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!

The time of the wolf is upon us! Art, rpgs and albums come together for this awesome project!

Wolf Ref Study Jan 8bWolfspell, a project I’m illustrating, is on Kickstarter right now, but only until the evening of February 3rd! I want to share a little of what makes this project feel special to me.

Wolfspell is a tabletop roleplaying game by Epidiah Ravachol, whose name you might know from the epic storytelling game Swords Without Master, or the Jenga-powered horror game Dread. Epidiah’s Wolfspell is a game where you tell the stories of rogues, adventurers, warriors and travelers who have been turned into wolves and must achieve their vengeance, source their treasure, or escape their fate as wolves before they can return to their human forms.

As a player in Wolfspell, you are torn between your wolf side and your human side, pitting a wolf die against a blood die on every roll. Working as a pack will keep you safest; a lone wolf might not survive to tell their tale.

As the GM in Wolfspell you are called Winter, and you bring your wrath down on those who have earned it through failed rolls and dangerous choices, while you add challenges, magic and snow to your players’ story.

This game feels epic and haunting to play; communicating through the language and senses of wolves adds a flavour of strangeness and surprise to already solid sword and sorcery tales. As a sword and sorcery fan, and a person who is deeply interested in animal intelligence and communication, this game would have my number no matter what!

Wolf Ref Study Jan 2

But it’s not just that I’m excited for it to exist – it’s not even just that I’m excited that I get to illustrate the cover! It’s extra, extra special because Epidiah had decided that we are going to publish this game as a tri-fold LP case.Wolfspell Work in Progress Mockup

(the art is not finished, stay tuned to see the polished final image!)

You know, the sort of thing you might find holding a double album, back in the days of vinyl. Specifically, the format that gave us some of the most definitive examples of epic magical realism in illustration. The sort of enormous canvas given to folks like Roger Dean and Rodney Matthews. I’m going to be painting one of those!

I’m a sucker for finding musical parallels to other things I enjoy, so using the format to draw a line between this wonderful RPG and the experience of an epic double album just gives me goosebumps!

If all this has you intrigued, don’t delay – check out the Wolfspell kickstarter right here!

And if you’re already a fan of wolves and epic music, let me know below what songs or albums you’ll put on when you play Wolfspell!

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.

Continue reading %s

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.

Continue reading %s

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:

Continue reading %s

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!

Continue reading %s