Breaking the mold...

Author: Andrew /

You know, I've been doing some thinking lately and I've been trying to come up with something fun to play. It seems to me that right about the time you want to play something great is when your brain seems to want to shut itself off. You want to just pull your brain out and yell at it, sayin'
"Stop being lazy and work like you need it to!" It's enough to drive you insane when inspiration decides to take a vacation right when you need it working overtime.

Well, I think I may have come up with something to counter this. Being creative.

Now, I know you say "Be creative? What kind of answer is that?!" but bear with me.

Being creative, to me, is coming up with something unique or at least good, when you need it, DESPITE easy inspiration. I look at it this way.

Being inspired is when an idea pretty much puts itself right in your head without you doing much at all. You're sittin' there watchin' a show and "BAM" a perfect idea (or at least one that's pretty darn good, eh?) pops into your mind.

Being creative is when you aren't being assisted by the muses, as it were. Being creative is going "Geez.... There's NOTHING up there; what the heck is wrong with me?!" and yet, you still manage to go "Darn it, come Hell or high water, I'm coming up with something!"

So, I've realized the way to do this, in a lot of situations, is realize that when you think about something (such as a D&D game), you think about it in a rather conventional vein of thought. You roll it (whatever it is) around in your head, thinking about it, passively using conventional parameters as guides for your thoughts. Now, you don't consciously do this, but it's how most brains work. You have certain ideas and concepts that are tied into other concepts and ideas, which tend to define a thought process.

Well, what I realized is that to be creative, a lot of times you need to bend or break those connections. Instead of saying "A Dungeons & Dragons adventure is made up of travel, underground passages, treasure and monsters; you could say "A Dungeons & Dragons adventure is made up of chartreuse colored bunny rabbits, a room the party stays in but keeps changing around them and odd facial mutations!" I guarantee you, that would be looked at as absolutely creative (possibly even genius if you actually managed to make that work!)

So, thinking about this, I realized that we're never out of ideas, we're just out (or bored with) standard ideas of what something should be. As an artist, I have things I like to draw. Sometimes to my benefit, sometimes to my detriment, it's a lot of things that are very much in the same line of things. The pro to that is that usually, it turns out a pretty good picture on a relatively consistent basis. The con is that when they aren't turning out or I don't feel like drawing the same ol' thing, it leaves me in a bit of an art artistic quantry. I sit there and I wrack my brain and think "Geez... what the heck can I draw?" Then I realize "You know what? Let's try a cartoony old man with a cane walking down the street... being followed by a weird, tiny, furry, black cat who, in turn, is being followed by a tall, mischevious alien who's grinning and trying to step on the cat!" Weird? Yes. Off the wall? Absolutely. Creative and entertaining? You bet your life it is!

They say that necessity is the mother of invention and that's true in this case, as in the one it's literally talking about. When you need an idea, you'll get one. You just need to do one thing and that's this.

Open yourself.

Be open to odd ideas. Be open to things that are off the wall, unconventional and downright baffling. The stuff that makes you cock your head to the side and go "What the....", that's the good stuff. Sure, you can start your adventurers in a tavern. It's easy, it's classic and it's a cliche and a stereotype. It's cliche for a reason. It works. It's a quest hub, it's a place the party can rest, it's a place where role play can happen in the blink of an eye, it's a place where new characters can be introduced almost at any time. There's nothing wrong with using that in a campaign. But for those of us who want to buck the trend every once in a while, perhaps we could start in other interesting situations. So, as a little treat, I'm going to try to come up with some off the wall ideas of locations in which to start your players that will dodge the good ol' tavern.

"As our story opens, you find yourself in a field surrounded by dead bodies. The bodies are burned badly as if there was a harsh fire and they're all scattered about you. Off to the west, a few kilometers off, you see a green tree line. Around you, you see a field of wheat or, rather, what was wheat. Now it's a field of still-smoking ash for about a mile in each direction. The disturbing thing is that around you are a few other folks, all lying somewhere sprawled inside a circle that seems about ten feet in diameter. In the circle is wheat, smashed down partially from bodies lying on it, but unburned and in otherwise perfect condition. You're all holding torches. As you awake, you all seem to have one thing and one thing only, in common... The thought "Who are these people and what in the world happened?!"

"Air whips around you, roaring in your ears. Tears form in your eyes and your vision is blurred. You try to scream, yell, even just say words but your breath is sucked back into your lungs. You see white around you and feel moisture collecting on your skin. Your head starts to swim, your vision blurs and then, you break through the cloud and notice about a hundred yards down, through nothing but open air, are miles upon miles of pointed, green treetops; all racing up at you much quicker than you'd like..."

