The new version of Geiger Counter that I’ve been tinkering with, which may or may not be called Jet Black Aurora, might have short tables for generating the premise and characters, tables halfway between Fiasco playsets and what I’m doing for Super Suit. Unlike Fiasco, though, I think there’s only one set of tables for the entire game, though obviously I’m not sure yet, because I haven’t done it.
The tables would cover things like whether your facility is in space, underwater, underground, in the arctic, on a barren planet, and/or on an island. Perhaps it’s both underground AND in the arctic, as in Alien vs. Predator. Perhaps it’s on a barren planet AND in the dark, as in Pitch Black. I think this may be called the “Isolation Table.” Then there’s another table that’s about determining what particular brand of human hubris is about to send all the characters to their deaths.
Plus, to steal another recent idea from Super Suit, I think you create the trailer, but it’s like the daydreaming in Apocalypse World, it’s vital to get a feel for things (as a group rather than as the MC), but it’s not real until someone enacts it in play. If it’s not memorable to stick in players’ minds, or the events of the game don’t lead that direction, it’s cool. That’s kinda how folks have been playing it anyway, but it’s good to have a solid idea of why it’s that way.
Martin Luther King Jr. famously paraphrased Theodore Parker when he said, “the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.” Ghost Opera is exactly such a universe, but one built upon my understanding of early Chinese cosmological thinking about fate, justice, and the way of heaven (tiandao). You know the grotesque threat moves in Apocalypse World where you “display the contents of its heart” or “display the nature of the world it inhabits”? Those might essentially be the only moves that the GM of Ghost Opera makes, though of course I’ll phrase them and break them up differently.
Essentially, the GM is playing heaven. And heaven wants the bullshit in the world to be fixed. But the way it gets these things fixed is to put them on display, right out in front of people, and show human beings — again and again if necessary — the consequences of letting that kind of bullshit go on. Then it counts on people eventually doing the right thing and stopping the bullshit. And they eventually will, no doubt. But, in the meanwhile, heaven keeps escalating, shoving their faces in it and causing lots and lots of suffering. Like Laozi says, “Heaven and earth are heartless, treating creatures like straw dogs.” Heaven bends towards justice, yes, definitely. But it is also infinitely patient and the arc can indeed be very long. Plus, people have to stand up and actually change things.
The bullshit that heaven is concerned about mostly revolves around people not treating each other properly. People are often bad parents, or bad friends, or bad children, or bad kings, or bad neighbors, or bad shamans, or bad hosts. Heaven doesn’t care about some cultural bullshit that you choose not to follow. Run off and marry whoever you want, that’s not heaven’s problem. But if you do so and, in the process, violate the relationship you have with your father, then you’re fucking things up, or maybe your father’s fucking things up by being a jerk about it. Heaven doesn’t really take sides, but it definitely knows that the situation is bullshit and needs to be fixed. So maybe it will send your ancestors to haunt you or have someone in your family contract a horrible disease or die in war. Or, more often, heaven just lets humans do its dirty work, like having your father straight-up murder the dude you ran off to marry.
Dogs in the Vineyard calls the bullshit that causes problems “pride,” but ancient China made allowances for people being ignorant as well as arrogant and, occasionally, just straight-up wicked. The only people who naturally understand how people are supposed to behave are children, the elderly (remember, most people didn’t live to be elderly), and sages. Everyone else, we’re bound to fuck it up fairly often, even if we’re striving to be good. But luckily we’ve got heaven there to clearly lay down the rules for us by showing us the negative consequences of our behaviors. Unfortunately, often people have a hard time understanding how the bad things that are happening are connected to violations of proper relationships. But that’s okay, heaven’s very patient and, eventually, someone will figure it out. Maybe. In the next dynasty. After this one’s been completely destroyed.