The Dreaming Crucible: gut-wrenching fairy tales

edited June 2010 in Directed Promotion
OK GRAHAM THIS IS ME BEING NOT TIMID:

Growing up is trauma. Maturity is bought with blood. You will find it –in a land where magic dwells and enchantment rules. Have you bravery enough to wrestle with demons? Wisdom enough to resist beguilement? Nerve enough to grow up?

The Dreaming Crucible is a storytelling game that I wrote about coping with adolescent trauma through a grueling magical quest. The troubled hero or heroine is trapped or drawn into Faerie and must overcome a terrible Nemesis to return to their Mortal life with body and soul intact.

There are three player roles: The Heroine portrays the troubled youth with a transcendent Gift and a crippling Flaw, the Dark Faerie portrays the Nemesis and his dread Powers, and describes the Faerie environment and the obstacles the Heroine faces, and the Light Faerie portrays the friendly or helpful Allies the Heroine encounters and befriends. The things in italics are all Elements that are written on a card, with Light Stones attached to them, for the Heroine and Light Faerie, and Dark Stones for the Dark Faerie. The Dark Faerie presents an Obstacle, the players spend their Dark and Light Stones, the stones all go in a bag and the Heroine pulls one out blindly. If it's Light, she passes the Obstacle happily, if it's Dark she passes the Obstacle painfully.

The kicker is, the owner of the winning stone gets the option to place it on the Element their opponent just used, gaining some mastery over their enemy's attribute and leveraging them against them. Also, when an Element is out of stones it is Transformed for good, so the Light and Dark players by placing stones up in each other's business, can vie for who gets to Transform a particular Element, and how! And once the stones are all gone (or more precisely, all down to one color), the whole quest is resolved for better or worse.

The Dreaming Crucible features:
  • Emotionally vulnerable storytelling where outcomes are not safe and tragedy lurks just around the corner.
  • Simple, streamlined procedures with just enough structure to focus the story and move it along.
  • Simple, streamlined presentation that gets you playing in minutes, with Story Seeds for each player and learn-as-you-go instructions.
  • Low time commitment--the basic game plays in about an hour and a half.
  • The very real possibility that the game book has been literally cried over by the designer (my printer loves me but it hurts me sometimes).
So, the Directed part of the Promotion:

Currently, the game exists in the form of a "Demo" version, which is 12 pages, lays out the basic, 3-player 1 1/2 hour game, and includes game cards. I'm working on expanding the rules to accommodate longer, more complex play, with more Elements and/or more players. The game is available as a stapled booklet, for $5.

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What can you do to get it, you ask? Well, get your Lincoln ready and use one of these methods:
  1. Spot me on the street and ask to buy it. If I've got my black satchel on me, I'll pull a book out and hand it to you, in exchange for said Lincoln.
  2. Call me or email me (storybythethroat AT gmail DOT com) and ask to meet with me and buy it. We'll meet up, and again make with the Lincoln. If at all possible we will also PLAY the game! This is my favorite method.
  3. Email me and you can mail order it. Make not with the Lincoln, but with the Paypal, and add a buck for shipping (two bucks international). This has the advantage of you not having to actually find me, which for some people may involve travel and/or stalking.
If you A) read the game, and/or B) play the game, I wanna hear about it! Again, the aforementioned email works great, or you can be a big damn Internet Hero and write an AP here, or in Playtesting at the Forge (when it rises from its grave). In fact I've got a playtest report or two myself to post there once its off its sickbed.

So there you have it! Now, Q & A time: what intrigues you, perplexes you or otherwise piques your interest?

Peace,
-Joel

Comments

  • Posted By: JoelAlso, when an Element is out of stones it is Transformed for good
    I like the sound of this. One of my favourite things about Under The Bed was how the 'winning' toy's characteristics at the end of the game then become the characteristics the child will use to solve all future problems, forevermore in his/her life -- a very powerful statement that emerged as part of play, but not a primary focus. Can you talk more about what it means when an Element is 'Transformed'? Is it the same sort of idea, where the 'for good' implies a projection forward into adulthood?

