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Letters not about love by Oscar Biffi & Alessandro Giovannucci What to write about! My whole life is a letter to you. Writing about love is forbidden, so I’ll write about two brothers. That ought to be sufficiently remote. Bratishka and Starik, the younger and the elder, bound together and torn apart by a single, crazy train ride. In search of her, from Saint Petersburg to Moscow, while reality runs past the window, bathed in reddish light.

Roles 2 male.

Time 2 hours.

Replayability Medium. Room for interpretation in the relationship between the two characters. Multiple endings, dictated by game mechanics.

Leitmotiv

Brothers, letters, love, revolution, Russian literature, turn of the century, train journey.

No character sheets, but an exchange of letters. No unity of action or place, but the five legs of a journey. No definite ending, but the whims of fate lurking behind every corner. No love story… Or is there one? It’s hard to tell, with a Russia straight out of a novel casting its melancholy shadow over it all.


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Chamber staging Let’s print the character sheets, as well as the Itineraries and all the Letters. Then put two chairs or benches face to face in order to emulate a train carriage. We are going to need a small metal box, two glasses and two different beverages (in the narrative fiction, these will be vodka and tea): give them all to Starik’s player. Lastly, let’s not forget to get a pen or pencil each, and a clock to keep our perception of time intact (a pocket watch to would fit the setting perfectly).

Symphony staging We could find a train carriage, or piece one together, ideally with a vintage feel to it. A teapot, a nice glass bottle and small cups will help us drink in style, while the metal box can stay empty: the only important thing is choosing one that fits the setting. Let’s set up the lights in a way that allows us to vary their colour or intensity (even turning them off if needed) to highlight the Tunnel segments. One of the inspirations for this scenario was Bratiska, from the Italian songwriter Enrico Ruggeri: we could listen to it before the game. As for background music, we can play around with Russian composers. A juxtaposition of Pëtr Čajkovskij’s Adagio molto for harp and string quartet for the journey and Sergej Rachmaninov’s celebrated Prelude in C sharp minor for the Tunnel segments would make an interesting combination. A less classical alternative would be Sofija Gubajdulina, with her symbolically charged, flavourful compositions: we can interpose The last seven words with her Duo sonata for two bassoon.

Libretto Writing a game together always generates a very strange alchemy. Every small impulse becomes a talk or a point for discussion. It can look like a waste of time, but one could say that about every fun experience. In truth, it is simply a way to better focus on the meaning of a story that you’ve already decided to tell with someone else: the players.


5 As authors, we have often played with each other’s creations, which is a great advantage to mutual understanding when talking about game mechanics. And we spent a long time discussing them, since our intent was to give the players all sorts of tools to control and dynamise what the characters perceive as a stalemate. The balance between the intimacy of free interpretation and the need for strictly mechanical rules is a delicate thing, to the point that one may even come to think that this scenario has a winner and a loser. At least until Fate takes over the scene to get the last word, silencing any arguments before they can begin. In any case, Letters not about love owes the lion’s share of its charm to its sources of inspiration, and that’s where things got interesting. Oscar, a librarian and a writer with an appetite for the fantastic, put forward a piece from songwriter Enrico Ruggeri with a clear Russian spin. Alessandro, a musicologist and professor of aesthetics, replied with Viktor Šklovskij’s book, as a first model for the wealth of letters we knew we wanted to write. A surprising role reversal, and a good way to recommend music and literature to each other. So we ended up playing with the great minds of Russian literature, beyond authorities like Gogol’, Tolstoj, Dostoevskij and Chekhov to lesser-known figures such as Aleksandr Blok, Vlaimir Majakovskij and Marina Cveateva. Under the wing of these guardian angels, we envisioned a symbolic Russia whose flavour transcends history, its landscape imbued with deep Romantic spirit and the quintessence of Revolution. We wove together an email correspondence that would go on to reflect the characters’ imaginary one. At the centre of it all was the appetite for the written word, and the taste for the visions it can plant in the reader’s mind. Whether you write of love or revolution, of history or fantasy, of brotherhood or enmity, in the end it’s all about emotions and tensions which are nothing but profoundly human. Perhaps the most stimulating, unfathomable topic to play with.


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Orchestrations Set-up The setting of this scenario is a callback to the early years of 1900, in a literary, rather than historical, Russia. Its tones and colours come from the turn of the century’s great novels. We can follow this inspiration for our outfits and for the few necessary props (a metal box, a teapot and a bottle of vodka, with two small cups – all in the hands of Starik’s player), or we can take a minimalist approach with black clothing and simple (and alcohol-free!) items, which suit a more universal tale. Two brothers travelling together, bound and divided by a common pursuit. Our characters, Starik and Bratishka, are journeying by train along the Nikolaevskaya railway from Saint Petersburg to Moscow, so if we don’t intend to play on a real wagon we should recreate a similar space. It’s enough to place two benches or chairs so that they face each other, with barely enough leg room in the middle, and account for the presence or curious absence of other travellers during the game. Being in public will inevitably influence the tones of a conversation. Now that we’ve painted the main picture, at least in our minds, we can print out the Letters and add them to the scene. In fact, this game has no character sheets to define its protagonists, no omniscient narrator to analyse and explain their innermost secrets: all we have are a series of Letters in their possession. Before we begin play, we should both receive all the Letters belonging to our character, but we won’t have access to them all at once. In fact,

