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.
Continue reading Accelerated Story, Part 1: Alive
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
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!
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.
Continue reading Finding Burdick
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.
Continue reading GeekGirlCon and games in an hour
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.
Continue reading Cozy.
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.
Continue reading Guest Post: Taking Stories Back
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
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.
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?
Continue reading Microscope: zooming in on emotion