This ended up being quite the ramble – skip to the relevant stuff if you’d like.

So… this is a little hard for me to post, because, well, you may not know this about me, but I am cripplingly shy. It takes me a dozen tries to hit “submit” on anything, even the most innocuous and polite comment. I am right this moment considering deleting this entire essay. But I’ll be all vulnerable for a moment and try and tell you some stuff. Context for why I decided to play a game called S\lay w/Me.

First, I am of the first group to grow up without naked gamers (I think he named it that so people would google, as I just did looking for the link, “Ron Edwards naked”).

Second, I missed the narrative gaming slash Forge era almost entirely. My first exposure to rpgs was first edition D&D. I have a shared gaming group that meets once a week and has, more or less, non-stop for the past twenty years. And yet, somehow, other than a few discussions of GNS theory and the odd forum post, I missed the entire thing.

This is really a topic for another time, but I mention it so if you wonder why I’m so pleased by something that’s a decade old you understand. I have been the one who shows up and plays because they like the company and the story but only tolerates the mechanics as a necessary evil for my entire gaming career. I am going to continue being thrilled for a while (possibly forever).

Anyway, back to naked. I’ve read virtually all of the sources he references, and then some. Chalker. Heinlein. Le Guin (far more than just Earthsea, which I understand resonated with a lot of people but was a bit too oblique for me). None of it is shy about sex or gender and none of it pulls punches regarding either (unless it’s to make your mind go o.O as the implications sink in). Some of it pushes the bounds of good taste, right through into revulsion or eye rollingly fetishistic. But it’s never inhibited and it’s always unapologetic.

I was also a voracious reader all through the prudish time he references; in my experience, which admittedly is filtered through the kinds of books I chose, the sex was still there, but it was almost always implied and very rarely kinky or weird or offensive (thrillers and what was termed “men’s fiction”, on the other hand, were still allowed to be hardcore as long as they were suitably violent about it).

And people wore their clothes unless they had convenient asymmetrical sheets handy. And you had stupid sentiments like “once they have sex, the tension is all gone” and “breasts are okay but no penises” and “my lover is responsible for my happiness” that crept in and warped people a lot worse than a little nakedness and casual carnality and the occasional involuntary gender change.

I just can’t help digressing, can I?

Back on topic, which is… oh, right, S\lay w/Me. It was written to put sex (and by extension nudity, not that they’re the same thing) back in the GM’s toolbox – to elevate “will I have sex with this person” to the same level of conflict and drama and tension as “will I hit them with my sword” which is, frankly, awesome.

It encourage sex between your character and the GM’s, who may or may not be a monster, while a monster tries to kill you. It telegraphs this from the first page, which features a monster and a lover (“the lover is willing”). But having sex is not required; you get mechanical benefits if you sleep with or don’t sleep with the lover – you just have to face the decision and make it one way or the other.

As far as solo goes, it was actually surprisingly straightfoward to run. Pick a character concept, pick a place to start, jot down a column to track the Monster’s number and dice rolls and do the same for my character. I rolled up my monster and lover approaches entirely randomly, essentially flipping a coin for each approach set.

Then I just had to swap “author” and “director” hats when the rules told me to and roll a die each time I did. The session lasted a couple of hours, and I just kept writing, swapping hats furiously as the rules indicated, not reviewing or editing or smoothing things out. Falling and writing forward, story now, and all that.

I have always been the kind of GM who believes my job is to forge the heroes by putting them through hell; light shines brightest in the dark and there is no awesome big damn heroes moment without a lot of blood and defeat first. The mechanics of S\w/M don’t care about any of that stuff, but they do get out of the way of it. You don’t have to include suffering but you can with impunity – there’s no rules saying you can or can’t, only that the monster has to try to kill you and you have to try to move towards the lover or the goal or both.

I feel like I still pulled my punches too much. Rushed through things too fast, even though the rules said I didn’t need to. Left too much vague out of fear of locking myself down and out of uncertainty. The next time I do this I will try to be more daring and vulnerable and explicit and edgy. Less trite and safe and soft and out of focus. Or maybe I won’t, maybe I like it this way. I haven’t decided yet. But I do want to try again.

What you see in a block of text by “I” (the director or gm) or “you” (the author or player) is literally what I thought up while I was wearing that hat at that moment. If something bad happens or a wrinkle is introduced or a fact is mentioned, it is mentioned as I thought of it. With the exception of a few fixed typos and a couple of word changes, everything is as I first jotted it down.

I didn’t worry about consistency or foreshadowing or making a good story, because this hobby, solo gaming, is not about making good fiction, it’s about evolution, about following the journey in two dimensions – the character’s journey through events, and the player’s journey through the game.


