Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Screen: Part 3

Ideas are powerful, addictive things. Warren Ellis described it as ‘If Einstein’s brain was placed into the body of a young tyrannosaur, stuffed full of amphetamines and suffused with Sex Radiation’. And it really is. It’s what we live for. It’s what keeps us going. It is, in point of fact, the only real high that writers like Hemmingway chase. The drugs and alcohol are just there to move things along.

Ideas are also dangerous too. One can fall in love with an idea, marvelling at the perfection of its form and in the aspect of running a role-play game, you have to take this perfect unblemished jewel and place it in the paws of your players. What can result is very disturbing.

Imagine your idea is a big chunk of diamond. Raw around the edges gummy and battered but freaking huge and so comforting for many reasons. But simply having such a diamond isn’t really enough. You want to show it off. And so you take it to a jewellers.

The jeweller remarks about how very lucky you are that you found the diamond is and coo’s over your ideas for displaying it. He then, before your eyes, picks it up, takes it to a lathe and while his body hides much of the damage, nothing can stop you from hearing the grinding noise as he proceeds to destroy it.

What you’ll get back – after hours or days of people looking for internal flaws, much more cutting and grinding and somewhat diminished in size – is your diamond. But not your diamond. It looks very pretty, worth a lot more and catches the light – no scummy surface now – but it’s not as big or as encompassing or whole anymore. You have to wonder whether it is, in fact the same thing at all.

Players have to want to play in your game and if your idea won’t support the interference of somebody else, then file your idea away for a novel or movie or something. Bastards will destroy your idea if you let them. Players will change it and it’s pretty easy to spot either. If you can’t accept that, then get back over the other side of the screen and let me know when to buy tickets to your opus.

A GM must understand that when players are invited, the story is no longer yours. It’s theirs and yours. Ours. You won’t have a game if you ask for players to spend time looking at your idea but not to touch it.

There are prepartory steps that one can take to soften the grind. The first is: Can you run a game off this idea?

For me, if I can’t think of three games out of an idea in an hour, then it’s clearly not ready for players. Three games is what I give to other GM’s before I have to decide whether it’s worth continuing or not, and it’s something I hold myself to as well. If you’ve got great scenarios and plans for a game, awesome! But if you use it all in one adventure, then either kill off the players at the end or hope that the players are good enough to keep things running while you rack your brains for something else.

In my case, here’s the next part of the Notepad file for the Space Gun idea:

One of the adventures should start with an almighty explosion near the town of Ascension. Investigations reveal that it’s one of the rival company’s ‘bullets’. What secrets does it yield and can the players protect it long enough to find out.

Another adventure could be smuggling a man out of New York to further inland to protect him from foreign spies. The man has an aversion to hair, round things, insists on dining alone with 18 napkins and calculates the cubic volume of food he eats each forkful. Of course he also purtains to have the knowledge to launch something into space via electromagnets.

Reading about Tesla can easily take up an afternoon, by the way…

Or… what about other nations? Chinese invented gunpowder before the west got their hands on it. Have they tried this method of exploration before? If so, what happened? If not, why not? Tibetan monestary with a giant dragon’s head cannon and astro-monks pointed at the heavens…

Anything more than 3 adventures is a risk. You may have every adventure laid out in your head but you can’t expect the players to jump through your hoops. It’s like hovering over the shoulder of the jeweller and being ‘helpful’ over where he should cut. Sooner or later, you’ll end up in the lathe.

Back to the metaphor, or at least its purpose: The point of this endeavour is to see whether you can get mileage out of this idea without hitting a wall or becoming bored. Also, it’s about ensuring that there is plenty of things for your player to do as the story progresses. Also, also; it’s about handing over a priceless diamond to someone else and hoping that you get something as good, if not better, in return.

Once you’ve tested the idea for yourself, you have the choice of writing something up and expect people to play it, or testing the idea on other people to see if there’s interest. In this case the decision is an easy one because gentleman_dan has been a great sounding board and a font of ideas so I am, at least, assured of the idea’s coolness. Look through the previous Behind The Screen’s comments for what he’s suggested. Just about everything will be included in this game…

Next week: How many pages of notes or, selling your players on your idea…

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1 Comment

  1. Another adventure could be smuggling a man out of New York to further inland to protect him from foreign spies. The man has an aversion to hair, round things, insists on dining alone with 18 napkins and calcualtes the cubic volume of food he eats each forkful. Of course he also purtains to have the knowledge to launch something into space via electromagnets.

    THIS ONE PLZ. YOU WILL TEACH ME TO PLAY GOOD AND WE WILL START WITH THIS ONE.

    Also: TESLAAAAAA

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