Following I’d like to give some advice on “how to play Bacchanalia”.
You are not with your Amans and that’s bad. Like really bad. Maybe not a “Oh my god, he will be crucified by soldier in the next 5 minutes” kind of bad, but it’s bad nonetheless. Are you alone for a really trivial reason like “He’s somewhere nearby grabbing a snack”? You are at least in the phase “How much time do you need to take a stinkin’ snack?” and on the brink of the phase “He must be in some trouble, I need to check”.
The moment the Bacchanal overcomes the boundaries of a folkloristic party and/or your character sees the first Miles, he will be dead scared and all he’ll want to do will be find his/her lover and leave asap.
Remember always that from the third Parcae apparition, Miles start killing people. Your character is on the run, you both are in a hurry and that must be seen in the fiction.
Even if it’s not 100% true, playing without any female player pose the danger to free the little Lando Buzzanca that lives chained in the hidden deeps of any man. This is not always bad, but tends to keep the narration monotonous and quite slapstick-prone. Experimentally the presence of a female player brings more diversity in situations described and more themes in the narrative. In the end is a big help for creativity of the whole player’s group.
We can speculate also that this comes from the fact that easily (if you are not in a very peculiar social context) you are forced to choose words more carefully and maybe even use words quite unusual for you. But this (how language drives mental process in a game) will be sooner or later material for another post.
It’s not always sex
“Decadence” in a large world. Very large. It does not automatically means sex: there are Satyrus (lots of) for this kind of things. Decadence can also mean baccanti not paying wine, drunk people collapsing (or worst) in the street, authority figures not fulfilling their role (the mother not tending children or making them drunk, for example). Depending on the context, “decadence” can mean malpractice, foolishness, violence, disrespect, naughtiness, credulity, recklessness and tons of other things. Hit the thesaurus, please.
Go Slow. Slow like in “S L O W”. Slow. I mean it.
If your fist narration includes fire raining from the sky, a bloodbath orgy, dogs and cats living together, human sacrifices … what are you gonna do when the cards will ask you to rise decadence o sexual content? I know it’s all already told (and more than once) in the rulebook, but please GO SLOW.
I will make an actual play. Two of the character are in Bertinoro’s main square, looking at a tavern near the cliff. Player A owns Bacchus and must narrate the first signs of the Bacchanal. Note that IRL all scenes were more colorful and poetic, included sensorial detail, etc. I shortened them to keep the example clear and easy to understand.
Player A “It’s the middle of the afternoon. In the tavern there are some young people drunk or soon-to-be-drunk making a lot of racket. People are looking in a very disapproving way”.
Player B (rise decadence) “In a very Animal House-like scene, one of the young guys grabs an amphora from the hands of the maid and starts drinking. Drinking A LOT. All other people are chanting ‘chug, chug, chug, chug!’”
Player A (rise decadence) “One of the girl – a very drunk one – climbs on one table and starts dancing. She unties her hair, teases the boys announcing she will undress herself and asks for help untying the robe”.
Played B (blood crime) “The boys are fighting to climb the table and dance with the girl. It starts like a game (maybe a rough game) and it seems nothing to worry about. But in the chaos of the fight one of them is pushed over the edge of the cliff and dies”
Player A (rise decadence) “everybody laughs”
None of those description included the main character, but it’s ok especially in the early beginning (having the main character at the centre of the action is advisable but not mandatory). Now we also introduced some character, some location, some danger.
I want to point out that:
1) Not even a single nipple was shown (well, narrated, but you know what I mean), but the sexual / decadence content of the scene clearly was raised. And a lot. I could distinctly hear Satyrus cheering “Way to go, man. Way to go!”
2) “everybody laughs” was a sheer genius use of “rise the decadence”. Gave shivers to the whole table. With no sex or sexual innuendo attached in any way.
Close, close, close, close but do not touch
Lover’s couples will travel Bertinoro hi and low. It’s fine that they almost meet each other (couple A is in the red roofed farm where couple B minutes ago outrunned a bunch of miles). But they will NOT actually meet or interact.
More than a character / couple can be in the same location in the same moment, but you must be really careful making narrations. If your narration affects somehow another player’s character, don’t force something on him but just make a proposal. And always leave the other player a EASY way out.
Player A “Marcus is in the main square. There’s a strange music. Some people are playing exotic instruments. A girl is dancing.”
Player B “Caius also is in the main square. The music keeps getting faster and faster. Movements of the dancing girl are more and more sensual. People are gathering around.”
As in the previous example, all is ok. Life goes on in the square, but nobody forced anything over another player’s character.
Player A “Caius kisses the dancing girl”
Player A “The dancing girl slaps Caius on the ground, french-kisses and strips him”
Those examples are NOT ok. Player A stepped over (and quite a lot) his boundary. But if I’m Player A and I’d like to see Caius and the dancing girl interact, I can still make a proposal Player B can gracefully decline.
Player A “The girl starts inciting people to dance. She starts touching people, dragging them around, following their profile with her finger, making them sing. She is sweated, her hair untied. And she’s REALLY sensuous. Made from her, in that moment, even the more innocent gesture seems obscene and licentious. She goes in the general direction of Caius”
This is ok. Player B has thousands of way to decline the proposal. Could even ignore everything: the girl goes in the general direction but do not interact with Caius. Player B can simply tell the girl “not interested” and keep narrating something else. And so on.
