Hantverksklubben 23: Player energy

For various reasons I’ve been away from Adept Play and I’ve missed the juicy discussions on situations. I’ll have to try to read those at some point; they seem interesting! I’ve got the routine now to post my actual play posts of Hantverksklubben here, and since we had a session yesterday I’ll keep that tradition and post the translation here. As usual, this is a slightly touched-up machine translation. The original post in Swedish is here, and it’s going to be better written.


Yesterday we were four people who participated in Hantverksklubben session 23: Player energy. It was me, Björn, Rickard and Lukas. The theme was Rickard’s, and it was about being involved, engaged, stoked and having energy in the scene as a player. So we are not necessarily talking about the scene being energetic, but about the kind of energy that you always want in all scenes: focus, enthusiasm and involvement.

The list of topics in conversation was long. Note that some of the topics below may be about things that reduce the energy.

  • Lean back and forth
  • Put “character traits” on the players
  • Sit or lie down comfortably, stand up.
  • Turn off or distort the senses (mute, turn off the camera).
  • Listen to music.
  • Uncomfortable atmosphere.
  • Waving your arms
  • Try talking differently. Slowly. Monotonically. Other language. No verbs.
  • Work with the voice. Sound volume.
  • Energy as in enthusiasm, empathy. Not just jumping and shouting.
  • Take breaks. Rest by not being in the scene. Take a break between scenes.
  • Conscious scene setting. Build your energy at the beginning of the scene.
  • Drink coffee or drink alcohol.
  • Meditate.
  • Cut the scene and do not let it fizzle out
  • Flow. Adequate level of challenge.
  • Technical problems.
  • With or without camera
  • Look for props, pictures, generators …
  • Rituals (Polaris)
  • Do not be afraid of silence.
  • Work consciously with the language.
  • Move.
  • Sit cold, sit warm. Lots of air. No air.

This topic was a little special because it was so personal. We worked on testing stuff to see how it affected our own focus in the scenes, and not so much on lifting the other players’ energy (apart from automatically as it is contagious). Therefore, I hope that the other three will jump in with their own reflections, as I here will mostly focus on what I personally did. But first a summary of the story. We chose the steampunk genre, mostly because it was something we had not played before in the club.

Liza Magnusson, reporter for the Gazette: “So you say, Baron de la Poitiers, that the recent operation at the front was a success, and that the rumors of radicalized veterans among the ‘terrorists’ of the resistance movement are completely unfounded? Noted. Finally, a question from our Sunday column: Is Baron de la Poitiers single?”
A slightly sarcastic but seemingly normal interview with the returning Baron de la Poitiers who, after ten years at the frontlines, resumes his mission to rule the province and the flying island. But not everything is as it seems, and both Liza’s and the baron’s lives will soon be shaken to the core. Liza’s name is not Magnusson, and she does not come from the Gazette, but Folkbladet, but the Baron does not accept interviews from that newspaper. She is also a prominent member of Red Night, the resistance movement, which tries to blow up the nobility’s new toy: Animus, a machine that will allow the nobility to change bodies as easily as they change underwear and thus live forever. But the operation goes wrong, and John, the freedom fighter, shows up at Thomas’ workshop without a memory. A complex web of body switches, politics and pangs of conscience begins to unravel and reaches its climax with a neon bomb in the Tower of Animus one fateful night.

I do not intend to make any attempt to explain the complex turns that the story took. We had a hard time keeping up for a while, but we were very happy with the story. After a couple of hours of play, we ended up in a place where we could have given an open ending, but were so committed (player energy!) that we decided to continue playing. I love the feeling of when a sprawling and tangled improvised plot is woven together in a satisfying way.

