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Oracles for Outdoorsmen

Started by Joel P. Shempert, September 05, 2009, 07:36:59 AM

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Joel P. Shempert

So the folks that hired me to work at Middle-earth Camp asked me to come to an adult camp one evening next week, and lead them in a Storyjam. They want to develop a method for group storytelling, around a campfire, which can be repeated by its participants without me present, and imparted to others. The theme (in keeping with Trackers NW's message of reclaiming wilderness skills and the hunter-gatherer lifestyle) is a world reclaimed by wilderness, a modern world going back to primal roots.

I'm gonna teach 'em how to make an Oracle.

So I'd love some help. There's been discussion here and there, about what makes a good grabby Oracle Element, and some clarification on that issue is swell, but what I'm really looking for is an idea of the composition of elements as a whole. Looking at the "canonical" Oracles, there are several different kinds of Elements. There are driven people, evocative locales, alluring objects. . .can anyone tell me what kind of thought goes into assembling a list of such things? What's a good ratio of objects to people, or people to locations? Are there different sorts of people to be balanced out? Is there a spread, from Ace to King, of degrees of severity, or anything like that? And yeah, what ARE the salient attributes of a "person" entry? Of a "locale" entry? And so forth. . .


PS I've got more plans than just that for my Storyjam; a framework of game procedures (IaWA-based, but heavily modified for the fireside) and the means of introducing/teaching them is coalescing in my mind. But I'd like to concentrate on Oracles here, and get a strong handle on that from those what've done Oracle Construction.
Story by the Throat! Relentlessly pursuing story in roleplaying, art and life.

Paul T

I had great luck a couple of weeks ago, when running space opera IaWA without an Oracle, just by telling people:

* Write a brief description of a thing, person, group of people, or location ("person, place or thing").
* Try to make it evocative, like a single shot or image in an atmospheric film or novel.
* Your element should imply/hint at, but not actually tell, a story.

With a few good, grabby examples (I recalled two or three good elements from memory and shared them), we were off, and all the players came up with good elements. There were five of us, so we just each wrote an element and used those five as our Oracle draw for the first chapter. It worked well, and none of the players had any prior experience with IaWA (or ANY story games, for that matter).

To build up a deck, you'd have to each write two, perhaps, before each Chapter. I'm pretty sure Vincent's tried that with his posse, and said it worked well for them.

Joel P. Shempert

Paul, I agree that examples are key--providing a model for both content and tone should help build momentum and get the creativity train rollin'.

I definitely want to set more distinct parameters than "evocative" and "hint at a story," though. There are some genuine (unstated) principles behind those statements, that I'm trying to dig down for. For instance, check out the crosspost of this thread from Storygames, where we identified specific concepts like Joshua A. C. Newman's need, desire and pressure, and I posited tension, movement and questions.

I think your concept of "hinting at" is definitely good and that's why i think my three above are more potent than Joshua's. If you skirt around them a bit, the actual needs and desires become a fruitful void that the players instinctively fill in. But "hint at" isn't the level of advice I'm looking for; I'm trying to figure out a method for conveying how to hint at. Hence what I posted above and in the other thread. I think we all too often take for granted the necessary techniques for our play goals, and it trips us up in play when everyone wants a particular effect but doesn't know how to go about doing it. That's why I love Vincent's game writing, where he says things like "roll the dice or say yes," "have the NPCs spill their guts," and "say what makes sense, then add one concrete detail," instead of, like, "don't be obstructive to the players," " keep the town's drama flowing," or "be evocative but brief." The latter tell you "Make it good," while the former tell you, "here's the technique to make it sing."

That's what I'm striving for in guiding Oracle design.

By the way, I should mention, as came up in the Storygames thread, that I'm not developing these ideas in a vacuum. I've had substantial help from my friend Willem Larsen, both from discussion with him in the here and now, and from past endeavors like the Pedagogy of Play, where he investigates how to teach the rules and techniques for a roleplaying game bit by bit with complete flow/fluency, and his own musings on Oracle construction from last year. Willem also developed the IaWA-for-campfire adaptation that I'm using. I've been further bolstered by our friend Evan Gardner's language fluency game, Where are Your Keys, which uses sign language as a vehicle for reinfocing concepts and marking out techniques. Exciting stuff, and I wanna give credit where it's due!

Story by the Throat! Relentlessly pursuing story in roleplaying, art and life.

Paul T


I agree with you, totally.

I only posted the above because, although the instructions seemed to be lacking, it worked every time with my friends (granted, it's a small sample: three groups of four-five people).

I'd love to see a better methodology developed for this sort of thing.