Sunday, December 6, 2015

Five Monsters

Need a few mood-setting monsters for your game or your story? Feel free to use these. Each is a common monster tweaked into something a bit more ominous.

The Skeleton

The animated bones of a cowardly soldier, usually wearing the armor or uniform of his former station. The Skeleton only attacks when it has the element of surprise. It moves slowly but quietly and it likes to attack from behind. When faced with well-prepared fighters, the Skeleton flees to the nearest woods and waits until the next night to attack again.

The Gelatin

A waxy, off-white puddle that drags itself across the ground, digesting any human or animal matter it touches. The Gelatin shows a rudimentary intelligence and is a careful hunter. It lures prey by giving off the smell of cooked meat and by mimicking the sound of wounded baby animals. It most often sounds like a crying human child.

The Well of Sin

This well is cursed. There is some debate whether it is itself intelligent or not. However, rumor of its curse has traveled far; many fools make pilgrimages to drink from its depths. Anyone who drinks from the Well of Sin is said to receive the thing they desire most by the end of the day. However, this wish-come-true comes at a terrible price, for upon sunrise of the next day, the drinker becomes possessed by a demon for the next three days. These possessor demons vary, but they tend to wild murder sprees, theft, and near-constant libelous speech.

The Wellington

This Venom-like possessor entity covers the body of its host with a black rubbery film over the course of a few hours. Any body part covered by the black film is under control of the Wellington's alien intelligence. Its motives are unclear, but all who survive its possession describe the experience as a series of nightmares about owls, fences, and dried river beds. After a few hours of total coverage, the Wellington abandons its now unconscious host and returns to its dormant state, a pair of rain boots.

The Velveteen

This beast appears in the form of a well-worn stuffed animal. It appears to feed off the suffering of families with young children. It abhors violence, however. The Velveteen's only method of attack is to cause despair in adult men and to directly or indirectly encourage them to abandon the family.

Photo by Starmanseries

Monday, September 21, 2015

OSR Game: Motley

I had an idea for an OSR game last night, but I suspect some people would really hate it. It might hit that terrible sweet spot of too mechanical for indie fans and too non-violent for old school fans. For now, I'm calling the game Motley.
Imagine a fairly typical dungeon crawl system where hit points represent not just how alive something is, but how able to fight it is. So a specially trained character could reduce hit points with a joke or a distracting magic trick.
Now imagine that in the Equipment section, next to the weapons table and armor table, there are tables for comedy, friendship, and distraction. A character with the right proficiency can use exotic friendship techniques to convince monsters not to fight.
Depending on your setting, you may scrap traditional weapons completely, or you may use them alongside these non-violent techniques. Perhaps your elf dual wields fart jokes and a rapier. Perhaps your dwarf uses long-stemmed roses as a ranged friendship attack and an axe as melee combat attack. Perhaps your orc is a firespinner, who can awe someone right before kicking them in the shins.
I imagine that this system would deserve its own classes, like jester, performer, and bon vivant. Each would grant certain proficiencies and special abilities. I might have to retroactively write fighter, wizard, thief, and cleric classes just to clarify what abilities they have.
Would monsters use combat or would they try to use these abilities, too? Is the dragon trying to kill you or befriend you? What happen if it succeeds? What happens if it befriends half the party? All of these issues would have to be worked out. My default would be to have most monsters trying to harm the PCs, at least until the GM figures out how to run comedy monsters, etc.

What do you think? Do you hate this idea? I'm particularly interested in hearing from OSR fans on this one. What do I need to add for the game to work?

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Anti-Villain: A Call for Short Story Pitches

Hey authors! Anyone interested in writing a short story for a paid anthology about anti-villains?

I'm a little tired of anti-heroes. The other day, I asked myself "What would an anti-villain be? Does he do the right thing for the wrong reason? Is an anti-villain the opposite of a villain? Or the opposite of an anti-hero?"
I don't know the answer, but I'd like to find out. So I've decided to assemble an anthology of short stories from a diverse group of authors, each trying to answer these questions. I plan to Kickstart this anthology and sell electronic copies. Depending on the Kickstarter, I will probably sell physical copies as well.
Right now, I want to hear story pitches from as many authors as possible. Define the term "anti-villain" however you like for your story. Maybe an anti-villain is the bad guy you don't want to see captured. Or the antagonist that you like better than the hero. You decide. (And just to be clear, the term itself doesn't have to appear in your story.)
If you are interested, please email me a short (<8 page) sample of your work and a one paragraph pitch of your story for the anthology. Also, please feel free to introduce yourself. Even if we end up not working together on this project, I look forward to meeting any authors interested in this sort of story.

