Playstorming: Please 'splain / link?

edited July 2008 in Story Games
Here's what I know about Playstorming:

1) Ben Lehman mentioned it. It sounded (TO ME) like he was talking about it as an alternate to playtesting.

2) This:
What is Playstorming?

Playstorming is our favorite way to make games at ISS. It works like this: One of us is too lazy to come up with a whole idea for a game so we play with whatever little we’ve got. We think about what we want the game to do and develop rules as we play.

Our Playstormosophy:

From chaos, order is born. The playstormers should be ready to drop everything and immediately implement any changes that appeal to them. There should be no attachment to the flow of the game. Stop, change, evolve, enjoy.
Each playstormer is responsible for their own fun. The game-bearer need not worry about entertaining the rest of us. Each of us will suggest the rules and modifications that we feel will make the experience more enjoyable for our own selves.
To be a game-bearer is to be alone. The game-bearer decides which rules, if any at all, will ultimately be used. When putting together the final game, they are under no obligation to accept any of the suggestions previously playstormed. It is a terrible responsibility that they alone must bear.
The new world after the storm. While the game-bearer is under no obligation to accept any suggestions, playstorming works best when everyone involved has an open mind. You may walk out of playstorming with a totally different game than the one you walked in with. That new game may be even more awesomer and beyond.
(From the imagination Sweatshop page)

So!

Does the above deserve more unpacking?

How does it fit into the rest of the design process for a game? What comes before and afer that, and what can / probably should?

Comments

  • edited July 2008
    In my opinion, playstorming works best as a jumping off point. Like, "I have an idea, but it's lonely and needs little idea friends so it can develop into a healthy adult idea." Or as a way to break you out of a rut. Like, "I have an idea, but I cannot for the life of me get this idea to work. Help!" It's not the entirety of a design process. It's more of a way to shake up your muse and get things flowing.

    That said, we have in fact created a game from beginning to end in just a few playstorming sessions. We didn't know if it was possible when we started out, but used the convergence of Free RPG and JiffyCon as an excuse to give it a try. The end result was Trial & Terror: Supernatural Victims Unit, our little game about Law & Order-like procedural crime shows set in a Buffy-esque version of New York City. We sat down will nothing more than a sliver of an idea for that game, playstormed it three times, and ended up with something that surprised us.

    I don't want to play favorites, because I dearly love playstorming, and I don't think I've had a rough time of it yet, but under the threat of torture, I might admit that my absolutely favorite sessions are the ones where someone brings the tiniest of ideas to the table and we start almost completely from scratch.
  • Also! Playstorming, for me, has created a great environment to examine all the little, almost subconscious, things we do at the gaming table that make a game fun. And then I can decide if I want to systematize that. "Hey, John, you always stand up just before you roll the dice. And now you've got me doing it. It's like, 14% more fun than rolling while sitting down. I might make that a rule."
  • Posted By: Epidiah Ravachol We sat down will nothing more than a sliver of an idea for that game, playstormed it three times, and ended up with something that surprised us.
    That last time through - Did the changes to the rules get less and less?

    Basically, as you went through it repeatedly, were you working from creating to polishing? And was there any significant "tuning up" of the stuff after that, as you put it into the PDF in my other window?
  • edited July 2008
    Hey Eppy,

    If I wanted to start a stromin' playstormers collective, how would you advise me? What are the lessons you guys have learned, and what are the gaffs to avoid? What are the techniques that are 100% effective, and what are the things that work for more formal playtesting but fail for playstorming?
  • The idea of the game bearer is really important. That comes before (sometimes!) and after. Someone has to take responsibility for the game and shape the rough ideas you come up with into a jewel of a game.

    It's hard to put into words how fun the creative synergy is of playstorming. There's something about the fact that everybody is supposed to be giving feedback and giving ideas all the time. It opens up and frees the process. Playtesting, once you have a real structure in mind and want to see how it works, is a whole nother beast. There when people say, "let's do it this way", someone has to damp them down and say, "no, really, try it the way it's written so I can see if that works." This is important, but it is a very different dynamic. You're getting feedback on your creative design when you playtest, playstorming is harnessing other peoples' creative energy.