    Also, what's up with adolescents and fairy tales? Usually fairy tale protagonists are dealing with puberty -- i.e. they are pre-adolescent -- as a road towards adulthood. Imagining a sixteen year old in a fairy tale story seems like more of an awkward fit -- even from the point of view of the character themselves. Is that on purpose? Is this just because, these days, people don't grow up at 15 anymore, or are you working from more contemporary source material that tends to feature older fairy-embroiled protagonists? Does the fact that the characters are adolescent impact the tone, to your mind, compared to a 10- or 11-year old entering Faerie?
  • Joel,
    Why are you telling your audience the premise? Much better to let the work speak for itself, I think.

    This enchanted land is infused with magic, yet coming of age is as grueling, gruesome and humiliating as it is in worlds far more mundane. Have you bravery enough to wrestle with demons? Wisdom enough to resist beguilement? Guts enough to be honest? Or will you cower in lies, forever a child in this magical world?

    That's just me guessing. Weave that premise into your copy. Don't beat us over the head with "THIS GAME IS ABOUT DEALING WITH PROBLEMS."
  • OMG I forgot about the super-special limited time only method:

    4. See me at Go Play NW, Lincoln, etc.

    I'll also be playing pickup games of TDC all weekend.
  • Hi, Daniel,
    Posted By: Ice Cream EmperorIs it the same sort of idea, where the 'for good' implies a projection forward into adulthood?
    Yep, pretty much (though I'm sad to say, I've never read or played Under the Bed). There are specific guidelines for how to Transform particular Elements.
    Posted By: Ice Cream Emperor
    Also, what's up with adolescents and fairy tales?
    Hmm, I dunno. lots of reasons? That thing yo said about kids not growing up as soon might be part of it, but first and foremost, yeah, source material. I'm thinking of modern stories like Mirrormask and The Labyrinth, though I don't think the age thing is set in stone (in fact, how old is the girl in Mirrormask, now that I think about it?). The main thing is that a young person with some manner of traumatic shit to cope with is catapulted into Faerie. I think the Heroine in my first playtest was 12 or so. My feeling about the effects of pushing the age younger or older is, in one sense older is edgier, because you can bring in more brutal trauma, but in another sense younger Heroes are far more dangerous, because playing with brutal trauma is even more uncomfortable and heartbreaking. See, for example, Pan's Labyrinth, which is totally a Dreaming Crucible movie. Anyway, YMMV. The text points toward older kids, but its not a requirement or rule.

    The primary influence for The Dreaming Crucible is the works of Maurice Sendak, especially Outside Over There, which is a primary source for the movie Labyrinth, but without any camp or lightheartedness. Sendak's books are unflinchingly about the messy, painful side of childhood at a variety of ages, so yeah.

    Hey, Luke,

    Um, probably foremost because I've put a lot of brain and heart work into knowing what my game's about and how it's about it, but still haven't entirely worked out how to describe it to others. This is the MOST I've ever said about the game in one chunk, either in person or online. So if I'm overdoing it, that's because I'm struggling to work out what to emphasize and what to leave out. I mean, I very consciously struggled with it in writing this post. It'd be helpful to me if you could tell me what bits worked for you, and what felt like head-beating. Did I describe the game mechanisms and their effects on the premise in too great a detail? Did I lay it on too thick in my more flavor-descriptive parts? Did I simply repeat some phrases or concepts too much? Or something else?

    The other reason is, I very much want to let people know in general what they're getting into. If they don't know it's about Fairy Tales with TRAUMA, then one of three things could happen--they sit down to play, going "La la, yay Faeries!" and end up with "Oh man...that was ROUGH. But we loved it!" which is awesome. Or they could sit down to play, going "La la, yay Faeries!" and end up with "Oh my GOD! Why, mommy, why?" which is most uncool. Or they could sit down to play, going "La la, yay Faeries!" and end up with "La la, yay Faeries!" which is at best fun but safe, or at worst YAAAWN.

    I'm not interested in making a safe game. But if I'm going to make a dangerous game, then I need people to know that going in. If I can accomplish that more subtly or elegantly, that'd be delightful.

    Peace,
    -Joel
  • edited June 2010
    Joel,
    I empathize with your struggle to describe your game. RPGs are subtle and complex. They're very hard to describe in a simple blurb. Sometimes even the creators aren't exactly sure what it's about.

    In my experience, I've found that it's best to simply describe what you do in the game, not what the game is about.