Job Details

  • Stories can be any type of modern or future genre fiction, including but not limited to SF, horror, superhero, supernatural, weird, supernatural religious, paranormal romance, etc.
  • Pitch emails should include a short sample of your fiction, a pitch for your story in this anthology, and an introduction of yourself as a human person.
  • I pay a minimum of $.05/word. I plan to pay $.10/word for shorter stories. (I'm willing to negotiate paying you royalties instead, if I'm already familiar with your work and you prefer that method of payment.)
  • Since I want to Kickstart this fiction anthology, I plan to  pay two or three authors for stories to show during the Kickstarter. Other authors would start writing their stories after we fund. No one should start writing their story until they have a contract and I've given them the go ahead. I don't want anyone to write for me until I already have money for them in hand. 
  • Each story should be 800 to 2500 words. There may be one or two stories that are longer than this.
  • There will be at least seven stories. Depending on how well the Kickstarter does, there may be as many as fifteen.
  • I will accept pitches until August 31st. Pre-Kickstarter authors will probably begin writing in October. Post-Kickstarter authors will begin writing in January 2016 at the earliest.

A few things I can tell you about Ginger Goat

  • We publish rpgs, larps, and fiction, both electronically and in print.
  • We're a small press.
  • We love diversity. I (Josh) love stories written about someone who doesn't look like me by someone who doesn't look like me that still share something about humanity.
  • We like to buy first publication rights, not exclusive rights. We pay on completion, not publication. We like both new and experienced writers.
  • Josh T. Jordan, the owner of Ginger Goat, is a game designer, editor, story addict, sometime-preacher, and high school English teacher. He's been told that he's nice to work with.

Please submit a story idea, even if your imposter syndrome is telling you not to. Some of my favorite work is by first-time writers. Just email me at It can't hurt to try!

Also, feel free to share this call for pitches with any group of writers you want, especially writers who come from an underrepresented race, gender, faith, or other group.

Josh T. Jordan
Ginger Goat

Photo by Keoni Cabral. Used by permission.

Friday, August 14, 2015

The Five Seals of InfoSec

Here's a weird idea that I don't have time to turn into a game. Feel free to hack it, if you like.
Information Security, or InfoSec, is too important to be entrusted to normal people. That's why NATO and Warsaw Pact nations began to train mages to protect our nations' secrets.
There are now several overlapping schools of InfoSec datamancy throughout the world. The most successful are in the US, Germany, China, Russia, and India. Rumors persist of schools in Brazil and Israel, but if the other governments are aware of schools in those countries, they aren't talking.
How does InfoSec magic work? There are various incantations and techniques for protecting government secrets. However, the five most common techniques are called the Seals of InfoSec. Each seal represents an entire branch of datamancy. Not all schools teach all five seals. Some schools are much better at one or two of the seals than the rest. But all datamancers are at least aware of the five seals. There are spells and curses outside of the five seals, but these rogue spells are the exception rather than the rule.

The Five Seals
Seal of Obscurity
Seal of Tedium
Seal of Banality
Seal of Encryption
Seal of Monitoring

Obscurity spells make information hard to see or hard to find. This is the most common seal. All schools teach some obscurity spells.
Tedium spells make the information time consuming to read or understand. Imagine an entire book with the words "Fat," Tuesday," and "Bingo" placed randomly between the actual words of the text. This would not make the actual words hard to find, but it would make them take more time to read.
Banality spells make the information so boring or mundane in appearance that it is difficult for an untrained person to focus on the information long enough to finish consuming it. (Banality spells were originally created in the US as an answer the Russian creation of Tedium spells. Now, most InfoSec schools teach both techniques, sometimes in combination.)
Encryption spells alter the information so that it looks like random noise unless you have the code to unlock it. The observer can see the information, but can't make heads or tails of it without the proper training. This is the only school of datamancy that actually involves computers as spell components. Other seals may allow you to cast spells on information INSIDE a computer, but encryption spells are often cast BY MEANS OF a computer.
Monitoring spells do not conceal the information, but they allow the caster to observe anyone who attempts to interact with the information. This defense is less like a barbed wire fence and more like a security camera. Specialists in monitoring spells often carry guns and stay hidden in a room near the information they are protecting.

