Your Team-Building Exercise Might Need A Little Mood Lighting

Have you ever sat awkwardly in a circle with a bunch of strangers, waiting for the dreaded ice breaker to be over? Summer camp, first day of class, new staff orientation, a conference. Maybe you’ve even been the one presenting the ‘get to know you game’ that no one wants to play.

It’s easy to recognize the need for icebreakers and team building exercises, but how do we actually design effective activities for a group or a specific event? What kind of experience do we want participants to have together and is that actually accomplished through the games we play?

Experiential educator and artist Mo Golden and tabletop game designer Ross Cowman want your next group experience to be authentic, transformative, and memorable. That’s why they designed Night Forest, a ritual game that gets groups connecting authentically, going from awkward silence to meaningful conversation within a few minutes.

Night Forest is designed to be played outside in the woods with lit candles but can be played in an office, parking lot, or anywhere else with space to walk around. It’s simple to pick up and play, making it easy to incorporate into other activities without having to learn rules or guidelines first.

Night Forest helps create space for people to open up, be a little vulnerable, share what’s underneath the chit chat, and begin to build trust.” says co-designer, Ross.

How to Play:
You get your group together and give each person a candle and a book of matches before going out to the woods at dusk or to an indoor space that can be darkened. Once you’re in the play space, each participant is given a card from the deck of beautifully illustrated black and metallic gold Night Forest cards.

Participants disperse, finding a place to be alone with their card. Once they are alone, they light their candle, flip their card over, and allow the image and word on the card to evoke or inspire memories. Participants move through the space, embodying and exploring their memories. When two participants meet, they exchange memories, trade cards, and continue the process with other memories and other people.

At some point, repeat cards will appear. If a participant receives a card they’ve had before, they blow out their candle and become a forgotten memory. The forgotten memories stay in the shadows but follow the other memories around as silent witnesses. The game ends once everyone is a forgotten memory.

Night Forest can be played around a certain theme, question, or issue the group wants to explore, or it can be completely open. Educators and facilitators appreciate how Night Forest provides enough of a structure that they don’t have to create something from scratch, yet enough openness and flexibility that it can be used again and again for a range of groups and learning objectives.

“One of the important aspects of Night Forest is that it promotes diversity on many levels,” co-designer, Mo explains. “It invites a non-linear way of thinking, something often not rewarded in many school and work settings, but that’s super important for emotional intelligence as well as for innovation. It also requires participants to really pay attention to the other participants: their timing, thought process, personal narratives.”

After playing Night Forest, one participant reflected; “Educators, group facilitators, and leadership teams, if you’re seeking experiential methods to incorporate into programming, this is for you. You’ll find Night Forest versatile, effective, and memorable for your group and you might find yourself handing out the cards and switching off the lights any opportunity you get.”


Making Magic: Ritual and Self-Discovery in the Night Forest

Have you ever had an experience that felt inexplicably sacred, where space was being beautifully held, but you didn’t fully understand why? Recent articles like “Season of The Witch: Why Young Women are Flocking to the Ancient Craft, [1]” have been circulated, liked, and shared in high frequency, along with other internet and “IRL” spaces engaging in similar dialogues, and it’s all connected to a larger conversation surrounding access to ritual and self-care.

As huge shifts in the cultural dialogue of power and oppression are happening, the importance of solace and grounding deepens. People can look for this not only in connecting to their deeper selves and values, but also to personal and collective stories and experiences. The question is; how can the space be created that is necessary for these stories to be told?

The sensation is familiar, it’s the struggle to integrate an intuition or a ‘feeling’ with a practice. For many people, and particularly millennials, accessing these parts of ourselves can be confusing. It’s difficult to separate from that highly simulated, televised experience; a character casts a spell and you see something change before your eyes, to make room for a more nuanced perspective and understanding of what that looks like. Creating ritual and the actual practice of magic, while felt, can be unclear.

“I think many people have the experience of being in facilitated space, but may not know how to hold that space or how to facilitate ritual for themselves and others [3],” says Mo Golden, co-creator of the ritual game Night Forest. Night Forest was designed and produced by Mo Golden and Ross Cowman with a team of collaborators in Olympia, Washington, and it focuses on the practice of listening to and sharing memories.

“I think many people have the experience of being in facilitated space, but may not know how to hold that space or how to facilitate ritual for themselves and others.”

In Night Forest, described by the designers as “a ritual game of memory, embodiment and self-discovery [3],” people play a group of “memories.” At the start of the game, each player gets a candle, a book of matches and a card. At a chosen location; like the forest, a field, or an abandoned building, the group disperses. When you’re alone, you light your candle and look at your card. Each card is accompanied by an illustration and a word, which you use to recall or inspire a memory. “You let it appear, change and shape-shift a bit [3]” as you’re moving through space, until you come into contact with another player. At this point, each person stops and takes turns exchanging memories. After each player is finished, they trade cards and continue the journey. It’s a practice of deep listening, witness and communion.

