Stras was very kind to offer up Clay at Sandcon. As he put it (and I agree) this isn’t a game that I’d want to run for strangers (typical of a con game) and it also isn’t a game that shows it’s full capacity in a single session (almost all con games except for long cons). And yet, to slake our curiosity Stras ran it for us.
I think the game needs a little bit of background just to talk about. The setting is unfamiliar. Rome meets an ever encroaching jungle. Inhuman intelligence. Fantastic and horrific elements collide in a manner that reminded me of anime, though it is clearly not. Giant trees, disembodied voices, three eyed fish. Most of the details were so strange that few actually stuck with me. Instead was just left with the feeling that the jungle is where anything could happen, but no matter what it will change you.
And from this come the Minotaurs, male creatures born of clay and now part of human society, though as second class citizens, and full of their own cultural edicts. Most notably, the code of Silence, which is the only way they are able to stay in control of their actions (notably, what I first thought was keeping sane revealed itself to be much more about keeping control, which I think is a very interesting distinction).
Silence requires that you:
- Be courageous.
- Act with wisdom.
- Work for justice and the social good.
- Do not use the names of women.
- Do not want.
- Do not express your emotions.
Mechanically this is represented by each player character starting with three silence tokens and each time you break a rule, you lose one. Lose all of them and you have to run into that strange and bizarre jungle, experience whatever madness happens there until you can compose yourself enough (regaining silence tokens) to return to society.
So, the action of play, is a lot of deciding what you want, and then deciding how much you want it. Or perhaps whether you can get it without breaking silence. Lets see where that took us.
Our Nameless Cast
Minotaurs start without a name. That’s part of why you don’t get the full experience of the game in a single session. They do however have archetypes.
Sean – The Soldier. A gladiator for hire (no slavery in this setting) in the stable of a wealthy man who used us for entertainment.
Scott – The Advocate. A funereal mourner who wrapped the bodies of the dead in excessively long cloth.
Misah B – The Leader. A rickshaw driver that carried important people to and fro.
Keith – The Philosopher. A butcher who specialized in fish that carried seeds under it’s scales.
Move the activity surrounded the wealthy house my character worked for and the assassination of the lord’s son’s first wife through poisoning at a regal gala to celebrate the marriage to his third wife. Due to the tragedy the wedding was called off and the young prince was reduced from a potential three wives to one.
In this story the soldier defied the prince and earned his ire, spoke with the philosopher on the right course of action to take when you’re partially responsible for a crime, and spoke with the assassin but could not move her (or himself) to believe the assassination was wrong.
In this story the advocate prepared the body of the first wife and watched as a bug creature climbed out of her mouth and spoke in her voice the name of her killer (her husband), then smashed the bug and told what he saw. Later when confronted by the husband as he was wrapping the body, he caught the arrogant man’s hand as he tried to slap him and began wrapping him up as we. pinned the the corpse of his dead wife.
In this story the leader learned of all that was happening through carrying his fares and speaking with other drivers. When the philosopher broke silence and fled to the jungle (dragging us all with them), the leader lead the journey, and named or Advocate. He was now Krackos.
In this story the philosopher watched as a woman poisoned the fish that would be served during the dinner, then followed her but was ambushed by her and poisoned himself. By the time he woke, the first wife had died and he was trapped inside the house grounds. A servant who worked in the kitchen gave him refuge among the gladiators, but in doing so she implicated herself (perhaps she was already implicated) and was accused of performing the poisoning. He found her later in a cell made of roots and lamented the injustice of her unavoidable doom.
Together, we all were pulled into the jungle where we built a fort and then were attacked by a creature that looked like one of us but clearly was not. It was accompanied by two colossal snakes. Through violence and domination we solved our problems and reasserted control over ourselves (regaining silence).
Scott’s move to wrap the murderer to the body of his dead wife was a thing of genius. The calmness with which he portrayed the action was amazing. As a visual image and an amazing reversal of another person’s anger it had me in aw. Scott is the Aikido master of roleplaying.
The token resolution mechanic was great for providing creative constraints. As Paul said in an interview with Brianna Sheldon:
A lot of roleplaying games these days rotate their spotlight from player to player and say in turn to each of them, in effect, “Do something interesting.” And it’s often not that easy. The Clay That Woke, like Bacchanal, gives you some input. It says, “Everyone, this minotaur just changed the mind of the opposition in some way, figure that out–but don’t workshop it–just roleplay forward, knowing that you’re all aiming for the same destination.” Or it says something like, “This minotaur acts with physical confidence for a dramatic outcome in his favor, but also makes a mistake or error. Figure that out. Roleplay forward.”
This system is smart. Very smart.
Most poignantly though, and as Stras predicted, the game still had us thinking hours later. It was later than night or perhaps the next day when Keith, Stras and I bumped into each other in the kitchen and started talking about it. The game is about toxic masculinity and what that does to both society and to the individual. We talked about our personal reactions to the game and the situations that cropped up, how the actions of our characters represented (or didn’t) our own. Stras and Keith both had some pretty awesome insights as to how much this game told us about ourselves.
What could have improved
This is rare. I’ve got nothing. Which isn’t to say that this is the perfect game for every occasion, just that it did all I hoped for in the moment and there isn’t anything I would have changed.
Thanks for running this Stras, and thanks Misha, Scott, and Keith for playing. It was a great game.