each Letter bears a Postmark with a number going from 1 to 5, to associate it with one of the five scenes that make up the game and to the same number of train rides in the narrative. We can consider these Letters introductions to a scene: once each of us has read their three Letters marked with number 1, we’ll be ready to play the first sequence, set during the journey from Saint Petersburg and Čudovo; once this scene is over, we’ll take the time to read the letters marked with number 2 and then begin with the second scene, set after our stay in Čudovo, as we ride the train to our next stop, Vyšnij Voločëk. And so on. Once read, these documents can be put in play, since they are real, actual elements in the narrative fiction: each brother carries his mail with him and can read excerpts to the other, or look at it to kill time during the journey. The only document external to the story, whose only use is to the players, is the travel Itinerary, a handy recap and an essential tool for the Game mechanics. To let us access it without breaking character, it’s best to hide it among the Letters: if for example we choose to print them on yellowed paper to set the mood, we should do the same with the Itinerary. Other unique documents are the Missive, in the possession of Starik’s player, and the two Telegrams, one for each character: these represent the three possible outcomes of the scenario. Their owners must never read them, but they might have to give one to the other player to put an end to the game, according to the instructions we’ll find in the Game mechanics section. Before moving forward, it’s important to clarify one last point: the characters are the recipients


7 of their Letters, not the senders. In fact, each player will only read what the other characters write to them, and never what they themselves wrote. The game is all about piecing together the identity and opinions of our protagonist from those of their peers. For example, we won’t have access to a passage where our character states his feelings for his brother, but we will be able to establish them as players, by reacting to what the other writes and developing those thoughts as we go. In addition, we can count on a strong starting conflict: Bratishka is looking for his lost love and, even as he follows along, Starik wants to bring him home. In practice, we will have a more accurate understanding of the other character’s motives than of our own, we will be aware of what we’re attributed with and what impressions we give off, but we’ll need to craft and develop our own position with care and time, stop after stop, by picking up on the other player’s cues and letting them evolve freely. Game mechanics From the moment we read the opening Letters, we’ll leap into a gruelling conflict of opposed wills, in spite of the affection that binds the brothers to each other. A battle lasting weeks, drawn out during a journey on the edge of madness and often conducted in public, in the carriage of this or that train. A duel made of things Unsaid,

where the tension could be cut with a knife. At stake are the future of both brothers, and their precarious relationship. To represent all of this in the span of five scenes, at the top of each player’s Itinerary we’ll find a section labelled Unsaid, with a list of three words. Each of us should pay attention to the other’s speech, and take note every time they mention one of the three listed terms, or their synonyms and derivatives; for example, were War part of the list, we should also consider warrior, battle and so on. Neither of us is aware of their own words, at least in the beginning, but the responsibility of watching out for them always falls on the other. Each time one of us uses a word from the Unsaid list, the other must announce an incoming Tunnel without breaking character: he simply saw it from the train window. In a few seconds, the character who infringed the “ban” on one of their Unsaid words must close their eyes and go silent, while the other, the one who saw the Tunnel coming, can benefit from a moment of release. He’s free to vent his feelings, he can even touch his brother if he so wishes and none of his actions will have any consequence. For a few instants we can truly hear what lies in his heart and mind, all the prospects he has forced into silence, fearful of hurting his brother or weary of repeating himself over and over. At the end of the Tunnel, we go back to the routine of the train, and car-


8 ry on the conversation as if nothing happened. If, however, we go through three different Tunnels during the course of a single scene (no matter which player announced them), once the third Tunnel sequence is over the train will experience a Malfunction. Any one of us can introduce it in the narration, maybe by complaining about the sudden braking and cursing the state of Russia, thrown into chaos by war and conflict. In any case the train will end its ride, and so will the scene, regardless of how long it lasted. Obviously, in time, we will get an idea of what words make up our Unsaid list, but this is not a board game, and the point is not to win something by avoiding mistakes. These words are a tool we can use to give meaning and dynamism to the scenes. If we want to give our brother a chance to vent, we can rile him up by letting our tongue slip on purpose; after all, a word left Unsaid is a word he was so tired of hearing that we made it part of an unwritten arrangement, essential to our peaceful coexistence. If we think a scene is dragging on too long, without much left to say, we can in fact cause a Malfunction simply by using the right word. The feeling of being at a standstill is something only the characters should know: we, as players, are lords and masters of our story. Epilogue The two brothers may be trapped in an apparently aimless, endless journey, but this doesn’t mean that the world outside their window has ceased to exist, nor that destiny ever stopped plotting behind their backs.