The adventure begins...

you

I am myself. I am canny, brutal, experienced. I laugh at the gods. I delight in life. My foes meet death swiftly. I am a demon's child and heir to its power, but I am beautiful and good. I delight in my physical form and action; my mouth is cruel.

[Gender Appearance] male

I am in the Crystal Court, whose queen remains unknown.

I am here to protect my position and status as ambassador to this Court on behalf of my demon parent.

I

When the old queen dies or steps down, the whole of the Crystal Realm's nobility gathers for a great celebration in the Crystal Court. At the height of the festivities, a new faerie queen will be chosen.

Rolling 1d2 4 times.
[ 2 ] 2 + 0 = 2
[ 2 ] 2 + 0 = 2
[ 2 ] 2 + 0 = 2
[ 1 ] 1 + 0 = 1
Rolling 1d2 4 times.
[ 1 ] 1 + 0 = 1
[ 1 ] 1 + 0 = 1
[ 2 ] 2 + 0 = 2
[ 1 ] 1 + 0 = 1

How the monster kills you: Slow, With Deceit, Civil, and Singly.

How the lover desires you: Wanton, Approved, Manipulative, Knowledgeable.

[List Options] 4, 5, 6,

[Choice] 5

Rolling 1d2 1 times.
[ 2 ] 2 + 0 = 2

The monster is at 5; the lover, 2.

The Palace of the Seven Jewels sparkles as if on fire, lit from within by thousands of tiny motes summoned just for this occasion -- the grand masked Ball of Choosing.

[you] I arrive in true demonic fashion; I simply appear, dressed in perfectly tailored, perfectly appropriate garb, with a magical mask that resembles a stylized, fanged demon.

The gathered nobles move about like brightly jeweled gadflies, their movements fey but proscribed by eternal rules. The court is endlessly treacherous -- and endlessly entertaining.

The new queen is determined by blood and power and cleverness; she must be of the right bloodline and clever enough to succeed at a challenge laid down by the Council of the Aged. And powerful enough to defend herself. You are interested to see how it all plays out.

As you are announced, you sense a sudden ripple of interest in the crowd that wasn't there before, but do not know what causes it. None of the fae look at you or acknowledge you, but you somehow know something is afoot.

A pale human servant dressed in the livery of House Ozian bows to you and tells you the Princess Feir wishes the pleasure of a dance.

And I is done, and the Match begins.

you

I make my way to her side and bow as suits her rank as Princess and mine as Ambassador to her mother's court. Then I offer her my arm; this is a function I have performed many times on many occasions.

She is lovely and wild and fae, her eyes wide and innocent, her smile for me alone. I can't help but feel a bit struck that such a lovely creature is on my arm. Here, all are treacherous, true, but far less so than my home.

As we dance through the stilted, formal dance, our hands barely touching, I am surprised when her hand drifts a bit lower than expected, lingers on my shoulder a bit longer than is seemly.

A dalliance with a Princess would not be wise. She has far less to lose than I do, for banishment alive from her kingdom is to return to Hell -- or worse, for under the old queen's laws, for a blood royal to dally with an outsider is punishable by death. But I must be tactful, to avoid offense, lest when she become Queen she hold a grudge.

The song ends, and I feign obliviousness to her lingering hand on my arm, not hard to do behind the mask. Hers is a butterfly, outlined in silver and sapphire, and it is ravishing with her deep blue eyes and raven black hair. I would be lying if I said I didn't desire her, hadn't desired her for months. My thoughts seem clouded this evening.

I politely murmur my thanks for the dance and slip back into the crowd, making my way to the bar.

That's one die for moving towards the Goal ("Save it from danger"). The Go is over.

Rolling 1d6 1 times.
[ 5 ] 5 + 0 = 5

I

[Noble] Actor indulges or expresses a noble facet of their character.

[Plot Move] Deal harm.

Fair enough.

"Declan," a soft voice hisses from behind the bar, in one of the many discreet alcoves that line the great ballroom. You knock back your drink and slip into the alcove.

One of the only people you count as a true friend is waiting. Maylia, the youngest child of the old queen.

The drink is working its way through your system like fire -- what the hell are they serving, that it can get a demon drunk? you wonder, but you don't care too much because whatever it is is making you feel alive and powerful and reckless. You also wonder how you never noticed how beautiful Maylia is before.

She has the same raven black hair as her eldest half-sister, and the same bewitching blue eyes, but a much more voluptuous figure -- one she normally takes pains to hide, as it is a clear mark of her human heritage. You, of all people, understand. She's wearing a very formal gown, with skirts roomy enough you could hide under them.

"There's something I need to tell you," she says, grabbing your arm and pulling you deeper into the alcove, away from prying eyes and ears. Bemused, you follow, trying to focus over the blood rushing in your ears and the tingling of your skin. She is very close now. Her mask is a simple one, a black, lacy eye mask that leaves her mouth bare.

