Story is what we make.

Last month I tabled at the Portland Zine Symposium for the second time. My first year was fun and inspiring, but my success as a publisher and creator was limited: a few people bought books, a few more shared some brief, enthusiastic conversations, and mostly people gave a glance and passed by. That’s par for the course at an event like this—the interests represented are vast and diverse, nobody has time or attention for everything, etc. But I knew there was a lot I could do to improve my approach and have a stronger presence for next year.

And I did! This year I snagged a table for both days, which helped for a start. And I knew from last year that my game The Dreaming Crucible, while it’s at the low end of the size and pricing pool for most roleplaying products, at the Zine Symposium it’s a pretty high price point, even at a discount. Which led a lot of people last year to get excited, see the price, and sadly walk away. So I decided that I would keep offering the Crucible, but add something scaled better to the Zine environment.

And thus Wilding Tales was born! Wilding Tales is a mini story game that takes the form of 5 Pocketmod booklets, each containing a different character to play in a small, intimate story of post-collapse community. It’s an experiment in distilling storygaming to its barest essence, as well as providing as simple and accessible an introduction to the activity. And I think I succeeded! I’m still working out the kinks, but expect a version of Wilding Tales to be available online soon.

I tabled with The Dreaming Crucible and Wilding Tales for both days of the Symposium, and here’s what I discovered: first, several people I vaguely recognized made a beeline for the Crucible and said something like “Hi, I saw this at the last Symposium and held off buying it ’cause of the price, but I thought about it ALL YEAR, and I’m buying it now!” It appears there was a slow burn effect going on; the price point caused people to hesitate, but come back to buy it after thinking it over. I’m comfortable with this. I completely understand the desire to be cautious with one’s spending at a show like this, and it’s also very gratifying to know that folks who were interested, then said “I dunno, let me think about it” weren’t just blowing smoke.

My second discovery is that Wilding Tales was a perfect fit for the Zine Symposium! Lots of tablers at the Symp focus on small $1-5 products that are easy to impulse-buy without a lot of financial commitment, and the tales filled that niche nicely. I arrive with unassembled booklets, and I found they flew off the table as fast as I could cut, fold and glue them!

I did have a lot of learning to do in terms of how to package Wilding Tales. One book does nothing; you need two to play and three or more is ideal. So I ended up pricing them 3 for $2 to incentivize purchasing multiples, and by the end of the show I’d figured out that really, the set of five was the “unit,” and that’s what I pushed, 5/$4. I have dreams of a “collect the whole set” element, with different players having different books and clustering off to play new and surprising games with characters they’ve never seen before, in infinite combinations. But that’ll have to wait until there are many more characters designed, and I still will never sell them singly. The point is to be able to play right away!

All in all, the show was a lot of fun and more energizing for me than last year’s. I did a lot of trades, which always feels great: it puts the interaction on a footing of sharing passion and takes it out of the realm of commerce. I picked up a lot of neat stuff: highlights include vintage anarchist lit publisher Corvus Editions, with whom I traded Wilding Tales for Portland Oregon A.D. 1999, a century-old futurist writing;  delightful superhero relationship comic The Flying Mess by Whitney Gardner; cryptych, a tiny, beautiful book of e.e. cummings tribute poetry by Loren mccRory (a trade for Dreaming Crucible); and the re-release of Love Is Not Constantly Wondering if You Are Making the Biggest Mistake of Your Life. I admired the breathtaking Collective Tarot and got to flip over a card, finding one pregnant with meaning for me. Plus a huge pile of journal zines, silly comics and photos, screen printed decorative patches, buttons and stickers.

A woman from the Timberland Regional Library in Olympia bought a copy of all my stuff for the library; she said that a co-worker had asked her to look specifically for gaming zines, and I’m glad I could fit that bill. I had nice camaraderie with my tablemates, lots of friendly support from Symposium volunteers like Christina “Blue” Crow, and even met a few friends of Olympia friends while wearing my Fabricated Realities shirt. An afterparty with Karaoke and Beer at the Independent Publishing Resource Center topped of a wonderful weekend.

I can’t get over the wonderful thrill of PZS. Even a month later I’m feeling the creative and social high. It’s not just that it’s a great venue for small-scale self-publishers to hawk their wares—though it is that. It’s also a place where everyone’s voice is heard, where people are doing more than buying and swapping products, they’re swapping passions, swapping dreams, swapping stories. Because our stories are what we make. I can’t wait for next year, and I’m excited to continue exploring the intersection between crafting our own publications and making stories together.