In our narrative fiction, the protagonists spend a few days in each city along the railway to look for clues to the position of Bratishka’s lost love. During this downtime, they receive new Letters on top of the ones we’ve already read. For this reason there will always be a pause between every scene and the next, where we can read the messages received by our character at each stop. Beyond these news, the two brothers’ story is dictated by the whims of fate, independently of their conscious choices. The ending to this tale can’t be decided by one player gaining the rhetorical upper hand over the other, since neither character is forced to recede from their own fundamental beliefs: whatever will be, will be. Let’s pretend we’re a little superstitious, and give some prophetic value to choices both trivial –  like what to drink during the journey – and more complex, like whether to give a suffering man a dose of morphine. This is precisely what happens in the Fate section of our Itinerary: scene after scene, we’ll note the result of decisions that seemingly have little to do with the brothers’ future, but will establish how their story will end. On a more practical level, in the Fate section we’ll find a chart with five rows, one for each leg of the Itinerary, and two columns, Me and Him. In each cell are two boxes indicating a Fateful Choice, with different options depending on our role: Bratishka’ will get Morphine and Abstinence, Starik Vodka and Tea. Before we begin playing, we should fill out the Me column, for example by checking the Vodka box on the first row, Tea on the second, and so on. There are no right or wrong decisions, we can let our instincts guide us. The Him column must be left blank: we’ll need it


9 during the game. Just like with the Unsaid words, each of us will be tasked with monitoring the other’s actions. During each scene we will offer our brother the Fateful Choice written on our Itinerary and note his answer. So, during each leg of the journey, Starik will offer Bratishka the choice between a glass of Vodka and a cup of Tea, while Bratishka will ask Starik if he will give him another dose of Morphine, or whether Abstinence would be better. Two choices with very different weights, offering different narrative cues, that are nonetheless equal on a mechanical level. When we check a box in the Him column, we must take note of whether it is different from whatever we wrote in the corresponding cell of the Me section. When the choices differ for the third time, the player who just checked will know that the current leg of the journey will also be the last: this is the final scene of the game. Once it is over, that player will give the other the Telegram in their possession, to be read out loud. Thus, one of the three possible endings will become reality. The scenario can come to an end after only three or four scenes, with Bratishka’s or Starik’s Telegram to close it, or it can go on until the end of the fifth scene with no more than two different choices for each player: in that case, Starik’s player will give their brother a special Missive. In the event that a Malfunction ends a scene prematurely, before one of the

characters has had the chance to offer the other their Fateful Choice, that player will automatically check the opposite of the box they checked in the Me column. If this is the third differing choice, then the next scene will be the last: if it’s also the fifth scene, then it will be a Telegram, not Starik’s Missive, that decides the outcome. If both players get to the third disparity during the same scene, then both Telegrams are put into play: first Bratishka will read the one he received from Starik, then the older brother will have the last word. Whatever fate has in store for us, let’s never forget that every scene, starting with the third, may be our last. If we don’t want to run the risk of ending the game with a bad taste in our mouth, let’s do all we can to charge the closure of each scene with meaning. We might discover we have no more time at our disposal. This advice notwithstanding, the whole mechanic places no responsibility on either the characters or the players. Things happen, destiny unfolds and it’s a simple human delusion to think that it was some small choice of ours that set its course. If we truly want to discover what outcome lies written in the Telegram or Missive that we didn’t have a chance to read, we’ll have no other choice but to play again, maybe after switching roles.


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Itinerary for Bratishka’s player Unsaid

Revolution

Family

Past

Each time the other player uses one of these words, including synonyms and derivatives, simulate an incoming Tunnel. If you’re announcing the third Tunnel, a Malfunction must follow suit. Fate ME

Saint Petersburg Čudovo Vyšnij Voločëk Tver’ Klin Moscow

HIM

1° scene

Morphine

Abstinence

Morphine

Abstinence

2° scene

Morphine

Abstinence

Morphine

Abstinence

3° scene

Morphine

Abstinence

Morphine

Abstinence

4° scene

Morphine

Abstinence

Morphine

Abstinence

5° scene

Morphine

Abstinence

Morphine

Abstinence

DISPARITY

Before you begin to play, fill out the Me table. During each scene, offer your partner the Fateful Choice and note the answer in the Him table. If you note down the third disparity between Me and Him, give the Telegram to the other player as soon as the scene is finished (do not read it). Once the message has been read aloud, the game is over. You will have but a few seconds, in complete silence, to take your leave. Note Your left leg is injured. You can barely move it, with a great deal of pain. Scene after scene, it gets worse.


