Solitaire Storytelling: A Tale Before You Go

A ghost, trapped in the tree planted above her grave, finds herself exploring the world when the tree is transformed into a ship’s mast. A lonely princess explores a crypt, hoping to find a new name and escape her fears. A merchant, far from home, plays a game of riddles with the guardian of a mountain pass.

The ghost turns the ship’s sails into truth-telling tapestries to set herself free. The princess offers herself to the crypt’s elemental guardian and takes its name. The merchant turns back, defeated by the riddles but enriched by the moonstones he found in the mountainside.

How about one more Tale Before You Go?

This is a story about a ghost at the bedside of a sleeping stranger. The ghost wanted to return home, but had once been granted a wish and squandered it – a desire to never be alone meant that they could never find rest, as passing to the beyond is a doorway that you must pass through by yourself. 

The ghost had loved the company of others, and the sharing of stories, so during life the wish had seemed perfect. Now, however, he feared that he would be bound to the living forever, alone in a crowd, his own stories lost to time. He also quailed at the thought of those he had known in life being lost to him forever, wherever they may have wound up, leaving him behind to linger.

He wished to be seen and heard again, and not just as a billowing curtain in dead air or a faint whisper easily dismissed as a figment of the imagination. He wanted to build new relationships, share his stories, and learn new ones in turn. Just as much, he wanted to shake the fear brought about by his ignorance, learn what truly happened to his passed companions and loved ones, and meet them all again.

As he lingered there, idly wondering if he might intrude on the dreams of the stranger and end his isolation that way, the one being he had left to fear arrived: DEATH himself. DEATH challenged him to a game, as is custom – if the ghost won, he could choose to manifest to the living. If he lost, he would have to pass beyond, to whatever end. Longing and fear clashed in the ghost’s heart, and in the end he had a choice. He could stay and play the game, or go back to wandering the world in limbo, wishing. If he stayed, he would lose some of what he longed for either way. If he went back, he may never have another opportunity.

And from day forward, the ghost lingers in that room in a now-abandoned house, weighing his choice, as DEATH waits, forever patient.

A crossroads with no road chosen is an ending all its own.

Written by Portia Elan, with art from Feral Indie Studio’s Charles Ferguson-Avery, A Tale Before You Go is a one-page (which can also be folded up into a little pocket-zine)  storytelling game highlighting a character’s secrets, wishes, fears, and loves while following them as they meet strangers and make choices. 

Aside from however you would like to record or tell your story, you’ll need a standard deck of playing cards, further divided into three smaller decks: all of the numbers because the Deck of Selves, the face cards become the Deck of Tuths, and the Aces become the Deck of Secrets. For the most part, any given card that gets drawn will give you two things to work with, one based on the suit and the other based on the value.

You start by drawing a card from the Deck of Selves. The suit will tell you who the story is about and the value will tell you what kind of setting the story takes place in, such as a once-loved object found in the laboratory of a scientist, healer, or witch. You’re then asked to give your character a name… a step I admittedly forgot about for a bit, and by the time I remembered it felt better to keep the ghost nameless.

Your next card from the Deck of Truths will tell you what the character wants and about a secret they keep, such as wanting a new name and having left someone or something they left behind. You’re then prompted to ask the character questions about what they love, what they fear, and what they wish for, and provide a couple of answers for each. There’s no card drawn here, so you sort of lack guidance. It would be nice to have some, but given the pocket-zine layout of the game there really isn’t any room to spare. Plus, the results from the Deck of Selves and Deck of Truths could be considered all the guidance you need.

The Deck of Selves returns to provide someone the character meets and what they do, such as someone who reminds the character of a loved one and sings a song from the character’s childhood. The Deck of Truths offers them a choice, such as what they may offer to the person they’ve met, and dictates to what degree the choice will cost them. Finall, you draw a card from the Deck of Endings, which gives you the starting line of the story’s conclusion. “We tell this story on this holiday to remind us…”

The game’s description says it can tell stories of “an unexpected moral lesson, an illustration of a forgotten holiday, a reassuring reminder of the magic in the world — or something else entirely.” Fairy tales aren’t explicitly mentioned anywhere, but that’s definitely the vibe I get off of it. You can stretch out A Tale Before You Go a fair bit depending on how much detail you want to go into for each bit of information, but you can also make it pretty short and punchy, as above. Personally, I think that’s kind of the perfect mode for the game – it seems proportional to the small word-count of the game’s text.

With a pocket-zine and a deck of cards, A Tale Before You Go can help you whip up a story in quick order, with some evocative setting bits and a straightforward story mechanic. Now that I’m trying to sum it up (and since the story can be told orally as easily as written down): if you’re needing a story for bedtime with the kids, keep this game at hand. At the price of Pay What You Want, there’s no good reason to not at least give this one a look and see what stories you can spin.

Alright, fine, fine! One more. This is the story of a lonely princess, who we find all alone in a place of learning…

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