The theme, then? I worked with several of the things we discussed to see how it affected my involvement in the scene:

  • When we took our break before we started playing, I changed from t-shirt to dress shirt. I think it helped, but quite marginally. As we said afterwards, it kind of demonstrated that I took it seriously, somehow. Possibly it worked worse because we all knew it was a conscious move.
  • One thing I noticed clearly was when I myself did not participate. In one scene, I leaned back and closed my eyes just to listen to the scene. I noticed that it was difficult to stay focused on what was happening and found that my thoughts easily began to wander. When I instead sat upright and looked at the screen (we played with a camera) it was easier to keep my focus on the stage.
  • We also worked a lot with breaks and took more than we usually do, which I think helped keep the focus up even though we played until quite late at night.
  • One of the most engaging scenes for me was the second scene between the Baron and Liza, when Liza was imprisoned and just after the Baron had seen his lieutenant and close friend die before his eyes as she threw herself between him and a terrorist. It was a calm and slow scene, but extremely focused. I did two things that I think helped. First, I turned off the light and used only a low light, which gave me a darker and more dramatic lighting. Others had already worked a bit with the lighting in their scenes. I think it has a bit of the same effect as when measuring productivity in a workplace: Whether you increase or decrease the lighting, you remind people that they are observed, and productivity increases. A bit of the same thing here: putting in a little effort increases the focus. Another thing I did was say as Eugénie told me before we played La clé des nuages at OctoGônes: “Do not be afraid of silence”. Pointing out that silence can occur in the scene and that they are a natural part of it and not a void that must be filled does a lot for the atmosphere in this type of tense but slow scene.
  • Another scene I noticed was how I find it easier to keep my focus in the scene if I do something physical and “act” the role. In one scene I used a pencil as a cigar, in another I stood up and polished pieces of brass. Standing up by itself helped a lot, but this thing where I was constantly holding something during the scene, which my character also holds, made me, as it were, “inhabit” the character in a different way, even when I did not say anything.
  • Finally, working consciously with the language is something I generally find helps me stay focused. Thinking about what I say and not just “saying” but “narrating” things makes me kind of stick to the scene and be more engaged.

On the whole, I would say that it was noticeable that the theme of the session was “player energy”. We were all engaged, present and alert, even when we were not participating in a particular scene. It gave an energy to the game that really contributed to a really good session. Really good theme, Rickard, and I will bring things with me from this session that I will try to work on in the future as well.


5 responses to “Hantverksklubben 23: Player energy”

    • Comment from Rickard (again,

      Comment from Rickard (again, slightly touched-up machine translation. Rickard is more eloquent than this):

      This theme was a bit funny, because I had quite low energy that night. However, I did not feel any problems with it during the evening; I got high energy.

      For "flow" and "reasonably challenging" (too easy = losing interest, too difficult = frustrating) I thought we tested it well, in that one person had memory loss and two of us felt that we could not contribute so much to the story via that character. It took energy from me by not having enough information, so I felt less involved.

      I tested having low steampunk music in the background of a scene, just for myself. It stole a lot of my attention and I had to sit fully focused on following the action. Background music has this effect on me, that it steals my focus. Can not sleep if music is played, for example.

      Sitting leaning forward / backward or sitting still in the chair versus picking at something in my hands, did not make a direct difference to me.

      On the other hand, it was great to take breaks, to open the window even more to let in fresh air and to move around. I always go downstairs during breaks and cuddle with my wife. This alone gives me energy, but walking up the stairs alone probably does its thing too.

      When I turned off the cameras in one scene, I totally zoned out. Instead, I read on the forum or looked for names for the game. I need cameras to play, maybe a habit, but it's something completely different to see the facial features, I'm a person who likes to read a person's facial expressions.

      Tested in a scene to drink wine, lean back, sit comfortably and not be in the camera at all. There was no greater difference in energy than if I had watched a film, but the others in the group could not see my participation in the same way as in another scene, where only one glance could say that the other was in the zone. Maybe I would have lost interest more if I had done so in several scenes. For example, I can not listen to podcasts, as I lose interest after 15 minutes. For movies, I need a break after an hour. If the film is bad, it gets 20-minute breaks.

      The small amount of alcohol made me a little sleepy in some scene later.

      I tested in one scene to give those who were not in the scene tasks. One would praise (something I do naturally, so I was prevented from doing so in the scene) and one would come up with newspaper articles. I will try to use this more in the future. The first creates active listening, which is something we should discuss and use more in roleplaying. The other one gave me lots of clues, but mostly because he wrote all the articles in the chat so I could use them while we played. Maybe I should start preparing to create such types of tasks for players who are not in scenes when I am the game master. Would have been perfect also for co-narrative, when we still have a common newspaper with information to start from.

