As I mentioned in my last post, I want to broaden my horizon with regards to different TTRPG systems. A few weeks ago, I tried Unreality/Strictness by Edaureen Muhamad Nor. It’s a game for one to two players, and my first ever solo TTRPG. You can get it on Edaureen’s itch.io page for $3 at the time of writing – though I admit I snatched it when it was on sale last month.
The game is rather simple (the entire “source book” fits comfortably on two pages, including illustrations), and requires nothing but a pen, some paper, and a single six-sided die to play. It is a game about two characters in two different dimensions; one is stuck in some way, trying to break free, the other is a master of chaos trying to consolidate their rule.
As I don’t want to spoil the mechanics, I’m just going to go ahead and type up the story I got. I am however gonna include some annotations that may allow you to decipher the rolls behind the story with your own copy of the rules sheet. Or, you know, just enjoy the ride.
[0|0] [S6U1|S1U6] THAT. Hostile Fire Thing. A stake grows out of the darkness in my back. My shoulder blades give way with a painful cracking noise. I scream out and struggle against the pressure. Thick ropes snake their way around my belly, my throat, my legs, then my hands, which I find crossed behind my back. How did I get here? The stake grows hot in my back. I can't turn my head to look at it, but I know it's glowing like cinder. It spits puffs of ash that burn my nostrils and eyes. Flames lick at my feet, up to my shins. I scream again, and the smoke enters my lungs. My extremities melt, and I can feel the red-hot stake singeing the flesh off of my spine, trying to slide in its place as it pulls me closer with its burning ropes. w6v6 I cough, and puffs of fire escape my nose. They look funny. I inhale again, deeper. I let the flaming tongues lick up my body, towards my face, then I swallow them. My lungs are worlds of their own, my mouth is but a portal. I inhale deeper and deeper, until the world within drowns in fire and the one without is cold and moist. The ropes are no longer, and I can feel the stake sweating from my heat. As I step away, I take its fear as I took its force, and wood turns to stone. I turn around, my chest glowing red with the fire inside, and I exhale. My breath is hot steam and magma, and like dragon's breath, it not merely singes but crumbles the stone obelisk. I smile at the ruins.
[0|1] [S6U1|S1+1U6] THAT. Helpful Water Person. My smile reminds me that my lips are chapped, and that I am thirsty. I fly to the river, painting the sky with trails of smoke. As I land at its banks, I see that the river is clear and lively. The sight heightens my thirst, but as I kneel and dip my cup of hands, the water runs through my empty fingers. I look up and see the river turned to a dragon. I withdraw my hand, ashamed. I know it can see my dried lips, so I ask: "Will you let me drink?" b4v2 "You asked me this before," it says, "it is too soon. Come back later." "But the fire… it is too much. It needs cooling." "It needs taming, or it will make steam of my water and cloud your eyes and you’ll be back again to drain me. Return when you’ve learnt control." "Then let me control you." "Not today," the river laughs, and its laughter turns to snowflakes that melt on my skin, and the dragon turns to twitching rapids that dance downstream, giggling, and are gone.
[0|1] [S6U1|S1U5] THAT. Helpful Void Person. After that, the world fades into nothingness. Where am I? How did I get here? I know I am supposed to be someplace else. It's at the tip of my tongue, but the darkness gives no hint. "I am afraid of nothing," I think, "but your silence scares me. Why does it scare me?" "Because you still depend," the silence replies, after a long while. "On what? Do you know the answer?" "On something. It is no matter." I want to protest, but as I inhale to formulate a reply, the silence cuts me off. I can almost see it now, an old shadow, bearded, clad in wolfskin. "Listen. Any a thing is feeble. Depend on nothing, and you need not fear its end." b4v1+1 I know the voice speaks true, yet I cannot help but ask: "How do I let go of what I do not know?" "You need not subtract something. You must add nothing..." I try to grasp its meaning, but the voice is already trailing off, and dizziness hits me as if I were moving at great speed. Something else reaches through me, grows like an arm from my stomach, throws out an anchor, but it is too late.
