I sat down and played a session of Go Alone yesterday. It’s a solo journalling RPG in which you play an ancient magical sword that dreams of the day they can retire. It’s very hard to reach that goal; you’re pulling blocks from a Jenga tower, and when the tower falls, the sword breaks and the game ends.
The core loop is simple: you take 1-6 actions (usually inventing memories or describing events) based on prompts randomly selected by playing card draws. Most card draws require you to pull a block from the tower. That’s one day. At the end of the day, you make up a short in-person narrative about the day and what you’ve learned about your bearer and yourself.
I found that the deliberate separation of the two phases helped me set aside the knowledge that I was controlling the fiction; I consistently felt like I was reacting to events that were outside my control. There was no guarantee that I was going to get prompts that would let me tell a particular story. It also helped that the Jenga tower was completely uncontrollable. I knew I couldn’t force the story in any particular direction, because after a couple of days I was never expecting to survive.
I realized pretty early that I had to be careful about not answering unasked questions. If the prompt didn’t call for me to make up a particular bit of background, I didn’t make it up. This was relatively natural for me, since I tend towards developing characters in play anyhow, but still took some care.
In the end I wound up with a slight emotional attachment to my PC — less than usual but still there — and a narrative that arose from my treasured intersection of oracular divination and storytelling. I will do this again.
After the break, the actual play. I wrote all this in GoodNotes — the handwriting recognition was capable of capturing my scrawl, which is pretty impressive. I have a few notes on what I was thinking; these are italicized.
One day since this new bearer plucked me from the dark. How long has it been since I was last left there? I don’t remember. But it feels good to be held again, to feel the warmth of mortal flesh around my hilt. Soon I will be put to work again, made to rip and tear as I was made to do. Part of me thirsts for it, longs to feel the bite of meat again, but the rest of me feels nothing but disgust and fatigue. I have served for so long, been discarded so many times. Surely it’s time I was allowed to rest for good?
This is stock text from the game, designed to create a sense of ritual.
- J♦️: My bearer killed her brother for treasure.
- 6♣️: My sentience arose from sacrifice. I was a person once.
- 5♦️: My bearer has a dark soul, though she tries to contain it.
- 10♣️: I have been carried by evil before, and rejected when I tried to do good.
- 6♠️: Better the bearer who tries than a brigand.
- 7♠️: I am not a cooking tool.
So. Another bearer who may betray me. I am meant for heroism. When we reach the end, I may shatter or drain my power containing the foe. I only have so much. To use it for comfort is folly. Still… better the bearer who cries in the night over her sins than the one who forgets them. I will see.
I’m not reproducing the prompts here mostly because you’d wind up with half of the game; it’s one prompt per card. The game doesn’t call for you to record them, but it was easier for me to write them down as I went so I could reference them in the narrative portion. I decided pretty much immediately that not all the memories were going to make it into the writing. I also decided the bearer was going to be a woman (mostly because my reflex was “him” so I figured OK, let’s change that).
- 3♣️: My true name is my living name, Censi. It unlocks all my power.
- 3♥️: Raim was my brother, before and after. He is not bound to good or evil. More flexible, less powerful.
- 10♦️: My bearer can stop before killing.
She hasn’t earned my name yet. Maybe soon? Not until we face my brother, Raim, once more. If I’m awake, he’s awake. The order of things is what it is, even if I am tired. And I am. But I cant give her untrammeled control of me until she proves herself, no matter how much mercy she shows in battle.
I didn’t try and write a complete story in the narratives. I think it’d be confusing if you didn’t have the answers to the prompts to refer to. I added Censi’s brother here because I wanted to echo the bearer’s brother; I didn’t know if it was going to be a close parallel or what but I wanted to open up the possibility if the story went in that direction.
- 3♣️ Greed led her to this path. Her brother’s death was clumsy.
- J♥️: King Montli used me first. He thought it would be easy. He was betrayed.
- 2♠️: My bearer believes that resurrection lies at the top of the Heavenly Peaks.
- 5♠️: There are new things in the world. Four wings, screamed like a cat when we slew it.
She thinks she can heal her brother in some legendary chapel? Fool. There are no shortcuts. From first bearer to last, from the King to this peasant, why do they always want shortcuts? She has learned to use a sword since the day she killed her brother, by need and diligence. Isn’t the lesson obvious?
