Living Alchemy is an emergent storytelling game about troubled, often brilliant, people inspired by gothic fantasy like Frankenstein, Dracula, Westworld, or Fullmetal Alchemist. The core mechanic is that players are allowed to use "extra dice" for their rolls, but risk triggering their character's affliction such as an addiction, a temper, or sense of alienation. The game also uses a powerful engine allowing players to introduce characters, locations, and spells into the game. The game really gives players enough rope to hang themselves with, and organically generates stressful and challenging situations.
The game seems to work well if you approach it on its own terms. In some standard play modes like princess play, it kind of hangs. Sometimes a players is forced to give up on important objectives or important relationships and this can be crushing for some players. To make it easier for players to engage with the game, I've tried starting with an Antagonist and some minimal setting and seeing if players can hook into that.
The scenario I'm using is called Bright Eyes
. The premise is that a king has conquered a land filled with traditional Tolkienesque fantasy creatures. He has grown old and fat with no son to continue his legacy.
I'm playing with a single player. He picked up on the colonialist theme and his character is an elvish alchemist and taken a human name with the ultimate goal of unseating the king by creating him an artificial "cuckoo" son with alchemy. He took the affliction "Outsider" signifying a need to belong to enlightened human society.
In this context, elves have no organized sciences like Alchemy so Laurence has essentially forsaken his heritage in order to protect it. He is professor at a reëducation academy for the non-human natives. Most of the first session was spent getting things ready to enact his plan- blackmailing a student, performing experiments leaving him with a triggered affliction and a fractured relationship with the headmaster (the headmaster hired him over all the human candidates after all!). After his affliction was triggered, he decided to travel to the King and present one of his alchemical creations to him, simultaneously treating his affliction and bringing him closer to the king.
Overall, it was a great session with really tense situations, atmosphere, and sticky themes. I was surprised at how little the antagonist participated in the narrative. The King's resolve and symbolic corruption were very much part of the drive for Laurence, but the game was still rife with conflict without the King participating directly.
Have you tried hooking players into a setting and its themes with an antagonist before? What are the best ways to get players to engage with a game in a particular way?