"The throne room feels cavernous. As you walk in, you hear your footsteps echo through the space, the noise actually accentuating the silence. You feel the butt of a spear haft jab into your back as you're pushed aggressively down the crimson carpet on the floor, leading the way to a dais, upon which sits a large, polished, throne made of what seems to be carved ivory and white marble. Upon it sits a figure dressed in black, wearing a crown bearing a veil that drapes over its face with naught but two small eyeholes cut in it, silver embroidery tracing their edges. You look down at your hands and feet and notice you've been hearing manacle chains as well, but lightly because of the carpet, as there are some on both your wrists and ankles. You turn your head to look at the guard who nudged you and see a figure standing ten feet tall with features all of metal, but moving smoothly. It's face, a mask of cool precision not meeting your eyes for a moment, gives you another jab as you reach the bottom step of the dais. As you look up to the throne, looming over you now, you see the figure rise from the chair and walk slowly down the steps toward you. 'Well, well, well...' it says, in a voice that seems strangely androgenous ', I finally meet The Troupe of the Fallen...'"

I like to think that these three examples have the potential to start games with a bang and have a great deal of possibilities for plot hooks to go from where they begin. They imediately present the characters AND players with the question "What's going on?" This prompts the desire for discovery and also begins the game with much momentum (literally, in example number two!) and can lead to tons of interesting things.

So, I leave you with this exhortation. Use cliches sometimes, if they fit and if they're necessary and make sense, but also strive for more. Make originality your goal. Being original in all things is, at the very least, extremely hard. You are a collection of experiences, therefore anything you do will come from something that you know, even if it is rather loose. However, you can come up with a LOT of things that are original if you simply accept ideas you may usually say "No" to. Be open and let your mind wander, and just tie things together in a beautiful web of organized random thoughts!

Happy thinking and, if you feel so inclined, lets hear some other neat ideas!

Back in the saddle again,


P.S. - If you feel that posting an idea might give away key things to key people, don't post it. Instead keep it in your head but silently promise me that you'll at least write it down and think on it later. Use your creativity!


Adam said...

so i watched blizzcon streaming over the internet, and in some of the segments you get to see the offices of some of the game designer and artist elites. In one segment in particular I saw a part where Sam Wise was atg his desk painting a picture of Kerrigan from Starcraft. I noticed that the walls in his little cubicle like space where covered in posters of bands and comics, and such. He had toys all over his desk, and other books lying around. Some might say he is surrounded in distraction but I say he is surrounded in inspiration. When you think about it, all we know is what we have seen from others. When you pitch an idea you often say its like blank and blank, except it also has blank and blank. If you want to run something cool in your game get ideas from the pros, and those things you think are cool. In the office of any expert are books written by their predecessors in their professions.
Another thing I learned from Samwise was that game devs shouldn't form rock bands, lol.

Andrew said...

Yeah, it's really great to have lots of things around you to draw from (no pun intended). I really dig Samwise's work, as I think he's probably the best artist they have (Chris Metzen being a close second). Granted, it's Blizzard and they get the best of whatever they want, but you get my meaning. I think that the important thing is being able to function even when inspiration isn't flowing as well as it seems to sometimes.

It's always good to look to the work that's come before you and pull what you can from it. I think what I really like is when I can't come up with anything and then I decide to pull something from far left field and then it turns out better than anything I've ever done before that.

msrazzlebedazzle said...

=] see...that's why my room looks the way it does! i surround myself with what to do with it? hmmm...i may not be to experienced with d&d, but this i can apply to a lot of things. think outside the crayon box! =]
"My alphabet starts with this letter called yuzz. It's the letter I use to spell yuzz-a-ma-tuzz. You'll be sort of surprised what there is to be found once you go beyond 'Z' and start poking around!" -Dr. SeuSs...he knows what's up!

silent stone said...

Oh, I totally agree, but let me play the devil's advocate here...

The quest for true originality in the modern era of fiction is a futile one. Originality is a chimera, a fantasy within a fantasy. For example, Shakespeare did not invent the story of Hamlet out of whole cloth; he cribbed the major elements from Scandinavian and Roman legends from centuries before.

Likewise, all fiction is composed of a finite suite of tropes, used and reused time and time again. These tropes are like the chemical elements—in various combinations, they form everything in the cosmos, and bringing into existence a truly new "element", a new trope, is a monumental task, requiring colossal effort (and oftimes a particle accelerator).

Thus, it is futile to try to be truly original, and instead, the goal of anyone aspiring to be "creative" should more reasonably be to merely be original enough. Don't set out to rewrite the book on roleplaying. Just tweak the settings a little, and play your game.

For a DM, it does not matter if an idea for a campaign has been done a thousand times before (because odds are, even the most obscure idea has been). Just combine the idea with a couple others that aren't usually all seen in a single work, and run with it. There is little point in working oneself into a tizzy searching for the chimera of originality. Don't waste hours and and hours trying to think of some new way to start a campaign—just put the PCs in Ye Olde Taverne and use those hours you just saved to play your game.

Aaaaaand now that that's out of my system, we return to our regular programming.

Andrew said...

That's a good point, Silent, and I was going to write that in there but I thought it went without saying. Also, what may not be truely original, MAY be truely original to the individual in question. This is a discussion that could go forever but, suffice it to say, "stray from doing the same old thing over and over."

I agree, if using a cliche or two, starting your players in a tavern, fighting a red dragon who torches country-sides, etc, gets you more game time, use those things and use them with gusto. The important thing is to be having fun and if you are, it's a good game.

Also, just wanted to say welcome back, Silent. Haven't seen ya around and it's good to see your snippets in here again!

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