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Wednesday, January 29, 2020

My RPG year 2019 part 1: Looking back

It's 2020 and time to look back to my RPG life 2019. Again, I have done statistics and will publish them here in three successive articles. This first one will be about what generally has happened in my RPG life.

Life has taken some turns in 2019 and that is also visible in my roleplaying activities. After 2.5 years in Guatemala, my family and I moved back to Germany in February 2019 where we still are.

Conventions

My time in Guatemala couldn't have ended any better: I hosted my very first roleplaying gathering: the Tres Volcanes Gaming Retreat. I had 30 dear friends from North America and Europe come visit me in Guatemala where my partner and I had prepared a week full of activities based on three equally important pillars: cultural exchange, self-care and gaming. Alex Roberts was my co-organizer and I couldn't have asked for anyone better: together we drafted the policies for our gathering, found out that we liked the same approach on how the games should be organized but most importantly she was always there for me when I needed some boost of confidence and trust in this idea.

I will one day write an article on its own about Tres Volcanes. Here, I can only end with that it was absolutely worth it and an experience I will never forget. Thank you all who came to this very special place on Earth.

But Tres Volcanes wasn't the only convention I went to in 2019.

The 3W6Con in Vienna is a beautifully intimate and yet relatively large story games convention hosted by Markus Widmer, Harald Eckmüller and Eva Bertalan. Harald and Eva were with me at Tres Volcanes, so feeling invited back so shortly after felt just right. The convention is all about getting as many games played as possible for a weekend - and still get some community feel out of it in the rest of the time.

I brought two larps: Beastfucker by Wendy Gorman and Julian Hyde and Perfection by Jason Morningstar. We played them in the old basement of the location which once was a butchery. That suited the scenarios quite well. I translated both games, by the way, to German. A highlight: Judith Vogt facilitated The Abortionists by Cole and Vanda, a very intense game which won at Fastaval in 2019 I couldn't play at Tres Volcanes because of organizer duties.

As I'm now living in Germany's former capital Bonn, going to the local FeenCon was an obvious choice. The FeenCon's highlight for me is that it has a large area outside where pick nick and playing can be combined. Highlight: singing Jolene by Dolly Parton together for the short musical story game of the same name.

Being back from Guatemala meant that I could again do more larps and for me the best events of that kind are the It's full of larps weekends. These are self-organized barcamp-style gaming weekends usually organized in remote hostels all over Germany. The one I went to though was in the middle of Berlin, quite close to my former home at the Nollendorfplatz-Kiez. The IFOL people are very special and have grown close to my heart. There is a lot of care for each other and a welcoming atmosphere. Still, it's interesting for me to see the differences in culture and social habits compared to the Indie TTRPG scene I know. But detailing this would be worth an article on its own. Highlight: Under a Dark Star - a non-verbal dance larp which broke through all my ceilings of expectation.

An event of a different kind was organized by the Waldritter e.V.: The larpwrite retreat they hosted last summer allowed for gaming but more importantly gave space to discuss and actually write your own games. We specifically played and analyzed several postcard sized larps which fit into super small time slots. I wrote a larp about birds flirting in the forest as the event stood under the credo of "play to cheer".

Designing and writing

I have done a good amount of design and writing work in 2019 and that makes me happy. I don't think I will design and publish that much anymore soon due to changing life circumstances. But it feels good to look back now and see what all has come out of my gaming related creativity in the last years.

First of all, I was part of an amazing Kickstarter project: Aces in Space was especially exciting to me since it was born at Tres Volcanes where Harald, Judith Vogt and Christian Vogt met and merged several ideas they had into this game of satirically taken toxic bro culture reborn in the cockpits of space fighters. Very cool: the game will be deliveredboth in English and German. I was a stretch goal in this campaign. By now, the stretch goal is written: it brings space races to you - based on my Tuk Fast Tuk Furious story game. TFTF IN SPACE is even more over-the-top than the original and comes with a bunch of random tables to quick-start your space race for glory and likes. If you want to know more about the design concept behind TFTF, I wrote a German language article on Erzählspiel-Zine.

In 2019, I wrote the stretchgoal for Turn, Brie Beau Sheldon's beautiful and by now published game about shapeshifters in small towns. This was a very personal endeavor as I was supposed to write about my home town Halver, Sauerland, Germany. It meant diving deep back into my own youth, talking to people from Halver to whom I'm still close and how to respectfully and truthfully portrait the town I lived in for 20 years. Getting Halver and Turn to the table is surely one of the things I'm looking forward to.

2019 also saw three more LAOGs of mine published in the Codex zine, a monthly zine created by the Gauntlet community. By the way, the LAOG manifesto got refurbished and published on NordicLarp.org, the most important space for discussions around Nordic Larp and freeform larps. The article has many screenshots and helpful links included. If you want to get an overview what additional games have been published since then, I also made a small presentation which can be found here.

First of all, the Election of the Wine Queen, my LAOG adaption of Björn Butzen and Silvia Ochlast's LARP got published along with some great art by Melanie Philippi. It's a contemporary drama about a rural region in decay and a tradition running out of momentum.

