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.

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.

Continue reading Intimate details

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

Paying Your Dues

I had an dissatisfying experience in a roleplaying game session a bit ago that may be familiar to you gaming veterans: one player directed his character to kill another player’s character, a supposed ally. I directed my character to try and stop him. He succeeded. I was frustrated. But that’s not the whole story.

So the situation in a nutshell was this: The perpetrator was M, a longtime member of our roleplaying group but new to this particular game. So his character was introduced in the midst of a frantic rescue mission into this lair of vampires and cultists. He’s a monk and a cleric from some order that hunts vampires, and comes along to help. Well, we rescue our friends (one of them the character of a player, S), but they’ve been turned into Vampires! They’re still in they’re right mind though, and it’s not too late to cure them. M’s vampire-fighting guy agrees to not kill the vampires until next sunrise, to give us a chance to turn them back, right? So we’re all escaping, the group gets split up, and my character, M’s character, and S’s character, plus some supporting cast, are all fleeing together.

Some new information came to light that M chose to interpret as meaning he had to kill the vampires right away before they became super-powerful. Despite the GM clarifying that this wasn’t necessarily the case, M declared he was attacking S’s character. I declared that my character, who had been covering M suspiciously with a crossbow, tried to shoot him down first. S’s character, already weak and severely wounded, went down quickly, and M, despite being shot several times by me, fled through the city.

There are several interplaying factors here. There’s an absolutely poisonous social dynamic present based on bitter past history, for one thing. And I also experienced a lack of the “traction” I discussed earlier in the rules, which prevented me from being able to meaningfully affect the conflict. But I’d like to set those aside and talk about why the incident bothered me from the standpoint of the story.

I was immensely dissatisfied with our story taking that turn. Why? It wasn’t the fact of a main character dying in itself. It wasn’t even the factor of player-characters (let’s say “protagonists”) having deadly conflict. Those are both things that, traditionally, some roleplayers take issue with–in the first case, dying equates with “losing,” and in the second, internal conflict is seen as a player being a dick, by definition. But I don’t feel that way, in either case. I can accept a protagonist death, and the inter-protagonist strife that might lead to such. . .if it’s a sufficiently satisfying development in the story.

But what does that mean? Let’s unpack the sample case a bit. We’ve got an established situation with established characters moving to a climax. A pair of characters has gone through hell at the hands of their captors, and their friends make a desperate effort to rescue them. They all make their escape, but all hell has broken loose outside the lair. In the chaos, one of the captives is struck down just when freedom was in his grasp.

All sounds pretty potentially cool, right? But wait–the character was slain, not by a hated enemy, or by a force unleashed by the protagonists, or betrayal by a friend-in short, not by any previously established element of the story. No, he’s killed by some guy who just wandered into the situation, offered to help, casually killed one of the people he was “helping” rescue, based on a flimsy justification, then fled the scene.

This is not a chain of events that would produce satisfaction in any narrative medium. And it did not produce satisfaction here. The real-people reactions ranged from bummed to annoyed to outraged. Why? M was within his rights to declare that his character was opposing, even attacking, another character, and even had an “in-character” reason to do so. But the fact is, he hadn’t paid his dues.

It seems to me that for any major development in a story to be satisfying, you’ve got to pay your dues, to lay a proper foundation and establish your right to introduce that development. Otherwise your narrative reads like this one:

Frodo: Hi, Gandalf!
Gandalf: Bilbo, give him your ring.
Bilbo: Okay. Bye!
Gandalf: See you at the pub, Frodo.

. . .etc.

S’s death at the hands of M was a huge letdown because M hadn’t put in the work. He didn’t do any work to ground his character’s actions in the established fiction we’d been creating, off and on, for several years. He didn’t do any work to strengthen his character’s motivation and drive, and invite us to buy into that. His contribution fell flat because he didn’t earn it.

While this seems like a simple aesthetic issue, I submit that it really boils down to trust. A movie audience trusts the writer, director and cast to “pay their dues” to create a satisfying film that holds together and is authentic to itself. And much, much more so does a roleplaying group depend on trust, because the creative contributions flow in all directions, and the material involved is not someone else’s but your own. A group that can’t trust each other to pay their dues, is a group where any member might at any time catastrophically and arbitrarily disrupt the shared fiction that we are carefully building together–which is as this incident illustrates, a recipe for dysfunction.

This is why a roleplaying group, much like any other intimate and vulnerable gathering for a dedicated purpose (marriage, church, etc.), can embody both the best and worst of human interaction. I’m continuing to seek more of the “best” side of the equation.

Peace,

-Joel