I totally forgot to weave in the four-winged monster here! It’ll come back later. I’d had the greed thing in mind since Day Two, for obvious reasons, and it was satisfying to have it pay off. This was also where I added the mirror motivation of guilt. Neither of these are what the sword wants the bearer to care about.
- 8♦️: She reminds me of me. I want her to overcome.
- 9♦️: She has no moral compass. Either her greed or guilt will keep her from our destiny.
- 4♦️: Her early companion and lover: he died before they made their fortune.
- 4♣️: I was made by the king’s forge-wizard so that the king could play hero.
Today, she told me the story of Aketh, her lover. They met soon after she picked up the blade. Her words; I know that she meant “killed my sibling.” He — Aketh — sounds unimpressive. He died in battle, and she promised him she would fulfill their mutual promise. Retiring rich. So she has defined her future by two dead men, her brother and this Aketh? Perhaps we are well-paired after all, since my bleak existence is defined by my dead brother. At least I have magic to blame.
I drew three diamonds, which is the suit that represents the bearer, so I really got to dig into who she was. Still no name for her! The Four of Clubs is one of the rare cards that doesn’t require you to pull a Jenga block, so this day ended on a real sense of relief. I think all this shows in the introspective narrative.
I think this is about where I decided to answer the prompt before pulling the block instead of the other way around. I didn’t want to know my character’s fate before inventing the memory; that felt like more advance warning than the game wants you to have.
- 7♦️: Wealth and a living brother. It won’t happen.
- Q♠️: We battled more of the four-winged creatures. They were too much for us.
- Q♦️: The treasure of kings far before mine.
- 4♠️: I convinced the pirate to die. He had no good in him. I was lost on the sea bed for a century.
- 5♣️: From time to time I thought I heard my brother. He would never call to me.
Naldya — my bearer — is hopeless. I will have to consider weakening her. I have done it before, when a bearer had no hope. She gave into greed even over guilt today, turning away from her quest to raise her brother in order to gain treasure. She succeeded, but the time she spent cost us. More four-winged creatures in our path. I will give her time to learn a lesson from this, and I do not wish to be lost in a remote place again in any case. Too much time in the dark is bad for me.
My sword used Naldya’s name here because they were angry at her. Names are a huge big deal in the world I was creating, as established in Day Three. At this point I was expecting the tower to fall at any moment, so every single pull needed to be a potential ending point. I amped up my sense of drama to serve that requirement.
To be clear: my requirement, not the game’s. The game is perfectly happy to see an anticlimactic shocking ending with no foreshadowing.
This day also saw my first face card draws. Face cards are big news, often requiring two Jenga pulls. I was glad I got a couple before the end of the game.
- 8♠️: My bearer stopped me from killing a merchant who was cheating us.
- 10♠️: I wish she’d let me keep the stain of my mistakes.
Well. She knows I speak now. She finds me bloodthirsty, which is correct. She still cleaned me, and I thanked her for restraining me. We will see.
Unexpectedly short day. I felt huge relief when I only had to do two draws. The Eight of Spades specifically says the sword is screaming at the bearer, so OK, this is where Naldya finds out her new sword can speak. The sword is just oscillating between hope and despair at this point. It made sense in the narrative and mechanically. To reach a happy ending, you have to draw the Ace of Hearts and then slowly remove ten tokens from it; there’s no way that happens unless you draw the Ace very early on and make some very lucky dice rolls. Thus, lots of despair. This is where I really had to separate my knowledge of inevitable doom from the character I was playing, poor little sword.
- 8♥️: I loved feeling like killing served an end.
- 4♠️: She now travels with the merchant who cheated us.
- A♥️: I tell her the story of my King, for the sake of starting at the start.
I should not have told her of King Montli, my first bearer. She should not have invited the merchant to travel with us, wounded or not. Two decisions, like two streams, meeting to form a terrible and powerful river.
The merchant stole me from her and carried me away while she slept. He demanded I tell him where the king’s treasures were. I could not, for they are long gone. In his rage, he shattered me.
I fade. I am no more.
Oh hey, there’s the Ace I needed to draw seven days ago. I love the random chance that made that the last card. There’s also a great example of foreshadowing and payoff here: the Four of Spades required me to invent an untrustworthy NPC we were traveling with. Well, the merchant was right there from yesterday. And then on the failed Jenga pull, I had him available to bring about the end of the story.