How does datamancy work? What does this magic look like? I can't tell you. What's the difference between magic and technology? Unfortunately, that's a secret, too. The best I can say is that this sort of magic should either strike your players as cool or you shouldn't use it in your game. And if you want to see the guy who inspired me to write even this much on the subject, I recommend Sam Chupp's Encryptopedia.

Image by Blondinrikard Fröberg. Used by permission.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Draft of Scene Mechanics

I'm re-writing scene mechanics for a game I'm working on. I've reached that stage where I need someone else to tell me whether they are comprehensible. Assume by this point that you already know about your character, his attributes, his weaknesses, and his goals. You already know who is playing as your Thorn and you know where your token is on the Wheel. Can you follow these steps?

Scene Order
1.       Active Player chooses which 1 to 3 other PCs will be in the scene. He may not choose the PC of the player who controls his Thorn (character flaw or internal struggle.)
2.       Active Player chooses whether to focus on active character’s Need (external, measurable goal) or Thorn. If he chooses Need, he describes the location of the scene.
3.       The player controlling the active character’s Thorn (NOT the active player) describes the location of the scene if the Active Player hasn’t already. The Thorn Player then introduces Stakes to the scene by describing: an internal conflict that the active character is wrestling with OR how other players’ characters in the scene are interfering with the active character’s Need.
4.       All the players in the scene describe what their characters are doing. The Thorn Player stands in for any non-player characters and narrates the active character’s internal doubts.
Remember that the position of your token on the Wheel determines restrictions for your character’s outward behavior. For example, whether or not you are the active player, if your character is in a scene and your token is in Distraction on the Wheel, your character cannot outwardly acknowledge any of his own weaknesses or problems.
5.       When the active character attempts any action governed by one of the four Personas (attributes), the Active Player rolls dice equal to that Persona. If a player has 0 in that Persona, he fails. If he rolls any fives or sixes, the Stakes resolve in his favor. If the highest number on any die is a four, he achieves a partial success. Otherwise, he fails. The Thorn Player narrates the results and the scene ends. The Active Player then rolls all his dice to determine his new position on the Wheel.

6.       The player to the left becomes the Active Player.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Play by Stuart Brown, M.D.

I've started reading Play by Stuart Brown, M.D., and a lot of what he has to say resonates with my experience as a roleplayer and storyteller. I've skimmed through the book and started reading the beginning in detail, so I'm only giving my first impression here.
In his attempt to define play, he hedges a bit, because play is experiential. A description of play must take into account that what is fun and relaxing for me might be repellent to you. Some people play cards for a living and garden for fun. Some people garden for a living and play cards for fun. Their experience of the details of play will be different, even though the benefits they draw from it are similar. I'm reminded here of the Brilliant Gameologists complaining about people who use the word "fun" in game reviews. They point out that this is worthless as a descriptor, because the only thing it tells the reader is that the reviewer enjoyed the game.
Brown does give a few definitions of play, including this list of criteria:

  • Apparently purposeless (done for its own sake)
  • Voluntary
  • Inherent attraction [By which he means the activity is fun for the participants]
  • Freedom from time
  • Diminished consciousness of self
  • Improvisational potential
  • Continuation desire [by which he means all participants want it to continue]
I think that this definition contains in it a checklist for healthy, positive roleplaying games. If we design games that encourage all of these criteria for all participants, everyone at the table will probably have a good time. What that sort of design looks like is worth thinking about.
A couple of medical observations Brown makes about play, in no particular order, are:
Based on interviews with Texas inmates, a childhood without a lot of opportunities for play is as good an indicator of adult behavior problems as any other factor.
In animals (and presumably humans) one benefit of play behavior is that it helps the individual practice responding to surprise while in a low-stakes environment. Given how often animals will need to respond to high-risk surprises in order to survive, practicing and developing this skill does have survival value. However, this benefit is not, in Brown's view, the primary benefit of play for humans. That benefit has to do with social interaction and with mental health.
According to Brown, the opposite of play is not work. It is depression. Quitting your normal play activity is a frequent sign of depression. And in some cases, play can serve as one treatment for depression.
Again, all of these are just my initial take on the book. As a game designer and storyteller, I think that the nature of play is worth examining. I often think about the nature of story. I design toward particular kinds of narrative. But my design assumes that you share an enjoyment of certain play activities with me. Perhaps I should examine that assumption. Or at the very least, perhaps I should use Brown's criteria of play to help ensure that everyone else is having fun, too.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Dangers Untold Quickstart Materials

