It is Pitch Dark: The Lizards on Phobos


Our sec­ond game of It is Pitch Dark was also a suc­cess!  From 8÷23÷138÷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!