A Divorce of Druids and the Reviewing of Their Remove, Part 1: Spring

A Divorce of Druids and the Division of Their Domain, Issue 1: Spring
Game design, writing, and graphic design by Jason Kotzur
Illustrations by Kier Spilsbury
Published by Long Tail Games
All images used with permission

A Divorce of Druids and the Division of Their Domain is a DIY cut-color-and-paste game for two players. After making and spending a life together, a dyad of druids now mutually agrees that the time has come to move on. But before they can, they must take turns dividing their previously shared land and its inhabitants, and in the process, they will create their own new domains and new lives for themselves.

A Divorce of Druids is also a call-and-response game. In a sense, every game follows this sequence—each players will make actions and reply to the other’s. In A Divorce of Druids, though, players make verbal and physical statements that their counterpart must respond to, and these words and actions are remembered both in written records and in the final physical arrangement of the game’s materials.

Thus, the interplay between characters has a much greater, lasting impact than the merely transient movements of game pieces across a board or of cards from deck to hand to discard pile. Although the druids are separating, their lives and lands remain intimately intertwined, and their interactions will shape the game’s outcome and set the stage for future installments (one for each season); this post covers only the beginning of that journey in Spring.

“The end of their circle of two”

At its heart, A Divorce of Druids is a fair division game. Each round, one druid will be the divider who splits a tract of land, and the other will be the decider who gets first choice of the two portions—a classic example of minimax strategy at work in a zero-sum game.

If you’re unfamiliar with minimax, imagine two children have one cookie to share between them. Both want the biggest possible portion, but they’ll settle for an even split. The fairest way to divide the cookie is for one child to cut it down the middle, and then the other will choose how the pieces are apportioned. If the cutter makes the halves uneven, they’re disadvantaging themselves because the chooser will take the larger share. By making the division as equitable as possible, the cutter is maximizing the minimum value they’ll get from this arrangement.

The first tract. The elder druid divides it as they see fit, and the other decides who receives which portion.

Fair division is a simple procedure with, say, a peanut butter cookie. But it gets more complicated with a chocolate chip cookie. The distribution of chips will never be perfectly even, which presents a strategic opportunity for the cutter: they can viably divide the cookie unevenly, with the smaller portion containing more chips than the larger. Now the chooser must decide which is more valuable: a larger  portion of cookie or a higher density of chocolate.

Players face a similar situation in A Divorce of Druids. The couple isn’t simply dividing the land they’ve shared; they’re also distributing its laws and apportioning its inhabitants, all of which hold particular benefits for each character. Players strive to select inhabitants that will create the greatest harmony within their new domain. Their final scores will depend on the types, characteristics, and arrangement of inhabitants, and how well all of those fit the druid’s laws and desires.

“Beloved, tell me the law of the…”

Each druid begins with secret knowledge of 5 laws. Every round, players can ask their beloved to share one of their own secret laws. Druids with the Companionable and Keen-Sighted traits (established at the start of the game) have opportunities to learn more laws at a quicker rate, but both druids will end up knowing at least 9 of the 10 laws by the end of the fourth and final round.

In addition to laws, the druids start with four desires. At the end of the second and fourth rounds, each will eliminate one of their desires in response to the animals and plants they’ve accumulated through play. Druids will keep track of which laws they’ve shared, but they won’t know which desires the other player has chosen, making it impossible for either party to reliably figure the other’s final score.

In the end phase, desires and laws will together decide players’ scores and the outcome of the game. How those scores are weighed depends on the druids’ shared alignment, which is agreed upon in the setup phase. In true druidic fashion, the alignments are:

  • Neutral Good: The druids will seek a harmonious balance, and the outcome of their divorce will be determined by the lowest individual score. Working together to maximize both scores will result in a more favorable resolution.
  • True Neutral: The druids are committed to creating the most beneficial outcome for themselves while still respecting their beloved’s needs and desires. Each player should seek the best personal score without strategically hindering their counterpart; the other druid’s wellbeing will ultimately benefit them as much as their own.
  • Neutral Evil: The druids embrace the virtue of selfishness and intentionally antagonize their beloved in the act of separation. There will be a clear winner based on the difference between the players’ scores.

These three alignments provide options for competitiveness and challenge to suit player preference. And although druids must share one alignment, the asymmetrical natures of character creation and development enable different strategies and tactics to advance their ultimate goal.

“I divide us so that we may be whole again.”

Each player’s imperfect knowledge, growing roster of laws, dwindling desires, and permanent traits will force them to strategize and score points in unique ways. Some traits also allow for distinct physical and mechanical interactions with the game and its materials.

