Playing Night Forest with the Dames Making Games Community

Night Forest logo, screenprinted in gold on a black fabric with dark teal branches aroundLast Wednesday I played Night Forest with the excellent folks at Dames Making Games, here in Toronto, and we had a wonderful time with it! I thought I’d do a quick post about our experience and things I learned from the experience! If you attended, please feel free to add your thoughts in the comments, I always want to hear them.

First up: playing with candles is wonderful, but they work only under very controlled conditions. In our case, despite everything else being in outer favor, the faint breeze kept blowing them out. Folks spent maybe half the time trying to relight theirs. That said, having a tactile object that requires some care-taking honestly probably helped everyone get past their awkward first instincts and gave hands something to do while cards were mulled over. It was also a great common ground for everyone.

We played in a public park in downtown Toronto, so it was not a private space and we weren’t alone – but all the one-to-one conversations still had an aura of intimacy over them that created some immersion, despite the noise and distractions.

Now for my hacks and edits:

Firstly, I feel very strongly that safety and consent are core to community gaming, and we started our session by getting everyone to submit their hard lines – content they did not want in the game at all. We also gave every player an x-card.

What I call hard lines are from Lines and Veils, though you’ll find similar tools under other names in Microscope and other games. I use the anonymous index card submission method now, and compile a list myself from the players’ cards, so there’s no individual pressure.

Night Forest has a group-reading of the instructions built in, and these also highlight and prioritize player comfort, which is part of why I chose this game for community play.

But back to my hacks: the other thing I came prepared to add, after some reflection and based on what I know of this community, was the loosest setting framework, encouraging folks to extend their storytelling into the far future. This gave folks the option of obvious fiction.

Then as a group we identified an additional thing needed for playing in the small public park – clear body language signals to differentiate between contemplating a new card and being ready to share stories. We also very quickly talked about storytelling: structure and length. This game is immensely hackable – but part of its magic is the huge open spaces the base game leaves for players to explore. I didn’t want to close that off at all if I could avoid it.

Sidenote: Evan Torner was talking about elliptical play the other day on Twitter, and I think it’s a concept that might tie into the huge spaces Night Forest leaves in the larger narrative. Something to mull over if you play it!

So we played with guttering candles and cellphone flashlights and skateboarders around us and folks: it was still so magical!

There was a point when I turned around after telling a story and found 5 ghosts silently listening behind me and it was SPOOKY.

All in all, I highly recommend playing. The cards are beautiful and the art in them is so evocative and surprising; the structure creates a powerful sense of intimacy even in public places; the compartmentalization of the shared experience builds but also prevents consensus. Two spooky thumbs up!

Gaming at the Museum – Combining Gaming with Crafts, Museum Collections and Storytelling

So in addition to running tabletop games twice a day for the kids’ summer camp I ran at the Aga Khan Museum, we supplemented gameplay with a few different things: firstly, we spent time every day in the museum’s collection and travelling exhibits; we read aloud stories from the Shahnameh; and we did hands on creative exercises that fed into both learning about the museum collection and enhancing the gaming experience.

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Gaming at the Museum – Writing Campaigns following Rostam’s Seven Trials

For our Dungeon World in the Shahnameh summer camp at the Aga Khan Museum, one of the challenges in the prep was writing adventures for up to four groups of players that kept them all wrapped up in Rostam’s Seven Trials, without tripping over Rostam or changing his story, and didn’t have them competing with each other or deciding some groups or GMs were doing things “wrong”.

I initially considered writing a single adventure and sending each group down the path on their own, as if each was playing their own playthrough of a videogame, but that’s ignoring some of the best things about tabletop games – collaboration and spontaneity. In the end, after a great brainstorming session with Daniel Kwan (who runs a huge collaborative multi-group epic campaign for kids at the Royal Ontario Museum) I came upon a shared map solution.

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Gaming at the Museum – Building a Setting from the Shahnameh

(image “Rustam Kills a Dragon” – from the folio created by scribe Muhammad Mirak ibn Mir Muhammad al-Husayni al-Ustadi, courtesy of WikiMedia)

For the Aga Khan’s Dungeons and Dragons camp they wanted to go above and beyond a basic DnD game and take the kids into a very specific world – the world of the Shahnameh.

The Shahnameh is the longest epic poem (by a single author) known, written by the poet Ferdowsi about 1000 years ago. It tells the story of the mythic, legendary and historical past of the Persian Empire, from the creation of the world forward to the arrival of Islam in Persia in the 7th century, and introduces us to kings, demons, triumphant and tragic heroes throughout time. There is more than enough in the Shahnameh to create an incredible world for kids to game in, but what we were lacking, unfortunately, was time.

Because this was a pilot program, we had to focus in and be efficient in creating a world for a week’s worth of play, without spending time on things we weren’t going to get to. In the end, I had about two full days to prep things, so I really had to prioritize, and thankfully the museum staff had some great suggestions.

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Gaming at the Museum – Playing Dungeon World with 9-12y/os – Part 2

Gaming with kids was new to me – I’ve gamed with a lot of adults, and with folks who are new to gaming as well as experienced old hats, but kids was different, and not necessarily in a bad way! Firstly, I’d say that over half the kids were immediately ready to take the game seriously and get invested in the story, despite never having played something like this before. And by the end of the week’s 9 gaming sessions, I don’t think there was a single camper who didn’t care about their character, their quest and their teammates. Here’s an exploration of the challenges we faced as we ran the game and some of the greatest successes, as well:

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Gaming at the Museum – Playing Dungeon World with 9-12y/os – Part 1

(image above is the Dungeon World GM Screen, drawn by Nate Marcel)

TLDR: It was great! Highly recommended. Learn more about Dungeon World here!

The first thing I asked the kids was whether they were familiar with Dungeons and Dragons, and not a single one of them raised their hand. After digging around pop cultural references with them, the closest thing they could think of was the game Dungeons, Dungeons and More Dungeons, from Gravity Falls. I figured that was a fine starting point.

When I was choosing what system to use with the kids, I had a few things to weigh – first of all, what kind of game play would be fun for kids both 9 and 12 years old (or 8 or 13, as sometimes we have kids right on the cusp sneak in); secondly, what would be a reasonable game to expect three new GMs to learn in a few weeks, especially when their own gaming experience was varied; thirdly, what game was flexible enough to be edited and adjusted and warped to fit the setting I was creating based on the Shahnameh. Finally, we had a fixed budget for the program, and I couldn’t expect them to order a whole suite of $40 players’ guides, dungeon masters’ guides, bestiaries or such. We needed something lightweight, compact and flexible, and Dungeon World turned out to be just the trick!

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Gaming at the Museum – Introduction!

In July I spent a week running a Dungeon World campaign as part of summer camp for 16 kids, aged 9-12, at the Aga Khan Museum in Toronto. It was my first longer campaign that I’ve designed, and the three assistants I had (who were amazing, thank you all!) had never run any tabletop RPGs before whatsoever. I’d been recommended by the excellent Daniel Kwan, who runs Pathfinder and DnD 3.5 for kids 11-14 at the Royal Ontario Museumwhich you may have heard me raving about on Twitter in the past. It’s a really cool program, and it’s thanks to him that I got the chance to run this one at the Aga Khan Museum!

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