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Record Keeping [Mar. 11th, 2007|01:10 pm]
Four Nations

Before we forget, we just talked about the four players keeping track of different things over the course of the game. Suggestions we had were:

The Dream People keep a bestiary of nightmares, all the monsters that spring from the minds of the heroes and plague the world.

The Door People keep charts of which paths lead where, a sacred gazetteer of the physical and spiritual geography of the world.

The Fate People we didn't talk about. It seems to make sense that they might track the sun and the motions of the heavenly bodies, marking the movement of days, seasons, and the passing of time.

The Dead keep track of life, like the Norns, measuring the threads of existence so they can tell who's living and who's a ghost lingering behind unnaturally.
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Four Nations Wiki [Dec. 3rd, 2006|09:32 pm]
Four Nations

This is mainly for our spectators. At my request, Thomas has set up the Four Nations Wiki and Shreyas has already subdivided it into pretty categories and posted most of his own work (in the Dream category). I imagine that, in the future, most of our work on this project will be posted there.
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Ainu Names & Nameish Words [Dec. 3rd, 2006|02:55 pm]
Four Nations

This is just for my reference...

According to Harukor, Ainu parents give their children a pet name which they use publicly. Around puberty, children are given an adult name, which is kept mostly secret, but given to close friends and family members. It seems like children without adult names don't generally know the secret names of their family members.

Secret names are also used at sacred rituals.

Nameish words:
Pananpe and Penanpe - folkloric figures
Konkani, Shirokani - gold, silver
Hakketek - giant scallop
Ponyanpe - folkloric hero




Adult Names:
Harukor - having food
Turushno - covered with grime
Isonash - great hunter
Resunotek - skilled at child-rearing
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Black Stone City [Nov. 6th, 2006|02:36 pm]
Four Nations

Not good yet; it has the form but doesn't feel right.

In the endless night when the world was new, Hungry Darkness said to Celestial Baker, "What dinner have you for me tonight?"

Celestial Baker replied, "I do not know."

"Then bring me the white bird that flies round the world."

Celestial Baker bowed and went to capture the bird. Having done so, he looked for a plate to roast it on. He looked in his pantry; the plates there were too small. He asked Hell Charioteer to lend him a wagon wheel, but the white bird burnt it away with its heat. He tried to boil it in the ocean, but it boiled all the waters away.

Finally, scouring the earth, he found a great iron disc, strewn with salt crystals and bundles of herbs. "Someone has done half my cooking for me," he said.

He put the white bird on the tray and baked it in the Celestial Oven. The bird would not cook, however! The herbs turned dry and the salt turned dark in the smoke. The bird's radiance increased and increased, and finally, the iron disc melted into an iron stream, and, carrying the herbs and salt crystals with it, it flowed back into the world.

Celestial Baker opened the oven door at last, and the white bird flew out of it in a great blast of smoke and heat. It flew away, and Celestial Baker meanwhile went to inform Hungry Darkness that he would be going hungry tonight.

In the endless night when the world was new, a king without a kingdom came to the shores of an iron lake, and saw a black stone palace floating in the centre...
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The Dead and the Yi [Nov. 5th, 2006|02:27 pm]
Four Nations

From The Age of Wild Ghosts by Erik Mueggler (U Michigan):

    Long ago, the living [tso] could see the dead [ne], and the dead could see the living. Living and dead both attended the market: one that side of the street the dead sold their things; on this side the living sold theirs; and the dead took the same form as the living. At that time, they used copper money, not paper. The dead used paper to stamp out coins that looked just like the copper coins of the living, and with this money they bought things from the living. But the living were not to be trifled with. They put the coins in a pan of water: the real coins made of copper sank, and the paper coins made by the dead floated. They returned the false money to the dead, and gradually the dead could no longer buy from the living; they could buy only from other dead. If your father died, you could go to the market the next day and see him. But it was not permitted for living and dead to speak to each other. The dead were punished if they spoke to the living -- their officials taxed and fined them -- and the living were afriad to speak to the dead. So living and dead could only look at each other. Then, as now, the dead sometimes harmed [ko, literally "bit"] the living, but the living could beat the dead in return, so the dead had no power over them. Disgusted with this situation, the dead petitioned for a bamboo sieve to be set up between themselves and the living. The living could see the dead only vaguely, but the dead [being closer to the sieve's holes] could see the living clearly. The living did not like this, for the sieve was too thick to beat the dead through. The living were stupid: some say they asked for a paper screen to be placed on their side of the street; they could beat the dead through the paper, but they could not see them at all.