      What I mainly take with me, apart from some of the techniques we used, was that this with personal energy and creating / managing it, I would have liked to have been a natural part of role-playing. A "scene zero" before each game meeting. I have always been annoyed that I can not put my finger on when the whole group has ended up in "flow" and everything is super engaging. Having energy feels like an important building block to achieve this.

      Comment fron Björn:

      I would probably mainly describe the session as playful. We laughed a lot, helped each other have fun and built a rather dramatic story that could have been placed in a revue theater. And it's not a bad thing. Exaggerating the characters I portrayed, something I used as a way to immerse, also give my colleagues a lot to play with.

      When I was not participating in the scene, I used a couple of techniques to transfer energy to it anyway:

      • In the interrogation scene between the baron and Liza that Simon describes, I set out to quietly represent Liza's contempt and anger. I did this by sitting close to the camera, looking intently at it and reacting subtly to how the baron responded to Liza's accusations – shaking his head, biting his jaws, pulling back his lips, that kind of thing.
      • In the last scene of the session, Liza went to Animus and was to meet me, the widow baroness, who by this time had taken over my son the baron's body. I made my entrance late, but leading up to this, while Simon was describing how Liza got deeper and deeper into the building, I tried to look as vicious and present as I could in my camera. Once I stepped out of the shadows, I wanted this to already be well established in the scene.

      The session was generally a confirmation that games get better because those present do their part to focus on and give energy to the game in different ways. Something that has been a guide for me for a long time, and something I have done my best to inoculate on the game groups I have participated in.

    • Hello, Rickard and Björn (by

      Hello, Rickard and Björn (by proxy)!

      I particularly like the idea of wife-cuddling as a break in role-playing. I may have to try that one.

      I've noticed that attention to one another's expressions is a big part of screen play, to the point that I may make a face of some kind (in-character or out, doesn't matter, but always involved in or relevant to play) and focus more on what others are doing. When I started doing this, I found that others were already doing it a lot more than I had realized!

  1. A general thought

    I greatly appreciate this, because it showcases something I've thought about for a very long time: that enthusiasm and engagement are active behaviors, not merely responses or receptions. It seems to me that play requires direct, real contributions at this level. I contrast this point very strongly against the view that play is supposed to provide energy and engagement through some quality that someone else hands over to you, as you sit in a receptive statee.

    People's personal methods vary greatly. For example, and to make a point, I know some who hardly do anything for a while, or whose contributions are mild and irregular … but they are always effective in providing and sharing this energy. So clearly this isn't about overt or demonstrative showmanship.

    I've experienced the failure of my energy and engagement, when I encounter activity marked by murk and control, which I no longer consider to be a style or method, but straightforwardly to be not play. It's fatiguing and upsetting to the point of nausea, or a sensation of rapid aging. I've encountered it as often in vaunted indie/new games as in self-professed traditional games.

    I've also learned, long ago, that I do not want to play with anyone who arrives in a state of "well, show me what you've got, entertain me, engage me, turn me on, make me interested," whether directed toward a specific person or toward the game system.

    • Yes! For me it’s been obvious

      Yes! For me it's been obvious pretty much forever that the fun and energy is provided by the players, not the game. But the additional insight this session gave me is that the energy and focus I provide in a game is not something that I just come into the game with. It's an active behavior, as you say. It's easy to think "either I go into the game with energy and focus or I don't", basically seeing it as an effect of your feelings regarding the game and the group, if you've slept enough, how your day has been, etc. That all plays a large role, of course, but this session really drove the point home for me that I can take explicit action to improve the energy I bring to the game. There are techniques and behaviors that, when applied, give me a better focus. It's not going to give me a great game if I'm playing mystery-solving (a genre I hate) with unengaged players and a lack of sleep, but it's going to improve the result, no doubt.

      So I will do my best to remember this in the future: to work on "inhabiting" the roles I play, to be an active listener, to change things up, take breaks, and to not be afraid of the silence (and explicitly tell others the same).

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