    Laying out the activity of the game lets the user draw his own conclusions.
    Spelling out what the game is about fills the user with preconceptions which can interfere with his ability to play the game and realize your vision.

    Ultimately, you have to trust your user to engage your design. You can't and shouldn't protect him. The decision to play is his. The responsibility to enjoy himself is his. If he doesn't like it, that's on him, not you. (Of course, if they do like it, all praise to the genius designer!)

    It comes down to the retardedly simplistic old maxim, "Show, don't tell." Show him what to do. Let him tell you what his game was about.

    Good luck!
    -L
  • Is there any actual play floating around? I'm interested but broke, and thus extremely picky.

    What is it about the current version that limits it from being used for long and complex play?
  • As soon as the Forge rises from its grave Ive got some AP I've been working on. I can't remember if I posted AP of my first play session, but again, when the Forge is back online...

    In the meantime I've posted a vignette in Bite-Sized AP to whet your appetite. :)
    Posted By: AikWhat is it about the current version that limits it from being used for long and complex play?
    Its just that the rules are a closed system that facilitates a specific play experience, the essential game, with a minimum number of players and moving parts. There's a pacing mechanism imbedded in that, so it affects play length as well. It's not that you couldn't modify it for longer of fiddlier play, you could probably figure it out, sure! But the game doesn't offer any help for that yet. The essential, short-form game is really my prime target experience for this game.

    I may actually have a short appendix-type supplement ready as soon as Go Play NW, which will include play advice, additional Story Seeds, and guidelines for expanding the game, which I'll bundle with the basic book for free. (I'll also send it free to anyone who's already bought the book. Fortunately at this stage I still know most of my customers personally.)

    Peace,
    -Joel
  • Posted By: Luke WheelI empathize with your struggle to describe your game. RPGs are subtle and complex.
    Luke, thanks!

    I can read most of what you've written and nod along in principle...but where it comes down to brass tacks is trying to find the right balance of too much/too little in practice.

    I think I could get more value out of your critique if you could be more specific about what parts of my description hit this button for you. WHat did I write that felt like beating you over the head? I'm sincerely curious, since I want to shoot that impulse right in the eye.

    Part of my difficulty is, a lot of the "what's it about?" is front-loaded into the setup of play: You start by creating a youngster with PROBLEMS, then play out those PROBLEMS a bit in her regular life, then catapult her into Faerie where she has to face a Nemesis and try to resolve her PROBLEMS. So it's hard to describe "in my game, you do THIS" without explaining that IT'S ABOUT PROBLEMS. Y'know?

    I'd really appreciate your help.

    Peace,
    -Joel
  • Hey,Aik (and anyone else!), I got some AP up at the Forge. I plan on examining these play examples from several angles this week, preparatory to taking it to GPNW. Enjoy!
  • Posted By: JoelPart of my difficulty is, a lot of the "what's it about?" is front-loaded into the setup of play: You start by creating a youngster with PROBLEMS, then play out those PROBLEMS a bit in her regular life, then catapult her into Faerie where she has to face a Nemesis and try to resolve her PROBLEMS. So it's hard to describe "in my game, you do THIS" without explaining that IT'S ABOUT PROBLEMS. Y'know?
    For purposes of the upfront sell, all you need to say is you start with a troubled teen, and they set off on a perilous journey through Faerie. The "they work out their problems" part is... kind of implied. Why else would a perilous journey be happening?

    Also, in some spots the language suggests that the teen goes on the journey in order to work out their problems, which isn't true as I understand it.
  • edited June 2010
    Posted By: misubain some spots the language suggests that the teen goes on the journeyin order towork out their problems, which isn't true as I understand it.
    Yeah, good point.

    With that in mind:
    Posted By: JoelThe Dreaming Crucibleis a storytelling game that I wrote about coping with adolescent trauma in the midst of a grueling magical quest. The troubled hero or heroine is trapped or drawn into Faerie and must overcome a terrible Nemesis to return to their Mortal life with body and soul intact.
    Posted By: JoelThe Dreaming Crucibleis a storytelling game that I wrote about being confronted by your adolescent trauma through a grueling magical quest. The troubled hero or heroine is trapped or drawn into Faerie and must overcome a terrible Nemesis to return to their Mortal life with body and soul intact.
    Posted By: JoelThe Dreaming Crucibleis a storytelling game that I wrote about facing your adolescent trauma in a grueling magical quest. The troubled hero or heroine is trapped or drawn into Faerie and must overcome a terrible Nemesis to return to their Mortal life with body and soul intact.
    Yeah? I like the first one, I think. Keeping "coping" still feels right to me.
  • These are sort of awkward-sounding. I don't think more words are called for.