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11-12-1904 Bratishka, my Bratishka, once again your magnificent predictability has managed to surprise me. I won’t spend a word on love and how its shadow is sometimes our own. On the many times we fall in love simply because - alas! - nobody will fall for us. The game you’ve begun is a game of catch, like those we played when we were two little men, during the long, tedious afternoons when our mother was visiting her friends and our father away on business.. Everything will be confusing, and deeply important, and harshly enjoyable in its own way. You will run and run, but the doors to our home will open eventually and we will need to go back inside, for our family is waiting and dinner is getting cold. ‘Tis true, you have made your move, but you move too much like a knight. Not because you took my horse for your little escape - how many times we stole from each other as children, and with such malicious innocence!- but because you remind me of the chess piece, the one you never know how to use. Its moves are lopsided, restrained, it bounds sideways and hops around, and forever avoids the direct path. You cannot take Piter by siege by moving like that. In the city, people know the smell of those too drenched in magic, those too full of love. And they have no pity for them. Yet in its tense, brilliant life, a faceless, restless mask beckons us from every corner. More than anything I would love to return to Piter at your side, you know this, and the charm of your words would not be enough to keep me away, you know this too. But why depart now, of all possible times? This is a sad sentence for me. As you know there are many kinds of love. The love for one’s woman is the most evident, but the love for one’s people is far stronger. As you know things are moving, and we can no longer stand back and watch in silence. The courtyard we used to play in is now the whole world. We must defend it. And we will, my comrades and I. However, this duty is not without consequence. The growl of the Tsar’s war hounds keeps me away from my dear Piter: the moment will come soon and I would never forgive myself for seeing it from behind the bars of a cell. I must be ready when history comes knocking at my door. You should have chosen Paris, my brother. You will see that Piter is not the city of lovers, but the city where reality is bathed in reddish light. The days are ever more filled with cries, with waving red banners; at dusk the dozing city is bloodied by the setting sun. At night red sings on clothes, on cheeks, on the lips of prostitutes. Only pale morning can chase away the last tinge of colour from emaciated faces. But we want this morning to be radiant. And what am I supposed to do with you, then?

Starik


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11-15-1904 My fleeing brother, first you take me for a wiseman, and now a judge.I won’t let myself be bound forever, not by these trappings nor by common sense,which is all too often nothing more than concealed cowardice. The snow storm that force you to prolong your stay are no more than evidence of what I already knew in my heart. Everyone is destined to pass through the forests of transient things, until they reach what is true and eternal. That is why these forests are attractive, and why we never seem to grasp their fleetingness: because we feel in them the inkling of future, actual truth. So I have but one choice: to saddle your own horse and race against the freezing storm, damned be your heart. And your advice too, for nothing in the world would make me follow it. I do not know if you will find this news pleasant, but I absolutely cannot change, not where you are concerned, whether you agree or not, and whatever happens I will stay with you my whole life, in one way or the other. For this reason we will meet at that inn, where we once were no more than merry country boys that thought the world lay before them like a book, like a glass to down in one gulp. Now we know that everything is different, that the ship of innocence sank against the rocks of our daily lives. Not for you, perhaps, and this is why you must never lose anything of what you are. Not even for the sake of an unspeakable love. A part of me keeps repeating that this kind of decision is not up to me. But I am your brother Starik, and I have the audacity and the insolence to think and feel that for all my impotence and mortal fragility I am better suited to guard over your eternal youth than anyone else. This is whyI have already donned my coat and I write these last few lines with my boots already strapped on. We will change everything, you and I, together. Yours

Starik


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11-20-1904 You are truly a reckless fool! I write this letter sitting by the bed where I saw you lose your senses, where you clutched between your fingers your last, unfinished letter to me. The worst welcome I could ever get in this inn I used to cherish. I write this letter, pretending this is all a game, because if we were to speak in all seriousness, you fully alert and me completely honest, we would come to blows. If I haven’t already loaded you on a carriage it’s not because of this mangled leg of yours, filling my thoughts with anguish, but because I refuse to drag my brother home like a chained dog. We have all been in love. And we all know, as we live, that one can die of love. But that death is of the heart, of feelings, of reason. You are dying like a soldier dies in war. And what are you going to do with this love that treats you like a general would? “ My whole life, with no reservations, belongs to you, from principle to end. Play with it, if you want. If I ever manage to accomplish anything, to impress, to leave a fleeting trace of stardust on something, it will all be yours”. You read this passage to me once, for a dark-haired girl. You spent all your time talking about her. You will always have my sympathy , and I know you need to chase after your love, but you must not let it hunt you down like this. It pains me to see my brother look as feverish and troubled as a veteran. Luckily she runs fastlove always does!- and soon there will be three of us again. You, me, and the shadow of love to come. It will be wonderful to be able to tell you about new things then, things that set aflutter the heart of many, these days. We will dive in together and rebuild it all. We will make it so that everything begins anew; so that our false, monstrous life becomes righteous, clean, merry, beautiful. When such ideas, asleep since time immemorial in the heart of men, in the heart of the people, break free from the tethers that once restrained them and erupt like a raging torrent, destroying dams and tearing down the useless riverbanks, that is what we call a revolution. But sleep for now, Bratishka. I will sleep as well, and when we rise even Piter will seem lighter.