Peace,

—Joli

The Dreaming Crucible: Beginning Play

It’s been awhile since I wrote a Dreaming Crucible rules post. The text of the game is published under a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike license, so I’m sharing pieces of it through blog posts. I hope to get a Dreaming Crucible wiki up and running in early 2012, so that play of the game will be freely accessible to anyone outside the realm of commerce, leaving the physical book to thrive on its own merits as a beautiful artifact. Previous Crucible game text posts:

And now, at last, we come to Beginning Play!

When you’ve got your roles sorted out and are ready to play, make a comfortable, relaxed space around a table. It doesn’t have to be a big dining room table; a modest coffee table in a cosy living room will do just fine if that’s the sort of setting where you can relax and focus. Make sure everyone can see and reach the table easily. Place the bag at the center of the table. it will be a focal point in play. place the bowl of stones off to the side, at a corner of the table or perhaps even off the table—accessible, but unobtrusive. Give every player the Story Cards related to their role. Do whatever you like to provide atmosphere—dimmed lights, mood music, lit candles, food and drink, conversation, focusing exercises. When everyone’s comfortable and engaged, begin by choosing Seeds.

Continue reading The Dreaming Crucible: Beginning Play

The Dreaming Crucible holiday sale!

Hello, Dreamers! I’d like to announce the Dreaming Crucible’s Holiday Sale! From now until the end of December, the lovingly handcrafted Dreaming Crucible Storytelling Game is $10 plus $2 shipping to anywhere in North America. That’s two dollars savings, or three if you live in Canada or Mexico!

Also, I’ll sign your book with the personal message of your choice!

I know this sale comes at the last minute. So in addition, if you send me a Paypal message with your purchase containing the word “GIFT” then I will Priority Mail the book at no extra charge, IF I mail it between Fri. December 19 and Weds. December 21. You’re on the honor system to only message me “GIFT” if you really need it by Christmas day.

Alternately, if you live in the Portland area and would like to pay no shipping and have it hand delivered, use the second Paypal button and we’ll work something out. Portland area means REALLY Portland area, though; Tigard or Oregon City might be a stretch for instance, and Salem and Canby are right out.

Also keep in mind that if you live around Portland or plan to visit I’d be delighted to arrange a time and get together and play. It’s in playing the Crucible with you that I fulfill its nature and purpose.

Edit: the sale is over. Thanks to everyone who participated!

 

—Joel

Of Community and Crucibles

I tabled at the Portland Zine Symposium last weekend with The Dreaming Crucible. It was the culmination of a year-long anticipation, since I first published the Crucible just one week AFTER the previous year’s Symposium. Sunday from 11 to 4, I sat at a little wooden table, a massive cloud of origami cranes fluttering in my hair, and introduced folks to my little storytelling game. It was fun and eye-opening! Initially I felt a lot of commercial anxiety, as I always do when I table with product—they’re not buying! Man, why aren’t they buying? I hope that person comes back like they said they would; they seemed really interested! Jeez, I’m going to be here for hours and only sell one copy; that works out to two dollars an hour and I might as well just quit self-publishing and work at McDonalds!!!

Continue reading Of Community and Crucibles

Dreaming Crucible at the Indie RPG Awards!

My game The Dreaming Crucible has been entered in the Indie RPG Awards, winners to be announced at GenCon Indy August 4-7. I’m excited! The Crucible stands in a pretty august company, but it’s a game I’m proud of—tight, emotionally rich, beautiful, and lovingly handcrafted.

Voting lasts until next Sunday, August 31. Wish me luck! If you’re one of the voting panel, or are able to participate in the People’s Choice awards, please give my game some consideration!  I’m especially interested in thoughtful feedback.

Peace,

-Joel

Crucible aid

For players of The Dreaming Crucible storytelling game, I’m proud to present: printable play aids!

The most essential aid is the game cards that come bound into the book. If you’re interested in playing the game more than once, you now have a reproducible resource for doing just that! (Note that the cards are double-sided, and oriented sideways, so make the necessary printer adjustments.)

Dreaming Crucible Cards PDF download

Continue reading Crucible aid

A Piece of Myself

I played two games of The Dreaming Crucible with some old friends and new at Vancouver, WA’s Gamestorm convention last month. I had fun in both, but the second game did something the first one didn’t: it moved me to tears.

The Dreaming Crucible is designed to enable the kind of raw, vulnerable stories that provoke strong, even cathartic reactions in the participants, but I’ve rarely seen this potential fully realized. Usually, the story produced is imaginative, engaging, and satisfying, but the emotional impact is fairly light. Once or twice a game has educed a quiver of emotion from me. But more often the better games I’ve played feel right, like all the basic elements I envisioned for the game are present and operating properly, but the result is merely…diverting.