There are only a few more extras that I need to put in the mail for Dangers Untold backers. I expect to put all those things in the mail by the end of June. There's also a setting based on the biblical book of Esther that I need to finish writing. That should be done in June, too.
Meanwhile, I've collected all of the pre-generated settings and characters that Avonelle Wing and Ruth Tillman helped put together. This collection contains fourteen different settings, each of which has eight characters and some notes on how to run the setting. I've decided to call this collection, Dangers Elsewhere. Dangers Elsewhere isn't available for sale yet. Right now, only Kickstarter backers have their hands on the whole book. But I've decided to make a preview version available to the general public.
Here it is. This pdf contains the first eleven pages of Dangers Elsewhere, which includes the first two settings. The first, "I Dream in Song," is a Faerie music conservatory. The second, "Uplifted Whales in Alaska," is a futuristic, First Peoples/Native setting in which humans and sentient whales work together on the Alaskan coast. Feel free to share this preview with anyone you like.

Update: I originally described "I Dream in Song" as having Arabic and Welsh influences. I've removed that part of the description at the request of the author, who doesn't want to sound appropriative of other cultures. Though my initial idea for the setting was inspired by Arabic and Welsh stories, she doesn't feel she did the cultural homework to justify claiming those influences for the final product. I think she's right. I apologize for my mistake.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Borders and Bonds

 Borders and Bonds

A modification of Lines and Veils

As I understand it, Ron Edwards originated the terms "Lines" and "Veils" in his book Sex & Sorcery. Lines and veils are limits on the topics of conversation and of narration in your game. Lines are hard limits, subjects that no player will mention at the table. Veils are occasional limits. Players ask for a veil whenever the narration or conversation is making them uncomfortable. All of the players then skip past or replace that part of the story with something that everyone is comfortable with. 
Mo Holkar explains Lines and Veils clearly here. He goes one step further and suggests that players should have the opportunity to set lines and veils anonymously before they even sit down at the table. I think that Lines and Veils are a good tool for setting social boundaries at the table, and I like the idea of giving players the opportunity to add them anonymously. However, I I don't think there's anything sacrosanct about the terms themselves. There's any number of ways we could frame these social boundaries between players. 
Borders and Bonds are a different method of setting up those boundaries. I offer them as a replacement for lines and veils at your table. Roughly speaking, Borders replace Lines, and Bonds replace Veils. They are different enough that this is not exactly true, but if you are used to Lines and Veils, it shouldn't be hard for you to make the switch for some of your games.
Before I explain Borders and Bonds, I ask that you remember, whatever system of social boundaries you use at your table, to make sure that other players are comfortable. No rule system replaces your duty as a fellow player to pay attention to how your friends seem to be feeling.


Borders are areas of conversation that your group decides never to bring up. In story terms, anything behind a border may exist somewhere in your story world, but it will never come up in the story you tell at the table. For example, if your Star Wars group puts a Border around child violence, you are free to imagine that child violence happens in the Star Wars universe, but all the players agree that description and discussion of child violence are outside the scope of our story. Events, subjects, tropes, or characters that your group has put a border around may happen somewhere in this universe, but they happen before, after, or completely away from the notice of our narration.
Like a Line, a Border excludes content that makes one or more players uncomfortable. Unlike a Line, a Border specifically restricts the speech and behavior of the player, not the content of the story per se. Players are free to imagine that the restricted material happens in the fictional universe of the story. Players are free to use shared universes or pre-existing fictional settings or game books that include the restricted material. They are only restricted from mentioning it at this table on this particular day with these players.
A Line may be a restriction on the story. A Border is a restriction on the speech of a player.