You could kiss her -- or more -- and you're not sure why but you very badly want to.

That's 1 die for me, since the monster has harmed the hero by bewitching him. It appears to have gone a bit awry, though.

Rolling 1d6 1 times.
[ 1 ] 1 + 0 = 1

you

It's been a very long time, living like a celibate monk among the flirtatious fae, and something inside just snaps, and I kiss her hungrily. She resists for a moment, her hand on my chest as if to push me away, but my hands and mouth are clever and talented and practiced and she quickly gives in, right there in the alcove.

The noise of the dancers and the hum of the crowd a few steps away barely hide the rustle of her skirts and the soft, frantic sounds she makes as I ruthlessly make her mine, an odd emotion I am unfamiliar with twisting up with the more familiar ones of lust and pleasure.

She has her head on my shoulder, afterwards, as we both take a moment to regain ourselves, and I whisper of my newfound emotion in her ear.

A die for promising the lover you'll stay with her, for sure.

Rolling 1d6 1 times.
[ 5 ] 5 + 0 = 5

-- i --

She raises her head, and in the dim light you see that she is crying. "But you don't," she said. "It's a spell, a special one built to snare you by Feir."

You stare at her, wheels turning in your head. "But why?" you ask fiercely. "If she wished me banished, she could do so with a word--" You're starting to feel queasy and burned out and ill-used, though that odd emotion lingers.

"You are the Council's Challenge," she says, cutting you off mid-word. "It's a tradition, to flaunt the dead queen's laws with the Challenge." She sounds miserable.

"Bedding you would prove her right to rule beyond a doubt," Maylia says, and her head touches your shoulder, ever so briefly, before she resolutely steps back. Her eyes still glitter with tears. "I'm sorry, I never meant for this to happen," she says.

You capture her hands and draw her back to you for a fierce kiss. You don't believe it's magic -- you know that you've just realized something you should have realized over those long months, with her standing up for you and guiding you and being your only real friend. The only one you've ever had in your entire life.

The curtain is flung aside, and a vizier, flanked by a pair of guardsmen, haul you both out. Princess Feir, a look of thwarted rage on her face ever so briefly, stands behind them. The rest of the ballroom falls silent, whispering behind fans and hands as they gawk at the proceedings. A few appear to be making bets.

"I demand that she be imprisoned under the blood royal dalliance law," the enraged Princess spits out. "And you -- I will punish you personally." She stares at you in a way that leaves no doubt that she will use whatever methods she has at her disposal to fulfill the Challenge, whether or not you enjoy it.

The monster is clearly going to gobble him up and spit out the pieces. 1 die.

Rolling 1d6 1 times.
[ 4 ] 4 + 0 = 4

you

I am unimpressed; I was born and bred and raised in Hell. "You should be careful what you wish for, milady," I say through gritted teeth. The guards are moving diffidently towards Maylia, and I know why -- she is also a blood royal princess, even if she is the least of the lot in their eyes.

I force myself to relax, exuding my normal careless, casual charm, even though deep under the surface I'm still furious. "Besides, your sister has already successfully conquered the Challenge," I say, a cocky smirk on my face. "Twice, if you hadn't interrupted us just now."

"So if I'm keeping score -- as opposed to being the score -- that makes her the Queen, doesn't it, dear Feir? Which means you have no authority at all."

There doesn't seem to be a "protect the lover" or "rescue the lover" option for earning dice. So I guess that's a side benefit to pursuing his goal of staying in the court. 1 die.

Rolling 1d6 1 times.
[ 4 ] 4 + 0 = 4

I

Cold fury radiates from her and you can't help but feel a little chilled. She's a powerful mage, powerful enough that you're not sure if your demonic heritage would be enough to protect you.

"The first two tests are of Blood and Challenge," she says, and the hair on the back of your neck prickles. You're bound by oath and magic not to harm a fae while you're the Ambassador; it's part of your contract.

"But the third is Power," she hisses, and unleashes a ball of ice and spikes at Maylia. You step between them, throwing up a wall of Hellfire, and the ice melts away, but the metal shards thud into your chest.

You drop to one knee, gasping for breath, only dimly aware of Maylia's cry of dismay.

Rolling 1d6 1 times.
[ 6 ] 6 + 0 = 6

you

"Weak," Feir says scornfully. I don't have to look up to see the smug look on her face. I can hear it in her voice. She knows I can't hit her back.

She hits me with another ball of ice, and this one knocks me to the floor, gasping for air as at least a couple of ribs shatter. But as long as she's knocking me around, she's not targeting Maylia.

