Palimpsest: A Game in Pieces (being a game of fragmented but collective bibliomancy)

Palimpsest is...

this generator 
contained within are hundreds of hundreds (for real! and I keep adding like. hundred more at a time) of lines of poetry, fragments of fiction, images from film caught and kept with words. all verified by me, a girl with really good taste, to be fuckin sick and evocative 

we will use this generator to construct our own Palimpsest, and we will do it tattoo style on the backs of the people who we will pretend to see together.

this is a game of fragmentary but collective bibliomancy. it suckles at the teat of Epidiah Ravachol's Swords Without Master, Itras By (Martin Bull Gudmundsen & Ole Peder Giæver), Fiasco by Jason Morningstar, and Polaris by Ben Lehmen. You should already know this by now. those boys are required reading. Sorry to all above for saying that your games had teats. 
a party
each player is only here because they have an invite from an interesting character, but it’s bad manners to only talk to the one who brought you

each character is defined by their ties to two others, plus a single facet more.

if you are seated at a table, the character you know is tied to the ones on either side of you. if you are not, you must imagine you are, and get used to the imagining. character ties go both ways; I know you and you know me, and those are two different things entirely.

each tie is composed of two fragments, drawn from the generator. perhaps the first will define, and the second will inform, perhaps the opposite.

the facet is a single fragment.

if your generated fragments are insufficient, you may always help yourself to more.

the thing itself

The Palimpsest is a list of all of the fragments that have been used. Once the characters have all been met and known, add any number of fragments necessary to round the number up to 20, 30, or 50.

In addition to this body, the Palimpsest has two wings; Supporting Cast, and Setting.

In Supporting Cast, whatever phrases or lines that speak to figures we might glimpse in passing should be placed.

In Setting, place those fragments that conjure an environment or atmosphere. Wings may contain whole fragments, or only fragments of those fragments, and fragments may be used any number of times.

a game played in scenes
Each scene opens with someone picking up the Lens, saying "Show me... x" and handing it to someone who then takes it and responds

the Lens is a shared understanding that perspective can be passed like a crone’s good eye, and a mark or object to signal its passing

the scene ends when the current Lens holder says "cut" and describes the transition to a new scene, which they then begin by saying "Show me" and handing the Lens off as usual

something you must be shown
"Show me..." To be used to set things up, reinforce primacy of imagery. the player with the Lens makes a demand to be shown some specific thing, and passes the Lens to another player, who answers the demand.

Show me... who notices the mugging
Show me... how the bishop receives you, bloody and beaten as you are
Show me... the shack you've holed up in

a certain vision
the existence of dan hillier's web store is a disaster for my wallet

“I've got a vision…” To be used to cement and forward your own ideas when they conflict with another player’.

any player can use this phrase to declare that they have a vision about how the current scene overall or a specific element of it should play out, look, feel, etc.

they make a note of that vision somewhere it can be seen, and the scene or element it's tied to.

players can choose to respect that vision and adjust the fiction accordingly, or contest it. new visions may not violate visions that have already been agreed upon.

I've got a vision... I'm thinking the street is almost completely dead that night
I've got a vision... I think the bishop has a really hard time denying someone who is obviously in pain
I've got a vision... this building is actually like 40 stories high, not a shack.

a hard bargain
"Only if…” To be used for negotiation if there's an objection to a player's vision, with each player involved taking turns offering a condition that would make the vision in question acceptable to them until a compromise or an impasse is reached.

Only if... the one passerby happens to stop and light a smoke right across the street from you
Only if... it has more to do with sadism than sympathy
Only if... the upper floors are really dilapidated and unstable

a radiant question
“What sparked your vision?” To be used to resolve impasses in negotiation. the player who asked this question sets a value between 1-3 fragments. each other player may adjust that value up or down by 1, though not below 1. the player being questioned must connect their vision to the number of fragments that have been set. they may adjust their vision to do so. if they successfully do this, their vision must be respected.

