that a character or smaller group is a member of a larger group. You can see four social groups here, with a total of seventeen places for pawns; the Iron Maidens are a sub-group of courtiers, as the Ministry are a sub-group of academics. One pawn space in each group has a double ring around it; loyalty to the character in this space is also loyalty to the group.

Drawing an arrow from one character to another shows that one character has loyalty for the other. That's a technical term that I'll expand on later. You will redraw these arrows frequently, so consider how to make that painless—one option is to slide the diagram into a plastic sheet protector and draw on the plastic with whiteboard markers.

Each scenario diagram comes with a little writeup of an initial situation, describing how the different groups come into conflict or contact. You'll need to review the writeup together. Generally this will tell you a little bit about some pivotal characters and lay out some loyalties for you, but not necessarily all of them.

<h2>Characters</h2> Once you've chosen a diagram, each player should choose a spot and name-and-describe the character that fills it. A scenario booklet will contain some characters that are described to varying degrees of specificity. You can choose from among these (they may even have pre-defined spots on your diagram), or choose an empty spot and make your own if you prefer. There should never be more than one player-owned character in a given group, unless there are more players than groups.

You'll see that the written-up characters have loyalties that cross faction lines as well as loyalties within their factions. If you make a fill-in-the-blank character, then you should arrange your loyalties similarly. Also notice that some characters are members of one group, but loyal to some other group. This is another way to accomplish the same thing—one way or another, arrange it so that two people want mutually incompatible things from the character.

Besides loyalties, each character has a name, a distinctive colour, weather, and a quirk—they may be a drunk, or they may be blind, or overly legalistic, or whatever. What does it mean to have weather? That means that when a character is the focus of a scene, the heavens respond in a physical manner, bringing down rain or ice or sunshine. Each one also has a home set, which is to say, a set that's most closely associated with that character and not another. If you're familiar with the TV show Firefly, it might help to think of Kaylee's relationship with the engine room, Inara's with her shuttle, &c. If your character doesn't come assigned with a set, choose one and figure out how they are associated with each other. This is a power tool for customising your character right here! You may choose to do the same with props.

<h3>More About Sets & Props</h3> The Mist-Robed Gate is a cinematic game, right, so I'm going to be talking about it in the language of cinema. That means there are only so many places you can film at—the sets—and only so many cool things for the characters to handle and carry around—the props.

A set card will tell you some important things about the set:

  • What it looks like! The description is suggestive, not definitive, but it'll give you a couple of good details and a strong colour scheme. With logic and inspiration, you can extend from here.
  • How big is it? Some sets are too small to fit the whole cast of characters. Such sets will indicate how many people fit in them comfortably and how many people crowd it. You can't add more people to a crowded scene.
  • What's the weather like? How does it manifest? Some sets have a default weather condition if no character is imposing one, and some (such as many indoor sets) do not express weather.

    <h2>Loyalty</h2>

    So, what's loyalty mean? It means that here is something you care about uncompromisingly. A loyalty has an agenda. If you're loyal to something, that means there is something that you want for or from it, and pursuing your loyalty means doing things that advance your agenda. Review your loyalties and see where they come into conflict with each other. If you're making them up, then see to it that they do.

    So, that concludes your setup.

    <h1>Play</h1>

    So, I think that in this game, there are scenes, and the scenes alternate between several viewpoint characters. Choose about half as many viewpoints as factions. Rotating through the viewpoint characters, frame a scene around the character. The scene is infused with the character's colour. You can use a different sensory quality if you like, but I like colour for its expressive power and ease of expressing in text.

    Scene Types

    We don't have enough budget to have meandering, shapeless scenes in this game. Instead, each one has a specific goal. In a scene you can either adjust your loyalties, adjust your identity, or struggle with an internal conflict.

    Adjusting Loyalty

    In a scene where you adjust loyalties, the goal of the scene is to show how your priorities have shifted. You add or move a relationship line. You can't remove them.