I push back to my feet, unsteady, but I can't let her hit Maylia -- she's too powerful, and Maylia is only half fae. "You'll have to do better than that," I say. "And I must say, cold? That explains why rumor has it nobody ever visits your bed twice."

I can't think of any way to earn a dice off this -- I really don't see 'help the lover' in there -- so that's it for this round.

I

The crowd laughs at this, and Feir's expression turns murderous. A fist of force you don't even see knocks you back down and holds you there, pinned. She stalks over and stares contemptuously down at you.

"You're just a weak, pathetic, powerless human," she snarls. Rage is a good look for her, bringing high color to her cheeks, making her eyes flash. She bends down and rips the mask off your face, contemptuously tossing it aside.

"I can't kill you, because I need you to win the Challenge," she says maliciously, "But there's no reason I can't hurt you." She squeezes her hand into a fist and you feel it as if you're between her fingers, the pressure shifting your broken ribs excruciatingly.

That's good for a monster dice.

Rolling 1d6 1 times.
[ 6 ] 6 + 0 = 6

Damn, that turned quickly. We're at 4/5 dice and 17 for I, 14 for you.

you

She makes a strangled noise, and stares down at the blade protruding from her chest in disbelief. "I don't..." she says, crumpling to her knees. I'm just glad I can breathe again.

Maylia gives her a vicious look, the hardest I've ever seen on her sweet face. "Only a fool relies on one tool alone," she says contemptuously, and I'm chilled by how similar the expression is on her face to the one her sister wore moments before.

It doesn't matter, though. She's triumphant, and I know her heart. I know I won't be consort, officially, but we can still be happy here -- and I won't be sent back.

I'm going to count that as an attempt to master the Goal, or at least to save it.

Rolling 1d6 1 times.
[ 3 ] 3 + 0 = 3

Now that's a difficult spot to be in. "I" is going to win the Match this Go; we're tied and the die that closes the Match will automatically win it. Which means I have a couple of choices, at least if I'm undertanding the rules correctly.

I can let it stand; his lowest roll is a 1, which means all of my dice are Good dice. That's enough for two achieved goals, since I have four dice.

Or I can force a reroll, which likely will negate some of my Good dice but might give me a win. You know, I think I'm going to let it stand -- reading again, that reroll option is really only for the beginning of my last Go, which is technically over now.

I

Feir cocks her head, mumbles something under her breath, and abruptly the odd emotion that has been guiding you vanishes. "What did you do?" you gasp, feeling hollow and empty.

"I banished the spell," she says, blood seeping around her fingers as her laugh turns into a cough. "She can't trust you now."

You give Maylia a panicked look, and she returns it with an impassive, cold one that tells you, with your sudden, newly regained clarity, that you've been well and truly used. And that you're going back to Hell.

"Was all of it a lie, or just the last half hour?" you ask, as casually as you can muster, retreating back into the devilish shell. You're not sure you want to know. She flushes, the impassiveness wiped away for a moment, but doesn't answer.

Rolling 1d6 1 times.
[ 4 ] 4 + 0 = 4

And that's the Match; the I won with a 21 to you's 17. Still, I have four Good dice.

So the two options I mark are "Ward off the damage" and "save someone", in this case, the lover. She'll be Queen of the Crystal Court. And my hero will live, but be banished from the Court.

However, in the interests of "interesting" I'm going to make a small tweak to his failing his Goal of "stay here". And obviously he won't be staying with the Lover, but likely leaving gracefully.

you

I think about it for a moment, and decide. That odd emotion has left a hollow space in me that I'm not sure how to deal with. But I can deal with this moment, right now.

I climb back to my feet, ignoring the pain. "Your Majesty," I say loudly, and give her a deep and perfectly mannered bow that hurts my ribs immensely. The crowd begins to murmur approvingly.

Healers sweep in to carry Feir, now unconscious, off. Her fate is in the hands of the new Queen; I do not envy her.

"And me?" I ask softly. No tears glitter in her eyes now. Had it truly all been a ruse? The hours spent hunting, riding across the Crystal lands, the meals where we'd argued and bantered and laughed? I will her to answer, even as I dread it.

No answer again. She averts her eyes. Her hands are bloody. "I will do what I can for you," she says at last, very very softly. I feel the hollow space in me left by that odd emotion turn to ice.

"The punishment for dalliance with a blood royal by an outsider is death," she says regretfully, loudly enough for all to hear, and gestures at me. A brief flash of fire, of bitter betrayal, and then I am somewhere else.

It takes me a moment to register that I'm not dead and I'm not in Hell. My ribs ache and the metal shards make every breath pain. But where am I?

--- end ---

Well, that was intense! And very enjoyable.

Obviously he's been banished to more adventures! And she faked his death, so the forces of Hell won't be looking for him, at least not right away.