This is the second part of a blog series modelling the musical Hamilton as if it was a session of the (work-in-progress) roleplaying game Hubris Box, which is about the rise and fall of tragic heroes.
What’d I miss?
In the previous blog post, I introduced the idea behind Hubris Box and introduced the fictional characters who are playing the game. Three roleplayers (Lin, Manuel, and Miranda) have set up a game in a fictional land called America, just before the Revolutionary War that frees the country from the tyrannical British. Lin is playing the game’s Protagonist, Alexander Hamilton, an orphan immigrant with a brilliant mind and a hunger to prove himself. Manuel and Miranda are playing everyone else, taking the role of the game’s Antagonists.
Before you continue, consider listening to the musical Hamilton if you haven’t already. In this blog series I’m only hitting the beats without the melody. It’ll make more sense if you’ve heard it before.
He plays and he raises the stakes
This blog post will show Act One of the game (almost but not exactly the same as Act I of the musical), in which the Protagonist pursues their Noble Goal. For Alexander Hamilton, that goal is to “Secure the future of America”. The Act will only end when the Protagonist acts contrary to their Noble Goal.
In Act One, the Protagonist sets a lesser goal in each scene and the Antagonists populate the scene with other characters. The Antagonists’ job is:
- act in accordance with established fact,
- present opportunities for the Protagonist to reach their small goals, and
- throw as many obstacles in the Protagonist’s way as possible.
There is only one resolution mechanic: the Protagonist can write something favourable that happens on an index card or a scrap of paper, which they post in the Hubris Box. Whatever they write must happen. These cards will be used to tear the Protagonist down again in Act Two, so it’s in everyone’s interests to make them meaningful.
I never had a group of friends before (“Aaron Burr, Sir” and “My Shot”)
In the first scene of the game, Lin says that Hamilton wants intelligent friends and allies. Manuel presents a character named Aaron Burr, an orphan just like Hamilton who graduated from Princeton in just two years. Lin and Manuel roleplay as Hamilton and Burr for a short while, with Hamilton describing how he wishes to join the Revolution.
In Manuel’s previous game of Hubris Box, in which he played teacher-turned-druglord Walter White, he used his first post to give Walter a loyal associate, Jesse Pinkman, so he dangles the possibility that Hamilton and Burr could be friends when Burr offers to buy Hamilton a drink. Lin does not immediately post anything to the Box, so they continue roleplaying.
Burr suggests that Hamilton should talk less and keep his beliefs hidden. This could be an opportunity for Hamilton to change Burr’s mind, but Lin is immediately put off by Burr’s views. Hamilton will only have one shot to prove himself and he is not going to throw it away by following what he sees as Burr’s terrible advice. Lin writes “I’m not throwing away my shot” on a card, which is a cool turn of phrase but doesn’t explain what actually happens in the scene. Lin doesn’t erase the line (again, it’s a cool turn of phrase), but adds beneath it “I make friends who are better than Burr and who say what they think“. At this point, Miranda introduces a handful of new characters to be Hamilton’s new friends: John Laurens, Lafayette (an immigrant like Hamilton), and Hercules Mulligan.
Oh my God, tear this dude apart (“Farmer Refuted”)
In a subsequent scene, Miranda plays Samuel Seabury, who is attempting to convince the populace not to support the war. Manuel once again plays Aaron Burr, counselling Hamilton (and everyone else) to just ignore Seabury. Instead, Lin writes “My rhetoric demolishes this fool with ease“. Hamilton steps up and rips through Seabury’s arguments, increasing support for the war and making himself more widely known.
Here comes the General (“Right Hand Man”)
During the war, Lin says that Hamilton wants a personal command to lead against the British. Miranda and Manuel describe how, because of his intelligence, officers keep trying to keep Hamilton behind the lines as a mere secretary and functionary. When he keeps refusing, he is summoned before General Washington, the famous leader of the Revolutionary forces. Miranda plays Washington, and Manuel decides he’s going to play Burr in the same scene, angling for a promotion. This has the potential to go very badly for Hamilton if Washington chooses to punish Hamilton for insubordination (he did refuse his other officers), so Lin writes “Washington dismisses Burr and makes me his right-hand man“. Miranda notes that Lin has not written anything about getting a command, and twists it around so that Hamilton is hired to do the work he refused of other officers: he is kept on Washington’s staff at headquarters, seeing no action, requesting supplies and organising the war effort. It’s not what he wanted, but it’s undeniably a step up to have Washington’s patronage.
If you can marry a sister, you’re rich, son (“A Winter’s Ball”, “Helpless” and “Satisfied”)
At a ball, Lin wants to increase Hamilton’s station in life by marrying a wealthy and upper-class woman. Manuel and Miranda introduce Angelica Schuyler, who is quick-witted, politically active and the eldest daughter of a wealthy general. (Manuel likes the surname Schuyler for Hamilton’s love interest because it sounds like the name of Walter White’s wife in his previous Hubris Box game.)