A Bond is your connection to a specific story element you do not want to be in danger. For example, if you have a bond with children, you like having children in the story, but you don't want child endangerment to be part of the story. If you have a bond with your character's magic sword, none of the other people at the table will threaten to steal, break, or nerf your magic sword. You can bond with ideas, too. A bond with romance means that characters may have romantic relationships, but those relationships will not be used as a source of conflict.
Bonds are points of trust that will not be broken during your story. These things are fragile and valuable to the players, so the conflict in the story shouldn't put them at stake or at risk.
You can bond to people, objects, or ideas. You can bond to something specific, like your father's magic hat, or something general, like all children.
Do not bond something simply because it is a cool aspect of your character or her relationships. As  Caitlynn Belle reminded me recently, great stories can happen when something important to your character is threatened. There are great Batman stories about Robin or Batgirl or the Batcave being threatened. There are great Batman stories about Bruce Wayne's identity being threatened. These things are not Bonded. On the other hand, I would argue that Alfred and Wayne Manor are usually Bonded. They are rarely threatened. They are part of Batman's safety net as a character.
If there's some element or relationship that you don't want threatened very often or that you want other characters to treat carefully, don't use a Bond. Just explain that this element is important to you, and you want them to, as Caitlynn says, "Tread carefully."

How to use Borders and Bonds

Give each player the opportunity to privately and anonymously write down Borders or Bonds on pieces of paper before the game. If possible, give them the chance to do so even before they sit down at the table. Players may need to ask you to break your anonymity if they do not understand what you have written down, but they will first make a good faith effort to figure it out.
(As Stephanie Bryant pointed out to me, if a player wants her Bond or Border to remain anonymous, it helps to write a couple of sentences to explain yourself. Saying "A Border around child violence" may cause your fellow players to ask clarifying questions. Violence caused by children? Violence affecting children? What about child PCs, who may become violent later? Spelling out "A Border around using children as collateral damage during fight scenes and against all kinds of child predators" is much more likely to guide the other players to restrain themselves the way you need them to. And writing this all down while you are still anonymous will help you to remain anonymous.)
Once you are at the table, as part of the conversation at the beginning of the game, give players the opportunity to mention that they want certain subjects to be Bordered off or "out of bounds." Also give them the opportunity to list relationships, ideas, or equipment that they feel a Bond toward. Listing Bonds works naturally as part of the character creation process. Setting up Borders works more smoothly as part of the game setup.
Players should feel free to add Borders or Bonds during the game itself, especially of the story takes an unexpected turn. If your group uses the X card, you may not need to spell out new Borders or Bonds in mid-session. If you don't use the X card, I suggest you practice calling for a new Border or Bond in the middle of the game, so that other players feel more comfortable doing so if the story goes in a direction that bothers them.


As cooperative storytellers, we are still discovering elegant and effective ways to care for each other during play. One critical way to care for other players at our tables is by restricting the content of our stories to avoid triggering past trauma or stepping on each others preferences. By all means, use Lines and Veils at your table, if that is what works for your group tonight. By all means, use an X card, if that is the most effective tool for your players' comfort. But consider adding Borders and Bonds to your tool belt. It has the advantage of including both an exclusionary rule, Bordering things out of the story, and an inclusionary rule, leave the Bonded things safely in the story.

Josh T. Jordan

Photos by Kerem Tapani Gültekin, released under a Creative Commons license.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Innovative RPG Mechanics Challenge

1. Grab a blank character sheet from an existing game. (Choose a character sheet that's pretty, from a game you like, or both.)
2. Grab a blank piece of paper.
3. Without using any of the same stats, terms, mechanics, or background information as the original character sheet, make a new character sheet for a new, non-existent game with the same genre and themes as the existing game. 
4. Tear up the first character sheet and throw it away.
5. (Optional) In 500 words or less, describe how the game that uses this new character sheet would work. If the original game used dice, this new game uses different-sized dice or no dice at all.
6. (Optional) Fill out your character sheet.