What sparked your vision? I'm setting this at 1 fragment... "I feel like 'a thousand telephones that don't ring' gave me a really desolate, abandoned vibe"

What sparked your vision? I'm setting this at 2 fragments... "for me, 'I love... your screaming, automatic pain' and 'stick around till the bandages came off' sells it"

What sparked your vision? I'm setting this at 3 fragments... "so 'deep-dyed windowpanes flash' made me think of high rises or skyscrapers, but I'm not sure what else... okay I'll go with 'cats playing in sawdust' and 'dance into the sky' and say that the building is still like a skyscraper, but its upper floors are still under construction"

a rolled die
Everybody gets 1 Chance Die per scene which they can spend either immediately on the "Show me" demand or can save till later.

if a player gives you a Chance Die you have to roll it

the player that holds the Lens can use their own Chance Die on their own actions as much as they'd like

if any dice come up 1 - 3 when making a "Show me" demand, the player whose Chance Die was spent makes the demand instead

if any dice come up 1 - 3 when describing the outcome of character actions, the player whose Chance Die was spent describes the outcome instead (note that this description cannot ignore or subvert a "Show me" demand.

you may spend your own Chance Die to force the rolling player to roll the (just spent) Chance Die of a player of your choice an additional time rather than adding your own to the mix

a sudden shock
if doubles of 3 or less are rolled on Chance Dice, a new fragment, foreign to the Palimpsest must be generated, and introduced by the player who rolled (not spent) the dice as a sudden twist, turn of fate, dramatic revelation, absurd escalation, etc.

a strong suggestion

now I know ur not sucking Harry Clarke off without at least a respectful nod towards Manuel Bujados across the room

rule of thirds. 
when opening a scene, describe what we're seeing and divide 3 dice between major elements of the scene (this could be 2 / 1, 1/1/1)

roll all 3 dice

the highest result is the element you must either flesh out yourself or base the next “Show me” question on

someone hands me the Lens, says "show me a scene of quiet brutality"
I take the Lens, describe a distant shot of a tiger eating an ape in a green field
I give 1 die to the tiger, 1 to the ape, 1 to the green field
ape comes up highest
I pass the Lens to another player and say "show me the ape's corpse"

you can in theory do this for every single shot, but I wouldn't recommend it

A final,  desperate plea
I'll acknowledge this game is a little hard to conceptualize on paper but I promise in play it works giddily well and has sent me spinning into some situations that were incredibly symbolically potent and aesthetically coherent while also being extremely fucking out there which is more or less what i'm personally looking for in ttrpgs. 

here's some of the games I've played so far:

a woman discovers her boyfriend having profane, gasoline drenched sex with his muscle car, and, while trapped in the trailer home they share, struggles against the superbeing he worships who wishes to kill the sun and was also once a boy she fixated on in high school

a homeless kid tries to reach back out to their brother, an incompetent PI who spends all of his time daydreaming about the idyllic childhood the two of them shared, before the disease eats the rest of his brain and leaves him unable to look after his newborn. meanwhile, the PI's only informant doggedly tries to get him to solve the case of the man the informant killed and absolve him of guilt. 

a psychic beggar tries to claim the eyes of his brother; he's placed his own in a fetal sheep-human hybrid of his own creation. his brother's niece seeks shelter with him from her former lover, who is drawn unerringly towards the two of them by the horrific nightmares the beggar torments him with nightly

an awkward goodbye
remedios varo my darling my delight



  1. Dancing sideways through strange-grown halls ...

    Ah, that scratches an itch for me! Awesome. Hits the same feeling as when I first read your Bannerlords post up here. Using word and color/image combinations as a genetic code to synthesize story proteins (or whatever metapher works here).

    I don't have the right words to describe what I like about this approach, but it is the same shit that fills me with awe as when I first read Kalpa Imperial by Angelica Gorodischer, or first watched Blood tea and red string or when I made a deep dive into expressionistic poetry. Words that kick you through a membrane and expose you to moments you can't describe to others unless they were there with you. I will try that with one of my Into the Odd groups that were also fond of microscope, but strayed a bit away from it, because the time aspect brought too much structure to the game and the "side-steps" weren't suprising anymore after a couple of rounds. Maybe with Palimpsest we could get back to that awe. We'll see.

    Sorry for the wall of text, but this one really excites me.

    Giiirl! You and your myriad of art recommendations! With Varo, this is the first time that I see an image here of an artist that I've known before. So much new art to check out. Much appreciated!

    And as always: Thanks for the post!


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