Plots & spontaneity

It’s been difficult deciding the next step. I’m torn between developing my own rules versus relying on the preexisting structure of a published game system. Even if that preexisting structure allows great versatility and customization, will it be the right fit for what I want to achieve? For instance, I’ve been reading about Powered by the Apocalypse RPGs, especially Urban Shadows (which seems to make the PbtA structure a bit more accessible—and interestingly enough, I find Urban Shadows more akin to the “apocalypse” story I want to share than Apocalypse World). Then I find myself faced with the yet unanswered question of what better suits in-depth storytelling, more traditional game mechanics like D&D and other d20 systems with which everyone is familiar, or a more non-traditional game structure like PbtA that puts storytelling also in the players’ hands? Are the “easy-to-pick-up” and spontaneous qualities of PbtA suitable to a world I want to weave thick with plots and secrets? I think ultimately, I want the game structure to grow out of the themes and setting, but complexity, accessibility, and functionality of the vehicle for a story should always be kept in mind. I also need more experience playing various RPGs before adapting anything. Who knows, perhaps I’ll return to Mutants & Masterminds.

153464So do I return to content, the humanoid and alien beings that inhabit the fictional world I want to create? Do I further delineate concepts of the soul as they pertain to the setting and such entities, so that key game mechanics emerge from those concepts? Perhaps, if I want to create a setting thick with history, plots, and secrets, I should consider—not only (or perhaps instead of) committing all such content to writing—creating game mechanics that facilitate running such a game? To take this a step further, I’ve considered how to go about the unfolding of plots and timelines, to instill in players a sense of urgency and anticipation, for events leading up to the impending apocalypse.

The conundrum to which I return over and over again is simple: How much of a story (the plot) do I clearly delineate, and how much do I leave open-ended for others to create their own stories within the world I want to create? Do I want to tell a story, or do I want to create the essence of a certain kind of story? What do my players desire?


The next “big” project

wp-1485241867040.jpgI’m going to do it. I’m going to start blogging. Why? Because I need to write MORE. Period. I also need to hold myself accountable, to not only whisper to myself “I need to write,” but to create a work space for all the public to see, and to challenge myself to fill that work space with verifiable progress.

Not only do I need to practice writing, I’m also recognizing (as in “cognizing again”) the value of reflection—one of those essential tools that come naturally to us when we’re young and discovering the world, but that we neglect once we think we know enough to authoritatively speak about the world. Rather than stubbornly stick to what I think I should be writing, I must allow—if not, challenge—myself to explore and consider yet unknown possibilities.

Perhaps I am, in part, inspired by my (now divorced) parents who, facing age 60, have been taking stock of their lives and fretting over their mortality. While I help my mother edit her memoir, I’ve recently been engaging my father in “big” conversations about our relationship, and why we haven’t been as close to one another as I am, for instance, with my mom. It really is a big, somewhat complex topic (and not the topic of this post); my point here is that opening a dialogue with my father, an activity that required energy, attention, some discomfort, and patient, thoughtful determination, has proven fruitful. Earlier this evening, I talked with my dad on the phone about his reflections over the past week (following our email exchange and after he also met and talked with my brother in person)—and opening that line of communication, to reflect on our relationship, has set us on a journey to improve that relationship.

Similarly, I need to improve my relationship with writing. Certainly, I am in my own way grappling with my own mortality as I stare at my soon-to-be 40-year-old self in the mirror, and I wonder, “What do I have to show for the past 20 years?”

So, it’s time to recognize a few truths, some of which I’ve come accept over the past year or so, and some of which I’m affirming here and now:

  1. Just as much as I once aspired to be a writer or visual artist, I’m also a gamer. So let’s include game creation in my public creative persona, eh? (I know, what took me so long, right?)
  2. Just as a writer must read, so must a game designer game—and in my case specifically, if I want to write an RPG, I need to spend more time playing RPGs and a greater variety of RPGs. Reflection also requires experience, and let me (publicly) confess, I don’t engage enough with literature, the fine arts, or with the gaming world.
  3. (And this is the “big” one) I’ve become so accustomed to organizing information, that my default impulse when initiating a project is to create an organizational structure before sinking my teeth into the content. You could even argue that this blog post is a structure or framework I feel I must create before delving into what I really want to do, which is write content for an RPG. I use Excel daily at my work, collecting and organizing data, crafting reports, and this practice (for better or worse) has become my dominant modality.

In my mid-20s, I learned that creating an outline before writing a novel killed my interest in the story (because I already knew what was going to happen), and my greatest success came from simply writing and discovering the story as I wrote.

I need to re-train my brain to generate content first, and to let the structure evolve from that content.

So, in large part (I know, I should have learned this truth long ago), I’m blogging to establish the practice of writing, the practice of reflection, the practice of exploration. Rather than limit myself, as I’ve commonly done in the past, to the “big” project, I’m deliberately setting a course to engage in related activities, whether that means writing about the creative process here, or participating as a player in a new RPG with a bunch of strangers. After all, I’m no Emily Dickinson.