Ebb Tide is a solo journaling game built on the Wretched and Alone System. The following is my journal for the game. This is not a highly polished piece of writing. I wrote it during the two hours I played the game.
Ebb Tide leaves a lot open so players can flourish in most decades within the 1900s-2000s and beyond. There’s not a lot of guidance for creating your character (which is pretty normal for solo TTRPGs), but here are some characteristics I usually default to creating when playing journaling games. I find having a lose understanding of my characters’ hopes and drives helps me explore them in a more interesting way. Here’s what I typically build out so I can dive right in:
|Drive||Make friends after a prolonged isolation event.|
|Hope||Move out of the city and own her own farm.|
My name is Rachel Talkin. A week ago, I stepped onto the deck of the Ebonics to sail across the Pacific Ocean. The other passengers and I had won passage unexpectedly, and for the past week we enjoyed fine dining and luxurious accommodations. Last night I fell ill after dinner, and took to my bunk early. I awoke to find — horrible things. Everyone else on the ship, passenger and crew alike, is dead. There are symbols painted in ink and blood on the walls, thick scents of horrible incense in the air. And all about, I feel some horrible presence, as if something long asleep is stirring nearby. I am trapped on board the ship and the engines appear damaged. There is no real chance I will make it back. All I can do now is try to figure out what’s happening here, and see if I can find a way to stop it.
It’s as if there’s a heartbeat in this ship. The way it sways with the ocean, I can’t help but wonder if someone is carrying it like a child’s bath toy. The sky is murky and the water a hint of green that almost glows. There are no seagulls or dolphins. The air itself feels uneasy, as if it’s waiting, stuck between a hurricane and the calming breeze that follows a storm. It’s suffocating.
I left the deck when I had the courage. I thought the medical center might be the best place to begin my ambitious goal of survival. The front waiting room was as expected, but turning the key in the locked offices… I found something terrible.
First it was the pages of notes and disturbing drawings, but in another room I found the tanks full of gore soaked remnants. Teeth and fingers littered the drawers and desks. There were hands on full display, folded as if in prayer but they weren’t attached to any bodies. I didn’t have the stomach to search much further in the medical ward.
I thought I might work my way up from the bottom so I searched deep in a hold, but I only found bones. So many bones. The rib cages must be human. While my time with animals has been limited, I can tell a human rib cage from a pig’s. But the rib cage was only a signal that worse was to come. I dug deeper and found more hands, but they were wrong. Too many knuckles, too many joints. Too much of everything, and still twined together by some loose nerves.
I’m back in the crew lookout now. I couldn’t stay inside the ship any longer, certainly not enough to make any kind of grave. This ship is grave enough. It’s getting dark outside, and in case there’s something else on this ship, I’m trying to lay low. I’m going to turn my light out now and ignore the inhuman sounds coming from the water.
I can feel something here. I mentioned it in my notes yesterday, but I thought I was just rambling, doing what I needed to survive. Yet, I’m certain now the being that exists in the near space might be saving me from the terrors I see aboard this ship.
How? I’m much more afraid of what’s coming, what it promises, what it whispers. I dream of worlds I can’t describe, and I’ve seen its eyes slowly opening.
There is something on the water today. It hides in a new fog that surrounds the ship. It’s strange and shapeless and exists only in my peripheral. A shy creature? No. It’s toying with me, I’m sure. Much like the coyotes back on my granddad’s farm back in New Jersey. Except I wasn’t afraid of them.
I’ve made it a mission to search the pockets of everyone. If I can collect everything and maybe put IDs and such in a waterproof case, more sense can be made of this in the future… if there is one. I found one woman lying on her stomach with a knife wound in her back. She was an agent of some sort, but I don’t recognize the agency: United States Bureau of Catastrophic Centers. USBCC for short. Rolls right off the tongue. Either way, she seemed to be a low-ranking member. No gun.
