February 5th, 2014 (Snowed Under)
by Steven Townshend
Stumbled down the rabbit hole of a friend’s blog and I think I found some truth at the bottom of it. The thing about truth is that it’s slippery beast, hard to wrap your arms around it and embrace it. Even harder sometimes to wrap your mind around it. The truth I may have stumbled upon has to do with the way I’ve been writing stories, why they fail when they fail, why they succeed when they succeed. I’m still grappling with this beast, trying to get a good look at its face to make sure it’s truth I’ve actually grasped on not some poor innocent bystander. Will keep you posted.
A little while ago I rewarded myself for staying disciplined for a year of putting words down every day. The reward I gave myself was to send a box of all my old film negatives to a scan service so that they would create digital versions of all 3,000+ photos I had taken before upgrading to digital around 2007. The preview pictures came today and I’ve been looking through them one by one, remembering the moments. Remembering my family when we were all younger. Family members and pets and past loves that have all passed out of my life. It was costly to have all those images scanned, but even having these tiny splinters of the past is worth it.
I planned to get out of town this weekend, see friends I see only every now and then, stay up late playing games, having drinks, and making new memories… but every time I put in a hotel bid on one of the travel sites, I quietly hope it isn’t fulfilled. On some level I’d rather stay home while the snow continues to fall, look through all these old photographs, eat chocolate, drink coffee, and wine. It’s winter in February alright.
I’ve lately become fascinated with small role-playing games. By “small” I mean anything under 100 pages. Preferably around 40 pages. When I used to do long-form improvisation, my teams would sometimes create new forms. An improv form is just a structure for improvisation that shapes the show so that it’s focused and not entirely random. For example, the most interesting form we did in that time was called “Slam Dunk,” which was created by our improv class under the direction of Del Close. The form was a poetry slam in which an emcee asked made up a poem based on a suggestion from the audience and our team improvised scenes derived from lines from the poem. At various points in the show, the emcee would come downstage center and call one of us out of the scene and to the mic. In the reality of the show, the characters in these scenes were stepping out of the scene and reciting their subtext–their actual feelings–as poems at a poetry slam.
That’s just one example of what an improv form can be.
Small role-playing games work like improv forms. There’s an excellent game called Ribbon Drive, by Joe McDaldno, which is an improvised road trip based around a music playlist, where the suggestions for scenes and characters come from the songs that are playing. That kind of thing.
This week, I’ve read De Profundis, by Michael Oracz, a game you play by writing in-character letters to your associates in a society that slowly learns about strange mysteries and unspeakable horrors that underlie the waking world.
I’ve read Becoming, by Brian Engard, a game in which a hero sets out to solve a problem, but every time the hero comes into conflict, the Fates make bargains with the hero to help him or her succeed, all the while stripping away everything the hero cares about.
I’ve read God-King, by Daniel Cruz-Chan, a game about explorers in a mythic Asia, who go on a quest to discover the cause for all the chaos in the world and (possibly) restore it to balance.
STRANGER THAN FICTION
According to legend, total snow accumulation in Chicago had been approximately 5 inches total for the winter.