Returning Home

A vow. A promise. It is time to meet the ghosts of the past. You recognise places, recall events. It is getting back. With every turn of the road, with every step you take. You will be there soon. You will see them again. You are expected.

By Frederik J. Jensen

Returning Home is a story game where you collaboratively tell a story about five people who meet again after many years out in the world. A story about seeing people again who once meant something for you. About the expectation, the excitement, the uncertainty, the doubt, that are present up to the reunion. And the thoughts, the change, the mood, that are present after the reunion.

All players participate on equal terms – there is no game master who controls and decides the story. Instructions will help you build the story with your own thoughts, emotions, and experiences and create and share a story about returning home.

To be played at a gentle pace with a touch of sadness and melancholy.

Nordland. The northernmost province of the Empire. Covered with deep, unpenetrable forests where fearful travellers are lost and devoured. Dotted with scattered settlements made by hardened people who from soil and sea wrest meager spoils. To the north, the treacherous sea who swallows mans hope of fortune and fame. To the south, civilisation in all its wealth and splendour and corruption. To the east, the endless wasteland where rocky plains, scattered lakes and sleeping forests hides battlefield upon battlefield. To the west, the low marshes where wide rivers bring prosperity to resourceful souls.

The town

Place a blank sheet of paper on the table between you.

Draw a compass rose and write the name of the town in one end: Schwarzbrügge.

Draw four roads into the town, one from each of the four corners of the world.

Each player now draws a place in the town. E.g. the well, the lake, the burial grounds, the clearing, the wind mill, the quary, the river, the old barn, the council place.

Stop when each player has drawn at least one place.

Schwarzbrügge is a small town who had grown around a ford across the Schwarzwasser river. Here, the four corners of the world joined up in a crossroad, and weary travellers sought out each others' company. In times of peace for sharing gossip and a meal; in times of war for safety and protection on the roads further on to the north, south, east or west. Some few had settled and never moved on.

Your character

Every player grabs a blank sheet of paper and writes down one of the following names on their sheet such that all names are taken: Godfred, Gorm, Gudrun, Sigrid, and Stark.

Close your eyes and picture the character. Write down a few cues, e.g. drunk, scarred, wealthy, weary, pregnant, having a cold, black haired, ragged.

Each player now describes the appearance of their character.

Choose a position on the map – one of the four roads into the town or a place within the town. Exactly one character arrives on each of the four roads into the town. Exactly one character is the one, who never left the town.

The character is alone and on the way to the meeting. Describe the weather, the sounds, the smells, what the person is doing, and the appearance of the character.

Conclude by stating the name of the character.

The weather is moist. Mud from the road is sprayed on the belly of the horse and on the legs of the traveller. The heavy breathing of the horse is steaming white in the air. The steady snorting and a rythmic chinking from the many metallic rings on the riders' armour accompany the journey through the dark green coniferous forest. The smells of fir and resin are shortly suppressed by a gust of wind from the river who carries with it impressions of smoke, faeces, and many people.

The traveller lets down his hood, wipes drops of sweat from his forehead, moisture from his beard, and swallows down a greedy drink from a grey brown bottle. The blue eyes go distant for a short moment.

The rider's name is Gorm.

Someone to see again

Every player in turn now tells about one of the others, they are about to see again. Tell an inner monologue, where the character recalls the past – perhaps triggered by something he or she encounters on the road. Is it someone, you truly want to see again? Is it someone, who hurt you?

Every player tells twice, first about someone, they truly want to see again, then about someone they are anxious to meet again.

Sigrid works the dark brown wood in strong, hard strokes. Sweat drips on the wooden floor and mixes with the cold river water. Locks of blond hair hangs down in her face, but she sees it not. Work feels good, it keeps the memories away. Postpones the inevitable which cannot be postponed much longer.

Pain! A splinter plunges itself under a nail and blood spills on the newly washed floor. Sigrid cries out in pain and then breaks down in tears.

Reunion

Play the first intense moments of the reunion.

The player, whoose character never left the town, sets the scene. Describe the time, the place, where the character is and what he or she is doing.

Next each player describes the arrival of their character into the scene.

Every character has exactly one line. When everyone has said one line, the scene ends.

The old stone ring is crumbling. Moss cover the inscrutable carvings on the black rocks. Gudrun carefully removes the moss and lets her fingers feel the cold rock. So long ago. But she still remembers the ritual.

Stark steps into the circle.

"It is time."

What has changed?

Every player in turn tells an epilogue for their character. It is after the meeting. The character is alone once again, recollecting the meeting. Did you say, what you wanted? Did you achieve, what you hoped for? Did you leave the town or did you stay? Will you ever return again?

I have her blood on my hands. It is warm and dark. It is getting sticky. In front of me, I can see her lifeless body. The empty, staring eyes, the wispy hair, the wry mouth with libs somewhat too large. The blood running from her chest. Behind her, the others stand. Staring at me. Fearful. But also grateful. Grateful that it was I and not them. Now I carry the curse. It is quiet now in me - sleeping. For a time. Until the black moon once again appears and calls it. At that time we will gather again. Those of us that still lives. And a new will take my place. Until one day where one of us will be the last, and the curse no longer can be stopped but will devour everything.

Questions and answers

What is a storytelling game?

A storytelling game is a variant of roleplaying games, where the participants in turn bring the story forward by talking with narrative voice. You also can act out scenes, speak out what your character says, and describe or act the actions of your character. But where it is usually a single player acting as a game master that interprets the outcomes of events in the fiction, it is now a task for the narrator. Where you as a player would say: "I swing my sword at the troll," you now say: "My sword penetrates the troll's chest and the gore spills out."

Who decides if we disagree?

The current narrator decides in case of uncertainty or disagreement about what has been established in the fiction. What another player has created in the fiction cannot be undone. You can add, but not undo.

Can you kill the character of another player?

Yes, but only with the consent of the other player.

Why do they return home?

This is for you to decide during the game. Is it a pagan ritual that must be completed? Is it a wedding that are planned? Has someone died?

What about chaos, mutants, skavens, wood elves and all the other elements of the Warhammer setting?

The focus of the game is the mood and the emotions about the reunion. The fantastic, epic, and mythological aspects are down graded. The characters can of course have experienced the fantastic in the outside world and bring back memories of this.

Hints for storytelling games

Describe details

Use all five senses to make a scene feel present and alive. Describe details. How are the smells of the forest? How does the wood work feel? How does the river sound?

Reincorporate

Add to the ideas of the other players and weave your stories together. If another player has mentioned a woodland lord in the first scene then let him appear in the last scene.

Play against each other

Challenge each other and create opposition for each other. If someone has hurt you, then it is the character of another player. If someone is the father of your child, then it is the character of another player.

Acknowledgements

Thanks to Jonathan Walton for making me draw a story with Geiger Counter. Thanks to Tobias B. Bindslet for fruitful discussions about stories seen from the outside and from the inside and about starting and stopping scenes. Thanks to Johannes Busted Larsen for bringing the Empire together and letting me join.

This game is part of the anthology The Empire, which won the Jury's Special Prize at Fastaval 2009.

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