    I know you want to warn people what's coming, but you can do that without giving away the magic trick. Luke's phrasing is worth looking at again; it sets the context so that people can guess what the deal is, without spelling it out.

    "Coping" does not feel right to me. I've been trying to think of why. It may be that "coping" and changing are two different things. Opposites, in fact.
  • edited June 2010
    The Dreaming Crucible is the storytelling game of surviving your own wondrous childhood dreams.

    Paul
  • Posted By: misuba"Coping" does not feel right to me. I've been trying to think of why. It may be that "coping" andchangingare two different things. Opposites, in fact.
    Hmmm. "confronting," rather than "coping?" Or "facing"?

    I'm not trying to add more words. I'm trying to weed out words that imply misleading things. and replace them with other words. It's tricky. I'm having a hard time seeing what doesn't work/is too much in my own text. For instance, Luke's wording looks like it gives just as much (or as little) away as my own. I have a sense that something's a bit off but just not seeing how to change it.

    This conversation is feeling a bit nitpicky, but I think that's just what happens when you start to put semantics under the microscope. Also, perhaps there's a misleading element in the discussion in that I paid out the entire structure of play in this post, but I don't intend to do that all the time, everywhere. Still, when the structure is relatively succinct, it's hard to resist spelling the whole thing out once you describe it.

    Really, I think revealing the game through play rather than giving people something to read (a rulebook, a forum post) is the best way to present it. If only I could have every member of Storygames over to my house!*

    *Not really.
    Posted By: Paul CzegeThe Dreaming Crucible is the storytelling game of surviving your own wondrous childhood dreams.
    Nice! I like it.

    Peace,
    -Joel
  • Oh, this is Tragic Dominion! Got it. I wondered why it had come from nowhere. I understand now. It hasn't.

    The Light and Dark stones sound a bit like Fiasco. Is it anything like Fiasco?

    Can I see a bit of it? I sort of want to read a bit.
  • I responded to Joel's Forge post with my thoughts & reflections on the game and his post, if anyone cares.
  • Posted By: GrahamOh, this is Tragic Dominion! Got it. I wondered why it had come from nowhere. I understand now. It hasn't.
    Yes! Sorry about the confusion. The Dreaming Crucible is the result that emerged from my game naming angst thread a few months back.
    Posted By: GrahamThe Light and Dark stones sound a bit like Fiasco. Is it anything like Fiasco?
    Sadly, I have not yet played Fiasco.
    Posted By: Graham
    Can I see a bit of it? I sort of want to read a bit.
    What would you like to read, exactly? The book is 12 pages of very streamlined, learn-as-you-go procedures. I've summarized them one way in this thread, and another way in my Forge AP linked above (post 10). The Forge thread also summarizes the stories produced from two play sessions.

    Is there anything you're looking for that you're not seeing here or there?

    Peace,
    -Joel
  • Posted By: hans ottersonI responded to Joel's Forge post with my thoughts & reflections on the game and his post, if anyone cares.
    And if no one cares, I'll cry.
  • Make sure your copies of the game are nearby when and if you cry! (Great marketing ploy, that...)
  • Posted By: Paul T.Great marketing ploy, that...
    Don't I know it! The Dreaming Crucible Single Tear Edition will be signed and numbered* and available for $49.95. A new run Single Tear will be printed the week before every major gaming meetup and convention.

    :D

    oops I mean

    :.(

    *actually, my tears are innumerable.
  • Sounds like your financial success is dependent on people not caring. And, specifically, not posting in the Forge thread.
  • Oh, the sweet agony of it!
  • edited June 2010
    success might come quicker if you go back to Jopel Kurassaar or whatever it was. People'd be all, "who's that? Is this a sexy Finnish game?"
  • I ordered myself a copy.
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