Our Quiet Year: Spring
Today marks the beginning of a short series about storytelling card game The Quiet Year from Joe Mcdaldno’s Buried Without Ceremony. This designer is so indie, you can pay for his games by doing good deeds. Awesome.
This is going to be a little different than most of the stuff I write here at Space-Biff! As The Quiet Year is a storytelling game, I’m only going to talk about the rules a little each week. The rest is about the story four people crafted about our community; its hopes, fears, and struggles; and, eventually, its end.
On the Table: Establishing the Landscape
For a long time, we were at war with The Jackals. Now, finally, we’ve driven them off, and we’re left with this: a year of relative peace. One quiet year, with which to build our community up and learn again how to work together. Come Winter, the Frost Shepherds will arrive and we might not survive the encounter. This is when the game will end. But we don’t know about that yet. What we know is that right now, in this moment, there is an opportunity to build something.
The Quiet Year always begins the same way, though from that vague starting point it can blossom into any of a million million possibilities, assembled from the imaginations of a handful of wildly different people. People who, even if you’ve known them your entire life, will surprise you with the timbre of their creativity, the chime of their words, the clamor of their displeasure. It feels complete even with nothing more than a blank page for a board, a regular deck of playing cards for its events, and a handful of dice and miscellaneous markers for some bookkeeping.
It always begins with that same opening tale, though it immediately deviates from the experience of everyone else who has ever played it, with everyone setting the scene by drawing a detail about your new community on the map.
The first detail, added by me, is that we’re a community of nomads, living in a world long cleansed by a Calamity, of which none of us knows the cause, and we roam the landscape in our mobile homes. Everyone agrees that this is an interesting start, so I draw a few “mobile homes” and “tents,” though they look more like soggy hot dogs than anything resembling a Winnebago. Next, Adam suggests that we’ve stopped here because of a freshwater stream, perfect for its cool clear potable water. He draws a stream with little lines that look like lane dividers on a highway until he adds a tiny rock for clarity. Third, Tyler and Krasna (playing as a team because they’re inseparable, though also because Krasna is basically Tyler’s conscience) add a mixed forest bounding our north and west. This is easily the best-looking addition to our map so far. And finally, Robinson tells us we’ve settled at the base of a mysterious Radio Tower. He proceeds to draw what someone suggests is the most phallic radio tower ever erected (sorry).
Lastly, we establish which resources we have in abundance, and which in scarcity. We agree that everything is at an equilibrium unless we define it, so something like water, which we have plenty of but not enough containers to stockpile a surplus, doesn’t need to be added to the list. We decide that the forest gives us an easy abundance of wood, but we’re plagued by a scarcity of gasoline and spare parts — hence, why our convoy has stopped moving — and very little knowledge.
With that, the scene is set, and the story begins.
Our New Home
Spring is upon us, and we begin to define who we are as a community. Like any group of people our size, sixty to eighty bodies, we don’t have a name for ourselves. To us, our community is merely Home. Family. We also begin to explore our immediate surroundings, and make a few discoveries. Some of these are of little consequence, though others have unforeseen effects that ripple through our family like a disease, poisoning some and making others stronger.
Much of our day-to-day lives are blissfully uneventful. Now that we’ve settled in this new place, there’s a lot that needs doing to ensure our safety. We establish that we keep our food in a cool pit that’s unfortunately in danger of flooding or animal curiosity, and that we’re led by a small gerontocracy while the young labor to sustain our family. We’re fascinated by the wonders of the Former World and we gladly spend weeks planning and carrying out an expedition to a glistening building that rises above the far side of the forest, though we’re also wary and believe we were spared the Calamity because we avoided the debauchery of the Former World. We’re a simple people, and, on the whole, we’re happy.
While daily chores occupy most of our attention, almost right away a few conflicts arise.
The first begins when we discover a man-child in the woods, naked and alone and mewling noisily. After a brief discussion, we agree to adopt the child, beginning our first large community project to find the child a mother and spend extra effort ensuring they bond. Since our naming traditions are based on the world around us, and since the child was birthed from needle and cone, we name him Conifer. His adopted mother is Serene, whose husband was lost in our conflict with The Jackals. Our people feel pretty self-congratulatory about this good deed.
That is, until we discover the nearby community, seated beyond the forest to our west. We aren’t sure whether their scouts have spotted us as ours have spotted them, though distant spying reveals something disturbing: this community, ravaged by the changes wrought by the Calamity, leaves their young in the forest for two days some weeks after birth. If the child survives, they are welcomed into the community; if not, they recover the body and spend a short time grieving. It’s apparently a very safe forest, which is nice to hear; the bad news is that our new neighbors have discovered one of their babies missing, with no trail of blood or gristle to mourn. We fear they will discover our error. Will they be understanding of our interruption? Will they fight us? They’re twice our number at least, and we have no idea whether they favor the sword as The Jackals did.
