Our Quiet Year: Summer
Welcome to part two of our series about The Quiet Year, a storytelling and map-drawing game from one-man outfit Buried Without Ceremony! After the upheaval and social tensions that marked the end of spring and caused our community to worry that perhaps our new home wasn’t quite the fresh start we were hoping for, the summer season has fallen across the landscape like a warm blanket, and our small family of nomads is looking forward to mending divisions, securing borders, and working towards a brighter future — or a quiet year, if you prefer.
If you haven’t already, it would be a good idea to read about what happened to our family back in spring before continuing on with this season, because there’s far too much to relate to spend time catching up.
On the Table: The Structure of a Turn
Upon reading one of the many story reports that grow in its wake like saplings in a freshly burnt forest, it’s easy to think of The Quiet Year as a strictly controlled game, a professionally crafted adventure complete with a thick setting book and intricate character, plotting, and mechanical guidelines. Not unlike the many hundreds of role-playing games that came before it, it’s hard to imagine such robust stories, such resonant personal truths, such enviable yet flawed communities, growing out of anything less than total narrative control.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Rather than forcing its players to walk a predetermined path, The Quiet Year is a game that has complete and utter faith in the imaginations of its players. If most role-playing games allow players to flex their creativity, The Quiet Year asks you to dive into a cold underground wellspring of it. To revel. To drink deeply. To abandon the warm sunlit circle of your comfort and scald your hands on the raw embers of creation. What’s more, it’s an act of corporate creation, as multiple visionaries are set to bouncing off each other, jostling, sometimes growing too large to accommodate other visions. And then having to anyway.
It’s difficult to explain, because the rough outline of the beast emerges over hours of play, creation, arguments, and re-creation, but here’s a bad example of what I mean.
On your turn, you first draw a card, select one of its two prompts, and resolve it. This often includes adding something to the map. Last week, as our little community was just getting on its feet, Tyler drew a card that read:
What important and basic tools does the community lack?
– or… –
Where are you storing your food? Why is this a risky place to store things?
On the very first turn, Tyler was presented with a difficult decision. We’d already agreed when we drew the map that we were a close-knit group, that we wanted to survive through winter, and here Tyler was asked to inflict a wound on our make-believe family. He chose the second option, saying we stored our food in a shallow pit we’d dug shortly after arriving in our new home, and because of its proximity to the river it was at risk of animal raids or flooding.
Ten minutes into the game, everyone was already protesting, delivering an outpouring of upset that Tyler’s vision wasn’t identical to their vision. Little did we realize at the time, that’s the point.
But we’ll talk more about that later. For now, the important thing is that a single turn is built from simple stuff. After you’ve resolved a card, you progress any ongoing projects (ticking down the counters on any dice), then choose one of three actions: hold a discussion (to give everyone a brief chance to make their opinion heard), discover something new (to add something to the map), or start a project (to add a die to the map and declare what project it represents). And that’s it.
As soon as our family has settled into the routines of summer, a gravely urgent crisis arises and sets into motion a long procession of events that shakes our community at our very foundations.
We’ve been avoiding our western neighbors for months, afraid they’ll discover our inadvertent child-snatching and subsequent interruption of their most hallowed ritual when we plucked Baby Conifer from the forest. By now it’s a near-certainty they’re as aware of us as we are of them — to assume their scouts have somehow missed the gigantic brand new settlement by the river is to assume unbelievable ineptitude — and as we’re newcomers to this region, it was likely our duty to first announce our presence and request hunting privileges. There’s a good chance we look like raiders, what with our spiked fence and introverted mannerisms. It’s little surprise when two scouting parties, one of ours and one of theirs, both paranoid, both afraid of the intentions of their unannounced neighbors, stumble upon each other on a nearby hill and beat each other with clubs. Nobody is killed, at least not immediately; the only things broken are skin, bone, and both sides’ pride.
What follows is a massive discussion about how to approach the problem. As always, a consensus is impossible to reach. Some take a hardline stance, wanting to increase our patrols of hunters and further fortify our perimeter, while others recommend making a goodwill offering of our abundant birds or by returning Baby Conifer. There’s even a large section of the community that’s confused and stunned by this sudden emergency, leaving them entirely uncertain how we should respond.
Love him or hate him, it’s Grandfather Rust who takes the first steps to rectify the situation. He spends a couple weeks preparing long-term projects for the summer, sending a crew to the east to repair and return the flatbed truck we discovered a few weeks earlier, and another group to the south to domesticate and pen the horny goats our scouts spotted in the south. As soon as the two expeditions are underway, he packs his own bags, taking only two warriors for protection and two of his closest advisors for council — or to keep them close at hand, some whisper, as they’re likely the hands that helped him get rid of Sparrow in the black of night, and wise Grandfather Rust would surely prefer they remain within earshot for the time being. Still, it’s good of them to agree to go.
With only a few supplies for his five-man party, Grandfather Rust departs for the western community, a diplomatic mission to introduce ourselves as a peaceable people who nonetheless know how to defend themselves, and to gauge the possibility of trade between our two clans. Even those that would prefer another leader say that if there’s anyone who can make peace with the western community, it’s Rust — even if he has to trade away what remains of our gasoline to do it, grumble some, exactly as he did to rid us of The Jackals.