So the main difference between Yi practices and the Four Nations is that, among the Four Nations, the sieves were never erected. But the living and the dead are still not permitted to talk to each other, the dead still occasionally bite the living, and the living are still able to beat the dead.
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Internal Memos (2) [Oct. 24th, 2006|07:41 pm]
Four Nations

So, I was thinking about the way that Journey to the West (sorry, I cannot find an electronic text, but compare wp's entries for Xuanzang (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Xuanzang) and (linked from previous) Xuanzang-as-a-fictional-character) works; the epic takes a real historical person and series of events and makes it into a lurid mythical account.

This is awesome. I think you can see the application, and I have some thoughts about the form... it's pretty clear that what the fiction is doing is taking the story and exulting it with preexisting mythical tropes (which is dude awesome).

So, I think the dream peoples' method of telling stories as dramas or dreams supports and induces this... they may even retell their more interesting dreams in the form of stories, and they have a good chance of surviving and turning into folklore.

So it'd be interesting if it's possible to simply skip the base state and jump right into 'exulted by mythical tropes'... I'm not sure how to induce this yet, but it's there in my head.



I, too, have been thinking some about 4N. Unfortunately it's not been the cool colorful stuff that everyone else has been thinking. No, my thoughts are pretty mundane, but they seem important to me...

My concern at the moment is this: are the 4 Nations races or cultures? Which is just a fancy way of saying: must you be _born_ a Dreamer or Door and thus use dreaming and door magic? Must you be dead to learn the magic of the dead? (These are actually separate but related questions.)

The problem is that I don't know what answer I prefer. My egalitarian side says 'Screw birth, it's all culture. You can learn any of the magics if you have the time/resources/whatever.' But the story-telling structure we seem to be aiming to emulate seems to be pretty well focused on the rare and unduplicatable greatness of the few. None can compare to the heroes because no one is fated to have their power. No matter how hard you work you won't be as great.

So, thoughts?



Personally, I try to avoid thinking in racialist terms, because the idea of "race," at least as we understand it, is largely a modern invention, a result of the study of genetics and breeding and what not.

The dream people are dream people because their ancestors were dream people, because their parents were dream people, and because they were raised as dream people. With this kind of pedigree, what else could they be?

If a mature dream person went to live among the door people, they would still be a dream person, even if they lived for 40 years among the door people and died there, even if they dressed and lived exactly as the door people do. That doesn't make them any more a door person, it just makes them less of a dream person, since people from their homeland would not instantly recognize them as a fellow dream person.

However, if the baby of two dream people was kidnapped or sold or adopted into a house owned by door people, was raised as a door person, and etc. They would most likely be considered a door person. If they discovered their true parentage later in life, they might journey to the lands of the dream people, but the people there would not recognize them. If they could prove they were the offspring of dream people, the dream people would be unsure about how to view them. Some would welcome them in, but the newcomer would still not know the ways of the dream people and would still act like a door person. So some people would continue to view them as a door person.

I would rather not view the cultural gifts of the Four Nations to be "magic." Think of them as a kind of cultural heritage, like calligraphy or painting or theatre traditions or storytelling or a religious tradition. Anyone can learn how to do it with the proper training and such training should begin when they are very young if they expect to be any good. Lots of people can do it on a fuctional level, but only a few really excell to become masters. There are some self-taught laymen who are quite good, but most of the true greats learned from other masters.

