Crescendo: This is (Not) a Pitch

“Severian” by nathanandersonar

I’ve always had a hard time pitching Crescendo. Maybe there’s some anxiety there, or just my typical “Leave alone” attitude that has epitomized so much of my life. But at its heart, I’ve always struggled pitching this game because of what actually inspired it.

Back in 2011 and 2012 I experienced a series of horrific supernatural phenomena; I was living in one of the most haunted towns in America. My days were filled with the mental equivalent of nails on a chalkboard, a level of anxiety and metaphysical horror that’s impossible to adequately describe. I’d wake up screaming from dreams that would haunt me for weeks on end. Psychologists were baffled. Hell, I went to see an exorcist, and he was just as confused.

And then I read A Wizard of Earthsea. I got to the part where Ged finally catches the Gebbeth. I put the book down. I knew what Le Guin was going to say. I didn’t want her to say it. But I knew it was coming:

“And their voices were the same.”

I wanted to throw up. But she was right. Le Guin hadn’t denied the existence of the Gebbeth, merely pointed out who had made the Gebbeth a problem. And therefore who could solve their problem. The awful screeching in my head didn’t stop, but I could face it differently. My approach had been recontextualized. It didn’t make my fight easier, but I knew who I was really up against. And it wasn’t the ghosts. Or whatever it was making that horrible racket.

Flash forward nine years later. I had found The Book of the New Sun, by Gene Wolfe. There’s a part towards the end where Severian, the protagonist, hears four stories, told by four different people, which are part of a competition for a woman’s hand in marriage. Severian is expected to judge betwixt these stories, but he’s sent on an errand before he can do so.

When Severian comes back he finds his tent bombed. The woman is the only one left alive… but she’s dying. The woman makes Severian promise that he records all the stories told in competition for her love. And to come back later, because she’s tired and wants a nap. Just a few hours, she’ll feel better! Promise.

Severian kept one of the promises he made that day.

I hugged the book and rocked, sobbing. I’d spent so many years remembering the absolutely tragic story of my life. I don’t know if I’ll ever have the courage to fully record what I now remember. But that day I heard Wolfe (who had been dead over a year), from acrost time and space: coward. Coward, because I don’t say what I really think. Coward, because I’ve let pain define me instead of defining it, the same way I would anything else.

And I knew he was right. I keep trying, Gene. I know you’d understand.

My first game of 1e Torchbearer I was playing a paladin, with my brother-in-law Kyle GMing. Every time Kyle GMs for me it’s like a revelation: he has a knack for taking games and understanding them in a way that boggles my mind. Much of the tech that Torchbearer 2e would later sport Kyle made up, on the fly, with no effort, as if he had sat with Olavsrud and Crane in the future and was just reporting back what he’d heard. Well, we wound up in a situation where my paladin had to fight a duel. And the way Kyle handled it was infuriatingly insightful. I kept trying to swing and hit and I knew that Kyle was deliberately adjusting the difficulty because of how I saw the problem, and that I had hit this weird emotional wall. And so had my paladin. There was a moment of fusion for me, as I realized that whatever was going on was happening for the character and myself, in an identical manner. We were frustrated and we had to change. And I realized that we were swinging at traumas, not at the problem in front of us.

I took a deep breath. I changed the verbiage, narrated Charlemagne the Paladin stopping, and taking a deep breath, staring the yuan-ti down. Becoming completely still. Observing the snake-man who had wounded us.

The next strike was obstacle 1. Charlemagne cut the yuan-ti in half. We won.

The last anecdote is about a Burning Wheel game I GM’d: The Undertow, which followed the journeys of the elf Mikansia from revenge-seeker to broken to even more broken to leading a charge against the eldritch Nameless with an archangel’s sword… and winning. The lights of Uriel’s Sword could be seen acrost the planet. People changed their calendars to reflect the day that Mikansia, the outcast and supposed traitor, had saved them all. It was 38 sessions of the most painful, raw, honest, and meaningful gaming I’ve ever done. When I close my eyes I can still hear Mikansia laugh with joy as she cut into Nameless after Nameless, held aloft by the friends and family who has died to get her to that point.

There are so many more stories. So many books. Campaigns. Where there was something meaningful going on. I am a better person for having played out those stories.

But ultimately, when I try to legitimately pitch Crescendo I am enveloped in all that, and so much more. I know it sounds trite, but how am I supposed to tell you all the things I want people to be able to experience with Crescendo? I mean, I’ll try and tell you. You may find it strange. But this game doesn’t come from one particular place in my head. Maybe it’s the same way for other designers? I don’t know?

But here goes.

I want you to play and walk away changed, like how I was from so many different stories, whether they be books, games, or movies.

I want you to have fun. To find joy.

I want you to stare down that darkness that always seems to follow us, no matter what we do.

And I fucking want you to win.

And I want that victory to burn bright in your heart, like a torch blazing defiant, full, and hopeful.

That is what I want Crescendo to do. Make of that what you will.

If you want to see where Crescendo is at, click here to go to the Discord.

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