Velvet Glove by Sarah Richardson
This session of Velvet Glove was the game from Origins that has stuck with me most. I went to bed thinking about it, woke up still lost in the world we had made, and couldn’t wait to find my fellow players and talk about it more. The whole experience left feelings that swirled in a combination of love, fascination, and sadness.
I actually was a host at Games on Demand for this session, which meant I was arranging games for players, but Brendan had a seat and invited me to join late. Since I had played the game earlier that day I was able to burn through character creation quickly, but the only playbooks left were The Maniac and The Stoner. Since I had already been Fairuza The Maniac, I created Liberty the Stoner.
Liberty was a half-Native American half-White 17 year old who saw herself as the spiritual center of the group. I assumed a lazy smile and drawled my sentences in an exaggerated manner, and looked at the world through sleepy eyes. At the start Liberty was likable and friendly, and not at all serious… at least, not on the surface. Because our group largely chose to have some kind of locomotion, whether skateboard, bicycle, or busted-up motorcycle, we called ourselves the Holy Rollers.
|Holy Rollers Symbol: The Blue Mermaid|
While Liberty preferred peyote, she grew the marijuana that was the gang’s primary business in a public park alcove, which lead to its name of “ditchweed”. She and Ember the Newbie were also experimenting with a few special offshoots she called “ashcan”, which Ember delivered to a contact in a rough part of town via her bicycle.
Liberty had kissed Rosalyn the Radical, and had enjoyed going to protests with her, but never took it to mean much. Or, more to the point, that it meant much to Rosalyn or anyone else. Nevertheless, if Rosalyn were in trouble Liberty would try to talk or bargain, offering more or less anything to keep her friend safe.
Carmela the Valkyrie, our gang’s leader, chose Liberty as the person she had taken to get an abortion, and whose mother had found out. At this point I paused the game, because I knew that if you took a Native American woman to get an abortion in the 70’s, there was a very good chance that she would emerge sterilized. We decided that Ember’s dad, who was a doctor, had done it and promised that he would not… but he still could have. Liberty’s mom had freaked out when she discovered what had happened, for that exact reason, and there was an unspoken tension in their household. I declared Ember’s crush, a boy named Hector, as the likely father.
Our gang was very different from the one I had been in earlier, in part because none of us were very good at fighting. We had social skills to spare, but would almost never lead off with violence, and knew that any altercation that relied on muscle could go very wrong for us. It didn’t men we couldn’t throw down, just that we preferred not to. This made us distinct from our rival gang, the knife-toting Catholic school girls, the Switchblade Sisters.
|Sketch of Liberty|
As the game progressed I came to know my character better, and it downright broke my heart. When a teacher insulted her race and culture, Liberty let it slide off her, because she was already broken. When her friends were in trouble, she threw herself in the middle, because they mattered more. When what they needed was for someone to give a guy what he wanted, she would be the first one to step forward, though she knew precisely where it would lead. Liberty WAS the soul of the gang, and that soul was damaged.
At the same time, her sisters stood with her. Carmela was always ready to provide direction and appear confident, even when the world was falling apart. Ember’s optimism and energy provided them with the hope that they could be more. Rosalyn’s passion for justice gave them a cause to fight for. They were incomplete alone, but together could face down the rest of the world.
Throughout the game, Liberty tried to persuade Ember to stop chasing Hector, and even went so far as to try and have Ember’s dad keep her home from a party the boy would be at. When they were all at the party and debating whether to enter, Liberty had no choice but to at last tell Ember what Hector had done: knocked her up, and never spoken to her again. I have rarely felt more exposed or sad in a Tabletop RPG than I was in that moment, talking about an experience I could never have, from a view I could never truly know. It was a complete fiction that felt honest, and I hope that it has given me some insight into a world that I have realized I take for granted all too often. When I was done, Liberty decided that she was too, and that she didn’t want to party after all.
For The Stoner, that is a hell of a thing.
We eventually left as one, and after we left Rosalyn told Liberty that she was upset, because she thought they were together. Liberty replied that Rosalyn was just going to college, and Rosalyn said “not necessarily”. “Wait, you’d stay for me?” said Liberty, to which Rosalyn replied “Is that an invitation?” I stared at another man, and Liberty stared at Rosalyn, and then a sleepy smile and a soft laugh before I said in her voice “Pfft. We have to talk!”
I don’t have the words to describe the love I feel for these girls, nor for the kinship I feel for my fellow players. This is great, because at the end of the day I don’t seek out experiences that can be confined to text. I want something bigger, something that bears the impact of experience.
And this one hit me hard, like a velvet glove.