Basically, I want the Four Nations to work like real cultures work in the real world. No special innate magic powers. No X-Men. No Exalts. No chosen few with special powers. There is certainly a cultural elite, who are not necessarily the same as the political elite, but are clearly tied into them through patronage and the like.

Anyway, that's my perspective on the whole thing.



I think we talked a little about this, and what we tossed around was, like, culture lubricates magic, basically. Because you live in Njaaluwe-in-Dreams, you're surrounded by rich dream images and lots of people can teach you sleeping arts, whereas if you tend to hang around Heart of the Sun, you have to handle the many languages of fate, and that means that you tend to develop pattern-analysis skills.

I do like the idea of a compromise position where it is not uncommon for people to have intensely unbalanced talents, almost always in favor of their birth. I believe in a world where all the cultures have mixed races in them, but each culture also has a racial core - you don't have to have misty green-grey eyes and wavy hair to be part of the dream kingdom, but certainly the hereditary lords have always been like that, and of course the night theatres take great care to keep their blood pure.

(I suspect that this comes out of my experience of India, and, like, the tendency of creators to create in their own image.)

> On the Heroes


I don't think that you can/should talk about heroes in an egalitarian manner. If you say, "Any random dude could have done this, but as it happened it was Lord Sunmoontree..." it's got a lot less force and energy than, "Many men tried and died because they were not equal to the task, and then Lord Sunmoontree said, 'I am the only one who remains; I will do it because I must'." (I didn't deliberately cast that in storybook language against the casual language of the first but I think it works as an illustration of, how DO you cast the first in storybook language anyway?)

Greatness is inherent to few anyway. Let us revel in it.

But at the same time, we were not originally intending to tell hero myths, which is an interesting conflict. I think it could be understood as 'putting the humanity in our heroes', because presumably all the tellers know of the grandeur of the hunting of the sun or other precipitatory event, and they are biographing the heroes of that thing. Nonetheless, I don't think there is a worthwhile story that looks at the deficiencies of the many, instead of attending to the excellency of the few. It's a question of focus, and if you focus on the backdrop then obviously you will miss all the action.

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Internal Memos (1) [Oct. 24th, 2006|07:24 pm]
Four Nations

What if the thing that binds all the heroes together is their participation in The Hunting of the Sun, either as hunters or as those trying to protect the great bird from those who would shoot it down? That could be the Troy-equivilent for the people of the Four Nations, like the hunting of the White Stag (Narnia) or the hunt of the Caledonian Boar. But also something with relevance in East Asian myth, with Hou Yi's shooting of the nine suns.

I kinda wish it could be something equally mythic and nutzo, but less violent, just to break with the roleplaying tradition. But I'm hard-pressed to come up with something with the same gut-wrenching power as the Hunt of the Sun.

I also wonder if we need an odd number of heroes. Like 2-3 for each nation (giving us 8 or 12) and then one who is not a member of any nation and "neither of the living nor the dead." I have no idea what such a hero would look like, but there are some cool options players could choose from. They could be a dream, for instance, or a being from the City on the Moon. That would also let us refer to the heroes as the "Eight Plus One" or "Twelve Plus One" which is kinda awesome.

Just some ideas.


There is an Aztec myth of the god Nanahuatzin, who perpetually dies in fire so that the sun should continue to shine.

That's what I thought of when you said, 'less violent'; maybe slaying the sun is a kind of mythic necessity which enables the world to continue, rather than a hand upraised in rebellion against the natural order.



That could work. I was also thinking that, if the sun has been slain, maybe you're supposed to play the game at night, with the lights off, using candles or lamplight or a very dim electric lamp. That might enhance the ritual feel and get us accused of being a cult.