Hamilton approaches Angelica and is initially rebuffed. Lin decides to quickly win her over, writing “Angelica falls in love with me at first sight“. Miranda points out that, although Angelica is smitten with Hamilton, Lin has said nothing about marriage. Manuel adds that Angelica cannot marry Hamilton, since she is smart enough to deduce that Hamilton is penniless and as the firstborn of the family she cannot marry below her station.
Lin is unable to write something that directly contradicts established facts but, because the issue is with Angelica being the eldest child, asks if Angelica has a younger sister. Miranda says that Angelica’s sister is Eliza, who is trusting and kind. Lin writes “Eliza and I fall in love and get married“. The couple has a whirlwind romance, with Angelica giving a speech at the wedding that is laden with double meaning.
Go home, Alexander (“Meet Me Inside” and “That Would Be Enough”)
Lin and Miranda roleplay an argument between Hamilton and Washington, with Hamilton continuing to push for a military command and Washington refusing. Washington eventually relieves Hamilton of duty and sends him home. Lin has the option of writing a card to change Washington’s mind, but instead chooses to go along with it and writes “I’m sent home because I’m going to have a son“.
They are asking me to lead (“Guns and Ships”, “Yorktown” and “Non-Stop”)
While Hamilton is home with the pregnant Eliza, Miranda and Manuel roleplay as Washington and Lafayette. They describe the war going well without Hamilton, with Lafayette bringing men and guns and ships and funds from his homeland of France. Hamilton is liable to miss out on the glory he has been wanting… until Lin writes a card that says “I lead a battalion in the final battle of the war, forcing the British to surrender“.
Since Lin has referred to the final battle of the war on the card, then it must happen that the war ends. The three players discuss how to continue the story if the war is over, but Lin thinks it will be interesting to see Hamilton in a more political setting. He’s still Washington’s right-hand man, but now he’s dealing with the finances of a nation, not just the finances of an army. This seems cool, so they describe Washington becoming the first President of the country and appointing Hamilton his Secretary of the Treasury.
Too close to the Sun (“What’d I Miss”, “Cabinet Battle #1″,”Take A Break” and “Say No To This”)
At this point of the game, the players are ready to shake things up a bit and start looking for opportunities to initiate the Turn. The Turn is the midpoint of the game. It starts when the Protagonist does something (or, more specifically, puts something in the Hubris Box) that runs counter to their Noble Goal. It doesn’t necessarily need to be actively opposing the Noble Goal, and the Protagonist character can and should continue to justify their actions as pursuing the Noble Goal, even though the players can see otherwise.
The players set up Hamilton’s current situation. He desires a strong financial institution for America, but he is opposed by a new character who thinks that government and finances should be de-centralised. Manuel and Miranda pull out all the stops to make this character a suitable enemy for Hamilton: he was overseas during the Revolutionary War and never saw action; he is a hypocrite, being both a slave owner and the writer of the Declaration of Independence that ignited the war; he is just as eloquent as Hamilton is; and he’s Washington’s Secretary of State. They call him Thomas Jefferson.
Lin and Manuel roleplay a Cabinet meeting between the two men, but there’s no resolution at this stage. Miranda, as Washington, drops hints that if Hamilton cannot compromise on his plan, he may lose his job altogether. The implication is that such a compromise would go against his Noble Goal, being in service primarily of keeping his job. Lin does not make a post to the Box yet.
Manuel and Miranda change tack and focus on Hamilton’s family. Eliza and their son Philip both want some of Hamilton’s time, which he needs to get his bill through Congress. Eliza says that they are leaving for the summer and wants Hamilton to come away too. A decision to go with them, or even writing in the Hubris Box to get them to stay with him, would both be enough for a Turn. Hamilton refuses to leave, even when Angelica arrives unexpectedly. Lin still makes no post to the Box.
The Antagonists regroup. Hamilton is now alone, separated from his loved ones, stressed and consumed by work. They present a new character, Maria Reynolds, a beautiful woman who spins a sob story about her violent, cheating and now absent husband. She begs for Hamilton’s help, then attempts to seduce him. Noting his Fatal Flaw of Lust (from character creation), Lin decides to go along with it but thinks that Manuel and Miranda are presenting this as an opportunity, and that the relationship will require a post to the Hubris Box to consummate it. Lin has no intention of making a post to the Hubris Box for an extra-marital affair, though, and expects Manuel and Miranda to put an obstacle in the way that will allow Hamilton to say no. They don’t, and Hamilton doesn’t say no. (Note: these three players are familiar with each other and have had all appropriate discussions before the game about sexual content. Nobody is made uncomfortable by this scene.)
So now Hamilton is an adulterer, but still there is no Turn since no post has been made to the Hubris Box. This is when Manuel shows up as Mr James Reynolds, Maria’s husband. Mr Reynolds knows all about the affair. He’s even willing to let it continue, as long as Hamilton pays him. And if Hamilton chooses not to, Reynolds will tell Eliza the whole sordid story.
Hamilton accepts to protect his reputation. Lin writes “Nobody needs to know about me and Mrs Reynolds” on a new index card and makes the final post to the Hubris Box.
Everyone is happy that this signals the Turn, and they move on to Act Two.
In Part 3, we’ll teach ’em how to say goodbye…