Starik


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11-25-1904 My young lord, as a soldier, my manners are curt, but I don’t want it to be said that Čudovo is a den of ungrateful beasts. For your visit here and for the generosity you have shown me, I give my thanks to you. It causes me great dismay that I could not find the young lady you were looking for. You must understand that I am surrounded by simple people, good workers with hunched backs that, though eager to obey yours truly in virtue of my past in the army, cannot certainly become trackers on command. If, God forbid, your prey should keep escaping you for long, come visit me again on your way back. Here you will find a friend, and by then I may have three or four cossacks on my hand, tough people who should better suit your needs. In any event, know that I remain optimistic towards your pursuit. Do not give in to despair for the visit of that physician and his bleak words: everyone knows that doctors are the same as lawyers, the sole difference being that lawyers only rob you, but doctors rob you and kill you too. I realise that my being an efficient, pragmatic person may bother intellectuals such as the good doctor. And such as your brother, there is no use in denying it. He seems to be the kind of man who thinks money the most hideous, vulgar thing in existence: while he is doubtlessly right, it is because money can accomplish everything. And you have no shortage of it, nor are you one of those lesser men that find it hard to divorce themselves from their savings, so the girl will certainly be yours. Forgive my confidence, but I admire your passion. Such feelings are common to us Russians and still manage to surprise the whole of Europe. Do not let despair take you, and break a lance in favour of this poor soldier with your brother. Though he seems to find extraordinary pleasure in his own thin-skinned irritability, surely his great intellect will allow him to realise his reaction was far more intense than necessary. I consider being on your side a great privilege. At your service, now and forever The humble Ensign of Čudovo


15 12-3-1904 My child, I heard about your mockery of my deacon, whose only fault was answering the call of your good host to administer to you the anointing of the sick. Fear not, I will not impose upon you outside of this letter, for one cannot be forced into the Grace of God as if it was a burlap sack. Yet I pray that you will acknowledge my deep concern. Not for your injury, but for your soul. I am told you are in pursuit of a woman. That you go around gathering rumours, witnesses, tracks. I am certain she has not disappeared from this world, she could be anywhere among us, perhaps simply wearing a different mantle. But people are frivolous and shallow: a woman with a different mantle looks like another woman entirely. Desist, return home, take care of yourself and of us all. I do not know you, Bratishka, but even as I listen to the accounts of your intemperance I am able to see the man you could grow into, if only you were to fight with strength and patience to get back onto the righteous path and aim for a better purpose. How much good you could do to the world! If you spent as much effort towards good as you do to track down this woman, sacrificing as much self-respect, as much ambition, as much compassion towards yourself as you sacrifice to her altar: how would the Earth flourish around you! Keep in mind that the worst thing to do is not to make yourself guilty in the eyes of others. The worst is to make yourself guilty in your own eyes and in the eyes of God, when confronted with the wealth of power and gifts that fate has granted you Your destiny is to be a great man: do not lose nor demean yourself. The Pope of VyĹĄnij VolocĂŤk


16 12-13-1904 Dear cousin, I still cannot describe my surprise at meeting you and Starik here, in Tver’.

It almost felt like seeing two characters from the books I so love appear right on my doorstep, for such is

the effect of hearing about you so often without ever being able to see you, ever since I was but a little girl. Yet I dare hope that it was as natural for you to share your pain as it was for me to welcome it.

I don’t believe I can give you any better advice with this letter, but at least this sheet won’t remain blank and silent as I did before you, ignorant as I am in the matters of the heart.

I do not think you are free to go back, like my father says and you yourself acknowledge.

It is not enough to force your leg to move to deny its painful state; in the same way, a ticket to Saint Petersburg attached to this letter would not be enough to push you on a train back.

I know nothing about love, but I know much about hope and I know it is the implacable tyrant of our lives. Perhaps I am wrong, perhaps my words are illogical and the irrefutable demonstration of your freedom. I certainly would be the last to deny it to you.

Instead I would like to tell you that during a long journey, the mind lingers in the place of departure

as the f irst few stops go by. Then all of a sudden it turns to the destination, and there it begins to build

castles out of things to come.

Perhaps the woman that agitates your fantasies is not your true destination, but the place you departed from, and sometime soon you will leave her behind. For a new destination, one that you would never have imagined before you set off. One that you may have already reached.

I would like to tell you all this, but I dare not. ‘Tis hope that wields the pen, the ruthless tyrant.

And at her order I will wait patiently for an answer, one that could set us both free.