    The other big thing that you get is the immediate feedback on how an idea works. You not only get lots of ideas, but you can then implement them on the spot to see how they feel in motion. That is very different from just thinking about it.
  • edited July 2008
    Posted By: Levi KornelsenPosted By: Epidiah RavacholWe sat down will nothing more than a sliver of an idea for that game, playstormed it three times, and ended up with something that surprised us.
    That last time through - Did the changes to the rules get less and less?

    Basically, as you went through it repeatedly, were you working from creating to polishing? And was there any significant "tuning up" of the stuff after that, as you put it into the PDF in my other window?There was indeed a polishing process going on. Trial & Terror is an odd one, though. Most of the time when we playstorm, the game belongs to one person. It's theirs to do with as they please. Trial & Terror didn't turn out that way, and it ended being very much a group effort. Also, there was a time limit. There are plenty of avenues we didn't explore because we knew we didn't have the time. So when we found something that we liked, we let it be and tried tuning up the parts that we didn't.

    After the third playstorm we added one rule to the game that we had not tried, and it was kind of a variant of a few rules we did try and reject. And then there was probably a little more tuning going on while we struggled over explaining what NYC's role is suppose to be, but nothing significant.

    Since JiffyCon/Free RPG day, we've done a few actual playtests and blind playtests to learn a bit more and polish it up for a more final version of the game, but what we learned through that process is not in the PDF on the site.
  • I think it's useful to come in with very few ideas but lots of fictional reference to inspire everyone. Inspiration is key.

    I also think if someone isn't into that inspirational material, they may not want to be involved in that particular playstorming session.

    It's also helpful to decide before playstorming or very early in the playstorming process what kind of game it will be. Tactical? Narrative? Abstract? Simy? Rules heavy? Rules light? Euro style boardgame (we've playstormed boardgames as well)? American style boardgame?

    Being positive and listening to everyone's ideas is important. Don't say no until you know what you are saying no to and have a reason for saying no. BUT, sometimes the example suggestion doesn't work but the idea behind the example is a good one. It just needs a different application. Also, note ideas you pass on as they may be relevant or useful later.
  • Can you compare the amount of informal structure with, say, this?

    Note: At this point, I'm partly asking with an eye to reviving a dead article I was working on about what I call "freeplay" - which is this thing I do that's in the same ballpark, but always think of as a way to personalise game ideas to the group...

    The idea of a distant cousin of that process creating something for outsiders is really odd to me, somehow. I've always looked at this kind of thingas a way to extablish "our tradition of rules" for a single campaign, intended very much to be broken down into bits after it was over.
  • edited July 2008
    Point for thought/discussion: "Playstorming is like playing freeform Universalis." Somebody brings a pitch or the group decides on one and then you gradually accumulate ("build" is probably the wrong word) the artifacts of play around that, like a hermit crab. It's like the thing that happens in freeform play, except you write the processes down (or otherwise institutionalize them) as you develop them and they tend to be more formal processes, actual game mechanics in the traditional sense, rather than informal processes.
  • Is anyone familiar enough with both Mugger Games and playstorming to comment on any similarities between them?
  • Posted By: Jason MorningstarHey Eppy,

    If I wanted to start a stromin' playstormers collective, how would you advise me? What are the lessons you guys have learned, and what are the gaffs to avoid? What are the techniques that are 100% effective, and what are the things that work for more formal playtesting but fail for playstorming?
    Quick disclaimer: I'm by no means an expert. Playstorming was just something my friend Jim and I would do whenever we talked about the games we wanted to design. We'd be at some restaurant, one of us would mention some idea and before long all our dishes would be shoved to one side to make room for the dice, and we'd be frantically scribbling on napkins. Yes, we'd have dice and pens, but no paper. That's just how we rolled. And then about a year ago, I approached him and a few other friends about formalizing it bit. The ISS was born and we've been stumbling our way through it trying to figure it out as we go along.

