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[IAWA] "Don't Get All Buddhist On Me" - Drinking the Wine and Making Story Now!

Started by Willem, March 09, 2008, 04:02:07 PM

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I've posted a couple times about my history, but since it probably got lost in the glorious shuffle that we call the Forge, here we go again: I haven't played role-playing games in over 15 years. I've started teaching storytelling skills through my work, and stumbled across the indie rpg scene. I thought I had found the long prophesied lost treasure of story. :) Then I tried playing a series of indie games, with no coaching, with groups of non-rpgers who wanted to learn how to tell good stories.

Bad news. The experiences stunk. People felt exhausted. The rules confused. Struggle, struggle, struggle. I kinda hated it.

So, still reading indie game forums, I regrouped, decided I needed to only invite those who seemed to click with the story game idea, who didn't need it explained so much. I needed to embrace the metaphor of the 'band', offered up by jesse (and ron). Play music with people you trust, not with strangers! Choosing another game I've never played (IAWA), I took the plunge.

So I invited specific people, two showed up. One (J) had a problem with feeling self-conscious, but she really wanted to learn to tell story, so I made sure to bring plenty of wine.

Let me end the suspense: we had a great time. We told a fantastic story. J got buzzed enough that she could groove with the beat.

Also, I used Alan's Best Interest map/play aid. IT REALLY HELPED. Everybody at the table relied on it to rest their eyes on, to see the tangle.

Also, after feeling I'd grasped the structure of the ones in the game, I made up my own Oracle: a Cascadia (Oregon) folklore oracle, loaded with native legends, local ghost stories, and nearby places.

Players: Willem (GM), J (player 1), Wood (player 2).

We pulled cards. Picked four:
1. Two of the Chief's finest scouts, intent on chaos
2. A Haunted Lake, full of Spirits that test any visitor
3. A girl leaving for her first Vision Quest, proud and frightened
4. A sorry prophecy, hard to hear after so many happy ones have come to fruition.

Scout 1
Scout 2
Haunted Lake
Its Spirit(s)
A girl
Prophetic old crone

J took the Haunted Lake Janangir. Particular strength: Prodigious plant growth, 'potent'.
Wood took the old crone Morrigu. Particular strength: Prophetic vision, 'potent'.
I took the others; Chief Awshalim, Tahamtan the Scout (strength: invisible), Saba the Scout (maker of Traps), Saahi the girl.

The players really took a while to figure out the dice allocation - they had no idea what they meant really, even though the nodded when I said 'put them where you want to have strength'.

Then we whipped out Alan's play aid. I started with a couple best interests for NPCs, then we went around in a circle, doing one best interest at a time. They really seemed to click with it, waaaay easier than with PTA's issues.  It didn't quite feel effortless, but in comparison, yes. Pretty much effortless.

download a scan of the map here (not the best quality scan, but...):

After finishing all the best interests, and looking at the map, we busted up laughing. What a MESS! We already felt the story would start writing itself quick. I read the storytelling advice aloud (describe the obvious, then add one concrete detail), cause I liked it a lot. Good stuff.

Then we got into it. In case you can't tell by the map, the Lake Janangir and the Crone Morrigu both wanted the girl Saahi to become their shamanic apprentice. Saahi wanted power. The scouts wanted to impress their chief by claiming the crones stone eye of prophecy (Saba also wanted to marry Saahi, Tahamtan also wanted to seduce the chief). The Lake Spirit also just wanted souls to add to her spirit army.

The first scene started off great - Saahi, proud and frightened, running back to the Crone's hut before the second day of her Vision Quest has finished. The crone becomes angered, beats her to subdue her foolish pride, the girl (seizing and holding the advantage) almost pushes her into the fire (things looked very very very grim for Wood, the Crone's player), and then WHAMMO! Total turn around. The old crone feels the earth power through her, and forces the girl into the dust and scattered coals of the hut. Instead of injury or exhaustion, Wood and I negotiate the old Crone really just wants the girl to go back to her quest and start over. So the girl 'promises' to do so. :) I explained all the implications of this, no guarantees and all. Wood decided that the Crone knew that she herself would die soon, and she need an apprentice to carry on her lineage, so she felt willing to risk it out of urgency.

Everybody felt good about that first scene. A nice clean conflict, with a turn around, something I never got from PTA. By the by, I don't mean to say 'PTA good/bad', I've just struggled with what game will beginning story tellers find most accessible? Which one will feel most intuitive, and flow the best? Even I still don't really understand the stakes and flow of conflict in PTA, though I understood the rules. I guess to say: I didn't know how to get the story that I wanted from the rules, and with IAWA it almost immediately started happening.

