Thursday, August 20, 2015

Dragging performance into play: a quick look at storytelling games by Kevin Kulp

You probably haven't heard of the many rules-light, storytelling-heavy card and roleplaying games that hit the market over the last decade. There are lots of them, and some are incredibly good. 

If you want to get three or four friends together to create communal stories from scratch, or stealthily get teenagers hooked on storytelling, these games are the way to go.

Here are three of my favorites.

(3rd edition, Atlas Games, $25; or

Best for: families, kids, and those who love fairy tales

In this fast collaborative family game the starting player builds a fairy tale, playing plot elements from the cards in her hand and creatively guiding the story towards her own Ending card. Other players use their cards to steal the story's narrative, changing it a little or a lot to fit their own cards instead. The winner is the player who uses all of her cards first. The result is a wonderfully disjointed fairy tale created over 30 minutes, built communally and full of unexpected turns.

(James Wallis, $17.95;

Best for: adults, the quick-witted, and those who love outrageous lies

Designed as a drinking game and written in the Baron's own inimitable voice, this is a light and fast role-playing game where you try to out-do each other's astounding accomplishments and legendary feats of derring-do. The rules replace pencils and dice with money and fine wine. The idea here is that you sit around bragging, telling fantastically exaggerated (but completely true!) stories. ("Let me tell you, m'lords, about the time I escaped death by guillotine only by seducing a dyspeptic Bengal tiger.") Other players attempt to derail your story by wagering a token and making an objection ("But surely this was the year of the great Bengal exhibition, when no tigers were to be found in all of Europe? Perhaps it is your dotage, but you clearly must be mistaken.") You either respond with an excuse and by wagering a token of your own, or you swallow your pride and include their objection seamlessly into your story. The game is won after everyone has told one story, and delightfully, each player in turn gives all their tokens to the person they think told the best story. That means that it's the best story that wins, but collecting the most tokens helps you pick the winner.

(Bully Pulpit Games, $30; or

Best for: creative adults, people who love improvisation, and those who put a great story ahead of trying to win

My rich and crazy aunt is willing her vast fortune to 100 feral cats, but I need the money now; my clown nose manufacturing business is in the toilet and I owe the Mafia a boatload of cash. They're sending a hit man to take care of the problem, but I need to convince her to change her will before she gets taken out. And oh yeah, that so-called "hit man" is a brand new, wet-behind-the-ears assassin who my aunt used to babysit for, and whose older sister I dumped for a floozy half her age.

Honestly, this seemed like such a good idea at the time.

I think of Fiasco as your own Coen Brothers movie in a game. The author describes it best:

Fiasco is inspired by cinematic tales of small time capers gone disastrously wrong – inspired by films like Blood Simple, Fargo, The Way of the Gun, Burn After Reading, and A Simple Plan. You’ll play ordinary people with powerful ambition and poor impulse control. There will be big dreams and flawed execution. It won’t go well for them, to put it mildly, and in the end it will probably all go south in a glorious heap of jealousy, murder, and recrimination. Lives and reputations will be lost, painful wisdom will be gained, and if you are really lucky, your guy just might end up back where he started.

This game is played with 3-5 people in a few hours. You play very human and very flawed characters, each with a powerful need ("the need to become famous;" "the need to get even;" "the need to keep your secrets") and strong relationships. During the game you all work together to come up with and play out completely hilarious, disastrous scenes of greed, desire and ambition.

I once played a game of Fiasco where someone laughed so hard they threw up. Plan accordingly.


Kevin Kulp is a Boston-based storyteller, game designer, and (weirdly enough) expert on shiftwork, fatigue and alertness. A board member for LANES, the League for the Advancement of New England Storytelling (, he's a huge proponent of introducing youth to storytelling via great games. He can be reached at @KevinKulp or at

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Stories Entwined With Life: My first Guest Blogger of 2015 - Kevin Kulp

Last night, I laid out under the stars after midnight with my husband, my eighteen year old son, and my fifteen year old daughter.  We were looking for meteors.  We saw a couple.  Last night was one of the moonless evenings when the Perseid Meteor shower was putting on a show.  It was just happenstance that I realized we could watch it.  I'm glad we did.

I'm hyper aware of how we spend our time together right now as both of my children prepare to go off to school.  My son is going to RIT up in Rochester, New York, and my daughter is headed to NCSSM, the North Carolina School of Science and Math.  It is a boarding school.

Sparklers on the fourth of July

I am finding that with all of the change going on this summer, it is hard to focus on my non-fiction writing.  I've spent lots of time submerged in reading fiction, and even reading non-fiction.

I highly recommend Salt: A World History

I've had some pretty great experiences this summer.

I worked with a small company using storytelling as a team building exercise.

I gave one of the keynotes at the National Storytelling Network annual conference.

Gwenda Ledbetter and Dr. Milbre Burch

Charlotte Blake Alston and Queen Nur

Queen Nur, Me, Lynette Ford, Diane Ferlatte

Michael McCarty and Joanna Demarest

I did some fun work with the dependents at Pope Air Force Base.

I did a lot of Summer Reading all over the east coast.

As much fun and challenging as my summer work has been, all of it was framed against the background of knowing that both of my children would be leaving within days of each other.

My equilibrium is always a bit shattered when there are huge life transitions going on around me, and when I am right in the middle of them, it is much, much worse.

I am both incredibly proud of my children, and sad that this part of our lives together is ended.  Oh, they will come home, I will see them, we will spend time together, and who knows, they might actually choose to come home a couple of summers in the future, but it won't ever be the same.

That's good, of course, because our stories have to grow and change.  Our children have to grow up and move on in their lives.  That's how stories work.

I knew I would be consumed with all of the transition this summer, but I didn't realize just how hard it was going to be to carry on with my work...especially the writing.  I'm in knots when it comes to writing and despite having things to say, I haven't been able to write a thing.

This weekend is going to get dicey!

My daughter moves into her dorm on Saturday morning at 9 am.  

I will be performing at United Arts at 11:50 am.  It is in Raleigh, about 45 minutes from my daughter's school.

When we get back from United Arts, we load up the car with my son's things.  Sunday morning we head to Virginia to spend the night with my parents, and then we head to upstate New York on Monday.

My son moves into his dorm on Tuesday, we have two days of family orientation, and then we drive home.

My summer will officially be over then, and I will begin working feverishly on all of the projects I laid out for myself over the last few months.

As for this space?  Well, I have good news.

For the next three weeks, I will have guest bloggers while I readjust to my new situation.

August 20th, Kevin Kulp will be in the driver's seat!

Dragging Performance Into Play: a quick look at storytelling games

Kevin Kulp is a Boston-based writer, game designer, and storyteller who develops both video and pen and paper games. He helps run the independent RPG site under the username Piratecat. His recent work includes the TimeWatch RPG (successfully Kickstartered through Pelgrane Press), Disruptor Beam's Game of Thrones Ascent on Facebook, and the fantasy western game Owl Hoot Trail from Pelgrane Press. He can be found on Twitter at @kevinkulp.

Kevin uses storytelling to create interesting family games, and video games.  He also reviews games. 

His piece is for anyone who likes game nights with family or friends, or anyone who works with teenagers, and would like to trick them into learning story structure, vocabulary building, and writing while they are being distracted by having fun.

So, off to have one of the craziest weeks of my parenting life, afterwards I will surf through the fallout, but you who come here will be in capable hands.  

Happy Telling!