Thursday, May 5, 2016

God's Workbench Part 1: Tricking Yourself

I really want to have the coolest Fantasy game world ever. It’s that simple.

For many years Crypts-N-Creepies* has been focused on crypt bashing. Traveling overland and having random encounters was viewed as a waste. Over time however, the game has evolved beyond just sacking the proverbial enclave of Doom.  As a game designer this has become a new challenge to work out.  I'll be starting from scratch, if you don't count all the baggage I've accumulated playing games for several decades.   The current rule set assumes that the spots between adventures will be edited down to the barest essentials so that the players (who have limited time) can get to the meaty, juicy crypt adventuring part of the game.  Since I am building new encounter systems up, I thought it would be helpful to share my thoughts in a series of articles I'm going to call God's Workbench.

The plan is to talk both in theory and practicalities enabling the reader to more easily fashion their own unique fantasy setting based on my experiences.  Here are several observations:

1) The task is overwhelming. Where do you start?  A town? The gods? Legends? Weather? Names for stuff? Countries? Is the tech level different than what is assumed in your core game mechanic? Thinking about it all at once will drive you mad.

2) Players are unpredictable. In real life people take the path of least resistance.  In RPGs they take the path least prepared. This happened to me last week.  I spent a lot of energy preparing multiple options and even more energy on the shiniest one.  What did those cute little swine players do? They latched onto an ad-libbed bit of random backstory I made up to rationalize the appearance of a new player. They literally turned around from the proverbial pie cooling on the window sill to lock themselves into a closet to engage in human trafficking (it’s a long story).  I am not complaining (well not much).  As frustrating as it can be, I still hold to that allowing them complete freedom is worth it. Frustrating, sometimes, but still monolithically important. Besides, what fun would it be for me if I knew what they are going to do?  This leads to...

3) You can't make everything.  Yes, even the Godlike beings known as gamemaster/mistress have this one limitation.  If you want the troupe to be able to make meaningful choices, how do you design economically to accomplish this?

The first problem is this damn blank page.  To conquer it, we must allow ourselves to be tricked.  The vast sea of white void will swallow you up.  The void...the big vast nothing, it’s just too big.  Take this emptiness and fill it with one idea at a time. Break down the process into nuggets.  Defined little bits.

This is how I trick myself.  I make dumb templates.  They are hand drawn and photocopied at first, then done up on the compy when I get a better feel for them.  For example, I need rough overviews of each country and region of my campain.  I drew out the one on the left first and made areas (much like a character sheet) for things that need to be described, such as the area’s symbol, a list of cities and government, the weather  and so on.  You don’t want to be obsessing over the infrastructure, you need to just stop overthinking it and get stuff on paper. Everything doesn’t need to exactly right, you just need to get started.  It’s funny how this one thing will get it all going.

We have a way to start generating bits, now we need some form of organisation.  Creating a fantasy world means there is going to be a lots of scraps of data.  If you throw it all into one big pile, they will be useless if you can’t find it.

This is the method that works for me.  I have a bunch of blank folders, a big Sharpie and a bankers box.  Folders represent discrete topics ranging from adventures, countries, NPC’s, monsters, magic ideas and so on.  I use loose sheets of paper (I haven't had luck with sketchbooks). I can put one idea on a sheet and move it around so it’s where I can find it.  Right now it is still easier for me to do things non-electronically, but eventually this may change.  I have a pipeline of sorts, where I have prioritised working on certain aspects of the milieu.  It’s easy to grab that folder and work on what’s needed and the loose sheets allow a lot of flexibility.  And ideas don’t get lost.  It isn’t very glamorous, but has been a great tool to get this giant wheel turning.  It works, my world has become a reality.

More will follow.  Comments, of course, are welcome (unless you're that gal with the ecru hat).  I have a lot to talk about.

*Most of you do not play Crypts-N-Creepies.  This should not matter, these tools will be useful for any world that needs creating.

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