Overlap - Investigations in new and forgotten storytelling

Lost Days of Memories & Madness

It’s almost thirty years since three school friends and I set sail across a pair of lunch breaks at the height of a childhood summer to play a game of AD&D. It’s a distant place now and my memories of our adventure in Gygax and Arneson’s world have blurred with the prefab art classroom we commandeered; a forest of wooden stools and poster-paint Kobalds…

Andrew Kenrick’s new storytelling game Lost Days of Memories & Madness forges the smoke-like characteristics of memories into a more tangible form. ‘Lost Days…’ treats them as marble-like treasures and trinkets to be hoarded, swapped and thieved by his cast of recollection-addicted Elven nobles. I’d like to show you a few from my collection, with the caveat I’m unsure how many of them actually belong to me.…

Overlap: So what was the starting point for developing the game? Andrew Kenrick: It started as a Gamechef game about four or five years ago. I liked the idea of using memories as currency and I’d always wanted to do a trilogy of memory-based games. The other one I’ve got on the go is ‘Six Bullets of Vengeance’ which is a game told in reverse. You start at the end and make your way back to the start so the characters’ recollections aren’t changing but the game plays with the players’ memories themselves. Memories & Madness is more about how mutable memory is…

Lost Days of Memory and Madness is a simultaneously nuanced and grandiose storytelling system that attempts to reconcile the vast scale of stories of Tolkien’s reimagined England with personal testimony and recollection. Me and four companions, plus Andrew himself, played a virtually complete version of the game at Sheffield’s Furnace RPG convention, where the exploration of memory appeared as much a theme as more literal quests, with A Penny for my Thoughts‘ collaborative memory rebuilding framework, the underwater amnesiacs of ‘Ocean’ (on the Savage Worlds system) and the gin-soaked dance with a forgetful city of ‘A State of Mind’ (for the Wordplay system) joining our tale.

Artwork from Lost Days of Memories & Madness

Set in the dog days of a decadent, millennia-spanning Elven society drunk on harvested memories, players take the roles of court nobles (and a King) as their society’s collective psyche begins to collapse in on itself. At the beginning of the game, each of us designed our player character based on a pooled set of memories we’d created (“I remember the drip-drip of water in the cave where I found my brother’s body…” and “I remember the ropes biting my wrists as they tied me to the mast…” were my highlights). The ‘game’ part of Lost Days sees players battle for these recollections in a dice-based, stakes-enabled ‘memory duel’ mechanic. Lose all your memories, your character goes mad, and you’re out the game. It’s a robust, diverting piece of play and Lost Memories revolves around the memory battles in the same way Die Hard revolves around action sequences. They’re thrilling – but just one part of a bigger storytelling picture…

Overlap: I think the way you use dice help provide structure to the story. You use them to decide who wins conflict but they’re bound up with the idea of memories as currency that’s core to the game. AK: Every player has a conflict of some kind in their turn between them and another player. And there’s always a memory – one of the ones you create at the start of the game – at the centre of it. You roll dice based on how powerful the memories are that are involved, so if you’ve just got a couple of memories you may be rolling a handful of dice. If you’ve got a lot more you could be rolling thirty dice or more, as players were in our game…

My character Jelean the Second was a youthful, anti-establishment Elven Lord searching for the truth about his missing (and beloved) brother, Samael. The very first memory Jelean won provided the inciting incident of his story. Jelean prised one of his own brother’s memories from the grasp of the King himself; of being led away from a court by guards as his hand slipped from his younger brother’s…

Having Jelean see this moment from his sibling’s point of view – and seeing himself through his brother’s eyes as he’s led away – was an incredibly rich storytelling moment that got to the heart of the character. But it also provided him with a compelling aim – to discover why the King had claimed his brother’s memories. I used this to inform the character’s action line; after accusing the King of murder, Jelean was arrested, jailed, faked his suicide while in the jailhouse and fled for the dark culverts beneath the castle, before being flushed out by the King blowing up the city sewers, in a demented action that began the toppling of our metropolis’s mile-high crystal castles. All decisions taken by ourselves as players, all components of a collaborative-narrative put together as part of a jointly-authored story and all abiding by the principle ‘character is story’…

Christophe Dang Ngoc Chan, réalisé avec un programme de dessin vectoriel.

Overlap: There’s something pleasurable about having a bunch of spent or lost memories on pieces of paper in a kind of ‘pool’ in the centre of the table. They were like existential Monopoly property cards…

AK: I like the fact you start off with all these memories, which make up your character. As you get more and more desperate to survive or sacrifice them for leverage you start discarding ones that you don’t think are that important. In our game you ended up with just one memory, which was the memory of being the traitor, and the King wound up with the memory of being the king. The memories with the traitor included memories of this figure and memories that were ‘I am the traitor’, which I thought was quite good, especially as we ended up with one player having both!

Overlap: And it’s not necessarily the case that that person is the traitor, it’s just that they have ‘won’ or ‘traded’ that memory…

AK: Absolutely. At the start you assume that the memories you have are your characters. By the end of the game you’ll have taken memories from other characters and lost some to others. Is your mind really yours any more?

Its mix of ‘Porterhouse Blue’ grandiose desiccated farce, ‘House of Cards’ political machination and ‘Dark City’ mnemonic fragmentation (my character eventually lost his mind when he looked in a mirror and didn’t recognise the face staring back at him) suggests Lost Days as nothing less than a concatenation of some of actor Ian Richardson’s roles. The fact that Kenrick’s game recalls nothing so much as an actual person hopefully confirms its success in transforming such a gossamer subject.

Ian Richardson (source: Wikipedia).

“…It’s not ‘post apocalyptic’ so much as society on the brink of collapsing – so ‘Apocalypse Now’ in a sense,” Andrew suggested when we discussed our game afterwards, and Coppola’s film is an apt reference point. Both are overblown, overloaded snapshots of apocalptica, follies full of ‘Last Days of Rome’ hysteria with, at their centre, a decadent king on the verge of replacement by someone or something quite possibly more horrible. Coppola’s statement on the film – “I wanted to create a film experience that would give its audience a sense of the horror, the sensuousness and the moral dilemma of the Vietnam war…” – ignores his film’s sense of legendarium however. Like Lost Worlds of Memories and Madness, this is a land in love with – and folding into – a sense of its own importance, but Kenrick’s story system brings a sense of the moment – a chance to interact with the hair’s breadth of recollections. It’s an experience you’ll never forget.

Lost Days of Memories & Madness is out now on Steampower Publishing.


Category: Interviews, Storytelling Games

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