Our second game of It is Pitch Dark was also a success! From 8÷23÷13−8÷27÷13, Matt Schanuel ran The Lizards on Phobos! Below is a Storify transcript of the whole game, but first, some thoughts from Matt:
Our third game, Unto Tarsus, by Ontological Geek staff member Aaron Gotzon, begins this Saturday, 8÷31÷13, at 11:00 AM CST.
The Lizards on Phobos had two distinct sources. The first is pretty simple: when Bill and I spoke about potential games for Pitch Dark, I was struck by an image of a suited astronaut standing on a desolate moon and thought it would be a compelling alternative to the dungeons that surrounded early D&D and some IF.
I also finally got around to watching Prometheus two weeks ago; that was my second big influence. I enjoyed it (Noomi Rapace is always excellent), but found it thematically confused. It was clearly a spiritual successor to Alien(s), but unlike the classic’s subdued treatment of the themes of pregnancy and parenthood, Prometheus apparently aspired to be a goddamn almanac on the subject. Even so, the overall thrust of the narrative is more nihilistic than not. We don’t receive any answers to the questions posed about humanity’s creation, and the overall tone of parenthood present is overwhelmingly negative.
With Lizards, I wanted to present a more optimistic story that touched on the theme of creation and the relationships that we have with our creations. I think the game played out really well to that effect. The relationship between Alexandra and her ship and drones was fun; I gave her machines animal-esque qualities, and by twisting some verbs folks caught on that the drones were cat-like pretty quickly. Tom Servo, the alien AI, was both a child and parent. The finish of the plot felt very much like sending children off to enter a wider world – that these children were aliens made little difference, since the same fears were present. Will other people treat them kindly, or harshly? Will they be safe? Alexandra’s and Tom’s conversation feels quite a bit like calling another parent to decide whether your child should be allowed to visit their house. I’m thankful the players decided to risk it, and that the game ended on such a positive and hopeful note (thanks, Aaron!).
Running Lizards was a really cool experience, quite different from playing Bill’s Through the Gate-to-Many-Places. As a player, there is an element of competition inherent to submitting an action (that interfaces with some of the social mechanics of Twitter, as well; your actions might get faved and re-tweeted if you’re super-cool), and it shares traits with Apples to Apples and Cards Against Humanity in that you are playing to a judge. On the running side, I was careful to spread my selections around among those contributing whenever I received multiple actions. After all, I didn’t want to play favorites, and more importantly I wanted every contributor to feel welcomed and part of the story. I often found myself consciously restricting the amount of “DM fiat” I exerted, though I certainly did so much more than I would in a tabletop roleplaying game in the interest of maintaining pacing. Ultimately, though, there is only one adjudicator for determining the success and failure of a given action – dice determine nothing, and so though there is an illusion of player control (and I don’t want to diminish the role of suggested actions, because they can cause incredible things to happen), every step forward ultimately belongs to the person behind the account. I’m a very experienced DM, and tend to want to maximize player freedom, but the way that one does that here is very different than how one does it in a tabletop game. Or, at least, the line at which player agency starts is located elsewhere, upon being diffused among any number of players.
Regarding the art — I referenced Plan 9 from Outer Space for the poster, because B-movie science fiction had its own special level of class, and I knew that I wanted the game to feel cinematic. I thought it turned out pretty well!