The Flamboyant trait, for example, allows the druid to add additional colors to animals and plants, which will subsequently interact with additional laws and potentially create a visually distinctive experience. The Fluid trait reduces the number of times a druid may subdivide newly gained land, but it allows them to rotate pieces before attaching them permanently to their domain, adding further strategic granularity.

Starting druids with an example of one accessory they can obtain through their traits. (Flamboyant antler druid is best druid.)

These traits are reflected by the cosmetic accessories that each druid gains at creation. Initially, the avatars are indistinct, but once the first cuts are made and the two representations are physically separated, the attribution of traits begins the process of individuation. And when the avatars accrete land and inhabitants, the druids literally cannot be rejoined; everything they previously shared now separates them (metaphorically and materially), and it will ultimately define the outcome of their conflict.

A Divorce of Druids can be played with PDF printouts, or players can purchase a physical zine to use as the raw materials. Any regular reader of this blog knows that I advocate for the meticulous care and maintenance of books (game books or otherwise)—but A Divorce of Druids is one rare exception.

Using the physical zine means destroying it. You will make a unique, rather personal artifact in the process, but you will not be able to reuse the materials to play Spring again. Taking this path will add an appropriate sense of gravity and profoundness to play. There are no do-overs or take-backs. Every division is meaningful and permanent. You must cut wisely.

Of course, you can always use printouts to play again. But physically and experientially, this will only be a facsimile of the original; you can only play A Divorce of Druids for the first time once, just like every interpersonal relationship is a unique journey that can never be revised or replicated no matter how hard we may wish or try.

“You cherished and enjoyed your time together. You will miss them.”

A Divorce of Druids strives for immersion, providing players with lines and prompts to deliver in character throughout the game. It discourages participants from breaking character except to discuss formal metagame concerns like rules and gameplay procedure.

In this way, players remain firmly focused on the game’s substance: the titular divorce. But by spotlighting its diegetic content, the game simultaneously veils its true meaning and significance until the very end. Consider the final phase of play, Contemplation:

“Congratulations, you are now divorced and have a new life and domain to explore.

“After you have narrated your epilogue, look into your beloved’s eyes, and say their Chosen Name and then say Goodbye. Your beloved is no longer your beloved, they are now just your friend.

“To finish the game, look deep into your friend’s eyes and tell them something you would miss about them if you never saw them again.”

Throughout the game, the players have addressed each other by their character names or as “beloved.” The game now enacts a break with that nomenclature; you have bidden the other druid goodbye by name, and they are now merely a friend—much like the friend sitting opposite you at the table. (Even if you’re playing the game with your own real-life beloved, they’re still certainly your friend.)

This subtle verbal shift, along with the direction to engage the other person rather than the game materials, cues the players to adjust their mental focus. They should no longer be thinking only in character but (whether consciously or not) also at the metagame level about the person they’ve chosen to share this experience with even as that experience now concludes.

Spilsbury’s charming artwork and Kotzur’s graphic design are major components of the game’s work at this point. The gentle colors and affectionately rendered figures foster a genuine sentimentality for the little druids and the land’s inhabitants, and the attention the player puts into roleplaying them and assembling the new domain cements the connection. Then that connection is redirected to the players as the game and the dyad together dissolve.

“It is simply time for something new.”

Ultimately, A Divorce of Druids is about far more than simply crafting and coloring and scoring points. It is a game about contemplating beginnings and endings and the roles other people play in our lives.

This is a rare game that intimately unifies its physical, kinesthetic mechanics with the external social dynamic that it models through its in-game interplay. Every action has been an interaction or negotiation between the players, from selecting names and traits to apportioning land and laws to determining personal desires. Every cut, every separation becomes the basis for a new joining, a new creation. Endings can be positive—if we choose to make them so.

Games inherently reflect certain cultural ideals and values, and A Divorce of Druids in particular strives to transform and enlighten our perceptions of social connections in culture at large. Through play, which itself is separate from the serious concerns of living, the game gestures beyond the magic circle’s boundary in hopes of joining the transient ludic moment to the unbroken and ongoing flow of everyday life, to map the breaking of the dyad on to the similar experiences we will face with our own friends and loved ones.

A Divorce of Druids encourages us to consider the interactions and relationships that unite or divide us. Because even in ending, those relationships shape who we are, who we will be, and the world in which we choose to live.

A Divorce of Druids and the Division of Their Domain: Spring is available in digital and print formats from Long Tail Games via DriveThruRPG and Gumroad. The publisher also offers a subscription that will include all four seasons.

Liber Ludorum is entirely reader-funded. Please consider lending your support.

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