Al-Amarja

Escape from Arcadia

Escape from Arcadia is one of my top 10 games ever. It lasted a year or so, briefly coming out of hiatus somewhat later. It might still get resurrected, but since two of the core players now live in the States… we’ll see.

Characters are teenage fairies living in Arcadia.

Travel between Arcadia and Earth is heavily controlled. Most fairies never get to cross over, and the wast majority of adults would not want to anyways. …but almost every teenager dreams of going to Earth.

Arcadia gets lots of popular culture from Earth, but only in form of books, magazines, and live performers. Modern technology doesn’t work there, so no CDs or DVDs, etc. Additionally, most fairies don’t always understand what is fiction and what is not — everyone knows that deeds get exaggerated, but surely they’re based on something… This skews things quite a bit: imagine a Buffy fan who has only read the books and thinks the characters are real people.

Everyone should come up with a character concept. The kind of fairy they are, the way their glamour/magic expresses itself, and a pop culture reference or few. Hand-wavy is fine. Conformance to actual fairy myths and legends is entirely optional. “I’m a gothy sidhe, friend to mist spirits, and transform into animal shapes. I *love* Angel.”

This done, everyone in their turn comes up with a prior exotic happenstance or adventure they’ve been on. Others can and should insert themselves into these preludes. (This is the Spirit of the Century -bit. You can do it more like SoTC and later FATE games do, or you can just play it loose: what matters is that everyone has something that happened before, and other characters were involved with it too. Ideally everyone has a touching point with everyone else.)

Now the players come up with an oopsie. Something not-really-their-fault/bad/stupid/reckless/whatever they did, that pissed of the Fairy Queen royally. Something that pissed her off enough to lock the characters in her dungeon, awaiting some horrible fate. The more bizarre the chain of events the better, because everyone has to be implicated, and it’s fun if they can also blame each other for it.

At this point you build the characters mechanically, using either OTE, HeroQuest, FATE, or any other lightweight system you know and love. If you don’t know OTE, you should really use it, though. It’s good for the soul, and you need to read it anyways to understand the body of the game.

The first session after character generation has the characters escaping from the dungeon. They receive a mysterious communique and some outside aid from an unknown personage that provides critical help. They eventually come upon the Queen’s personal gate to Earth — though they probably don’t realize what it is. They enter the gate. (The game is unashamedly illusionistic up to this point. While the players should have fun sneaking out, this is just a setup — they will get to the gate. If illusionism bothers you too much to use as a setup, skip this session and make it part of the backstory.)

The game changes when they emerge from the gate: it leads them to a moor between two stading stones somewhere near the middle of Al Amarja (or some park in the Edge, if you prefer — doesn’t matter greatly.)
The gate seems to be one-way, or at least requires a key of some sort. Besides, why would a teenage fairy want to go back to arcadia: there’s much more fun to be had on earth. There’s internet, MTV, malls, clubs with non-acoustic music, etc, etc… They meet a couple or few local youths (legally adults.) Those youths are Al Amarjan’s, so they’re not going to freak out very easily. They probably want to show the characters around, and party with them.

At this point relationship stuff, fairy craziness and teenaged hijinks should be starting to happen by themselves — for the rest of the game you should mainly be trying to keep up with the characters. Illusionism is now over, and the game enters a full sandbox mode.

While in Al-Amarja all the normal Al-Amarjan craziness applies and happens to characters. I recommend sticking one or two fairies in: eg. someone’s uncle might show up running an Arcadian Imports, and offer them a job. Sir Arthur Compton is guaranteed to take an interest in the characters. The supernatural control agency (whatever the name, I always forget) is also going to take an interest. I mean, who on Al-Amarja would not be interested in teenaged fairies? They can be cat’s paws par excellence, they can be recruits, hostages, dinner, sources of magic and power, etc.

Throw complications towards the characters, and let them scramble. Let them pursue goals they set themselves… but those goals can be apparently mundane: maybe they want to watch the entire run of Buffy? Complications can turn even the simplest goals into challenges. What if someone keeps stealing their DVD player?

In contrast to normal OTE games, don’t feel too constrained to keep the characters on the island. While Al-Amarja is a brilliant environment for these characters, they carry their own special brand of craziness with them, so letting them travel is fine.

Don’t restrict their magic too much. I recommend “powerful but temporary” as a rule of thumb: let glamour do lots of things, but make it unable to effect permanent changes.

While hitting the darker buttons of Al-Amarja occasionally is fine, I think the major theme here should be fairly lighthearted.

Anyways, that’s Escape from Arcadia. I hope you like it — if you do run it, or something inspired by it, please let me know. I crave validation. :)