The players slowly but surely picked up the different aspects of play... how to get on the owe list, freeform narration until someone says 'FUCK NO!' (great advice!), I always set the scene to make things easier, how the dice work in a conflict, how to bring particular strengths in to play to get extra dice.

At one point J, playing the Haunted Lake Janangir, wanted to drown Saahi to claim the girl's spriit, and wanted to do it with the form 'for love' and 'for others'. We talked this over a lot...I felt strongly that 'for others' meant supporting someone else's agenda or well-being, and that that stretched it. But 'for love', I could buy, if the Lake very lovingly drowned her, as an alien intelligence who didn't quite understand this human dying thing, caressing her as her kicks and spasming lungs eventually subsided. We went back on forth, with J saying 'the lake just wants to fullfill her natural part of creation, no evil, or malice, but rather love'. I responded with "C'mon, don't get all buddhist on me! Let's save 'with love' for something a ten year old kid would understand, not an abstract concept of oneness with creation'.

I felt very strongly that if followed well, the forms encourage one along the possible lines of drama, but if we interpreted them as new agey whitewash, they wouldn't create any drama. I remain open to other POVs on this.

In the end the Lake claimed the girl's spirit, drowning her, the Crone got kidnapped by the scouts, and got them to fight each other (to Saba: I know where you can find your love, Saahi! The Lake wishes to claim her! Free me and I'll show you!'), and then escaped.

I really loved how as I played the scouts, Tahamtan naturally became a hard-bitten, almost sociopathic figure, and Saba the lovesick one. Tahamtan nearly always stayed on top in any conflict, straight through the game, a real force of sinister power that everyone felt a bit unnerved by, until in the final scene of the chapter, the crone somehow got the advantage in the third round. Then she cut off his hands and sliced open his belly, as a marker of vengeance.

I'd happily answer any questions, but I definitely call this a success. J wants to know: what made lake Janangir so powerful and haunted? She wants to explore the lake's past in the next story. This from the player that felt most shy and uncertain at story-games.

The best rule in the book: bring wine for the shy ones.


This sounds great!  As a collector and maker of fan oracles myself, I would love to see your Cascadia Folklore Oracle. 
Please, come to Abulafia
and share your creation.

As far as the uses of forms go, I agree that the lake fulfilling it's own interest by collecting a spirit isn't really 'for others'.  I can see drowning the girl 'with love' though.  Not as a new-agey thing, but as a non-human-mentality thing:  The lake is trying, with love, to free the girl's spirit from her flesh...  The lake doesn't see the life/death dichotomy that the girl does, and can act 'with love' to drown her, sure.  The girl is going to be absolutely terrified as she dies, of course!  Creepy as Hell, and perfect for a tale of dark folklore.



I'm so glad you took me up on the wine! That makes me happy.




I'm glad too! So now, I call it 'story juice'.


I'll see if I can't get it up there! I'd like to make 3 more with differing tones. Off the top of my head I see the IAWA as Romance (Blood and Sex), Warring (God-kings of War), Politics (A Nest of Vipers), and Horror (the Unquiet Past).

What if we had Comedy cascadia-folklore Oracle, Romance cascadia-folklore Orace, etc. etc.? I think then the players could choose the tone they want for that particular game.

Just a totally off-topic thought.



Hey Willem Great Writeup you've given us!
The link to the relationshipmap didnt work for me though but,you've given me some great advice here on starting out with new players and you;ve created a great story. Too bad you had some downers before but it seems you just joined a band! hope you create some nice "jazz" !

~timeless! ~Sankofa!


Thanks timeless - I checked the relationship map link again and it still works for me. Maybe you could try it again?

I too think this explores some of the most important possibilities of indie and story-games, this bringing in of totally new people who'd never try this form of collaborative story-making otherwise. Really, really exciting.

It has pushed me to continue on even when things get sketchy, as for these kinds of folks nothing seems obvious. Not the rolling of dice, not numbers on a character sheet (not the character sheet itself). They all experience it as totally new and needing someone to explain it all. Yikes.

I have however evolved a method where I no longer explain things up front, I just explain enough to get the game started, and then as we go along we learn the relevant rule for the situation at hand. It has started working pretty well, but it requires I myself know the game.