[0|1] [S5U1|S2U4] THAT. Helpful Metal Person. I come to with a sudden jolt, warm lights dancing before my eyes. I steady myself on a cold marble armrest, noting the familiarity of it. I am seated on cushions soft as air. My throne! My throne room! I blink against the blur and see the sandstone pillars of Keep Aweigh floating above the green pastures of Elseweir. Seven suns shine their light through the eleven dozen windows of the great hall. I gaze at the rainbows dancing around me when I notice a guard in full plate armor to my right, pike in hand. "Steel!" I exclaim. His helmet creaks against his gorget as he turns to face me. "Your Anonymity." "It appears I dozed off." "It appears you did." "Did I miss anything?" "Nothing of import. Not here." I stretch, then I smile and look around some more. "Steel?" "Your Namelessness?" "You're still mine, aren't you?" b4v2 He pauses, with an odd look on his face that makes me worry. Makes me wish I hadn't asked. "For now. I need not lecture you about change, Your Restlessness." The way he says it, I'm not sure if it's a question. The rainbows dance innocently around the silence that follows. I lean back and close my eyes.
[0|1] [S5U1|S2U3] THIS. Neutral Earth Thing. 417 awoke choking and coughing, desperately grasping for his Order. It wasn't there. He sat up in his bed, still gasping for air, cramped fingers now searching his pant pocket for a handkerchief. Eventually, he birthed a gob of black goo into the white fabric. His breath was raspy now, shuddering with relief. His Order was there, on the nightstand, cold steel glinting in the moonlight. 417 spit in his handkerchief and pocketed it. He rose and climbed the narrow ladder up the eastern wall of the small, cold stone room. Up there, right below the ceiling, was a tiny window set deep in the wall, deeper than it was wide. You couldn't open, only tilt it, which he did, eagerly filling his lungs with the dark air of the city outside. It wasn't better, but at least it was different. He wafted some air towards Benny, the bonsai that lived up there on the sill. Or died, rather. One of its branches had been withering for a while now. b5v5 Was it just his imagination, or had it darkened ever so slightly over night? 417 compared the photographs in his head. It was true. There was also a tiny needle that had fallen off the branch, rotten and black. If an Inspector of the Order could have smiled, 417 would have.
[1|1] [S5U1+1|S2U3] THIS. Helpful Fire Person. There was a knock at the door of his mind. 417 stowed away his existential pondering, made sure he was decent. Then he opened the door. It was 592, firing synapses in 417's head. He thought of the morning, asked himself how he felt. "Good," 417 thought, "thank you. And yourself?" He felt himself tire in response, then he got a headache. "But it's alright." b1v5 417 expected 592 to say "Anyway, on to business," or something along those lines. To his surprise, there was a short pause instead, and, this being such a formidable morning, he took the liberty of filling it with a question. "What's your name, 592?" Was that an illegal question? Probably. He tried not to think about it. "Cole. You can call me that." Involuntarily, 417 produced the image of a simmering piece of coal. The other voice smiled. "Yes. Like that. You don't have one, do you?" "No." "Alright. On to business."
[2|1] [S5U1+2|S2U3] THIS. Neutral Void Thing. While 417 descended from the ladder, images flashed before his mind's eye as 592 - Cole - stored them in his memory. A dead girl, beautiful, maybe 14, back bent unnaturally where it had to have hit the edge of the sidewalk with quite some force. Snowflakes playfully dotting her hair, thin trickles of blood mixing with the roadside slush, creeping down the gutter towards a hole in the curb stone that was brimming with blackness. Another shot, this one a close-up of her face. Light blue eyes glazed over, unblinking at the snow, reflecting only the flash of the camera that found her. b2v5 The inspector found himself touched by the void in her eyes, drawn to it. It wouldn't have meant much for one of his kind to vow he wouldn't forget it, and he wasn't quite confident enough - or perhaps too experienced - to swear to find what caused it. Still, he acknowledged it. It felt like someone should. At the corner of the girl's mouth sat a bubble of spit, frozen before it could burst. Maybe it held a last, silent message. 417 nodded.