Next came Last Words, a LAOG which made me especially proud as it uses online gaming technology in a way which wasn't seen anywhere before. The set-up of speakers and microphones creates a triangle of asymmetric communication, so that players get a sense of the alienation they feel from being the ghost, the angel, the survivor - the three characters portrayed.

Finally, Makeup Moments went tone wise in a completely different direction. It's a LAOG in Codex Glamour 2 and allows players to put makeup on together and celebrate each other for their ideas and style. It has always been a pleasure to play, but what I enjoy most about it are the discussions in the debrief. People make very different experiences with makeup in their lives. The game is for me the perfect entry points into learning about each other.

Another Kickstarter in which I was a stretch goal got published in 2019.  RollInclusive is a German language essay collection on topics around inclusivity in tabletop gaming. I designed the LAOG Auszug aus dem Feenwald for it. In that game, you play mythical entities who need to find a common ground. But the languages they speak are very different.

What seems to be already a tradition is that I also designed a game together with my son Milan, at that time 7 years old. This time it's a very short and fun game called Bad Jokes - The RPG in which you tell each other r e a l l y  b a d  j o k e s.

A game design highlight for me then was winning my very first award. One of the 2019 Golden Cobra awards went to my LAOG Outscored. I'm proud of Outscored as it breaks a wall usually seen as unbreakable in online gaming: players can enter the other players' rooms in some sense. That is done by the light of everybody's screen reflected on their face. An online spreadsheet made for the game, allows the others to control your screen's dominant color. The setting of the game is a dystopian society where social credit scores are the norm. Your screen color is representing that score. As your score goes down, you turn dark.

What will 2020 bring in terms of conventions? I hope to be able to make it to Fastaval, a very exciting Danish game festival in which the most interesting larp / scenario designs I have played in recent years have officially been released. The 3W6Con is calling to Vienna again, Hamburg has a new Indie game convention I'm looking forward to, the FeenCon will be a good place to see some mainstream RPG again, at least one IFOL would be great to go to and surely the larpwrite retreats are so inspiring that I don't want to miss out on the next one.

Activities

Being part of the conversation in the community has always been important to me since I joined the Indie game community on Gplus 2011. That is not only about the conversation around games and design but also a lot about values and progressive action within and beyond the scene. In 2019, I was mainly active on the Gauntlet Slack and Forums and on Twitter. Twitter has increased a lot in importance for the scene, as far as I can tell and so it has for me. I'm still not happy about the 100% public nature of the medium and I have seen some major incidences in which Twitter and its likes and retweets culture has turned out really harmful to individuals but also for the scene as a whole. But it's a good place for people to probe and be seen - I see that. I'm still missing the possibilities of Gplus though.

The Gauntlet community' Slack is still my home and where I find the safe space to be fully me. In the second half of 2019, I joined the Gauntlet Community Care team. We do community management background stuff, follow through policies and present an agenda to discuss to the community frequently on how to move forward on projects, our set-up and so on. I specifically created an overview document on all the Gauntlet projects and entities as I saw a lot of misunderstandings about perceived dependencies etc. going around in the community. We also improved our Code of Conduct which was a nice community effort. We try to move forward in making the community even more diverse and welcoming. This year, the goal is to open the community further - and at the same time focus on what we are best at: good, giving and inclusive online gaming.

2019 also saw the first printed product of the Erzählspiel-Zine. Together with Tina Trilitzsch, Thorsten Panknin and Sabine Voelkel we published the German edition of Cheat Your Own Adventure (Schummelabenteuer) for the German Free RPG Day (Gratisrollenspieltag). The micro-crowdfunding was a huge success. That made it possible to publish more scenarios, an extra text I wrote for how to play the game on a walk or with children and get extra environmentally friendly paper into the printer. I offered a couple of sessions here in Bonn for the Gratisrollenspieltag at the Voyager which was great fun. Schummelabenteuer will always stay close to my heart as I have developed the on-the-walk features together with my son Milan. It's our go-to system until today.

Being part of the discussion around what games can be in the German speaking community played an important role for me in 2019. A highlight for sure was being a guest at the 3W6 podcast. Markus, Harald and I had a great conversation around the topic of combat and violence. How can combat in story games be interesting if the stakes are "only" on the narrative side in contrast to tactical combat systems? Are our games trivializing physical violence? Which games favor a different approach when it comes to confrontation?

My design mentorship with Jason Cordova came to an end due to time constraints in 2019. Ary Ramsey, the designer of Lost Roads, and I decided to continue talking between the two of us and share our ideas and concepts in calls. We call ourselves Design Buddies. Ary lives far away and still I consider him a very good friend by now. While talking about design we have revealed a lot about ourselves. It's a beautiful way to get to know each other.

That brings me to the closing point for the report from 2019: friendship through playing, discussing and designing games is invaluable. In 2019, I grew closer to many people in the scene and that felt really good. I stayed several nights with Eike in Berlin and got to know his family, Pearl and I had so many happy hours of raving about good games we had together while Judith, Christian and I had great conversations about inclusivity in the scene at their kitchen table. There are so many more such stories. So thank you all for being with me here in good and giving gaming.

This seems to be a good closure. The next part will be about the actual gaming I did.