    When you move a relationship line, you have to justify it in terms of one of your other relationships, like, "I am in love with Xiaomei, so although I am a policeman, I will cease being loyal to my captain and be loyal to the Flying Daggers rebels instead." Similarly you have to play out the blossoming of a new loyalty.

    Generally the goal of this exercise is to relieve conflicts between your loyalties.

    Adjusting Identity

    In a scene of adjusting identity, reveal something about your character that forces other characters to reevaluate their loyalties to you. The goal of this exercise is usually to induce conflicts in the loyalties of others. You can either adjust your own identity, or with the consent of all the faction members, adjust the identity of a faction. See Shi Mian Mai Fu again: When Leo reveals that he is in fact a Flying Daggers rebel in disguise, it flings both Jin and Xiaomei into conflict.

    When you adjust your identity, you can choose a new colour.

    Conflicts

    When you can't or aren't willing to use either of the above strategies to solve your problems, you can pick a fight. Basically what happens here is that you do violence to someone or something until one of the following happens:

    There is a knife. When the knife is on the table any player can take it. When it is in a player's hand, it cannot be taken; it must be given.

    At the beginning the knife is on the table. It is in a sheath and covered by a cloth.

    When someone reveals a loyalty that generates conflict, she uncovers the knife but leaves it in its sheath.

    Once the knife is uncovered, the time for entreaty has begun.

    The sheathed knife is a silent plea. Hand the knife to another player and, without words, tell him what you need with your hands and eyes. He will do one of these things:

    • Nod and comply. Though he cannot be certain what you desire, he does something to please you. He places the knife back on the table.
    • Silently shake his head. He cannot guess what you need or is unwilling to give it. He passes the knife to another player; his unspoken request is, "Assuage this hurt between the two of us."
    • Draw the knife. He passes it back to you and he demands something of you in exchange.

    The drawn knife is a spoken outcry. As you hand the knife to another player, you say what you wish of her. She will do one of these things:

    • Nod and comply. She does what you ask and places the knife back on the table.
    • Shake her head. She is unwilling or unable to give what you ask. She hands the knife to another player and makes a different demand.
    • Pass the knife back to you. She says, "If that, then this," and makes another demand; she promises to do what you ask if you do what she asks.
    • Stab you. She drives her knife through your character sheet. This is the end of you.

    The stabbing knife leaves death in its wake. As you are stabbed, you become empowered. You may do these things:

    • Die. You do not outlive this scene. Place the knife back on the table.
    • Stab who has stabbed you. Drive the knife through her character sheet. You do not outlive this scene. You each demand something of the world (but not of any character), and in your deaths your wishes are fulfilled.
    • Hold the knife to another's throat. Make a demand of him. He may either obey or be stabbed. Regardless, you do not outlive this scene. He takes the knife.

    The sheathed knife and the drawn knife may only be passed from hand to hand once per scene, which means that if you are given the knife and you wish to pass it to another, you must end the scene and begin another to do so.

    The stabbing knife has no such limits on its speed. There may be any number of stabbings and throat-cuttings in a scene, but once the knife returns to the table, in that scene the knife cannot be taken in hand again.

    Note for Raven readers: Most of the sections have changed a little bit; sections with really major changes, or brand-new sections, are titled in <span style="text-color: #DC143C">crimson.</span>

    More on Groups

    When you're making up your groups, what you want to do is situate them so that they naturally turn inwards in conflict—look at the cast of Shi Mian Mai Fu for instance, where the two major groups are policemen in the Imperial service and the prostitutes of the Peony Pavilion, who later turn out to be the Flying Daggers rebels. Clearly policemen don't always get along with sex workers, and the government and rebels never do.

    You can set groups in conflict along lines of agenda as well as identity—for instance a group of Korean soldiers might be trying to sail home from China, and some pirates are trying to take their ship. There might be other ships, but they want this one!


    As an advanced variation, if you have some rings that fit around your pawns, like if you own a Yinsh set or something, then you can ignore the printed ring and use the movable ring as the nexus of loyalty. Or if your pawns are small enough, use real gold and silver rings.