In “Season of The Witch: Why Young Women are Flocking to the Ancient Craft,”  author Sady Doyle states; “There’s something deeply appealing in the notion of being put in touch with an inner source of power that can’t be taken away. Not that this power needs to be something nebulous and mystical.” She then quotes Tarot reader Suzy X from Rookie Magazine who argues, “it can be pretty damn pragmatic [1].”

Maenna Welti, a self-described “witch, astrologer, tarot reader, musician, writer and feminist [2],” speaks to this idea of pragmatism further. In her Healing Wheel Workbook, she suggests “magic is energy plus intention [4].” When we deconstruct it as such, magic and ritual become much more tangible and accessible. It’s a shift in the understanding of magic as something that exists outside of us to viewing it as a power that we already contain. The practice is how we harness it.

“While we have many tools such as Astrology or Tarot to connect us to ritual or divination, these practices are often solitary or focused on one individual. I think the challenge and necessity is how to create and hold that space with other people. Night Forest is very balanced, fluid, opening up the channels so we all have space to be seen… it’s a tool to cut through the social veil and cultivate intimacy [3].” Mo states. This type of engagement with one another becomes particularly important as we face a resurgence of cultural, political and personal tensions. Much of the work we are being called to do requires connection and community, and the dissolution of physical and metaphorical ‘walls’ is a necessary component of getting there.

” When we deconstruct it as such, magic and ritual become much more tangible and accessible. It’s a shift in the understanding of magic as something that exists outside of us to viewing it as a power that we already contain. The practice is how we harness it.”

“A question I keep asking myself is what has to happen in order for conversations surrounding justice to be productive? “ Mo states. Ross chimes in, reflecting; “I think culturally we have an empathy problem…  One thing I love about Night Forest is how it gives us permission to just be silent, witness each other, and be witnessed by one another. To know that you can say what’s on your mind, and nobody is going to be waiting to interrupt you… just knowing that I’m here for you, you’re here for me, and we’re going to share these stories with each other [3].”

The reality is, ritual and intention aren’t necessarily things that are natural facets of how our society operates. Creating human contact and bridging gaps isn’t a ‘given’ when it comes to moving through the world with others, and neither is taking care of ourselves. People have to create and facilitate these practices for them to flourish. Ultimately, each person is already powerful just as they are. The ability to access ritual and act with intention already exists within, from the materiality of who we are and what we intrinsically know and have to offer. Night Forest simply acts as a tool to facilitate that exchange and create the container for the collective experience.  

  1. Doyle, Sady. “Season of the witch: why young women are flocking to the ancient craft.” The Guardian . N.p., 24 Feb. 2015. Web. 5 Apr. 2017.
  2. Maeanna Welti: Tarot, Astrology, Magical Life Coaching. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 Apr. 2017.
  3. “Night Forest with Ross and Mo.” Personal interview. 6 Apr. 2017.

Welti, Maeanna . Healing Wheel: A Samhain to Samhain Workbook. Olympia: n.p., WA. Print.

For Roll20 Backers

Hello backers! So glad you’ve gotten to play Fall of Magic on, hope you’re enjoying it.

I’ve really enjoyed the stories, quotes, and screenshots some of you have shared so far. It’s so cool to see how different each game is and all the amazing possibilities people have come up with.

If you’re playing online, it would be awesome if you shared bits of your game with all of us. You can use the hashtag #fallofmagic on twitter, facebook, and instagram. And there’s a Google+ community you can join, if you haven’t already: Fall of Magic on G+ 

Feel free to share quotes from your game or a recap of what happened in your campaign!

Thanks for your continued support

Homemade Fall of Magic

dumwytgi writes:

“Dear Ross Cowman,

I read a list of best RPGs of 2015 and saw Fall of Magic on it. The write-up intrigued me, so I checked it out, got excited, needed to own it, wanted the scroll, checked my finances, bought the electronic version instead because I didn’t have the $75 to spend.

I love the game, but wanted to play the game with the same evocative feel the scroll provides rather than printed out sheets of paper. So I made my own. Spent days staining wood, sketching on linen trying to recreate your work and Doug Keith’s art. Learning to sew to put that gray trim on to keep the cloth from unraveling. In the end, I’m pretty pleased with it. It isn’t as gorgeous as the version you produce, and it definitely doesn’t have those wonderful tokens, but I worked hard on it and I’m proud of it.

But as I got ready to share it, it occurred to me that I was treading on your copyrights. It’s one thing to print up a PDF, but it’s another to recreate it entirely by hand, especially when it involves attempting to recreate the very specialness that makes the special edition special. I’m proud of my copy, but I don’t want to necessarily encourage others to make their own because your version is amazing and I would hate to feel like I were taking money out of your pocket. I guess I wanted to check with you before I shared pictures of it just in case. I may have worked hard on the scroll, but you worked hard on the game, and without your hard work, I wouldn’t have done what I did. I wouldn’t feel right, legally or ethically, sharing without your consent.”

Dear Dumwytgi,

You are awesome.

Signed, Deernicorn

FOM-homemade fom2homeade