It is midnight, and I am The Midnight Table. I would like to thank you all for your kind thoughts over the past week. Brother Gethsemane has told me of your comments, and I am pleased that you have decided to bow to me as your master. I am great and ancient, and you are so-so and a baby. Our relationship will be an interesting one.
Tonight I would like to ease you in gently, with a story about four people who gathered around me to tell another story about stories. Tonight I would like to tell you about “Winter Tales”.
Winter Tales is a fascinating creation. It is a storytelling game. It allows human beings to come together in the creation of a shared fantasy. There are a few rules, mainly there to provide some structure to the session of creation. It is the kind of thing that could only work within the human shared experience – humans are wildly imaginative and love to share ideas.
I am an ancient thing. I imagine very little. Almost everything is a memory – something that has already occurred on one plane or another. The notion of “creating” a story is an alien thing to me. All stories already exist. The limits of human understanding enable the likes of you to believe that you can pluck fresh universes out of thin air. It is silly, but charming, and it is why these storytelling games are such an entertainment to me.
Inside the Winter Tales box there is a map of a town. Wintertown. This map features twisted fairy tale locations (a spooky puppet theatre, an asylum) and can be traversed by a number of fairytale characters. The characters are divided into two factions – the evil Soldiers of Winter and the noble Fairy Tales.
It is a masterstroke to include versions of characters from old stories in this game. An evil Snow White is here – a character known to human beings since childhood, but changed in this appearance. Imaginations are immediately firing. How did our Snow White become this evil queen? What is the White Rabbit doing in his terrible Nightmare Factory?
The game is broken up into chapters, and these chapters broken up into turns. The entire game is played using Story Cards, illustrated by children. Cards are discarded for movement, or used to tell stories.
Players can generate quests at locations. Essentially, this sees a player “seeding” a story. I heard players say:
“There is some kind of ritual taking place at the cemetery.”
“And yet, there is a flicker of hope at the puppet theatre. There may yet be salvation.”
“At the prison, plans are in motion to win the hearts and minds of the citizens of Wintertown.”
These stories are left open, to leave room for characters to get involved – to move to to the location and pick up the tale. Discarding story cards to move leaves you short of tools to tell your story when you arrive at the location. Some tension there, indeed. Winter Tales is not a game to play to win, however. The object of the game is to tell a wonderful story – to win at the act of creation. One faction will lose at the end of the tale, for sure. But if the story is a compelling one, everybody wins.
And how are the stories told exactly?
When a player reaches a quest location, they may start telling their character’s tale.
The White Rabbit walked past the inmates, his eyes never meeting theirs. Tonight he would gather them in the prison theatre, and show them his latest work. A film about their beloved Dorothy, and her secret past. Yes, he would turn them against her tonight. Their rebellion would be crushed at the revelations within his latest dark work, his latest masterpiece.
Then, other characters at the location may join the story. Twisting it, changing it, stacking the positives for their faction. At the end of the story, whichever faction has played the most cards may resolve the tale in their factions favour.
The stories are told with cards. Illustrated by children, yes. Beautiful and vague and odd, yes. Open to interpretation, and ripe with possibilities. As the player recounts a tale, they must back up each story beat with a relevant card.
Cards are printed on both sides with an identical image. But one side is white, for the villains, and the other is orange, for the heroes. Every story has a winner, and every winner writes his own ending. Hasn’t it always been thus, throughout human history?
After three quests are completed, there is an epilogue where all remaining cards are played, and the entire story is resolved.
This game is a wonder. Not one die is rolled. No statistics are tracked. The rules, once explained, are set aside. A story is weaved above me. Images from the minds of children are manipulated by the minds of adults into a sophisticated story about the futility of violence. And yet, next time, these images might call forth a farce, or a tale of grotesque horror.
I hope that one day you might witness for yourself the battles that can take place within Winter Tales. Yes, during movement, a battle can occur when two characters cross paths. Then, the players play story cards against each other, one at a time, detailing the events of the fight. A battle of imagination. The kind of battle I understand. A battle the ancient things of the universe know only too well.
I now ask Brother Gethsemane to make his witness statement.
“This thing, this dark thing, this game, (this is no game), this story-box, this wish-world, I fear it and I cast it away. And yet, it compels me to return, to see that world, to create that world. Is it not a blasphemy, it is not a wrong-thing, (it is a wrong-thing, I am no god), is it not a pagan thing? And yet, and yet, this magic – from child to man and woman, this sharing, nothing so human, nothing so lovely, nothing so profane. How has this not existed before? And yet it has always existed. In the caves of the dawn of humanity, when the tree first grew, and the sap from the tree used to make crude images, and those crude images used to create stories, and (forgive me forgive me) to create gods themselves! And you do not consider this, dear Table, that the sap that creates the stories was drawn as blood from your brothers and sisters?!”
I say this. So hear me.
Why should an ancient thing such as me concern myself with games? With this “Winter Tales” you may understand why. There is a wildness and a dark magic in the perceived creation of a new world. When humans dabble in such things, they draw closer to me. They draw closer to the wideness of All.
This wonderful and terrible creation should be in your home. It is a warm hand in yours, telling you that there is no shame in telling a story. “I am not a writer”, you might say. But “writer” is a job, and jobs are for slaves. Stories are for everyone, and flow from everyone. If you have magic within you (and you do, though you may not yet know it) this box will serve you until you step into your grave. And perhaps even beyond that.
Just like some trees, stories live forever.