With unabated fondness and renewed hope Your cousin


17 12-20-1904 Mister Bratishka, first wagon, left side, eager as you are to see the next station come. Am I wrong? It’s child’s play to leave this letter in your path, as I have been following you for so long that it’s easy to tell your next move. From Saint Petersburg, you may wonder? Yes, but I was there well before your arrival, when your brother was alone in town. Or better yet, in bad company. I guess everyone knows to wag their tail when they stumble into a flock of sheep, but he got our attention more than anyone else. How lucky he is to be so clever: he never runs out of nonsense to spout! But I digress. And you cannot afford to lose more time, since you have so very little left. I’ve seen my share of wars and I can smell a fatal wound. One such as yours. Instead of struggling to find a lady, you should start mourning your miserable life. And what better way to save your soul than to finally arrange for a good deed? Convince your brother not to return. Let him handle your burial in Moscow or better yet wander the steppes if he doesn’t want to follow you on your final journey. A bishop cannot be judged by a layman, and that is true of every authority. Strange how a man of letters like professor Starik seems to have forgotten this fact, and allowed his tongue to outrun his brain. But us, we’re paid to never forget. Don’t look for me on the train, you would not recognise me. Anonymity is my second skin. Spare me your letters about love and revolution. I am granting you this clemency simply because following you has made the folly of your struggles perfectly clear. I do not need to strip you of the dignity of thought you worked so hard to nurture, I just need you to stay out of Saint Petersburg one way or the other. People say that in the long run, truth will triumph; but it is untrue.

Ochrana


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19


20

Itinerary r il giocatore for Starik’s diplayer Starik Unsaid

Love

Death

Future

Each time the other player uses one of these words, including synonyms and derivatives, simulate an incoming Tunnel. If you’re announcing the third Tunnel, a Malfunction must follow suit. Fate ME

Saint Petersburg Čudovo Vyšnij Voločëk Tver’ Klin Moscow

HIM

1° scene

Tea

Vodka

Tea

Vodka

2° scene

Tea

Vodka

Tea

Vodka

3° scene

Tea

Vodka

Tea

Vodka

4° scene

Tea

Vodka

Tea

Vodka

5° scene

Tea

Vodka

Tea

Vodka

DISPARITY

Before you begin to play, fill out the Me table. During each scene, offer your partner the Fateful Choice and note the answer in the Him table. If you note down the third disparity between Me and Him, give the Telegram to the other player as soon as the scene is finished (do not read it). If the fifth scene ends without either of you noting own the third disparity, give Brathiska’s player the Missive instead (do not read it). Once one of the two messages has been read aloud, the game is over. You will have but a few seconds, in complete silence, to take your leave. Note Your thoughts go to the Revolution. It’s hard to focus on the present. Scene after scene, it gets worse.


21 11-11-1904 Wise Starik, I have made my move, the one thing I should have dared to do back when I first spoke of love and the game began. She is waiting for me. I trade this letter with your horse, for the cold is unforgiving and you've always had a better eye for beasts than me. And not just for beasts, you would probably say. But this time, I cannot stay and listen to you. I will run to her, to Petersburg. I still lack the confidence to call it Piter like you do, esteemed professor. We will find shelter in the inn where we celebrated your tenure at the University, but only for one night. Send your answer there, if you are ready to bet that the courier can outrun me on these icy roads. A last toast to the days gone by and then we'll be off to who knows where, like Hussars in the wind. Do not follow me. Accept my thanks. I have no third request for you. I would have loaded you still sleeping on my saddle, if I could. I would have welcomed a last dose of your common sense as a farewell gift, if I could. A wise man once told me that life is well ordered, like a necessaire, but not all of us can find our places in it; the same man added that life pits us against each other and laughs. I carry the words of that man with me, since I cannot demand his company. And I pray that he will keep close the love of a young brother that could not give up the game, like one does with a botched painting, hanging it over the mantelpiece when it has no place there but for the enthusiasm that was put into it. Though that brother knows he may be headed for a checkmate. There, I found my third request. If you can honour it, and I know you will, then I welcome my exile from our beloved home, or even from the Empire. Bratishka's crazed compass will find its North one day. But not today. Today I depart alone. To chase a woman whose tender shoulders have only known the weight of love's shadow. Away from a brother that could bear to support the whole of Russia. It really is true that anyone can become delirious, anyone that lives seriously at least. I walk towards delirium on this same night.

Bratishka


22 11-14-1904 Merciful Starik, I am not home. I am not in Petersburg. I am not with her, either. It appears that Father Frost was waiting for me out of the door, as early as a pedantic accountant, with a blizzard as a gift no less. I found shelter in what they insist is an inn, right in the empty middle of nowhere. The innkeeper says he will dispatch this letter tomorrow: we shall see if he can make promises better than his borscht. I will get back on the road as soon as I stop feeling bad for your horse, come Hell or high weather. In the meantime I wait, with a pile of old books which I can read and don't read, a balalaika which I can play and don't play, and the hosts to whom I can talk and don't talk. Instead I write to you, and not just because I have nothing better to do. Suddenly, the idea of seeing her again fills me with worry. Long have I thought that she needed only to feel the sweetness and the scent of love's flowers... How can I imagine her weathering this very storm, and come out of it not maimed like the trees, but with her heart set to go even further? I know, such a bleak disposition will do me no good. And these lamentations of mine will surely remind you of the little boy who loathed to be exiled to our uncle's dwelling for vacations, in Tver'. Yes, seeing her again will be like getting the first glimpse of our home, at the end of summer. It will set everything right. Do not be too harsh with your judgement, it doesn't suit you. Your students know it well, and I better than anyone. I wish you well for your Revolution, so do the same with my own, which dares not begin with a capital letter. Perhaps we'll choose Paris or even Rome for our elopement, but I know that no matter how far I am, I will hear the echoes of history speak with Russian words. And every Russian will have my brother's face. Once I arrive in Piter, when I finally get to an inn worthy of its name, I hope to find not one, but at least two missives from you. I look to the bright side of this setback like one looks to the sugary bottom of a cup of bitter coffee.

