Story is what we make.

Last month I tabled at the Portland Zine Symposium for the second time. My first year was fun and inspiring, but my success as a publisher and creator was limited: a few people bought books, a few more shared some brief, enthusiastic conversations, and mostly people gave a glance and passed by. That’s par for the course at an event like this—the interests represented are vast and diverse, nobody has time or attention for everything, etc. But I knew there was a lot I could do to improve my approach and have a stronger presence for next year.

And I did! This year I snagged a table for both days, which helped for a start. And I knew from last year that my game The Dreaming Crucible, while it’s at the low end of the size and pricing pool for most roleplaying products, at the Zine Symposium it’s a pretty high price point, even at a discount. Which led a lot of people last year to get excited, see the price, and sadly walk away. So I decided that I would keep offering the Crucible, but add something scaled better to the Zine environment.

And thus Wilding Tales was born! Wilding Tales is a mini story game that takes the form of 5 Pocketmod booklets, each containing a different character to play in a small, intimate story of post-collapse community. It’s an experiment in distilling storygaming to its barest essence, as well as providing as simple and accessible an introduction to the activity. And I think I succeeded! I’m still working out the kinks, but expect a version of Wilding Tales to be available online soon.

I tabled with The Dreaming Crucible and Wilding Tales for both days of the Symposium, and here’s what I discovered: first, several people I vaguely recognized made a beeline for the Crucible and said something like “Hi, I saw this at the last Symposium and held off buying it ’cause of the price, but I thought about it ALL YEAR, and I’m buying it now!” It appears there was a slow burn effect going on; the price point caused people to hesitate, but come back to buy it after thinking it over. I’m comfortable with this. I completely understand the desire to be cautious with one’s spending at a show like this, and it’s also very gratifying to know that folks who were interested, then said “I dunno, let me think about it” weren’t just blowing smoke.

My second discovery is that Wilding Tales was a perfect fit for the Zine Symposium! Lots of tablers at the Symp focus on small $1-5 products that are easy to impulse-buy without a lot of financial commitment, and the tales filled that niche nicely. I arrive with unassembled booklets, and I found they flew off the table as fast as I could cut, fold and glue them!

I did have a lot of learning to do in terms of how to package Wilding Tales. One book does nothing; you need two to play and three or more is ideal. So I ended up pricing them 3 for $2 to incentivize purchasing multiples, and by the end of the show I’d figured out that really, the set of five was the “unit,” and that’s what I pushed, 5/$4. I have dreams of a “collect the whole set” element, with different players having different books and clustering off to play new and surprising games with characters they’ve never seen before, in infinite combinations. But that’ll have to wait until there are many more characters designed, and I still will never sell them singly. The point is to be able to play right away!

All in all, the show was a lot of fun and more energizing for me than last year’s. I did a lot of trades, which always feels great: it puts the interaction on a footing of sharing passion and takes it out of the realm of commerce. I picked up a lot of neat stuff: highlights include vintage anarchist lit publisher Corvus Editions, with whom I traded Wilding Tales for Portland Oregon A.D. 1999, a century-old futurist writing;  delightful superhero relationship comic The Flying Mess by Whitney Gardner; cryptych, a tiny, beautiful book of e.e. cummings tribute poetry by Loren mccRory (a trade for Dreaming Crucible); and the re-release of Love Is Not Constantly Wondering if You Are Making the Biggest Mistake of Your Life. I admired the breathtaking Collective Tarot and got to flip over a card, finding one pregnant with meaning for me. Plus a huge pile of journal zines, silly comics and photos, screen printed decorative patches, buttons and stickers.

A woman from the Timberland Regional Library in Olympia bought a copy of all my stuff for the library; she said that a co-worker had asked her to look specifically for gaming zines, and I’m glad I could fit that bill. I had nice camaraderie with my tablemates, lots of friendly support from Symposium volunteers like Christina “Blue” Crow, and even met a few friends of Olympia friends while wearing my Fabricated Realities shirt. An afterparty with Karaoke and Beer at the Independent Publishing Resource Center topped of a wonderful weekend.

I can’t get over the wonderful thrill of PZS. Even a month later I’m feeling the creative and social high. It’s not just that it’s a great venue for small-scale self-publishers to hawk their wares—though it is that. It’s also a place where everyone’s voice is heard, where people are doing more than buying and swapping products, they’re swapping passions, swapping dreams, swapping stories. Because our stories are what we make. I can’t wait for next year, and I’m excited to continue exploring the intersection between crafting our own publications and making stories together.

Peace,

—Joli

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 

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.

Continue reading The Dreaming Crucible: Beginning Play

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

Local Christmas, Local Joy

It’s Black Friday, and the season of consumerism will be upon us, and the race to Christmas Day will dominate our lives. The holidays are a time of giving, a time of faith and tradition, a time of family and togetherness and celebration. But with the mad shopping dash to buy Christmas gifts, it’ll also be a season of stress, financial anxiety, and even debt. It’ll be the most significant contribution of the year to the coffers of huge retail conglomerates who hoard wealth, monopolize markets, and prey on consumers and their workers.

This line of thinking is nothing novel or new, but it’s especially on my mind with my involvement with the Occupy Movement. And whether you’re bothered by billionaires or not, I hope there’s something we can all more or less agree on, which is:

It’s a really wonderful thing to shop local.

Continue reading Local Christmas, Local Joy

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.

Continue reading Cozy.

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!!!

Continue reading Of Community and Crucibles

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

Crucible aid

For players of The Dreaming Crucible storytelling game, I’m proud to present: printable play aids!

The most essential aid is the game cards that come bound into the book. If you’re interested in playing the game more than once, you now have a reproducible resource for doing just that! (Note that the cards are double-sided, and oriented sideways, so make the necessary printer adjustments.)

Dreaming Crucible Cards PDF download

Continue reading Crucible aid

A Piece of Myself

I played two games of The Dreaming Crucible with some old friends and new at Vancouver, WA’s Gamestorm convention last month. I had fun in both, but the second game did something the first one didn’t: it moved me to tears.

The Dreaming Crucible is designed to enable the kind of raw, vulnerable stories that provoke strong, even cathartic reactions in the participants, but I’ve rarely seen this potential fully realized. Usually, the story produced is imaginative, engaging, and satisfying, but the emotional impact is fairly light. Once or twice a game has educed a quiver of emotion from me. But more often the better games I’ve played feel right, like all the basic elements I envisioned for the game are present and operating properly, but the result is merely…diverting.

The Sunday game at Gamestorm was different. I could tell from the start that something special was going on; I began as I usually do by explaining the I Will Not Abandon You mode of playing the game, which is generally greeted with nods and shrugs, as if to say, “oh, that’s nice.” But this time my fellow players Drew and Lisa responded with satisfied mmms and a gleam in the eye. I could tell they were switched ON, and ready to truly, enthusiastically play with vulnerability. And when we played, something wonderful happened.

Continue reading A Piece of Myself