The next body I searched was worse. I found him in his bedroom, slashed clean open from his navel to his ear. I didn’t bother with his pockets since he was only in boxers, so I had the pleasure of searching his suitcase. I wish I hadn’t. Photos and photos of mauled corpses. Why? I should have stopped looking at them, but something compelled me to browse all of them, and near the end I saw one of someone I recognized . My second cousin, Doug. He’d gone missing years ago during a hiking trip. There were never any clues. We assumed a bear for his sake. But the photo is so much worse.
He’s kneeling on a dirt floor. His hands are tied in front of him. A bloody cloth covers his vision, and strange runic symbols are carved into his chest. In his hands, he holds a set of eyeballs. I can tell by the pose that whoever took the photo staged him like this. I try not to memorize it, but I can’t help but to seek meaning in this discovery.
In the kitchen, I found a strange love story. Lisa, a woman I flirted with a few days ago, and another person I hadn’t met were kissing. They were dead, of course, each holding a blade in the other’s chest, blood soaking their clothes and the counter they’re both lying on. In a way, I’m jealous. This seems like a clean and satisfying break. They remind me of those bodies found in the ashes of Pompeii. If the ship sinks, I can’t help but wonder if they’ll stay lip locked or if the tide will pull them apart. I hope for the latter. Allow me this moment of pettiness.
I think I’ve collected enough food to possibly sail away from here. And I would if I could. Unfortunately, every single lifeboat is gone. I can’t believe I didn’t notice before. They must have cut them loose. I’m not supposed to leave.
I had another dream last night, but it was different. There was this man I met when I first boarded the ship. He had this crooked smile, but he was dressed in a fine suit. I had bumped into him, but when I looked into his eyes to apologize there were no pupils. I blinked and he bowed, the brim of his hat hiding that strange stare. He gestured me forward before I could study him further. In my dream, he trapped me in a room at the bottom of the ship. This was after he opened his mouth and tentacles fell out.
What troubles me is that I can’t find his body. I’ve combed the ship the last four days and nothing. Did he jump off or is he watching me…
While I searched, I did find someone that stuck out. Her clothing and everything about her was normal, but her ID expired in 1974. The photo looks just like her… Maybe her mother’s?
I’m struggling to stay asleep tonight. Every time I close my eyes, I see visions of sunken cities, burning fields, and a landscape dwarfed by a looming shadow hidden by mists and fog. I don’t know what this means.
I’ve never been great at making friends. I’d hoped this trip would be an opportunity to not only work on my social skills but to find someone with whom I could share interests, setbacks, failures, and successes. I think that’s what I’m mourning most. No one is really going to miss me.
I think that’s why I started crying when I found Robert’s necklace (a strange carved up shark tooth?) matched that of the crew. He must have been a plant of some sort. I bet he was supposed to learn about us and report back. It hurts because he was nice to me. We made fun of the dinner salad together.
In the crew’s quarters I found a shrine of some sort. I can’t begin to describe it. An amalgamation of rib cages and pelvis bones made up the structure, and (must have been?) spines spiraling out and twisted in impossible ways towards the ceiling and floor. It seemed to pulse faster with every step I took toward it. Even now, I can’t stop shaking when thoughts of it caress my memory. I don’t know why.
As I left the quarters, I walked along the hall, my gaze drifting listlessly from room to room. I couldn’t help but feel like someone was waving at me, but when I turned to look at the porthole. There was nothing. I shook myself out of my stupor and ran to it, but the water was still. No one floated above the water, and nothing stirred beneath the waves. At least from what I could see.
I can’t be certain I’m the only live being on this fucking ship, I know that. It’s a huge cruse liner. But still… the sounds that echo along the halls and in the walls, they are so rampant and loud. It’s a constant chittering like a rat or a mouse, but I haven’t seen evidence of a single creature alive other than myself. I put my ear to the wall and it sounded like it was right on the other side of the metal. I worked up the courage to bang on it with my fist, but the chittering only paused for a few seconds before starting back up. I’m frightened. It follows me.
