A Beautiful Reality

Fabricated Realities is a story game convention in Olympia where games are played inside art installations. Last month I attended for the second year running. It was, once again, one of the richest, most socially bonding and energizing experiences of my life.

It’s hard to describe why. I mean, the art was delightful. And the games played were rewarding and emotionally resonant. And the folks at the convention are some of the sweetest, most thoughtful and wildly creative folks I’ve ever known. But it’s more than the sum of its parts. All those factors combine in an indescribable alchemy to produce something truly wonderful.

How does this alchemy occur? What’s the process? Well, let’s start with the most obvious ingredient: roleplaying inside FREAKING ART INSTALLATIONS. Seriously, from the moment I first heard of the concept, I knew this alone would be worth the price of admission. Even if nothing Olympiaelse was altered from my usual play culture and tecnhiques, it would be wonderful to play games inside art. Self-evidently.

The installations at the event were varied, imaginative, whimsical, evocative… far more affecting than adjectives can convey. They created a palette of imagination, an assortment of ambience flavors to match up with any roleplaying endeavor you cared to throw at them. And they suffused the very air with creativity, rendering the whole convention venue into a sacred space that subtly whispered, we can and will make art here. Yes, that includes you.

But the spell doesn’t begin and end with the art. Fabreal is so much more than playacting on plywood or rolling dice amidst jellyfish. The play culture that emerged from attendees was that of fun-loving, artistically savvy, thematically sensitive,  incredibly thought-provoking and experimental play. The crowd of fellow players was simultaneously stoked and mellow, crazy-silly yet mindful and respectful. I couldn’t ask for a more wonderful band of story-makers to remix culture with. The play space and the play culture catalyzed in the games themselves to create amazing play experiences. Switched-on, engaged, hilarious, tragic, daring, supportive, silly, deep roleplaying, nestled into delightful surroundings and brought by a plethora of friendly and passionate people.

I arrived late for the first Friday game slot, and was content to wander around, gaping at the art, but someone wandered by and slapped a set of Keep It Sunny (the quick-playing, unofficial Always Sunny in Philadelphia game my friend Joe wrote) cards on the table, said his group was done with them, and suggested we play. I pulled a group of people together and we started making a story, just like that. I then GMed Trollbabe, the macho women with hair and horns pulp fantasy game that I’ve been excited about since forever but nervous about running. Likewise Love in the Time of Seið, the Archipelago-derived Norse blood opera game that produces the most texturally rich roleplaying out there. Fabreal made me believe I could facilitate these amazing games, and I did!

Saturday I played my friend Morgan’s Game Chef entry Coyote Won’t Talk, which was made for Fabreal if any game ever was. Sitting on a floor with a flashlight and paper masks to become canids at the end of the world exploring what was great and what was rotten about humans, we wove a spell that wouldn’t quite seem at home at any other convention. In the afternoon I played  Monsterhearts,  the game of teen monsters playing with each other’s hearts and bodies, with my friend Joe who wrote it, with the full spectrum of confused teenage sexuality on display. I closed out the day with Montsegur 1244, the Cathar heretics burning for their faith at the hands of the Crusaders game; I played the wife of the character I’d played in my previous Montsegur game, and gained a new perspective on that harrowing experience. And we played the game in a room filled with homemade religious icons. That sort of resonance and intensity is the essence of the Fabreal experience for me.

On Sunday I facilitated and played In the Belly of the Whale, a Norwegian Style game of interweaving narratives which requires particular techniques of narration and reincorporation. It was intimidating to attempt, but a supportive group helped make it magical… and playing in an undersea dreamscape didn’t hurt. I played The Dreaming Crucible, my own game of adolescent trauma and faerie journeys, in a hushed and intimate installation of quilted domesticity with two wonderful friends, and we spun a touching and lovely tale.

For the final slot I helped demolish the notions of due process, logical causality and personal space bubbles in Sea Dracula, the absurdist Dancing Animal Lawyer end-of-con spectacular! Following that the space was opened to the public and became a gallery showing, with surreal performance artists inhabiting the spaces. This was a little jarring and hard to interface with after a weekend of collaboration, but I used the opportunity to write poetry. I later found myself crowded into a nook of a local bar with dear friends, sipping bourbon and playing a wild and wonderful round of my friend Jackson’s Superhero, the gonzo-make-stuff-up late-night-silliness action hero game. The game is collaboration and social reinforcement at its most elemental, and the perfect end to the Reality I’d been inhabiting.

It’s unbelievable to me that I fit all those stories into one weekend. I couldn’t possibly describe them all in this space, but you can find some synopses here. Any of these were games it would be technically possible to play at any meetup or convention, yet the feel of play and the social vibe was uniquely Fabreal. Nowhere else do I find play that’s as boldly unconventional or as grounded in deep trust.

All this talk about dynamite play is not to say that we players were special, gifted, high-caliber. Yes, we brought together a lot of skill, craft and personality to our games. but the culture is also very welcoming and supportive of new or unconfident players. Facilitators operate from the assumption that newbies are simply story gaming stars waiting to be born, and they go a long way toward creating a safe space, an inclusive, supportive and helpful environment for people to spread their narrative wings. People from all backgrounds, roleplaying and not, artistic and otherwise, came together and all made amazing things together. Which I don’t mind telling you, gets me a little misty-eyed; it’s exactly what roleplaying is about for me.

The reality is gone now, dismantled and dissolved for another year. But I’m still breathing its air, still resonating with the hearts that built it with me. It’s a beautiful reality, all the moreso for its vanishing. I already long for next year.

Peace,

—Joli 

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.

Punk Rock is for the kids!

I’m thoroughly stunned that I somehow missed out on the childhood experience of the late 70s-early 80s TV show, “Kids Are People Too.” Through the retroactive magic of Youtube, I’m experiencing a taste of the show, and I’m impressed with its refreshing respect for its audience, not pandering or patronizing or ghettoizing the experience of childhood, but giving them a variety/talk show with the same entertainers and interviewees that an adult show might host. If I’d had the chance to see stars like KISS or Ron Howard talking straight with kids about who they are, I might have—well, forget about that, this post isn’t about regretting the childhood that never was.

Instead I want to talk about an amazing thing that happened when Patti Smith appeared on the show. When host Michael Young asked Patti what Punk Rock was all about, she answered: “The whole thing of Punk Rock is—newspapers and media have thrown it out of proportion—but the main thing of it was that Rock ‘n Roll’s getting back in the hands of the people. It belongs to the kids again, not the big business guys.”

That, right there, is the most beautiful and direct definition of Punk I’ve ever seen. Punk isn’t studded leather and mohawks; it isn’t three chords and vocals screamed in a British accent. In fact musicians who adopt those trappings or styles can sometimes be little more than pre-packaged record-label assets who shill for Doritos. Continue reading Punk Rock is for the kids!