Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The GM Screen…

There is, you’ll agree, a joy that is infectious across whatever communication medium employed, between an audience and the person talking about what he feels passionate. I get that each time I go fencing, or when people are describing other hobbies or employment (although the latter is few and far between), or when I read blogs about writers like John Rogers or Warren Ellis.

But even more than reading about, I’m left with a yearning to write something similar about the things that I love doing, as well as conversant in a technical and profecient manner. Which is tricky.

Alan Moore once responded to the question of where ideas come from and how they develop into the masterpieces in his library of comics. The exact quote isn’t in front of me – although I believe it is on one of very early posts on this site – but the essence of what he said did stick. That we should examine ourselves, our creativity. That we should know what it is that produces ideas and why. Most important that we should not be prisoner to the superstition that examining that which inspires would cause it to vanish.

With that in mind, I’m going to attempt, in intermittent posts, to do some behind-the-scenes work on running a role-play game. By no means definitive this, and there are plenty of readers who run games or play in them who do things different in their parts but this is more for me anyway. Though I’ll be happy if something here interests or inspires you.

I say ‘intermitent’ as this game is not yet off the ground and the time where this may occur is nebulous. As far as I’m aware the players I have in mind don’t know of the Manifesto, though that may change. Particularly if I plan on bringing players from my established portfolio of role-playing friends.


Earlier posts bemoaned the difficulty of generating an idea, and then producing one (Didn’t say it had to be good) regarding Space Guns. Sooo…

Before 2009 I had decided that one of my resolutions would be to get a game running. Problem being that I hadn’t run a game in a year and a bit. Another problem being that I needed to find time to include the game in the already busy schedule of gaming, fencing and other sundries. An even further problem would be whether to limit this game to my current role-players of Rhys, Vanessa and whomever else, or put it up for Neil, Karen and Liam to play. The optimal idea would be to combine the two groups which would put paid to another resolution but I need to sort out a venue and time for that first…

Back to the ideas. Since the purchase of the Pocket Brain 2.0 I have found it damn convenient travelling with, essentially, the internet on my person. A number of news websites are bookmarked through either the page itself or through RSS feeds and reading those each day is one datum that may well play an essential part in the formulation of an idea somewhere down the track. It also allows me to cross-reference material on the spot, provided I’m judicious with the download amount. Finally, with the keyboard I, in effect, travel with a notepad for idea recording. I also have a voice recorder for when I don’t have the keyboard though this comes with the price of having to hear myself talk.

Honestly I don’t know how my players have managed…

Anything that strikes me as worth a second glance gets recorded: A cloudship called Longinus; What’s next for Abyssal; What happened to the Pulp Villains during the Cold War? Some are detailed, most are just bulletpoints or single sentences but they occured from the confluence of media intake and brain-connections so it gets recorded so I don’t have to remember it. Typically then, it gets left in a folder and, like fine wine aging into vinegar, I look at the file, uncork it and usually go “Damn, what was I thinking.” But on occasion I get lucky.

The difference between writing it down and not writing it down has different effects on how things progress. Writing it down, as I said, generally serves the purpose of not having me forget it but it also turns an idea into a thing. In essence, the idea – formless and mutable – becomes forged into something solid. Sure I may carve things off or bolt things on but, in an of itself, it’s still my grandfather’s axe.

Leaving it in the memory may mean two things. Either I’ve forgotten the phone or it’s not ready to be taken out of the fire and onto the anvil. Keeping it in short term means that there’s still more to be added or modified. It needs to be heated more or cured longer. More often than not, these are the ideas worth having; the ideas that refuse to leave your head until they’re ready to. The kind of idea that just keeps multiplying until it just gets too big for the frontal lobe to contain. For me, this is part is critical. Too big and you lose stuff that may make it cool. At some point you need to get it out of short term and into long term memory and free up resources for more idea development or, perhaps, getting on with actual work. But putting it out to early and looking at the misshapen thing that seemed so magnificent in your mind can reject an idea faster than asking that pretty girl to dance back in high school.

The point is, sooner or later, the idea needs to go to the Pocket Brain and be cooled. Then you can set about hammering out the impurities.

There seems to be a metalworking motif to this…

All this is by way of explaining an idea without having to detour from the path of origin to explain how my brain likes to work.

On this occasion I needed an idea that needed to be simple and appealing to a potential group of players who have never had me run a game. Also, as its likely to be run approximately once a fortnight, it needed to be a game that had a conclusion (something rather difficult to accomplish in a game where three or more players can mess with your story) as well as separate act structures that also had a beginning, middle and conclusion. Existing notes didn’t have the flair of what I was after. The Cloudship named Longinus got the basic fluff of a world of air written about it before I decided it was way to complex for purposes. The evil villains idea had merit but as I’d learnt from running Abyssal– villains are creatures of complex motives (or disturbingly simple ones) and also have access to vast riches and manpower which seemed a bit too big for a sporadic game.

There are techniques I generally fall back on when things aren’t working. Looking at past notes is one of them. During the brief stint at uni, one of my classes was Popular Genres – the study of genre, convention, medium and stereotype – which really helps solidify what type of idea you want and what rules you can bend or break. I go back to the beginning: What type of game do I want to run:

Overall story with ending.
Arcs within that story that are whole stories themselves.
Lots of action
Hamming it up to stereotype.

Pulp action genre fit the bill nicely. Even more so as I had two role-play systems based around that very type. The problem was that I wasn’t having any ideas with what to do around the 1930’s. No connection between desire and genre sparked an idea.

Employ another technique: Look at timelines of that period and see what else was going on. Again the Pocket Brain comes into its own and a quick Google Search later produces a simplified timeline of the period. Lot of appealing things but not the idea that’s going to bring it all together. It was then I noticed things prior to the 1930’s.

World War I didn’t have any interest but the time before that was the decline of the Wild West. I love the Wild West about as much as I love Pulp and it’s a genre that hasn’t been played yet amongst any of the groups I’ve been involved with. Being the first to try something is sometimes good enough as ideas go as you have no benchmark to measure save for what the players want; but there was one other problem:

I love airships too.

The technology of the 1930’s future and the time of the Wild Frontier is a hard thing to reconcile but that’s why we have fiction. Thinking about airships docking on flatbed plateau’s of Arizona definitely came with the feeling of a good idea. Now I needed the story.

Think this too long as it is and I’ll need something to write about in future installments while waiting to see whether this game actually gets off the ground so I’ll stop here. More to follow.


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