You will not receive a lot of similar offers during a game. When you do, seriously consider to accept it. Who knows where could it go…
It’s NOT a visit at the zoo
If you keep seeing the bacchanal like a zoo, like a walk in a freak show to see strange and exotic beasts, nothing will touch or move you. And you will be quickly bored. It will feel like go from one cage to the other. In the tavern there’s the cage with the drunk people. In the square the cage with the naked ladies dancing on the tables. In the little street there’s the cage where couples do what couples do. And so on.
Better (a lot better) if a huge joke tells the character “drink, or else”. Better if the naked ladies are really, really, really nice and persuade the character to have some fun. Better if the one couple tries with some energy to involve the character in a threesome. Better if the character is touched by the bacchanal: swamped, crushed, seduced, beaten, terrified. Doesn’t matter, as long as he is somehow touched.
It can be helpful to visit a cage in the very beginning (like it was done in the example 1 ) to set the mood and populate the city with some starting element. It can also be helpful to visit a cage later to give some room to characters (Caius talks with his lover while in the main street people are going crazy). But, as a general rule, characters must be in the middle of the action. They must rarely be allowed to visit a cage where the action in inside and they are safe, protected by the cage’s bars.
Close with a cliffhanger
It’s nice to leave some unanswered questions in a scene. You must narrate all things required from the Aruspex, but nothing force you to “close” the scene.
Previous scene Player A narrated about young ladies started dancing on the tavern’s tables. In this turn Satyrus wins.
Player A “The dance becomes quickly … let’s say ‘unchaste’. They are moving in a hypnotic way: it’s impossible not to look at them. The blond one smiles to me and invites me to join her and her friend in the dance.”
STOP. You raised the sexual decadence? You can bet! You are ok with the Aruspex. But you leaved a huge question unanswered…
Keep it simple
Don’t overdo it. Don’t try to be sophisticated. Don’t try to be A Good Author (sarcastic capital intended). Don’t try to build complex and intricate storylines. Remember that cards will push the story (and push hard) one way or the other with no respect for your precious work.
The thing you need to make the game work is a believable character.
Even a banal one, but believable.
Then when you build a scene, go with the first idea that comes to mind (that’s probably the best one). You don’t need to write a novel: you only need a simple episode that move the story forward. Add some sensorial detail and – if something hits your curiosity or lights your fantasy – spend some time narrating a detail or two other players can use.
Use your belly more than your brain.
The scene after example 5, Vinum rules and so Player A must rise decadence.
Player A belly says ‘go for it’? (Satyrus are proud of you)
Player A “She grabs my hand and drags me on the table. Her skin smells of juniper, as a la mode now. She whispers in my hear that her name is Linda. While we dance, her hands are under my tunic caressing my chest. After a while, when the music stops for a little while, she grabs my head and tries to kiss me.” (Hey, you noticed? Cliffhanger again!)
Player A belly says ‘no thanks’?
That is also quite interesting: wants to be faithful to his/her lover? Is he/her Christian? Or not interested in girls? Girl/s not cool enough? Or he/her is simply embarrassed to go this far in public? Most of this questions are not covered in character creation phase and are interesting to discover and explore.
Hint: sometimes in fun to have the character make a decision, and the whole world make another one.
The scene after the one in example 5, Vinum rules and so Player A must rise decadence.
Player A belly says ‘no thanks, character too embarrassed / not drunk enough to go this far in public’?
Player A “I kindly decline the offer shaking the head. The girl got wonderful blue eyes that are challenging me: she will NOT get a ‘no’ for answer. She climbs down from the table and starts dancing for me and for me only, explicitly trying to provoke me. With a sensual movement, she drops her tunic. The whole tavern is looking at us laughing, cheering and ‘encouraging’ the girl.”
How is made Bertinoro?
It’s on the top of a high hill. You can see the sea (that’s quite far away). Got cliffs but also parts flat enough to build a city upon it. It’s surrounded by vineyards. Got thermal baths quite nearby. That’s all you need to know.
How is big Bertinoro? The answer is always “enough”.
Is there a Jupiter temple in Bertinoro? If nobody narrated something on this matter before, the answer is always “YES. Big enough (or small enough). And with enough Jupiter priests inside”, even if in the real world there are no information at all about a Jupiter temple in Bertinoro.
How many people are in Bertionoro? The answer is always “all the people you need”.
Hint: keep the hill full of people. The party is going on even outside city gates. Maybe people of hills nearby are joining the party. Maybe fun-promising sounds lured merchant’s caravans from the nearby via Æmila. Who knows. But this particular day / night the hills are full of people. It’s more fun if the character must confront people and people-related troubles than the wolves in the wild.
Use gods parsimoniously
Nothing in the rules forbids you to narrate that Minerva in person appears to your character with her whole show (shield, spear, owl, thunder, lightning and other assorted F/X) and kills character X, chat with character Y and tells character Z “do this, do that”.
But I strongly advise you not to do it. There’s a consistent danger to change the narration in a GUIDED visit at the zoo. Not only character will be visiting cages after cages, but they will be dragged around by gods that will choose which cage visit next. There’s no character who – in this situation – will take the blame for what happens / does (one way or the other). He will always have a foolproof excuse to clear his conscience: “a god told me / forced me to do so”.
It’s better to imply, to make gods appear and influence the story through their symbols. You must give your characters no easy way to a spotless conscience.
 = Italian actor (in)famous for a huge streak of sordid slapstick / softcore wannabe comedy in the ’70 ~ early ’80.
 = Some of the young ones were also given a name and were supporting character in following narrations.
 = Somehow also set the tone for the whole game; that Bacchanal was quite rough and full of random violence.