Our community is divided. Some want to open discussion and maybe trade with our neighbors, some want to set up defenses. Others retort that defenses will make us look aggressive when their scouts inevitably discover us, and some believe we should hide Serene and Conifer so that they aren’t spotted by wandering eyes. Nothing is resolved, and our family is set on edge.
Our Old Ways
While our people argue the merits of approaching or avoiding our new neighbors, a second conflict tears at us from within. It begins when two young men fight over something shiny on a stale corpse at the entrance of a deep bunker across the stream to the south. At first we think little of it — we learned in our war with The Jackals that youthful aggression can be a positive thing when properly encouraged — and we decide to search the bunker for salvage. Since the bunker appears to be booby-trapped, and could be filled with all manner of remnants of the Former World, we agree to move carefully. This is now a long-term project, much like our explorations of the distant building, salvage of the nearby radio tower, and construction of a protective fence.
For a time, the project is nearly forgotten. Our searchers and scrappers and breakers gradually proceed, avoiding traps and mapping and deciphering. But after about five weeks, while most of the community is occupied with other things, we uncover its mysteries. Within the bunker we find a whole pile of corpses, a family like our own, all dead by their own hands. It appears only two escaped. One is a corpse, shot in the back by a former friend and left to moulder until discovered by our jealous young men. Where the other “friend” and his gun went to, we have no idea.
However, we have a greater problem than the mystery of the disappearing gunman. One young member of our community, a woman named Sparrow, has brought something distasteful back to our community:
Sparrow immediately begins to distribute her discovery, and the youth of our family are suddenly possessed with ill and lusty spirits, shirking their duties and finding far too much time on their hands. In a manner of speaking.
A prominent member of our family is Grandfather Rust, one of the primary leaders of our gerontocracy. There are mixed feelings about Grandfather Rust; some hail him as a hero for ending our decades-long conflict with The Jackals, while others believe him a traitor for his methods — after all, he did end the war by buying off our enemies with large quantities of spare parts and gasoline, and exiling our family to these unknown parts. Even so, there’s no denying his prominence, especially among the older council members.
Grandfather Rust reminds our community that our old ways are good ways, that we were spared the Calamity because we avoided the very things that Sparrow has now brought into our home. Sparrow and many of our younger brothers and sisters are angry at Grandfather Rust’s nagging, and begin talking about the inequality within our community. Maybe, some suggest, we wouldn’t have our current problems if our leaders were younger and quicker, full of fresh ideas instead of musty ones.
The community debates what to do with Sparrow. Some want to exile her, though a few of us point out that perhaps she might do more damage in exile than she could at home, maybe even defecting west to the neighboring community. Grandfather Rust argues that there’s only one way to solve the problem for good, though nobody is eager to listen to his recommendations. No conclusion is arrived at, and later that night, Grandfather Rust takes matters into his own hands and makes another controversial decision. While the family sleeps, he creeps into the night with two of his closest helpers. Between the three of them, they find Sparrow while she walks between her home and the latrine, drag her out of camp, slit her throat, and bury her in a shallow grave in the woods. Nobody knows exactly what happened to Sparrow, though everyone knows.
Sparrow’s disappearance rocks the community to the core. Instead of putting the debate to rest, our family is divided more than ever. Our quiet year has never been so disquieted.
Not everyone is caught up in the crises that face our community. Some continue to go about the business of building a stable home, raising a strong family.
While the community whispers and grumbles about the disappearance of their sister, a good omen appears: hundreds of migrating birds, providing us with a sudden abundance of new meat. This suggests to many that Sparrow’s removal was in fact a good decision, though others make other, silent interpretations of the event — you know, since Sparrow died and a whole bunch of sparrows suddenly appeared. Just strikes some people as kind of a funny omen for celebrating a murder.
While a horrible storm burns the crops of our western neighbors (and perhaps suggests to them that the disappearance of Baby Conifer demands actions from gods unknown to us), we discover a flatbed truck in good repair, and some horny old goats in a field to the south. We also finish stripping extra sheet metal out of the radio tower, though the same storm has fried any machinery we might have made use of.
As spring turns to summer, we enjoy a couple weeks of peace and quiet. It’s as though a ceasefire has been called on tension and contempt, though everyone knows such peace will be short-lived. With hearts brimming with hopes and fears, we look forward to another season.