[3|1] [S5U1+3|S2U3] THAT. Neutral Water Place. I blink and I am immersed in the depths of the ocean. Blue all around me, and nowhere for my fire to go. I still wonder why I came here when I sense a different texture, a current pouring into the void, far in the distance, where the blue turns to black. The river! Muted bubbles float upwards as I shout out in recognition. Just then I realize what I must do. Where does the river go without an ocean? w4v3+1 Before I can answer my own question, the darkness below starts tugging on my legs. I notice that I'm running out of breath, and wish for my bubbles back. The river seems further away now, but the ocean presses onto me. I remind my frozen body that it is common courtesy to struggle vainly against one's death. Suddenly, as the rest of them are thrashing wildly, a new limb shoots forth from my stomach and towards the surface above. A giant, translucent right hand claws its way through the water, dragging me behind it. I let out a confused scream, and with it more air bubbles. The hand is not a great swimmer, but it seems to be lighter than the water, and rise naturally. When I can almost see the sky before my pulsing eyes, it dives down, grabs and throws me up out of the water. I land face down on the surface and cough. The ocean laps at my fingers like a puddle. I stand up and the hand grows to gargantuan size. Before I know it, I can scoop up and hold the entire ocean in it. I unleash my fire on it and it is steam. The hand doesn't seem to mind the fire. It moves through the steam and the steam becomes sand. Part of the sand settles down into dunes, and part of it blows across them as huge sandstorms. Schools of fish turn into vultures, pecking at the river dragon as it gallops towards me across the wastelands I made. I grab it. "I see you've learnt," it says. "I still made steam," I reply. "Where is it gone?" it asks. "Come see," I lie, and make my mouth as big as a whale, and swallow it whole.
[3|2] [S5U0+3|S2+1U4] THAT. Neutral Earth Place. I look at the hand. It reminds me of what tried to help me grasp the darkness earlier, but it seems different. Lighter. As I examine it, it fades away, and I remember the old wolf's words; "Depend on nothing, and you need not fear its end." What did it mean by that? I look around me, sandstorms still raging and vultures flying. I try to swat them away with my belly-arm, but it does not reappear. I take a deep, hot breath, and think of home. w4v4 Elseweir. Keeping my eyes closed, I can hear fresh grass sprouting from the dunes; a curious sound. I hear the sandstorms become denser as they spiral inward and form the sandstone pillars of the Floating Keep. The vultures are pierced by the rainbow lights of the seven suns. The heat of their rays warms my face, and a light breeze cools my cheeks. I grin, standing in silence.
[3|3] [S5U0+3|S2+2U4] THAT. Neutral Metal Person. I stand like this until I realize I'm actually sitting on my cushioned throne again. I open my eyes and lean forward. "Steel." "Your Instability?" "To me." w1v4 I know what he expects of me. I know he knows me as well as I know him, but his tidiness makes him more predictable. He eyes my right hand, so I grab his gorget with my left. "You're no friend." "No." "I need no friends." "Good." "I need a weapon." He doesn't respond, just smiles mysteriously. Then he feels his gorget heat up, and his smile drops in an instant. "Be my weapon," I whisper, without threat. "Is... that an... or-der?" he gurgles. "No," I say, "it is a wish." His flesh and armor go red-hot, then they turn into a formidable steel pike in my hand. I stand up and spin it around, and plant it hard on the ground. This I can work with. [3|4] [S5U0+3|S2+3U4]
Did you have fun? I had fun. And while at first I worried whether I could forge a proper story from my vaguely imagined premise and a bunch of random rolls, I was frequently surprised at how well everything fell into place. Maybe that means Unreality/Strictness is a well-designed game, or maybe I just got lucky. I guess we’ll find out when I bring this story to a – hopefully satisfying – close in Part II. Stay tuned.