Journal Entry

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Games of Belonging Outside Belonging

My game-design mentor Avery Alder has just posted the playtest kits for her game of queer community during the collapse, Dream Askew, and my game of the fantastic shtetl, Dream Apart. They are tabletop roleplaying games, very beginner-friendly -- you sit around a table with your friends and tell a story. They share a streamlined "no dice, no masters" system and are thematically linked -- resourceful little marginalized communities with internal tensions facing a looming dominant culture just beyond them -- a.k.a. "belonging outside belonging".

We'll be Kickstartering them in May, publishing them with a split book with lots more goodies, including tips on making your own game of belonging outside belonging.

So, about collaborating with Avery:

I played Monsterhearts for the first time in 2013, and it immediately became my favorite tabletop roleplaying game. Actually, that's a lie. It was my favorite roleplaying game before I played it, just from reading the rules. It remains the only RPG rulebook -- or, I think, instructional text of any kind -- that has made me burst out crying while reading it (the Growing Up Moves for Season Advances are a beautiful poem about adulthood).

(I played it with Amal El-Mohtar, Shweta Narayan, and Nathaniel Smith in a hotel room in Brighton, UK at WFC. The characters were at a boarding school in Brighton; a bunch of them were drinking on the pier, and Amal's cheerful Selkie, excited by the water's closeness, had just made a thirty-foot dive into the waves, when the local queen bee triggered Nathaniel's Witch's Darkest Self. His Witch, Sabrina, actually became a witch in reaction to a decade of bullying about her name, and on the pier, with the Selkie out of the picture, the bully disinvited Sabrina from hanging out with them: she pulled a broom out of a utility closet, threw it at Sabrina's feet, and smirked, "here's your ride." The Witch lost it. The Selkie, horrified by the ensuing cursefest descending into a bloodbath, used her unearthly song to call the entire crowd into the sea. Meanwhile Shweta's Serpentine was, if I recall correctly, battling the bad grownup witches who went after her and got more than they bargained for... and the game ended with the Selkie crawling through the Serpentine's window and them revealing their secret natures to each other.)

It's not even my core genre. I don't mind teen monster sex horror, it's fine, but it's not like I was a diehard Buffy or Twilight fan. I fell in love with the vision, the elegant harmony between mechanics and theme, the way it takes the winsome candle that is "literalizing the metaphor" and turns it into a flamethrower to set the world ablaze.

I raved about Monsterhearts in a 2013 interview (it's near the end). I also thought The Quiet Year and Abnormal and Brave Sparrow and her activism and theory were groovy as hell. Naturally I developed a huge art crush on Avery. (An art crush is like a regular crush except the thing you're fantasizing about is collaboration.)

As it turns out, collaborating with Avery is even more fun than playing her games. It is the best.

In one sense, I've been making games forever. I was a very ambitious GM and rules-hacker, since circa 1980. I always wrote computer games, too, and I made one professionally back in the day. Creating games (often with intricate rules and constant rule adjustments) is a big part of my relationship with my kids... we seriously cannot go down to the court to shoot a few hoops without ending up hacking basketball. But I haven't actually published a tabletop roleplaying game properly before (edited to add: though I did do a Fiasco playset). This is a debut.

So I feel a little like I did when I got a check in the mail from F&SF, dated my thirtieth birthday, for "The Ant King: A California Fairy Tale" -- my first fiction sale, to a market I grew up reading. Here's how that felt, and how this feels:

I just won. That was the finish line. The rest is icing.


Posted by benrosen at March 22, 2018 12:53 PM | Up to blog
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