Another random thought: there are no animals in the Four Nations, only escaped dreams that have gained independence and interbred. So maybe you have wild and domesticated creatures, but they are all highly individualized. Perhaps there are clear species, based on thematic associations (like Pokemon!), but the offspring of a given union may not necessarily look anything like their parent dreams. This could let Shreyas get his monster hunter thing on with the dream people.

Also, I just found this amazing book of Yi ethnography called "The Age of Wild Ghosts," so I think The Dead are going to be modelled on the Yi. Perhaps the language and general cultural trappings (dress, some myths, design style, etc.) of each nation could be modeled on a different lesser known Asian people? Like a sub-national people, an ethnic group (historial or modern) without a nation-state of their own. I can think of dozens of cool possibilities off the top of my head, just within China, and I'm sure South and Southeast Asia have a ton as well, not to mention the Pacific Islands.

I can definitely see the Fate people having a linguistic situation like the Papuan languages, where you have 800 semi-related languages and speakers just wade through the patterns that connect them together.




> On Dream Animals

This is cool. I am not sure like how on-board everyone would be with it, but I am happy with basically any iteration of "dream animals exist", ranging from "some animals are dream animals and are therefore sort of odd" to the more extreme version you descrive above.

> On Cultures

This is cool.

It will also allow me to play anthropologist and be like, "What would this culture look like after five thousand years of being the most populous people in the world", which is sweet.

Ainu for me.

(We should definitely like talk about these different cultures you can think of at great length when opportunity allows.)



I like the hunting of the sun idea a lot. Maybe it could be part of a a long ritual cycle that takes up a week or longer, including a bit at the end where the sun gets revived somehow.

I'm not sure I like the idea of ALL animals being escaped dreams. I guess it's because it makes the dreamers kind of way more important than everyone else in terms of creating the ecosystem of the world. And the idea of a world that started out entirely humans kinda weirds me out. :)

> On Cultures

That does sound pretty cool, although I'm not sure how much research I'll be able to do. Is there a Wikipedia category for "obscure Asian cultures"? :)



Well, Shreyas wanted my opinions on this as well, so here are a bunch:



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The Wily Maiden [Oct. 24th, 2006|08:32 pm]
Four Nations

This is a the Four Nations version of the Scheherazade story, a.k.a. "The Crafty Girl Who Fools The King." I figure everyone has these kinds of stories, because they are awesome.

How the Slave Nadiya Became Queen in Life and Death

King Ryatat was traveling through the island villages, observing the workings of the Pattern. He spent the night in the company of the slave Nadiya, with whom he was most impressed.

In the morning, Nadiya said "Take me with you and I promise to serve you day & night, up until the very moment of your death."

And so it was.

Nadiya served the King for many years, day and night, but in due time she was struck by a wild fever and seemed on the edge of death.

The King came to her and knelt by her bed, thanking Nadiya for her many years of selfless service.

But Nadiya said "My promise is not yet fulfilled, O King. If I die, I will not travel directly to the Far Reaches but will stay and serve you until the very moment of your death. So that when you die I might accompany you on your journey."

This unnerved the King, who did not like to meddle with the Dead. He asked Nadiya if there was any way he could release her so that she might depart in peace.

And Nadiya said "Marry me and make me the head of all your wives so that, when I die, I can proceed to the Far Reaches as Queen of the Pattern and thus have the authority to properly prepare for your arrival."

To the great consternation of his existing wives, the King agreed. He married the slave Nadiya and named her Queen of the Pattern.

However, on their wedding night, the wild fever lept out of Nadiya and into the King, who soon died.

Consequently, all the King's wives, royal guards, servants, horses, camels, and dogs were executed. They became a great caravan of the Dead, one that would comfortably bear the great King of the Pattern to the Far Reaches where the sun shines not.

But Nadiya was not among them.

The King was very angry at this. He went to his Queen and demanded that she take her proper place at his side, so that they might journey to the Sunless Lands together.

But Nadiya said "I promised to serve you until the very moment of your death, O King. But I will serve you no longer, for that moment has passed."

