Middle School Energy

I’ve been working as an intern for the Language Hunters nonprofit organization, partnering with Corbett Middle School to teach the Language Hunting approach to language acquisition and accelerated learning. Which is a fancy way of saying I’ve been playing games in Irish with preteens for the last month. Four weeks into our nine-week program, we’ve learned a lot about middle schoolers, our approach, and about gameplay and learning in general. We’ve hit an exciting turning point where the students are starting to have “aha!” moments about how the game works, and really delve wholeheartedly into joyous play.

It wasn’t easy to get there, though, for us or them. In two class periods with about 50 students each, we found that managing the delicate flow of a Language Hunt game faced several severe obstacles. The number of players, the chaos of adolescent social dynamics, and of course the compulsory educational environment, even in so progressive a school as Corbett Middle School.

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Notes on an Easter Pageant

Your thunder and flash and spectacle
Envelops us, fills space
Music swells, lights flare
Your sermon
Wrapped in drama’s clothing
Becomes our world.

You seem so proud
So sincere in your fervor
That it breaks my heart to say it

But your god doesn’t speak to me.

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Accelerated Story 2: Fluency

Welcome to Accelerated Story part 2, where we’ll continue to look at Willem Larsen’s “Rules of Accelerated Learning from his Language Hunters blog, and explore how to apply those rules to story gaming/roleplaying.

As always, Willem’s disclaimer: Each rule is very contextual; these are not silver bullets or cure-alls.

The second rule is Fluency over Knowledge:

Even after much training, it can be disappointing how little you are able to do (or remember)…

Therefore, prioritize doing over knowledge-about.

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Monsterhearts is Monster Love

At the time of this writing, the IndieGoGo fundraiser for Joe Mcdaldno’s story game Monsterhearts has about 24 hours to go, and it’s raised over $10,000, in excess of its $2,500 goal.

This is exciting for a lot of reasons. For one thing, Joe’s a friend, so it’s great to see his project attract a lot of support do well. And for another, Monsterhearts is a great, exciting game. It’s about teenage monsters and their messy, sexy relationships, and it’s a strange mixture of camp, transgressiveness, parody and emotional honesty. Somehow the game simultaneously manages to celebrate, deconstruct and transcend its source material all at once. And it’s super fun to play.

The fundraiser is also exciting because Joe’s put a lot of passion, craft and ingenuity into his contributor rewards and milestones: handcrafted zines, mix CDs, postcards, stenciled folders, charity donations and new game material. It makes me want to back him at the highest level just to receive such wonderful gifts from his hand. And it speaks volumes of Joe’s love for personal expression and self-publishing.

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Accelerated Story, Part 1: Alive

My friend Willem Larsen, developer of the Language Hunters accelerated learning system, recently published a series of blog posts on the “Rules of Accelerated Learning.” These are a set of interlocking patterns for fluent skill-building presented in bite-sized pieces. I really dig what he has to say here, and the way he says it.

Ordinarily Willem applies these insights toward the language game, but here they’re presented in a general fashion, to apply to ANY skill you want to build proficiency in. Since I’ve been exploring how the principles of fluency intersect with story games for a couple of years now (no surprise since Language Hunters is itself a game!), I want to dig into these rules and look at the concrete ways they can be leveraged toward collaborative storytelling and roleplaying. As we explore them one by one, I hope to see understanding expand ever outward as the rules break off, recombine and create new connections, building insight on insight.

Before we begin, it’s worth noting Willem’s disclaimer: Each rule is very contextual; these are not silver bullets or cure-alls.

The first rule is: “Focus on What is Alive.” As Willem says,

It’s difficult to learn skills or new competencies from reading books, verbal explanations, or standardized curricula.

Therefore, always look for situations where you can observe or learn from skilled practitioners, and gauge your success by the degree of engagement of the participants.

This matches up with my experience with roleplaying games. I originally received roleplaying rules via oral tradition, but as soon as I was able to get my hands on RPG books I started acquiring my skills and rules knowledge that way. Reading books was a great way to acquire comprehensive knowledge, but it translated awkwardly into play with actual humans.

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First

Atlas Games posted a list of 31 “Reverb Gamers 2012” prompts for blogging. The idea is that for the month of January, roleplaying bloggers will take a prompt each day and write a short post. Me being me, the impetus to blog daily has proved elusive. But the first prompt really stirred some thoughts, so I’d like to tackle it, however  belatedly:

What was your first roleplaying experience? How did that introduction shape the gamer you’ve become?

When I was about 11 years old, I attended a small Christian school. I mean, like, small small: 9-12 students, across all grades. Though my dad was a pastor, it operated out of a different church in the area. It was little more than a home school co-op, run entirely by parents on a volunteer basis. It was a very close-knit community, but it also provided scant opportunities for varied social activity.

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An outcry for the new year

In every cup of joy
a drop of heartache

A tang
Continually reminding
of the poison in the well.

In every breath of life
the wheeze of death

A rattle
Marking the slow march
of every endeavor into decay.

In every heartbeat of courage
the skip of fear

A moment
Of sheer terror
that the talons will close.

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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.

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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

Finding Burdick

So we’re playing our final session of Apocalypse World. At least we think it’ll be the last. We’ve all agreed that we’ll either end the game tonight or next session, depending on how things go. And I’m feeling the pressure.

See, I’ve become intensely invested in Burdick’s future. Burdick is my character, a Savvyhead with a greenhouse trying to get the earth to yield a bounty like she used to, rather than the weak, halfhearted crops she produces now. Burdick’s had her hurdles, including clashes with her Hocus brother, Always, who leads his people in a fire and brimstone, will of the gods manner, with ecstatic visions and draconian pronouncements.

Now Always is gone, disillusioned with his leadership and living alone in the woods somewhere. Burdick’s got the Battlebabe Kickskirt at her side, and a gaggle of scared people looking to her for fresh leadership. And the warlord Barbecue has moved in, threatening our territory and our way of life.

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