Ian here at Penny for a Tale — I've been immersed in TTRPGs lately, but something in particular I've been trying to wrap my head around in TTRPGs is non-linear time. Time travels breaks, among everything, your game's plot. If you're not careful, the plot holes make your narrative unplayable in many ways. I wanted to figure this out — making time work, making the past a playable story without destroying the future via the butterfly effect" — but Relics might take the idea of the unreliable narrator and collaborative storytelling and make it work in a way that doesn't pop a whole in your inflatable story boat. I asked a dear friend of mine, Sam, what her experience with memories were, and these are her thoughts:
From Sam Davis: Relics: A Game of Angels
Major Arcana: The World
You know that adrenaline rush you get when you try something new for the first time? That sudden energy you feel in your extremities. Your heart is pounding, threatening to beat right out of your chest as your stomach churns and you break out in a nervous sweat? That’s how I felt when I opened my email and saw that all the seats had been filled for my first online convention, GMing a game I had never actually played. I was taking a deep dive into the strange and colorful world of indie TTRPGS and I haven’t come up for air since.
What I learned from Relics is that I absolutely love games where you build your backstory as you go. Relics uses the Fugue system from Alas Vegas. You gain new skills through flashbacks narrated by other players at the table. From there, resolution is mediated by drawing from a tarot deck. You don’t even need to be a history buff to tell a compelling story. My players would often laugh about how the humans perceived and interpreted events and how they covered their tracks. Going behind enemy lines during WWII or leading Napoleon astray. Accidentally starting the idea of the Bible, domesticating dogs—the stories ran the gambit and it was amazing.
My players would run through Wikipedia or other searches finding fun and obscure events from history and roll with those. What was supposed to be a oneshot game for GenCon online turned into a 15 session game following a religious cult in New Mexico and leading to Akrotiri, Greece all in the pursuit of angelic relics and following their memories.
All with the simple phrase, “Remember when…”
This has become one of the integral parts of my own storytelling even outside of Relics. Generating role play between players by saying, remember when the two of you were on that battlefield? You had forgotten, purged it from your memory to try and cope…Giving those small details until the player picks it up and begins narrating something from their past on the spot. They then add it to their backstory, letting it grow.
It is common for people to forget events. The brain can be a finicky thing, how delicately it files, dates, stores information, if we don’t use it we lose it. My players have never felt like they were being forced into a narrative, instead they’ve felt like they were just receiving more information as someone remembers something, from their point of view, that the player then remembers from their own perspective of the events.
It’s just a wonderful tool for role play the idea of memories and how we are not the most reliable narrators of our own stories and that those we interact with see things from their own viewpoints as well.
So I guess with my rambling, the TDLR version is to use memories within your storytelling. Let the backstory be something that grows and develops and changes too. And play Relics: A Game of Angels.