And so the King of the Pattern traveled to the Land of the Dead bereft of his dearest wife.

And Nadiya ruled the south as Queen of the Pattern for a further 50 years. She married a few men and women that managed to win her heart and named her favorite as King.

And when she died all her wives and husbands escorted her to the Far Reaches where she ruled another 50 years as Queen of the Dead.

And so the slave Nadiya became Queen In Life And Death.
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Three Old Men [Oct. 16th, 2006|03:34 pm]
Four Nations

The Grandfather
The Grandfather is stooped and his hands are folded in his lap. He speaks slowly and is nearly always smiling. He drinks his tea with both hands round the cup.

The Hermit
The Hermit sits straight up, and he has a death-grip on whatever is in his right hand. His voice is shrill and he does not listen or agree, only objects.

The Veteran
The Veteran always keeps one hand at his side - that arm was injured in the war. He is quick and alert but not at all creative. He does not see the better side of things, but is ready to adapt to a hardship.
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Discussion 3 [Sep. 21st, 2006|04:19 pm]
Four Nations

Reading the first few discussions, it's interesting to see what people selectively chose to remember or emphasize. What I remember, mixed with my current inclinations:

Four Nations is very much modeled on board games. The idea is: it comes in a box with a map/board (maybe?) and booklets. One booklet is for each player. You need four players to play. Each player takes on the role of a great storyteller of their nation. The Four Nations are composed of the people of Dreams, the people of Fate, the people of Doors, and the people who are Dead. Each of the nations has an epic storytelling tradition. Each tradition is rather different: some may be based on dance or music, some may involve gestures, some may involve props, some may involve reciting poems in the middle of stories, and they all have their own structural and performative elements. Each booklet tells one player how to play and gives them guidelines for playing. Each player interfaces with the game differently.

The four storytellers from Four Nations are coming together for a sacred, ritual purpose, but also one that's based on entertainment. My brother recently wrote about when the Illiad was first written down, which has been a major inspiration (Shreyas, Thomas: I'll send you a copy of the paper). Apparently, before the Illiad was a written text, it was a storytelling tradition, meaning that the different episodes were told slighty or significantly differently by whoever was reciting a piece of it. But that, for special occasions, kings would bring a group of storytellers together and have them recite the whole thing, from beginning to end, taking turns (because it was way too long for any one person to tell). And one of these occasions may have been when the text was first written down in full. The Chronicle of Four Nations (as Shreyas called it) is an event like that.

A century ago, four great storytellers came together and gave the first public performance of the complete Chronicle, the components of which had long been told throughout the Four Nations. Here, at last, was the entire record of the great heroes of their age, the ones who set the sun on its path and visited the city on the moon, and discovered where the Door people went when they went away, and saw even the lands of the Dead, hidden in darkness. The Chronicle was pieced together by four great storytellers of the past from the stories their traditions shared, but also the stories unique to their nation. Everyone knows that the great hero of the Dead helped restore the sun to the sky, but only the Dead know what happened once he returned to Most Beautiful Cage.

However, the telling of the complete Chronicle happened just that once. No one has heard the entirely of the tales for a hundred years. But now the Four Nations have decided to tell the Chronicle again. Four storytellers have spent months going over the 100-year-old notes of their predecessors and talking to those old enough to have heard the original Chronicle. Perhaps they even travelled to the lands of the Dead, like the heroes of old, and sought out the original performers of the Chronicle, practicing with them on the dark wastes beyond the moonlight.

In any case, when playing Four Nations, this is what you are doing: recreating the Chronicle with the assistance of your fellow storytellers, using both the traditions of the past and the newer traditions of the present, using the notes of your predecessors, but also your own ingenuity. In summery, it is a ritual event, with all of the characteristics that apply to such things.

This is where I'm at right now. There are a lot of other details we talked about, but I think it's important to lay the foundation first, so we're all on the same page.
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