If you want to participate in this challenge, go right ahead. You may want to use the hashtag #MechanicsChallenge. Feel free to email me at if you want to show me what you came up with. Or reach out on Twitter or Google+.
#MechanicsChallenge  is inspired by +Andy Hauge's recent blog post about the need for mechanical innovation in rpgs, which you can read here: )

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Hypnosis and Story - Interview with Caitlynn Belle

Caitlynn Belle is a transgendered hypnotist, “mind reader,” and community organizer for larp and indie gaming in Savannah, Georgia. She graciously agreed to let me interview her about her upcoming show, especially about how she connects hypnosis and storytelling.
Josh Jordan:
I understand that you have an upcoming show that includes hypnosis. Where will you be giving it?
And the subject of the presentation is finding drama in hypnosis? What
does that mean?

Caitlynn Belle:
I'm performing in my hometown of Savannah, GA, at a place called the Guild Hall, which is like a creative hang-out spot / performance venue. The show is called “Rainbow,” and runs about two hours, during which I'll be hypnotizing some people, as well as doing what looks a lot like mind reading, but really isn't.
The main theme of the show is all the little quirks of our brain: how it operates, all its strangeness. Part of that is an experiment in hypnosis, which is already quite strange, but dealing with a particular set of events carried out in the 40s and 50s that I try to recreate on stage with a random audience member.
As visually interesting as the show may be, there has to be a dramatic element to it, some sort of narrative. You've probably seen a hypnotist on TV doing his thing, and while it may be impressive or curious to watch, there's almost certainly no sense of cohesive narrative or character arc. Which, you know that's not really why they're there – it's just sort of a, Wow, look at this thing, isn't it neat? I'm much more interested in how we can use that skill to involve unprepared people and make them actors in a kind of “freeform story,” and to use their real talents and personality as the basis for a dramatic character.
Let's back up a step for a moment, if you don't mind. What would you
say are the fundamentals of hypnosis?

Hypnosis relies a lot on rapport and how you present yourself. You've got to be able to connect with people, to be able to improvise, and to be clear and direct with your words. There's no time or space for mis-communication. You also need to inspire trust (and of course actually be trustworthy) when you're fiddling with people psychologically. It's 99% communication, though, so you really need to be able to hold peoples' attention and be comfortable doing so.
What typically happens during a hypnosis session (and of course this will vary depending on what you want to achieve) is that you and your subject come to an agreement on what's going to go down, then you'll begin some imagination exercises and relaxation techniques, then you'll start to introduce them to the mechanics of what you're going to do and what hypnosis will be like. Then you can finally take the plunge and go under, do whatever it is you are planning to do, then bring them back out of it safely.
So when we see hypnosis on a TV show or a movie, are they giving us a
fair idea of what it looks like?

You get a more dramatic version of it, the same way action movies blow the action way over the top. It's an involved process. You can't just go up to someone and snap your fingers and make them your puppet: what you see in movies and TV are the exciting bits, edited together.
In reality, there's a lot of trust and conversation, some warm-ups and imagination exercises, and a build-up to the main action. There's many different forms of hypnosis, and they all carry their particulars. When you're performing hypnosis – at least in an entertainment setting – you learn to find out who will make a good subject, how to approach them and what to do to get them integrated with the whole thing. Rarely is there a single thing that works for everyone. In a show, however, you don't have the luxury of spending a lot of time getting to know a crowd of people, so you have to come up with a plan of attack that will work against most people, then just weed out certain subjects.
But I'd say it's totally fair, because no one wants to see the boring bits, just like with most activities. The basic idea is there: I as a hypnotist get you as a volunteer to do something strange or curious. That's what people want to see.
Getting back to your presentation, how can we find drama in hypnosis?

There's a random person you pull from the audience, and there's a script you're following. You try to apply the person to the script and, if you've done it right, they should follow along and the script goes according to plan. Or maybe they'll deviate terribly, if you don't script too tightly – maybe they surprise you. There's a sense of vulnerability, where you are agreeing to be “mind controlled” and made to do something special in front of everyone. First: will it work? Is this a thing that can even happen? Second: if I can make you do whatever I want or say whatever I want (which is a little exaggerated, but for purpose of discussion), what will come of it? What will you actually reveal about yourself? What will you learn from this? It's almost like The Truman Show, where there is a big script going on around you, but ultimately you're creating your own content and this can go off in all kinds of wild directions.
It's very tightly wound around you as a character. I think it's exciting that, if I got two different people on stage and had them tell a story, we'd get two wildly different things. It's a special thing, this connection between us and the impromptu show our volunteer is putting on. It's something we won't see again, and it's something the next night's audience won't see, either. It's like a documentary played out on stage.
Is there a standard format for a hypnosis routine? How do you develop
a routine and how can you turn it into something with a narrative to