The Sunday game at Gamestorm was different. I could tell from the start that something special was going on; I began as I usually do by explaining the I Will Not Abandon You mode of playing the game, which is generally greeted with nods and shrugs, as if to say, “oh, that’s nice.” But this time my fellow players Drew and Lisa responded with satisfied mmms and a gleam in the eye. I could tell they were switched ON, and ready to truly, enthusiastically play with vulnerability. And when we played, something wonderful happened.

Continue reading A Piece of Myself

The Dreaming Crucible: Roles

Hello, everyone. I’m continuing to post the text of my storytelling game The Dreaming Crucible online as part of its Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike license. The main body of the gamewill be posted to the blog, then compiled in a wiki.

The Crucible is a game in which a young person beset with fear, confusion and pain goes into a magical land, where Light Faerie denizens offer aid, comfort and friendship and Dark Faerie forces make every attempt to crush her spirit. it’s time to talk about those player roles:

Heroine

The Heroine player portrays a young girl (or boy) having difficulty coping with some pain or trauma, who journeys to a Land of Faerie where she must obtain something, unravel a mystery, or merely escape—facing expressions of her worst fears or heartache in the process. Heroine must decide how to face the Perils that beset her. The Heroine also describes her exploration of the Land of Faerie, and her reaction to its many beautiful and terrible aspects.

Light Faerie

The Light Faerie player portrays characters who are kind, helpful or pleasant to the Heroine, most specially a Faerie companion who journeys with her and aids her. The Light Faerie intervenes at times to face a Peril in the Heroine’s stead. The Light Faerie also collaborates with the Dark Faerie to describe the Land of Faerie itself, focusing on its delightful and enthralling elements.

Dark Faerie

The Dark Faerie player portrays characters who are hostile, menacing or cruel to the Heroine, most specially a Faerie nemesis who traps or entices the Heroine into Faerie, and the Powers he arrays against her to destroy, consume or seduce her. The Dark Faerie introduces specific Perils that the Heroine must face to continue her journey. The Dark Faerie also collaborates with the Light Faerie to describe the Land of Faerie itself, focusing on its sinister and unnerving elements.

Continue reading The Dreaming Crucible: Roles

The Dreaming Crucible: I Will Not Abandon You.

Its time for another installment of The Dreaming Crucible online edition! The Crucible is my storytelling game about young people working through their pain in a deadly Faerie quest. It’s available on Etsy.com or the Indie RPGS Un-store as a handmade book (see the above link), but the text itself is available under a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike license. And so I’m releasing it in sections, first here on my blog, and soon to be compiled into a Wiki.

Last time I talked about the game’s narrative Principles of Play, but today I’m going to delve into an even more basic principle that embodies the Crucible’s underlying philosophy.

The Dreaming Crucible is a game about teenagers and children coping with trauma and heartache. This can take a relatively mild form, or it can delve into the darkest corners of alienation and abuse. Furthermore, a happy ending is possible but not assured. Are you willing to risk that? How far are you willing to go in depicting a child suffering? How young a protagonist are you comfortable with portraying in such excruciating circumstances? These are important questions to answer as a group.

The Dreaming Crucible is not safe. My hope is that you will enter into a relationship with the game and with your fellow players, such that you will go to the dangerous places together in mutual bravery and trust. Game designer Meguey Baker has coined this distinction as Nobody Gets Hurt vs. I Will Not Abandon You.

She says, “I as a player expect to get my buttons pushed, and I will not abandon you, my fellow players, when that happens. I will remain present and engaged and play through the issue. I as a player expect to push buttons, and I will not abandon you, my fellow players, when you react. I will remain present and engaged as you play through the issue.”

I Will Not Abandon You is the default mode of Dreaming Crucible play.

Continue reading The Dreaming Crucible: I Will Not Abandon You.

The Dreaming Crucible: Principles of Play

My storytelling game The Dreaming Crucible is published under a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike license, which means that while I do sell it as a handmade book, you’re free to make any use you like of the game’s text, commercial or otherwise, so long as you credit me and allow others to use your work under the same conditions.

That being the case, it’s high time I started releasing the Crucible’s text on the internet. Before too long the whole game will be available in wiki form; in the meantime I’m going to showcase the more significant portions in a series of blog posts. I’ll start with the Principles of Play, which are a set of guiding precepts that function as a baseline approach to playing the game, on which particular rules and specific narrative and collaborative techniques can be built.

Have a look: Continue reading The Dreaming Crucible: Principles of Play