Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Roots of Insomnity

When the idea for Insomnity first percolated into my mind, it had, like many true dreams, an aura of familiarity about it; the sense that I had come this way before. I initially assigned this feeling to the fact that I’m drawing from some much older and more established source material as I flesh the idea out. It then occurred to me that I’m actually touching on an aborted idea that I once had some years ago. As many of my older gaming commonplace books have either been lost or are in storage, I couldn’t confirm this suspicion. I finally realized that I had posted some of these surviving notes on an older (and now largely defunct) blog of mine. I’ve since been able to recover those notes and I’ve included them below in a slightly edited form.

Insomnity is going to be built on a foundation that I first laid out at least five years ago. That foundation was a little live-action experiment that I dubbed Stormrealm. It was a concept that occurred to me late one evening while I was entertaining an old college friend who had been down visiting me. After he had gone to bed, I remained awake and in a creative frame of mind (largely due to the large quantity of beer we had just consumed, which could also be the reason why Stormrealm never made it past its inaugural session). We had had a tremendous thunderstorm that evening and the tempest got me thinking about the great and unexpected changes that follow in their wake. While not the most unique of ideas, it occurred to me that explore the notion of a stranger in a strange land, one who had found himself waking in an unfamiliar world following a great physical and metaphysical storm. I typed up the following invitation, printed it out, and tacked it on the door of guest room where my friend (who’ll I’ll refer to a “J” for this post) was sleeping.

You are known by another name in Stormrealm (J would later add the name "Ignatius" here).

This is the grand invitation to a unique Live Action Role-Playing Game. It is not Mind's Eye Theatre. It is not the S.C.A. This is a game we will make up as we go along.

Care to play?
The first session of Stormrealm begins today. The previous night has been torn by wind and rain. With the morning sun, you find yourself in a bed in a small inn called "Brubeck's Rest".

Strange dreams haunt you as you rise. You half-remember nightmares with metal carriages and boxes of moving light.

But now you are back in Stormrealm. Where magic and monsters, poisons and potions, and danger and dragons dwell.

And you'll help make the rules...


J, being both a gentleman and open to most any of my harebrained, agreed to play along with my fairly undeveloped concept and received more notes regarding his personae.
You've awakened in Brubeck's Rest, an inn at the end of the Bog Road, situated on the edge of the Twisted Grove. Strange dreams and visions have lead you this far.

Your possessions are few: a pocket of silver, two scrolls which you bought from a pock-marked vendor at the Night Market, and a bag of magical tools.

You've heard tales of the Twisted Grove in your travels. The legends speak of strange and ancient magics that lay slumbering there. The tales also speak of the bizarre creatures that make their home within.

Most fierce are the Trolls. Strong and deadly, yet the touch of sunlight turns their forms to stone. Also, the Mongrelmen dwell within. Twisted creations formed of from alchemical experiments left over from the Pax Imperium, the Mongrelmen live a fierce and violent life, killing trespassers with glee.

Despite these dangers, you've determined that not only is the Twisted Grove an ideal place to establish a Threshold, it may harbor some of the ingredients you need to create the potions you've been working on.

You've been awoken this morning by Odd, the handyslave at Brubeck's Inn. He's gathered the tools you've requested: shovel, axe, etc. and is willing to accompany you to the edge of the Twisted Grove. After that, you're on your own...
After reading the above, J had fleshed out his personae and motivations on an index card that bore the following notes:
Through my life, I can remember being in places only describable as dreams. Now I feel things have flipped. I feel cursed with anger and seem to break weapons often upon killing beasts. Searching for control of myself, I have begun a pilgrimage. In the grove of the Twisted Root is an old marker for the head of the way. From the small village of Winter Stone.
To assist Ignatius on his pilgrimage, I provided him with a few scrolls containing various formulae for items and rites that might assist him in the future. In them was The Rite of the Threshold:
Rite of the Threshold
A Threshold is a magical nexus, which allows those who know the mystic invocation to travel from one place to another.

To construct a Threshold, one must first find a proper nexus point, where two or more ley lines meet. Once this is done, construction can begin.

First, a gate must be built. The gate must form a boundary to contain the Threshold's magic. A crude doorway, circle of standing stones, or a shallow pool, are all examples of gates built for a Threshold. A gate must be constructed by the one opening the Rite of the Threshold.

