This is a prototype for a role-playing game in which the players explore one another’s memories. It was conceived and created in a single afternoon, and has not yet been playtested. It’s inspired by the novel House of Leaves by Mark Danielewski, by the novel Passage by Connie Willis, by my hypertext fiction work The Museum and by my understanding of how my own memory operates. It’s called The House.
The House has a thousand rooms, a million, a hundred million. We came here together, brave explorers all, but we walk alone through its shadowed corridors and dusty galleries. Each room is unique, and upon examination reveals certain artefacts, real and tangible things with a story to tell. I could spend days in a single room, exploring the facets of even a single object’s tale, but this is the tragedy of the House: sooner or later I must move on, must go to the next room and leave what I have seen behind.
What the objects describe is sometimes only a moment, a poetic glimpse of the fading sun above arctic ice or a woman clutching her child’s hand and screaming in rage – at whom, I cannot guess. Other things tell fuller tales, stories with beginnings and middles and ends; or else whisper only a single word. But all of them, each and every thing that I have found in the House, has something to show me; and, if I never leave, I will not have time enough to hear them all.
Some of us came here in search of something they had lost. Others are treasure-hunters, collecting what others have discarded and returning these to the light. My purpose is not so clear, but I think I’m trying to understand what the House is and what it’s trying to teach me. I have the feeling that each closed door will open upon some great revelation; and instead there is another room, another object, another story, and another door.
Exploring the House
The House is a game for three to five players. In a single sitting, you take turns opening a door in the House and exploring the room that lies beyond it. The other players describe the room and the objects within it, as described below. You may take one of the objects, triggering a story from the player who created it; or you may approach the next door, in which case the next player takes a turn. When you have taken three objects, the stories you have collected become too heavy to carry onward, and you must either drop one or decide to remain in the room until the end of time.
Inside a Room
When you open a door, the player to your left must describe it. Many rooms in the House are mouldering, abandoned, cobwebbed and attic-like. But some may bear the traces of recent exploration: footprints in the dust, a window admitting fresh air and birdsong, food wrappers and soda cans littering the corners. Others may bear traces of the purpose for which they were once intended. Perhaps a battered bedframe and stained pillows suggest an erstwhile bedroom, or a chipped marble circular staircase vanishing into the shadows of a high dome recalls the beautiful masques of ages past. Perhaps the door leads to a room that another player previously passed through – did they leave anything behind? What does this player notice that the other may have missed? The House is yours to build, so spend time on the details, investing in the reality of the place.
Every room has something in it, and every artefact has something to tell you. It’s up to you whether you stop to listen or keep walking; and be wary, for what you hear you must carry with you, and when you leave something behind you will never have it again.
After you’ve entered a room, the player(s) to your right must describe at least one object that you find within. These may be incongruous with the description of the room itself – perhaps that’s why you’ve noticed them – or they may relate to their surroundings like a knife hidden in a dessicated bouquet.
It’s your choice which object, if any, you will pick up to carry with you. When you take an object, the player who invented it tells you its story. This may be a poem, a song, a moment or a tale; but if you’re already carrying anything else, it must connect in some way to the stories another objects you have.
After picking up an object, you may leave another object behind. If you do this, you may never pick it up again – some other player may discover it, but it is lost to you forever. If you pick up a third object and drop nothing, you have decided to remain in this room forever, immersed in the story you have found; and this sitting of the game comes to an end for everyone.