Bratishka


23 11-18-1904 My brother, I am in Piter. At the inn, the one I believed to be mine. Ours. Instead the host received me without joy and without consternation, as if I was a passenger and the room I asked for a railroad car. Perhaps I complain too much, but I fell off the horse: I tried to force the storm's hand. Yet how can I call that a long shot, if I found your letters here, waiting for me? Did you have an angel deliver them? Forgive me, it's the fever talking. My leg is injured. Do not fear: your horse is well, the sawbones only came for me. Though I suspect he had more practice with injured beasts than men, seeing how little he could do for the pain. Confined to this bed, I found myself on the verge of despair. I felt as if life had slammed the door to love shut on my fingers.I could no longer believe that history would break on my knee. All of my thoughts went to the tremendous delay I was accruing... For how many days would she wait for me at the station, before surrendering to the idea I wouldn't come and setting off without me? Then, to tear me away from my deplorable delirium which surely hurt his business, the host gave me your letters. I asked for pen and paper to reply straight away. This is the only trace of me you will find here, because I will already be gone. Yes, as always your words have given me strength. I will be faster than you, faster than her impatience, faster than pain and Hell itself if need be. Do not let the tear stains on the paper fool you. It's the fever - no, it's the city. Yes, my dear Starik, it's Piter. Here I limp, my steps fall heavily. At home I was strong, while here I began to weep. I burst into tears not out of sentimentality, but the way windows weep in a room heated for the first time in many weeks. This pain is my life and I embrace it. In the same way I thrust my arms around the neck of delirium. Gentle, it shows me the opening door and your face peering from the threshold. Frowning, as you speak to the host, yes. I see you and I write in a frenzy, for I must finish before you draw near. I must depart. I must


24

11-23-1904

Dear Starik, I write as if I was still the doctor of your youth, when you and your brother ran to the closet to hide from my visits at your parents’ house. Now those times feel as far away as the woods I see from my window, here in my home in Čudovo, but it is imperative I find the bluntness I had back then. The bluntness I could not demonstrate in the fullest after I visited your brother. He fools himself if he thinks the pain is a necessary part of the body’s self-preservation, like suffering is to the preservation of the soul. That leg needs prolonged rest and constant care. Not misplaced courage and morphine. Your brother’s health has always been a concern to me. I pride myself on being a conscientious, attentive physician, but I never could feel tranquil around the boy. It is no simple matter of constitution, and God knows how fragile he is, but also of that excessive generosity that forbids him to spare his efforts, consuming him more and more.

I remember his impatience when I prescribed him a few days of rest. Your mother used to tell me of how closely he watched you play, itching to join you. I curse myself for my inability to do better, not now, nor then.

Thus I turn to you, wiser and better suited to make him listen. You must protect your brother: this is not a race against time, but against himself, and I cannot in good conscience say that it can last for much longer. Keep him away from bad company, like that retired Ensign, a loafer who only cares about filling his purse with coin and can certainly harbour no good will towards an injured, lovesick man. Your brother’s life cannot be this absurd, this cruel. Why risk death, and a painful one at that? Be his keeper.

Your doctor


25 11-22-1904 Comrade Starik, your missive in Cudovo left me speechless, I must admit. Yet, as per your instructions, I address my reply to Vysnij Volocëk with the hope that it may reach you in time. Yes, time. The greatest gift we have. The general we must never disobey. I cannot count the grey mornings in Piter when we made it the centre of our plans as we exited our harrowing meetings. The time hasn’t come yet, we said, the time will come, we hoped. Well, the time has finally come. The People are ready, and History awaits. Everything is ready, the only one missing is you. I wonder what you are doing in those places, where life looks like a painting. You belong here, not outside of time. We need you, we need someone good to speak in public and convince those who are still on the fence. I understood little of the reasons behind your departure and I have little desire to understand more. There is only one imperative: be in the place you are meant to be. You are the flesh and blood of Piter. She is yours and you are hers. You cannot have doubts about this. I wish you would come, as cutting as an ‘here I am!’. We must lead the way towards the redemption of this suffering humanity, you have more than one brother to look after, you have many. They number in the millions, and contrary to your mother’s other son, they do not kill themselves for love but are killed every day. I remember your brother, young, sceptical, with a cruelty born of his love of abstractions. I have no compunctions about speaking freely, such is my worry. I know your good heart and I know that you would never give up, not for your sake, not for your well-being, not to save your life. But for a loved one, for a dear brother, some would even suppress their own sense of morals; and freedom, tranquillity, even conscience, everything, everything would crumble to dust. They would let their life be ruined to see their ward happy. Remember all the years you waited for this moment to come. So think of me what you will, but run here and make the blue eyes of Revolution shine with the cruelty they need.