I thought I’d found respite in a room with a record player and unmarked vinyl to go along with it. I played it, ignoring the blood that decorated the walls — it’s getting easier for me. It drowned out the chittering, but only to show me something worse. I slipped into a strange vision. I saw the lake on my grandpa’s farm. We used to fish there every Saturday evening before I got too cool for it. And by the time I wanted to do it again, he was too old, too weak. We put a bench by the lake in his honor, but no one took care of it, so it’s just embarrassing. In the vision, I’m sitting on the bench. Fog surrounds me, hovering above the lake. I see something hazy in the distance, and when the fog clears, the water is left milky as a slice of earth containing skyscrapers, statues, and cars sinks below its surface.
There was another survivor. At least I think there was. I found their body and some rope tied to the ceiling above it. It’s hard to say for sure, but I can’t help but blame myself. I should have been here sooner. What’s worse is that I’m not strong enough to roll it off the deck. I was so upset, I didn’t check their pockets. I don’t want to know who they were.
I heard something strange on my way back tonight. I’m always hearing something strange, but this was different. I could hear chanting, a cacophony of voices rising from the ocean. I have no idea what they were saying, but their words echoed all around me. I ran. I can still hear them even now, as if they’re whispering along the deck.
Still, I have these notes I need to go through. One of the passengers was a detective of some sort. Their notes cover the rituals and chanting I’ve been hearing. I even see sketches of the shrine I found in the crew quarters. There must be something in these notes to help me survive or at least make sense of what’s happening.
I haven’t mentioned this… but there were children aboard this cruiser. Some of the crew even brought their kids. When we were all alive… a week ago? I can’t believe it’s been that long. When we were all alive, I didn’t think anything of it, maybe the children were homeschooled? It doesn’t matter now. I found a little boy today. He was holding a stuffed dinosaur. I’ve never really liked kids, but I remember this one. He kept begging his dad to fish with him. I remember because it reminded me of when I used to pester my grandpa. I can’t explain how I know, but his parents did this to him. I wonder if they told him not to be afraid or if they made him drink before they did it. I can’t imagine having the strength to do this to my child. Whatever they believed in… Either they believed in it wholeheartedly or they were afraid of what they were bringing into this world… maybe both.
Something is growing more clear to me. We’re all connected in some way. Every person on this ship. I see the web forming before me, disjointed and cracked, but it’s there. Even me. I wasn’t a random winner. I wasn’t a random civilian either.
I’ve mentioned before how my grandpa and I used to fish. Shortly before I stopped going with him, I almost drowned. Something stronger than me tugged on my hook. I heaved, and it pulled. I felt like I was too old for a life jacket, so I wasn’t wearing one. I stood up to get a better grip on the pole, but our dinghy was no match for what I was trying to reel in. It rocked back and forth as my balance shifted in the wrong ways. My grandpa reached to steady me, but it was too late. I tumbled into the lake, my hand refusing to release the fishing pole — a new purchase with allowance money.
The water was cold and dark but I saw a light, green and soft in the deep. The fishing pole pulled me towards it, a shifting, dancing flame. I could hear a voice speak a language I did not recognize. I realized I was drowning, but my body would not move to swim. I was entranced by the green flame and the runes carved into the surrounding the ruins along the lakebed. They had been waiting for me.
As I reached out to touch the flame, I came to, coughing up water along the lakeshore, my grandpa crying over me. Something marked me that day.
The ship is losing power. I’ve found some candles, but they don’t do much to make me feel better. The dark, flickering halls make me feel extra on edge.
It is noisy again. Some kind of buzz or radio static. It’s in the air. It’s all around.
I’m going for a swim tonight. I’m going to seek out the green flame and ask it if I was worthy, if I did a good job. My grandpa is waiting for me down there somewhere. I’ll be back tomorrow, and I’ll let you know what I find.