There's as many different ways to approach it as there are people doing it. When I do my routines, I'm looking to convey some sort of story. There's a philosophy about magicians that suggests they make for terrible dramatic characters. A magician is a god-like entity: he snaps his fingers and a card appears at the top of the deck. He waves his hand and a coin appears. He touches a glass bottle and it begins to bend. It's all quite visually exciting, but it's damned boring from a narrative perspective: this character has no flaws, has no chance of failure, and can just will things to be how he wants. There is no fight, no conflict.
So, when I'm trying to add a narrative to what I do, I try to show the process. I try to show that this isn't me waving a magic wand and everything is perfect: I want you to see that it's a skill and that we're trying to accomplish something together. You get to see what might not work, what doesn't work, and what excels beyond our imagining. There's a real journey there.
I look at what I want to convey, and then I figure out what I can do to make that visual. In my current show, one routine is talking about the prefrontal lobotomies of the 1940s and 50s, and how gruesome they were. It's a really fascinating subject, what they considered to be just a regular office procedure. They'd take what was basically an ice pick and slide it past your eye socket and then root around in there, doing what they did. So there's a lot of bits about controlling the body, altering what your body is capable of, as well as authority – someone in a lab coat dictating what you should be doing, what state your mind is in, what will happen to you, and so on.
When I've got an idea, I start just adding as much as I can to demonstrate what I'm talking about, and it's really interactive theater: people who come on stage are a part of the narrative. They're playing a very controlled part, but they are a part of it. I look for what conveys the central theme of the routine, edit and refine, then I go grab my favorite test subjects and run through the routine forever and ever until I think I've made it as brief and to-the-point as possible.
As far as what I want to tell, really I'm just looking for what interests me. The lobotomy thing is one. There's another thing I'm working on that, very ambitiously, tries to make the volunteer believe they are in some sort of enchanted, otherworldly kingdom, and give them a series of choices and seeing how they choose to interact with this new world, something born of me wondering just what trends exist in human behavior in this day and age, and will someone surprise you with what they think is right.
What's a technique that other kinds of storytellers can borrow from
dramatic hypnotists?

You can do so much with suggestion. You can imply and infer things, you can put that notion of something happening into someone else's head, and let them make it strong. Say I put some coins out on a table, and have someone pick one up, then cause them to believe the coin is white hot and burning their hand, leading up to them actually feeling it – what will that imply about the other coins on the table? What will that imply about metal, or your touch? What can you communicate without communicating it? If you can put the audience in the story, make them a part of it, and have them fill in the blanks, you've increased investment and made a stronger narrative. It's no longer a thing you're saying to people, and now a thing we're living in, touching and feeling and breathing.
There's a sense of being involved in the story that I just adore. I can't do a hypnosis routine without the audience.  They have to physically be part of it, they can't just sit and be a watchful crowd. There needs to be movement, action, decision – it's like a very dangerous improv, in a way.
Is there anything you'd like to plug?

My show in July! If anyone's near Savannah, GA, please stop by, it'll be super great. You can find out more information as the date approaches at my website,
I also run Savannah Story Games, which meets twice a month to play and shine light on the indie gaming scene. Again, if you're in the area, look us up at

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Looking for Guest Experts

We're looking for guest experts to write brief essays on five subjects. I'm designing a pair of games that can be played together or separately. The games are called Mask and Crown. As I'm designing Mask and Crown, I think I'm going to include appendices on five subjects that are touched upon, but not fully explored in the two games. The five subjects are:

  1. Embodiment of a character
  2. Long-form, non-comedic improv
  3. Mask work in improv
  4. Narrating internal character conflicts
  5. Historical (or historical fictional) succession conflicts.

Are you a gamer or other kind of storyteller who has experience with one of these subjects? Would you be interested in writing 1,000-2,000 words introducing it to gamers? If so, get in touch with me by emailing We pay $.05/word on completion of work. We encourage applicants of all genders, ethnicities, and origins.