Before the Campfire

I had an interesting experience this weekend at the scout campout I went on with my child. Some of us who arrived early were sitting and waiting for others. One of the other adults suggested a story seed game, where one person starts a story and others add onto it. There were few rules to begin with, though rules were added as we went to make things go more smoothly.

I started off with this seed:

There are four adventurers standing outside of a gloomy cave.

From that point on, the main rule we used was “Yes, but also…” and we went around a few times, adding on the story with each new person. A few interesting observations I had as we did so:

Each person would recount the story thus far, to the best of their ability. Just to establish where we were.

No one was afraid to take things in a crazy direction. Indeed one scout continued to bring up a wooden throne / chair that appeared in several of the stories.

Some negotiations took place as others would make suggestions, but we would step in to maintain each person’s authority to add to the story as they wished. Still, the suggestions were well intentioned and sometimes made it into the ongoing narrative.

Where this is leading.

I know this was not role-playing or actual play as we would consider it. It was a campfire story, sans campfire and the characters were shared with everyone. But there were some basic rules to the story telling and everyone became invested in protecting one another’s authority. It felt like a great excersise that a group might engage in before heading into a role-playing session.

There was a refreshing lack of self-consciousness, both from the scouts and from the adults, and we were able to enjoy the tales, despite their spiraling ridiculousness. It was a great excersise to witness and be a part of. To be sure, myself and the other adult were both old hats at rpgs and rpg adjacent activities. And so that influenced some of how we shaped our aspects of the common, shared narrative. In particular, setting the scene or the situation and then watching everyone accept that situation at face value. I felt that was an important observation.

Overall it killed time on a hot afternoon in the middle of nowhere. I may try to use this as a limbering excersise before a session of a new game or one-shot or convention game. With the goal of getting folks into the right kind of head space, especially if there are new people at the table.


2 responses to “Before the Campfire”

  1. The question at hand

     … is hard for me to manage. I've found this topic veers hard into romantic notions of "pure" or "innocent" role-playing. I think there must be thoughtful, useful content here, but I may not be the right person for it.

    A couple of examples of my stumbling blocks: first, why would play of this kind be an example of a "right head-space" for play, outside of this context? Second, why would adult newcomers to role-playing present a parallel or analogous case to children dong this activity? I'm not offering these for discussion or argument or answers, but only to show why I'm not inclined to take point in the conversation.

    Fortunately – Sean, you carefully pulled out the most relevant parts, which I'll highlight here:

    … there were some basic rules to the story telling and everyone became invested in protecting one another's authority. …

    There was a refreshing lack of self-consciousness, …

    … setting the scene or the situation and then watching everyone accept that situation at face value.

    Can you follow up on those with perhaps a direct connection to one of your (many) current play-experiences?

    • Right off the back I will

      Right off the back I will agree that we should avoid romantic notions in the discussion. The shared storytelling was fearless and fun and went in many different directions, but no one put any limits on where things might go, so that was expected. I do not want to get too far into child psychology either. Which I am barely qualified (parent experience) to do.

      Setting the Scene

      In this case I threew out the story seed and the others ran with it. That was the "rule" (if it can be called that) we played with. Another recent example of this is the one-shot of For Gold & Glory I ran. When I designed the adventure I wanted to avoid all of the often inherent pre-play negotiations and questions of why should we do this? I mean in a larger context, dude in a cloak offering you candy to jump into his van/dungeon is a fun trope. BUT I cannot imagine how many hours of my life I will never have back lost in these conversations. And children are even more inquisitive at times than adults. But Tommi, Helma, and Robbie asked good questions, helped me expand on some of the basic information I gave them for the adventure, and as far as I can tell, took the adventure at face value. They inserted their characters into the overall situation with ease and grace. 

      Lack of Self-Consciousness

      This is a skill I think more adults could practice in life, but also in the game. I imagine it is a fear of looking stupid or saying the wrong thing. And to some degree I think the rhetoric that pervades play and meta-conversations does not help this. Outsiders still ask players if they dress up to play. This causes players to not take emotional risks at the table. And I think that can limit their enjoyment of play.

      The children had no fear and they took narrative risks with the stories. And not all of the ideas landed, some sort of fell of a cliff, but that did not disuade them from trying again on their next turn. Contrast this with the new player we had come into the Carbon2185 game. They did not know what they could do or what their limits were and it some time for the player to feel comfortable taking physical and emotional risks with the charcter. In this case, a warmup before the session might have helped them feel more comfortable taking risks.

      Protecting Authority

      As mentioned we had very few rules we were working with at the camp, by design. We did mention that everyone gets a turn and no one can steal someone's turn away. Suggestions were offered during each person's turn, but there was no pressure applied. Again I can point to the Carbon2185 game where folks were great about sitting on their hands while othes went about their business. If someone had a question or needed some suggestions, they were given, but in the end each player was encouraged to exercise their agency within the confines of the system.

      I hope these are a good start to the conversation. I have not attempted to try some limbering up excersises before play yet, though I am looking for an opportunity to do so. Like an ice breaker. 

Leave a Reply