Beardcrumbs – Chernobyl In Grey Part 3
One last foray into the Chernobyl game- just to round it off and talk about what we actually did.
I had four players. Three of them played established characters, one a newbie- largely so that I could explain the setting to everyone through his experience. They each had eastern European names, since the game was set in the Ukraine. Further to that, they had nicknames. This is an element in Sleepwalkers related to one’s true name (which must remain secret).
As the setting stands, a character uses a nickname in the Fringe so that their birth name is secret. This drives people further into the Fringe as a second life develops and they must distance themselves from their normal lives. Part of me wants to change it- traditionally a magical ‘true name’ is not ones birth name but a symbolic one that better reflects their soul. I may have it so that the nickname begins to become the true name over time… but for now, it doesn’t matter. It was actually convenient that Sleepwalkers have nicknames- so do Stalkers.
The characters therefore were:
Synch (a Stray, being a person brought back to life by a bond with a cat)
Thorn (a Shifter, born with abilities to travel the Fringe)
Bird (same again and also a military engineer type)
Writer (the newbie, a Shepherd, gifted to converse with Spirits)
While the NPCs were:
Sunny (a Spirit who has lived in the area a long time and acts as a guide)
Eagle (the leader of the Gatekeepers)
Snake (the leader of the Nobodies)
What I went with to tie it all together was a mythological/cyclical vibe. I’ve always wanted to tell a Stalker story with a slight American Gods feel- here was a chance.
Slavic myth has a very strong proto-Christian good versus evil cycle of nature theme. Good and Evil are strong terms- as with many older cultures, it’s not quite that simple. The high god Perun, a Thor-like figure, is a thunder god who is patron to mankind and favours things like progress and honour. The low god is Veles, a Loki-like figure who is lord of the dead and favours nature, magic and so on.
In other words, we have a God who represents discipline and a Devil who represents autonomy. Ringing any bells- in Stalker there are two faction, Duty and Freedom.
Well, someone did my work for me. The Gatekeepers, led by Eagle (the symbol of Perun) became a force devoted to making the Fringe safe and controlling it. The Nobodies, led by Snake (the symbol of Veles) became a force devoted to freeing the Fringe and letting nature take its course.
The myth of the storm, this eternal battle, basically involved Veles stealing from Perun and then being chased by Perun. There are thunder bolts and general chaos, then finally Perun defeats Veles- but cannot kill him, for he is the lord of the dead after all. The cycle ends how it began, until next time- in other words, a simple storm is the analogy for the cycle of life and death.
These themes were introduced by one more mythical character, Svarog. This is the Slavic smith/sun god. He was represented by Sunny, a Spirit and a guide. Sunny is an ornery, cranky, grumpy and secretive old git who got the full force of my best Russieque accent. Sunny doesn’t remember who he was before he died, but he sure loves local mythology and the Fringe/Zone itself.
Sunny tells the players all about Veles and Perun as they travel the Fringe. They also find triple headed statues everywhere- representing Veles, Perun and Svarog. This is a tweak on real Slavic myth- a figure called Triglav who is a kind of trinity god. These statues only appeared since the last person went into the Wish granter at the centre of the zone… which was Sunny. He doesn’t remember what happened or what he wished for, but he says it was an ‘ending’ (many Spirits want to die).
The Gatekeepers get them to talk to the Nobodies, which is a trick to slyly attack the Nobodies. The Nobodies get them near to the centre of the zone, but also use them slightly to mount their own attack- a race for the Wish Granter. Snake and Eagle are neither quite what they seem and it becomes apparent that they fit in with the Triglav myth. Are they somehow embodiments of the gods?
The myth of the storm suddenly ties in. The Fringe is wracked by a war between these figures, while all the time the rain gets harder and harder- coming in waves that disfigure the landscape. This is part of the Stalker setting- ‘emissions’ which come from the Chernobyl plant. In this story, they are more like contractions- caused by the Wish Granter.
So, Svarog, as Sunny, brings the characters to the Wish Granter. Incidentally, the character of Writer undergoes some transformations as he adapts to his Sleepwalker abilities… and he also hears about another mythic figure called Dazbog (the daylight god and Shepherd of Wolves). We also now find out that Sunny was one of the workers who died in the Chernobyl incident (a real man called Valery Khodemchuk).
Eagle, Snake and the party arrive inside the room, where there is the Wish Granter… which appears as a great tree (the axis mundi of Slavic myth).
Sunny explains that the zone is healing itself; where so much terror and poison is found, the Fringe had to… fight the damage. The whole zone is like a wound; the chaos, the disruption. The Fringe is trying to cleanse the wound, sending the rain storms to wipe out the foreign bodies… humanity. At the centre of it all… new life, the only thing that can defeat death. The cyclical, mythological themes tie in here with the ecological disaster of Chernobyl (I was quite proud of that actually!)
Sunny spills the beans. Here’s his monologue:
Don’t you see? The Wish Granter is alive… and it is a child. It reaches out, sensing the pain and misery of the zone, touching the minds of people that come here. We see visions that beckon us with temptations, but it is only the Fringe trying to understand us. It called me… but I was not consumed.
I didn’t wish to die, not truly. I wished for an ending, and it is giving me one. It read the story of the Triglav- not just from my mind, but from the minds of all the Ukrainians it has touched, from the very earth and rock. The Fringe is imprinted with the hearts and minds of the people.
I saw the Triglav, the ancient battle between eagle and snake, with Svarog standing over it all. But Svarog needs Dazbog to be complete; the Sun, and his son on earth, two sides of the same coin. A Spirit needs a Shepherd to be complete. Yes, my mind created all this chaos when I entered the wish granter… but it was an incomplete wish. Now, I have brought you here to complete it. Me and you, Dazbog [to writer]. Snake and Eagle. Triglav.
Do you recall the end of the story of the storm? The rains come and wash away the damage caused by the struggles and battles of the gods, healing the land, renewing it. We will remake the zone. We will erase all of this harm. Your companions… well, you must realise that you were just a means to an end. Your wishes are… simply not important.
Therefore Sunny, Eagle and Snake are not gods, but are simply being guided into following the pattern of the story that the Wish Granter read when trying to grant Sunny’s final wish- for an end to the Zone. The players had a choice now of letting Sunny fulfil the story or intervening.
Should that have happened, Sunny, Eagle, Snake and Writer would have combined with the Wish Granter to form Triglav. The Final Rain (emission/contraction) would have cleansed all human life from the zone- but also repairing all the damage that humans have done.
Instead, Writer exorcised Sunny with his Shepherd powers (this was possible thanks to having his true name, from finding out how he died). The other players left, while Bird went into the wish granter…
And there’s the close.
Hope that made sense- I personally loved this story. The way that the mythology, the game and the Sleepwalkers setting gelled really encouraged me- maybe it could be prose’d at a later date.
Coming soon- a big announcement about all the short stories I’ve been churning out on this site!