GeekGirlCon and games in an hour

So, I went to GeekGirlCon earlier this month to help Tori Brewster and friends run a Story Games table. And we all had a blast! Some wonderful games played, with friends and strangers both.

But here’s a thing I noticed: TONS of people, including some of our own, when asked if they wanted to play, would ask “how long” and when told something like “2-3 hours,” would frown and go “never mind, I only have an hour.”

See, GGC isn’t a gaming con. It’s a panel and event con. Lots of people giving talks or Q&As in conference rooms on pop-culture and feminist topics, punctuated by the occasional concert or puppet-making session or burlesque.

So with all those other wonderful things going on, people don’t have time to devote their whole afternoon or evening to a game! They wanted to play something that lasts 30-50 minutes, so they could get to the next thing.

I have to admit, I felt a bit disappointed in myself. I felt like I was letting people down. They came to our table, looking for a new and exciting experience at this new and exciting con, and we had to turn them away? Weak sauce! I wish that I and my comrades could have blown each and every one of those eager minds with story games.

But we couldn’t, because our games take hours to play.

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Cozy.

On Labor Day Weekend, a friend and I drove up to Seattle for CozyCon, a “game convention” that basically consisted of Tori Brewster inviting a bunch of friends and acquaintances over to her spacious house to sleep over and play story games all weekend. It was a great time.

I really dug  the relaxed hangout atmosphere of the con. Drinking beers on the lawn, playing card games in the kiddie pool, staying up till 2AM being silly—it was more than just casual, it was…community. It was a beautiful thing that allowed us to be friends and people, not just “gamers,” with each other. It was intimate in all the best ways.

And that was reflected in the games. Every game I played was touching and tender (though sometimes awesome and hilarious as well!) and grounded in a deep trust at the table. I ended each day with all kinds of warm feelings humming through me.

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The Protomen are my religion now.

No, really.

I saw The Protomen live for the first time at Lola’s Room last week. The Protomen are a band that sings dystopian agit-prop tributes to the classic video game Mega Man. Every album (there are two so far) is an Act in a dark, epic rock opera that grows more and more agonizingly tense as straights get more and more dire for a futuristic city under fascist robot domination, and for their would-be saviors. They played back-to-back shows, each one featuring a different Act.

I could only attend one, so I chose the second, which is the one that resonates more strongly with me, though both are amazing. Act I is about Doctor Light’s robot son Mega Man defying his creator’s will and standing up to Doctor Wily and his robot thugs, only to be disillusioned by the fickle public he fights for. Act II is a prequel, chronicling how Light and Wily created the robots together, how Wily seized control of them and of the entire city, and how Dr. Light’s first attempt at ending his rule met with disaster.

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Guest Post: Taking Stories Back

Last week at the Portland Zine Symposium, my friend Mike Sugarbaker showed up at my table with a tiny pamphlet he’d just made, called “Taking Stories Back: A Mini-Festo.” He put them out on the table as a freebie, and folks grabbed them up as fast as he could staple them! It was incredibly inspiring, and I knew we had something special on our hands. So I asked Mike to do a guest post on the blog based on the original pamphlet. Here it is, adapted and condensed down to the essentials:

Serial fiction is important. Characters are important, and other worlds are important. There’s something magical about visiting another place, a place that might or might not even be possible, time and time again, and seeing how the people who live there are doing.

We knew this generations ago, when we gathered around fires to listen to the storyteller. Now, the fact that there even was a storyteller suggests that different people do get different amounts of skill at telling stories. But that’s not the only reason we gave up responsibility for telling stories to somebody else. We like to be surprised by our stories; we like to feel like they come from someplace else; we like to get them passively instead of working hard at them; and we like to have our senses dazzled. All that is understandable.

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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!!!

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Intimate details

I’ve had some experiences recently with explicit sex in roleplaying games that I’d like to explore with you. To start with, I’d like to share a set of short erotic stories written from the fictional events of three roleplaying games I played: respectively, Ben Lehman’s Hot Guys Making Out, Paul Czege’s Bacchanal, and D. Vincent Baker’s Apocalypse World.