    What worked for us might not work for others and what didn't work for us might be the magic for others. That said, to do it as we did:
    • Grab friends who you know are interested in the design process. This was vital for us. Each playstormer is responsible for their own fun (which is a fundamental difference between playstorming and playtesting). If your friends just want to play, they might not enjoy the playstorming process.
    • Keep in mind that you won't cover the same amount of story ground as you would in a regular game. As a rough estimate, we found that after playstorming for four hours (which was the limit of our endurance) we covered about as much story in the game as we typically did in one hour. Times vary, of course, but this can be surprisingly jarring if you're used to a well paced game.
    • If something isn't working for you stop and figure out how to make it work for you. We still haven't mastered this one completely and occasionally have playstorms that go a little sour. Afterwards, we can talk it out and it's often fruitful in the end, but it really works much better if you address it right away.
    • Respect the game-bearer. We haven't had a real problem with this, but it's a nightmare I've suffered through in the past, where someone gives you suggestions about your game and won't take no for an answer. The game-bearer should really be open-minded and give legitimate suggestions a fair shake, but if your game-bearer says no, it means no. Move on.
    • Absolutely point out little things people are doing that make the game fun. They might be more necessary than you expect.
    That looks all formal there in a bulleted list. How snazzy.
  • Posted By: Levi KornelsenCan you compare the amount of informal structure with, say,this?

    Note: At this point, I'm partly asking with an eye to reviving a dead article I was working on about what I call "freeplay" - which is this thing I do that's in the same ballpark, but always think of as a way topersonalisegame ideas to the group...

    The idea of a distant cousin of that process creatingsomething for outsidersis really odd to me, somehow. I've always looked at this kind of thingas a way to extablish "our tradition of rules" for a single campaign, intended very much to be broken down into bits after it was over.
    That Setting Session stuff is intriguing. Playstorming, as we do it, is far less procedural than that. I mean, you've basically quoted all the rules we have for it in the playstormosophy. So we don't have anything like the tokens used to determine who can input when. We do let the game-bearer reject ideas out of hand--it's just discouraged unless you know immediately obvious why you might reject the idea. So there is a filter there of sorts. But as the game progresses, it will build its own procedures.

    To compare it to your freeplay idea as you describe it here, I think freeplay is more of a polishing technique than playstorming.

    Where freeplay might be:
    Gamer A: "Hey, I've got these square pegs. Let's figure out how to fit them into our round holes."
    Gamer B: "Let's shave the corners off them!"
    Gamer A: "Awesome!"

    Playstorming is more of:
    Gamer A: "Hey, I've got all this scrap lumber that I want to do something with."
    Gamer B: "Let's make pegs to fit in our holes!"
    Gamer A: "Awesome!"

    It's still hole-stuffin', any way you look at it; but the playstorming will probably occur much earlier in the process than the freeplaying.
  • Posted By: Epidiah RavacholGamer A: "Hey, I've got all this scrap lumber that I want to do something with."
    For no reason I can name, this makes perfect sense to me.
  • Posted By: Levi KornelsenPosted By: Epidiah RavacholGamer A: "Hey, I've got all this scrap lumber that I want to do something with."
    For no reason I can name, this makesperfectsense to me.
    Whew. I certainly can be nonsensical at times, and I was hoping this wasn't one of those times.
  • Posted By: komradebobIs anyone familiar enough with both Mugger Games and playstorming to comment on any similarities between them?
    Do you have some information or a link about Mugger Games? My curiosity is piqued.
  • edited July 2008
    Oh, sorry, I meant to answer yesterday, Epidiah.

    Basically, Mugger Games were miniature wargames that were kinda, I dunno, Cargo-Culty(?) in creation.(The guy who came up with them had heard about minis wargaming third hand, but hadn't actually playd any. So he just made up some as best he imagined them to work from what he'd heard. Mugger games were a later development out of this).

    So anywho, the way it workd early on is that the person presenting this minsi wargame basically created thesituation and laid things out, then players took turns saying what happened with their guys, sorta freeform style. The presenter acted as a ref, with input from all players. In any case, if events seemed to call for it, they'd make up mchanics on the fly or use simple random die rolls ( a bit like in 1001 Nights) to decide between differnt choices.

    Presumably, precedent, at least within the game session itself, also affected later stuff.

    One notable difference, from what I can tell, is that th Mugger Game guy ( Paddy Griffith) wasn't inherently trying to playstorm something into existence that would later form the basis for a recordable and repeatable game exactly. My personal impression is that each session/event/whatever was it's own thing.

    Here's a page worth looking over:
    http://www.wargamedevelopments.org/Wargame Developments Handbook.pdf

    You'll find it alphabtically
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