One of your comrades,


26 12-12-1904

Starik, though no good blood runs between us, my duty to my family has spread open the doors of my home before you, and now that same duty commands me to write this letter. With no pleasure, I assure you. Who could have known that living your life inside this or that train would make you grow so wild? Yet seeing the two of you was enough to comprehend the measure of my sister’s - your mother’s - suffering at this tomfoolery of yours. Do not listen to me, but to the woman who brought you to life and raised you with love, now forced to ask the whole of Russia for news about her sons. Disprove, professor, what is said about man: that he can be wise, clever and sensible about all things concerning everyone but himself. I trust that at your return, if there ever is one, you will be so thoughtful as to avoid knocking on my door again. Here in Tver’ I lead a respectable, orderly life, a young daughter still prey of her naiveté, and there is no place for battered, despondent relatives used to spending their nights between benches and train seats. I know the value of family. For this reason I wear your contempt like a medal and return it in full.

Your uncle

My beloved child ren,

I know that time has stripped me of any right to yo The laughter of ur lives. childhood has ye t to leave your eyes people, bathed in and already you a different light. are different I raised you and cradled you, and a mother's love and I can feel fears no deceit. So it, no matter how mething is wrong fa r away you are. There is no need You may laugh, to straighten your but I know. back, clear your I know every infle throat and comfo ction, every fold rt yo ur poor mother. of your souls. And and the soul ha mine as well, I s its mysteries: th always have, ough a lost man righteous path, if may have strayed you pit him agai fro m the nst himself, agai to have forgotten nst the qualities he , his whole self appears will be moved by the encounter. Look inside yoursel ves, having you back is the only If that were not hope that guides the case, I would me. never have been and beg every fri bo ld enough to take end and relative up the pen for news about yo ur well-being, yo Come back. We u know me. shall never speak of this incident ag We will simply sit ain. together before th e boiling samovar . Me and my bo ys.

Mamushka


27

12-20-1904 Gracious Starik, perhaps you think I address this letter to the wrong brother, but surprise guides my hand. Surprise at learning that your steps follow mine as if in hunt. I heard of your pursuit from a vile soldier in Cudovo, striving to enter my good graces through a treacherous missive after he failed to enter my bed during my stay. I know how much you care about Bratishka, he spoke of you many times and from him I understood the measure of your bond. Thus I imagine you to be as astonished as I was, while you turn this message in your hands, impatient to get to the heart of a letter given to you by a stranger (for me, a discreet friend) in Klin’s station. Well, what I have to say is simple: I am not your fearsome enemy, I am not the knife that will rend your union. I could never, ever be. Because, although I once told him I prefer friendship, or mountains, over love, the truth is that nothing sounds as sweet as your brother’s name as I drift to sleep. Even after I got it in my mind that he had given up on eloping with me. Why not wait for you then? A woman, dear Starik, has no easy life in this world, nor in the world you revolutionaries plan to bring about. We are prey. Your brother hunts for me, going above and beyond himself as he does, and I shall welcome him. Who better than you knows his extraordinary capacity for love? He makes no difference between a book and a person, a sunset, a painting: everything he loves, he loves with the same heart. So I flee and hope to be caught, and all the while I pick up the pace. I know your brother would upturn Heaven and Earth to get to me. What about you? We are not adversaries, you and I, we are the two fires between which he must move. We are adverse allies. We are the only ones to have seen him for what he is. We are the borders of a world where the last man lives. The last man to remember. The only one who can swear an oath and keep it as well. In spite of everything. Even in spite of me. His love for me is great, but it is not joyous. It is cumbersome, unfashionable, and dusty. It is wonderful. Will you accompany him? Will I wait for him? Will we be able to go all the way?


28


29

Neither letter nor dream come forward on command, you dream and you write not when you want to, but when it wants to: the letter, to be written; the dream, to appear before us. Too many times I began to write the wrong letters to you, while the true ones never saw paper. And the stark certainty that you would never receive them was never any solace, because what else could have kept you away, if not the sudden realisation that the dream of eloping with me was false and wrong? I thought you had thrown it away, waiting for a more authentic apparition. For weeks I told myself that life itself is a train station and soon I would depart‌ For where, I do not know. Until a vile man wrote to me about you and sweet Starik on the way. Winter thaws, everything is frozen but the soul, love is no longer banished. I feel it in the train’s whistle, as it rocks the railroad and echoes in my bones. Standing in wait under the great clock of the station, here in Moscow, would have consumed me, so I taught a gentle soul to recognise you to put this letter, the true letter, in your hands. I live for the thought of our next stop, together. Bratishka, let us meet at the border between you and me.

Letters not about love  

Letter not about love is a larp scenario for 2 players, written by Oscar Biffi & Alessandro Giovannucci.

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