Because these stories are so intensely personal, and out of deference to loved ones, I’m presenting these stories in a password-protected PDF. If you’re a friend or blog regular, email me for the password at Storybythethroat AT Gmail DOT com. Adults only, please!

Three Vignettes

The stories aren’t necessary to understand the post, though. If you don’t read the vignettes, their summaries are:

1) The orphan Gonsalvo and his inscrutable benefactor Honore share a moment of smoldering tension as the lad emerges from his bath.

2) While the Bacchanalia rages in Puteoli, the incestuous twins Appius and Livia make love one last time as a current sweeps them out to sea and they blissfully drown.

3) After the village gardener Burdick discovers her assistant Thuy has been keeping the other gardeners as drugged and brainwashed slaves, she gives the injured Carna a brew to flush the drugs and makes love to him to break Thuy’s hold.

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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

Shakespeare for all of us

I attended the Original Practice Shakespeare Festival‘s “Much Adoe About Nothing” in Kenton City Park. I loved it. The cast were a fun and energetic bunch, and the intimacy of our close proximity on the grassy lawn, with the players’ antics spilling freely among the audience, made the whole spectacle a delight.

The most eye-opening part of the production was the “Original Practice” itself. The troupe is dedicated to reviving the actual acting techniques of Shakespeare’s day, when new plays were being written and performed at breakneck pace, and an acting company didn’t have the luxury of extensive rehearsal and meticulous preparation. Instead they carried their lines on scrolls, and charged in with “limited rehearsal; an onstage prompter; fast-paced, energetic acting; and lots of audience interaction.”

OPS Fest recreates that practice, and the result was enthralling. I love live Shakespeare, and I’ve seen some fine performances, but what I experienced at Kenton park on Sunday was like nothing I’d seen before. You might think reading their lines from cue scrolls might render the performances lifeless, but not so! Instead the play crackled with life, brimmed with humanity, and embraced messiness.

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Microscope: zooming in on emotion

So, I’m a big fan of Character Advocacy in roleplaying games. Advocacy is, simply put, a mode of play where each player (excepting, sometimes, a Gamemaster) has responsibility and authority over a single character, and is tasked to represent the interests of that character in play. It’s important because if, when encountering fictional adversity, the character has no advocate, the outcome can feel flat: triumphs too easily won, tragedies handed down from on high. When we only produce something we all agree to, then nothing can surprise and challenge us. Advocating for a character is a powerful way to ensure that the character’s victories are earned, that their suffering has weight. In short, to ensure that their story matters to us.

So how can you enable that kind of investment in the absence of character advocacy?

Well, I played a wonderful game called Microscope with some friends, including its creator, Ben Robbins. Microscope is a game of epic histories, where players together construct a timeline of large-scale events then zoom in, playing out the individual scenes of the human activity that shaped the course of history. It’s a very top-down, globally thinking game that almost uses the lives of individual characters as pawns in the service of an overarching narrative.

And yet I found that Microscope helped us produce some very affecting, emotionally invested fiction? Why is that?

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Vulnerable places

I talk a lot about raw, emotionally vulnerable play on this blog, and whenever I have a roleplaying experience that scratches that itch, I gush about it here. But I haven’t very thoroughly explored the issue of how to achieve a safe space for that kind of vulnerability. I’d like to examine a recent case to see what comes to light.

I’m preparing to play in an Apocalypse World campaign. I, along with Hans, my friend and MC, have been looking forward to it  with relish. We both feel that we’ve had fun with past AW games, but never really gotten at the emotional core of apocalypse world play. for my part, following my initial, very moving experience over a year ago, I’ve had a string of one-shots that were mostly just fun, casual and diverting, without a lot of emotional investment in the characters. not to knock fun, casual and diverting, but for this game, Hans and I wanted something deeper. When I hit up my friends to play, I emphasized this in an email:

“[We’re] looking for a game that really emphasizes the humanity and desperation of the post-apocalypse, with folks who are prepared to go to some emotionally vulnerable places and aren’t afraid to have their buttons pushed. “I will Not Abandon You” play, as it were. If you’re down for that, you’re welcome to play with us!

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