The instant the diplomatic party departs the camp, our family begins to speak openly about change for the first time in recent memory. We have a number of elders for a reason, some say, and perhaps it’s time for a new grandfather to lead the council. Others mumble about our traditions being old and irrelevant, or about the mechanics, teachers, and hunters who don’t have any input in the running of things. Nobody reaches any definite conclusions, but a few of our citizens feel better just for having had the discussion.
Unfortunately, all the talk in the world couldn’t have prepared us for what happened next.
With Grandfather Rust gone but a week, another member of the council of elders, Tall Red, with the support of his son Short Red, a prominent hunter, declares himself the new Grandfather, and proclaims that Grandfather Rust shall never return to our community except to answer for his crimes (that means death, in case you’re dense, which some members of our community definitely are). Two of Rust’s most loyal supporters are killed on that bloody morning, while a few others are given cautionary beatings. “Grandfather” Tall Red solidifies his position with flowery words, promising each group the very thing they complained about in the previous debates. He returns the debauched magazines (Bazongas!) to the youth in exchange for their loyalty, and tells their parents he will deal with the “naked problem” as firmly as Grandfather Rust did. He promises the mechanics, teachers, and hunters an extra say in how the family is run, but keeps his fellow elders in charge for the time being. He vows to some that he will continue to uphold our traditions, while vowing to others that the sillier omens will now go ignored. He talks big and promises bigger, and it works for all of three weeks before our brothers and sisters begin to recognize the hollow ring to his music. By then, it’s far too late to do much but glare daggers as his hunters patrol the inside of the perimeter fence, keeping us in more than keeping others out.
One senior hunter, Ford (named after his family’s mobile home), sets off to find Grandfather Rust and relay news of the coup. He manages to catch up to Rust and stay with him in the cabin offered by the western community for the duration of the diplomatic talks, and while Rust tries to reach an agreement with our neighbors, Ford slips out in the night to observe this alien community up close. He evades detection, other than one little girl, who, while playing a children’s game, chooses to hide in the same copse of trees as Ford, but the girl is young and Ford doubts such a minor detail could reappear in the future to bite him in the ass. He hopes not, anyway.
Grandfather Rust speaks well for our family, though he’s rushed and distracted by his constant worrying for the state of his home, and doesn’t manage to cement anything firmer than a cool agreement of nonaggression. His concerns are not unfounded; in fact, little does he know that the situation at home is growing ever more unstable. While Rust is debating the finer points of a trade agreement, an angry mob is burning Grandfather Tall Red’s trailer to the ground. In response, the enraged Grandfather orders his son Short Red to scour the camp for the guilty parties so that they might be made an example of.
We were unified at the start of summer, but as the season comes to an end and the leaves of the forest begin to yellow, we have become four.
The first is our main camp, under the control of Grandfather Tall Red. Two have already died, and many others nurse tender purple splotches for speaking out against his sudden seizure of power.
The second is Grandfather Rust’s entourage, consisting of only six men, all in exile in a strange land. When Grandfather Rust sits with his fellowship to discuss the situation, everyone’s panic is apparent. The two elders are afraid, and believe that all they need do is return to the community and the people will welcome them back; the warriors want to capture Short Red and hold him as leverage against his father. Grandfather Rust asks if Ford would be willing to poison the entire Red clan, and Ford’s response is complete amazement that Rust could think him capable of pulling off such an impossible feat. In the end, they agree that their hands are currently tied, as they cannot merely abandon their current negotiations — unless tipping off this tribe that something’s gone wrong is their goal, which it decidedly is not.
Not everyone is caught up in this windstorm of blood and words, however. For instance, the goat-herds across the river to the south complete their pen and await further instructions, unaware that they’ve become entirely forgotten in the wake of more immediate concerns. They’re all probably pretty happy, what with all that milk and cheese and meat. Ignorance is bliss.
Lastly, the crew that was sent to reclaim the truck returns a short time after the coup (a bit late, as they were delayed by the appearance of the Great Bear Mother, who they only managed to barely drive off with fire), and upon seeing the disarray of the camp, sends their sole hunter, a brave man named Crow, into the camp to spy out the situation. As soon as they realize the terror that is gripping their wider family, they begin looking out for their own, smuggling their wives and children out in the night and camping over the ridge near the still-smoking radio tower. Once they’ve gathered their closest relatives, they agree to escape to a position far away from the main camp. A new community is founded in the distant south, at the base of a dam on the other side of the river. They believe they’ve found a good omen, as a nearby structure of the Former World prominently boasts our family’s holy symbol.
One final event acts as a capstone to the insanity of that ruinous summer. An elderly hunter dies in our main camp, succumbing to wounds received months earlier in the scuffle between scouting parties. This man was widely respected, especially after he distinguished himself in the old war against The Jackals, and in a final attempt to unify what remains of our family, Grandfather Tall Red declares that our western neighbors will pay for the blood of our great hero.
Blood for blood, he roars. And far too many of our brothers and sisters roar with him.