Indie Hurricane: a whirlwind of community

In March, I organized the Indie Hurricane department of the Portland area’s Gamestorm convention for the second year running. Last year’s hurricane was a polite little gale, fun but modest in size, and downright polite. This year it was a raging storm and a smashing success.

Our games took over the entire upper lobby surrounding our designated play room, with games swarming over couches and coffee tables. The enthusiasm and creativity was palpable as indie gamers from Portland, Seattle, Olympia, British Columbia and more rocked games that were by turns tender, silly, action-packed, and romantic. I was so proud to see our crew forming such an amazing and dynamic presence at the con. The Open Story Gaming Circles that we formed twice daily, where a bunch of facilitators each pitch a game and interested players break off into whatever game appeals most, served a valuable role in balancing spontaneity with structure, and seemed to do a marvelous job of pulling in new players. Many, many game tables seated a mixture of familiar and unfamiliar faces, all having a good time. The games I played in were phenomenally fun and rewarding.

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This is what Indie Publishing looks like.

About a month ago I attended the Penny Arcade Expo with the final edition of my storytelling game The Dreaming Crucible.

Well, that’s not exactly true. It would be more accurate to say that I attended PAX while designing the Crucible, and spent the first day of the con finishing the game in my Seattle lodgings in time to release it in Friday evening at the The Dreaming Comics and Games booth.

In most if not all professional publishing models, this would have been impossible. If I didn’t have the game finished weeks ahead of the convention date, there’s no way in hell I could arrive on the scene with books in hand. Thank God I don’t follow a professional model.

I personally handled every step of The Dreaming Crucible‘s writing, design and production process. The only exception was the artwork of the talented Erin Kelso, the usage rights to which I secured via email. But I wrote the game myself, laid it out myself in Adobe InDesign, printed it at home on an inkjet printer, and assembled it myself using embroidery thread, a portable papercutter and scrapbooker’s glue.  I did not employ a printing service or subcontract any design or proofreading duties. I did receive the generous help of friends who coached me on layout and art direction, proofread portions of the text, and consulted on game design aspects. Those I thanked heartily, credited in the book, and gave a complimentary copy of the finished product. But as much as possible, the Crucible was a one-man operation on a shoestring budget.

Continue reading This is what Indie Publishing looks like.

How to (not) build community

bullhorn-evangelismEven once I recognized and processed what I what I wanted from roleplaying, it wasn’t easy to find Story Now play in practice. I had a lot of hiccups and false steps along the way, but I’m finally starting to figure it out.

When I stumbled upon the Forge, I devoured Ron Edwards’ essays and read a whole bunch of dense, extensive discussions, in an effort to figure out what the whole deal was about. In the process I found a system of thought that helped explain the dysfunctions in my roleplaying history, and I was able to put a name to the kind of play I wanted but wasn’t getting: Narratawatsi–I mean, Story Now.

Great, right? Only not so great. I approached a fellow roleplayer or two (mostly my brother) to explain the great new ideas I’d discovered, and I met. . .resistance. For one thing, I was still learning the concepts, and misrepresented them horribly. By the time I had things squared away, I’d already left an impression in my bro’s head along the lines of “Story Now means acting out of character for the good of the story,” which was justly repellent to him. And there’s no guarantee he and the others would have been interested in the play I wanted even if I had explained it properly.

So, while my gaming buds enjoyed the very occasional foray into hippie roleplaying land, they mostly wanted to play the same games the same way. So I had to look elsewhere for my Story Now fix. Through the internet I found a Yahoo Group of Portland indie gamers. We all met up and started gathering to try out new and different games, and evolved into Go Play PDX. I’d finally found my tribe, and all was well in roleplaying-land, right?

Nope, wrong again. Yes, I had fun and formed lasting friendships with a bunch of friendly, creative people who love shared story creation and trying new things. But I made this shocking discovery that–get this–even within the same “scene” people have different aesthetic preferences and creative priorities! Oddly enough, walking into a gaggle of self-professed “Story Gamers” and waving any old game around at anyone who’ll sit still is NOT a recipe for reliable, fulfilling play, of Story Now or any other agenda. Everyone needs to be on the same page, which means matching the right game with the right people AND clearly articulating the style and goal of play.

In the midst of a couple of games–Sorcerer and Red Box Hack–flopping with my friends because I approached it carelessly, I examined the experience with Ron Edwards at the Forge, and we explored the concept of BUY-IN: getting everyone on board for THIS activity, right NOW, with THESE people. Ron’s method for soliciting buy-in is to pitch Color and Reward, that is, what kind of story are we creating–space Nazis, political-intrigue elves, or post-apocalyptic cyborgs–and how does the game facilitate that experience? If you’ve got people on board for both those things, then you can look forward to a rewarding experience for all. If someone doesn’t get the color (“Whaddya mean political? I thought elves just shoot orcs with bows.”) or is turned off by the game method (“I gotta roll HOW many dice?!”) you’re headed for trouble.

I guess the bottom line is that there is no one monoculture of “Story” or “Indie” gamers one can gather around oneself. There’s a diverse community with a variety of interests. And there’s no simplistic “typing” to sort players into. different activities, different times, different people. All those things are mutable. The guys who indulge in immersive emo-porn one night might well be all over some board-gamey orc slayin’ the next. Just make sure you’re all on board for whatever activity is at hand. Don’t make the mistake of bringing your tenor sax to Death Metal night. And if you’re looking for Story Now gamers, don’t sweat so much assembling a “community” of monocultured, same-interest players. They don’t exist. Solicit interest for specific games with specific folks. You’ll have great games, and “community”–like the motley crew below, with whom I bonded over specific games–will happen on its own.Gamestormcrew

Peace,

-Joel