Once a gate is built, the caster must consecrate the gate with symbols of all four elements. Air must be invoked first, followed by Fire, Earth, and Water, If not done in this order, the gate will not work.

Next, the gate must be named. This will, in effect, become the Threshold's "address". Only those who know the Threshold's name will be able to employ it. A small token must be held in the caster's left hand and be given the Threshold's name. The token is then buried at the site.

Finally, to seal the magic within, the caster must circle the Threshold counter-clockwise three times. After that, the Threshold will be bound to the site and available for use.
I hoped that the construction of a Threshold in the Twisted Grove would allow us to utilize other real life locations as game fields without the hassle of explaining travel from diverse place to diverse place. Plus it’s always good to start with a defined goal, especially when engaging in such an off-the-cuff experimental idea like we were.

He also received the recipe for a Potion of Fire:

One Burnberry
Two sprigs of Ignatium Root
Water of the Flames
Bottle made of Gren Glass
As well as the instructions on crafting a Dowsing Rod:
Requires a proper dowsing wand onto which the following symbol must be carved:

(Here I drew a symbol that resembled a dual-headed arrow)

Then speak what you wish to find and follow the rod. If it is nearby, the rod will lead you to it. If it is not, the rod will lead you back to where you began.
At the time, a strip of woods stood behind the house I was living in. The passage of years and the occasional hurricane had transformed the woods into a thick maze of fallen trees, twisted vines, and dense undergrowth. It would serve as the Twisted Grove. Taking the role of Odd, the handyslave, I met J (now Ignatius) at the back of the house with the aforementioned tools and led the way to the entrance path of the woods.

At the time, a strip of woods stood behind the house I was living in. The passage of years and the occasional hurricane had transformed the woods into a thick maze of fallen trees, twisted vines, and dense undergrowth. It would serve as the Twisted Grove. Taking the role of Odd, the handyslave, I met J (now Ignatius) at the back of the house with the aforementioned tools and led the way to the entrance path of the woods.

Noticing a holly bush growing next to the entrance, Ignatius inquired if it might be a burnberry bush and gathered a selection of holly berries once informed that it was. He also had prepared a suitable stick for the dowsing rod, which he hoped would allow him to find the nexus for a Threshold. (I had previously placed an old green bottle in the woods in a not-unobtrusive place which, if found, would be identified as being made of gren glass.)

We entered the woods and I refereed Ignatius’ actions, playing the role of Odd when needed. Ignatius’ explorations were cut short before he could he begin construction of the Threshold, however, when the sounds of the Mongrelmen’s drums began to sound in the forest (I had a small wood and leather drum which I took great delight in pounding upon as Ignatius explored around). Choosing the better part of valor, Ignatius retreated to the safety of Brubeck’s Rest and we never returned to Stormrealm in either game or reality again.

Despite the fact that Stormrealm never went anywhere, it seems that I’ve held on to some of the concepts first presented in that single session. The dreamlike entrance into the world, the stranger in a strange land angle, and the overall sense of unreality mixing with the ordinary are all facets that I want to explore with Insomnity. They strike me as both being rich with possibilities and necessary for the atmosphere I hope the place invokes. The concept of characters being alternate versions of themselves is another theme I want to throw at the wall and see if it sticks.

I predict that Insomnity is going to diverge greatly from its Stormrealm roots, but I’m looking to go in a different direction with it so it’s not much of a concern. I’ve got an inkling of another idea for an alternate method of play as well – one that is not dependant on live action role-playing, to my considerable relief. But again, I’ll have to see if I can make that method fly.


Christina Lea said...

Neat stuff. The set-up for your Stormrealm idea reminds me vaguely of the Storm in my Qalidar setting. (If this is an inappropriate plug, please accept my apologies and delete whatever you need to.) Not that either of us would be the first to come up with travel by metaphysical storm, but there are several other aspects that seem to harmonize well with your dream world concept, so I thought you might find it interesting. Storms do make that kind of impression, don't they? I remember, I first got the idea after driving through a particularly wild one and then, after I passed through it, getting that feeling of being in a whole new world.

Timeshadows said...

I am eager to read more on this setting. :D

Urban said...

Wow! Its really catches Dunsany's and Lovecraft's Dream Cycle! Go on!

The Grand Wazoo said...

too bad that never took off. what fantasy!