Metatopia: The Commander of the People of the Snow
Game: Gather by Stephen Dewey
Theme song: Wolf by Fever Ray
Keywords: Devoted, Careful, Intense
Sunday, burnt out and ready to go home, Rob, Rach, and I decided to sign up for one more game by a designer we had enjoyed previous products from. Stephen Dewey is the creator of Ten Candles, which if you haven't played you should. It's awesome. Gather was the game we signed up for, and I'm so glad we did.
Gather is a freeform story game using tokens and cards where players take on the roles of representatives of the people of the world who come together to sit at council, air grievances, ask for help, or broker alliances. The Gather is done yearly, with the people coming together to hear each other (or not) and form a world as you play. The cards on the table ask important and pivotal questions about you and your world.
I played the Commander of the People of the Snow. Interestingly enough, we never gave a name. This anonymity allowed for a certain level of removing oneself from the idea of "I" and moving oneself into the world of "we" because you spoke for your people. When the game first starts, you are asked the question of who your people or village is. I said I was from the North from the people of snow.
Now, on an inside joke level, Snow is a character Rob played in Apocalypse World who was brutal and a battlebabe. So partly I was channeling Snow, and partly I was imagining northerners who were a brutal, combat people constantly struggling against the ebb and flow of life and death. They represented the warriors of the land and were personified by their own lands. They were harsh, cold, stormy, and prone to violence.
The Commander had a vested interest in seeing her people freed from the duty of protecting the rest of the lands from the Beasts of the north. What these were, I wasn't sure, but I knew they had claws and teeth and a hunger for some part of people that had silenced the people of the Snow. They didn't describe them anymore. They simply fought them. In my head they were kind of like the Skraelings from lore and from Sara Douglass' novels. They were creeping voices in the sunless wastes. They were hungry.
The People of the Snow had stopped defending one waypoint and as a result, some of the Beasts had invaded into the southern lands. She had come to speak an apology to the people for their failure, but also to bring to council the bitterness of being the ones constantly in this unending struggle. Their short summer was the only thing that brought relief and it was far too short of a time period. It was exhaustive, and left them so often broken and bloody.
Yet they were true warriors. They had honour and courage. They did not speak of the dead nor did they speak how many they had killed. Pride was a point of weakness to the People of the Snow. Pride gave way to recklessness and thus, to death, and their duty to keep the world safe was more important than pride. So when asked at the table how many had I killed, I refused to answer. Many saw this as shame, but I saw it as an example of cultural differences between groups gathering at a council.
The Commander was a character I loved on every level. Her responsibility to her people removed her responsibility to self, and as a result, she no longer had a sense of personal identity. She was one of the many, their voice, and their leader, and so what she wanted had been forfeit for the greater good. It was a deep duty and I haven't played someone who had so willingly given themselves to their people before. All my saviour characters had a deep sense of emotion and self. The Commander didn't. She had cool logic and even understanding. She tried to be reasonable and promote her own people's interests, even if she thought they weren't necessarily the best.
I would love the opportunity to explore the Commander further. I really enjoyed seeing someone immediately powerful and immediately honest in their fallacy. She came across as proud if only because they spoke of what they did without hesitation as a people. And I loved that bluntness that could be read as pride. I loved seeing her culture clash with others. I loved seeing her listen and dismiss people for weakness because of their unwillingness to bend. She had learned from the beasts that if you cannot bend, you will die.
It was challenging to play a character without a personal sense of risk in a meeting, but a huge risk for all of her people. It was intense and I loved it. If you can play Gather, do it. If you can facilitate Gather, also do it. I can't wait to revisit this character and see how she develops as a commander rather than as an individual who worries about love and family and more personal matters. I want to play someone again who is purely for the people. It was awesome.