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Author Topic: How to fight uncreativity?  (Read 3903 times)
Overdrive
Member

Posts: 100


« on: December 14, 2006, 03:10:04 PM »

Hi all,

My name is Antti, and I'm from Finland. I believe it's almost two years since my last post here. This year's been hectic with my flat renovation project and a girlfriend living 2 hours drive away, so it has been pretty dry with respect to any gaming at all. Actually, today was my first gaming session in a year or so.

I'm not quite sure what I want to address with this. Mainly I think it's the certain un-creativity I find in myself and the friends I game with. Because free time is a luxury these days, I really don't want to spend it this way. Don't get me wrong, I truly love role playing games. I just don't want to waste my time with them, I want to have a good time with the least investment. I'm sure there are plenty of guys like me.

I've run and played games since the early nineties, and so have many of my buddies. As a game master, GURPS was my system of choice for a long time, and Harn after that. The best sessions I recall were those in which I didn't have an adventure planned, but more of a starting point and some places and characters after that. I used dice to decide outcomes of random-ish events, like whether the cord is long enough for the to-the-sofa-duct-taped Russian colonel to answer the phone. I used the game system to decide what happens to the said colonel when he was fleeing and the player characters tried to stop him. I created a situation, and let the players play it through. Whatever the result, cool. Exploring the game world was best this way.

I don't really want to discuss my experiences as a player. Game mastering gives me more control of the initial setup, like choosing the game and genre what I want to play.

When I found out about these cool indie games, I was like hey, this is exactly what I've been doing, but now it's got mechanics for embracing that! The first game was The Riddle of Steel, to which I owe the registration on this forum. At the time I was eager to try out numerous games like The Pool, InSpectres, Dust Devils, My Life with Master, etc. After some really great experiences I cannot go back. I must must must have player involvement, so I can live without the tedious preparations. I don't want to have a predetermined plot! I don't want to know beforehand what happens!

The "old school" style, where the GM plots everything before the gaming session, didn't really suit me from the beginning. I was struggling even with commercial adventure modules. But on the other hand I was devastated when I couldn't think of enough coolness before the game, and had to worry about running out of stuff. The delta of for instance InSpectres to that is enormous. But how many games of InSpectres can you play before it becomes boring?

So to a bit more serious games. Note that people tend to think more serious when playing these games. "Write four relationships into the protagonist sheet." Suddenly, it becomes a matter of life and death. Once you put a load of authority at the players' hands, you put the same "GM pressure" on them as you have when preparing games. Only that the poor player doesn't have two evenings to think about the thing.

That's the dilemma. I don't want to invest heavily in game setup, but it seems that in games with too much shared authority, the group (me/GM included) cannot come up with decent input on a moment's notice.

Today we played Covenant. I read it through twice and decided it's not too complicated. Gather around three buddies and off we go. The cell generation took ages. I'm like, how is this possible? There's plenty of examples for conventions and motifs, but somehow all the kibitzing just takes over, as we ponder each suggestion in detail. After that there's protagonist generation. How much time can writing a dozen phrases to the sheet take? Again, the guys don't want to go with anything without thinking it through.

Once we got to actual play, I was in trouble. The situation seemed almost tangible. The protagonists are good. How to frame a scene? Just take an NPC from the crucible of a protagonist, and have him/her contradict some other part of the crucible. Suddenly, there's a huge pressure to create a scene with emotional connection, a conflict, and the urgency. We had little time to play, maybe 1-2 scenes per player before calling it a day, so better make each scene count. Once you remove the slack...

I believe we got the best opening scene possible. One motif was "nuclear weapons", so we decided the navy captain PC had hijacked four warheads from his sub during the preparations for Apocalypse. The sub was now in the bottom of the ocean near London. The captain had a navy buddy in his self region, loyal to him. So we frame the opening scene as the buddy being in interrogation, knowing who took the warheads, but not talking yet. During a break, the captain sneaks to his cell and tries to convince him of shutting up and facing the lifetime in prison for treason. The stakes were enormously high. Either the captain convinces him, or gets arrested himself, which is not good for the cause. I can imagine the conflict escalating to violence, but it was not necessary.

That sorts of scenes overshadow what we're normally capable of. Do people usually get the kind of dialog like in the game examples? "Ok, I bow out. In the next scene, we're at Helen's apartment and she's tied into the chair..." For what I've seen, people, myself included, try to avoid the authority granted in these games. At least I try to think of the ultimately cool scene and discard any less exciting possibilities, which to me seems just like avoiding responsibility. It's different in traditional GM-driven games, where the authority is pre-established. Should for example Covenant be played so that anyone just states something interesting and the group runs on that? Any disagreeing comments should be presented immediately, with possible new elements?

I am totally willing to elaborate on any subject. I want to either get guidelines on light preparations before the game, tips on running games (framing scenes, etc.), or suggestions of good games that suit my/our gaming style.

Antti
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Rampage
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Posts: 26

Serial Inquirer


« Reply #1 on: December 14, 2006, 05:04:30 PM »

It occurs to me that perhaps you could invest some time in creating a random system for creating adventures. Throwing a couple of dices gives you a base love/hate random relationship map, another couple more you can throw around a few "wants object" and "has object", and maybe "creates object/s" and "consumes object/s" attributes to some characters. Then decide what you want those objects to be (read the news for a keyword of something), assign them at random and build a scenario from all that.

I imagine objects could even be abstract, such as revenge. So you could end up with a love-love relationship, but where somehow "wants revenge" is a component too.. ooh.. someone going to lose it :)

I suppose that as a complete system it might just get the Garbage In Garbage Out effect, but it could be useful to just get that creativity seed going, and let you escape analysis paralysis.

Just some wild idea.
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Callan S.
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« Reply #2 on: December 14, 2006, 06:48:44 PM »

Heya, welcome back!
Quote
That's the dilemma. I don't want to invest heavily in game setup, but it seems that in games with too much shared authority, the group (me/GM included) cannot come up with decent input on a moment's notice.
*snip*
Once we got to actual play, I was in trouble. The situation seemed almost tangible. The protagonists are good. How to frame a scene? Just take an NPC from the crucible of a protagonist, and have him/her contradict some other part of the crucible. Suddenly, there's a huge pressure to create a scene with emotional connection, a conflict, and the urgency. We had little time to play, maybe 1-2 scenes per player before calling it a day, so better make each scene count.
Why do you have to come up with 'decent' input or make each scene count?

I understand you have little time these days, but why do your activities have to be any more intense because of that? Is this really about having little time these days?

I'll be blunt (tell me to be quiet if it's too blunt) - I'm seeing a focus on 'coming up with decent input' which to me is a mistake to aim for - it's both draining and unforfilling. As I understand what you mean by decent input, it's like a movie which has massive special effects, but no story (or even a boxing match which is super hyped but the opponent goes down on the first punch).

Do you have any actual play examples of where decent input left a long term impression on you?
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Alan
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« Reply #3 on: December 14, 2006, 09:02:24 PM »

Antti,

Where is the pressure to be great coming from? Are you, as group leader, saying "we have to make this a great idea before we play?" or is it the group?

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- Alan

A Writer's Blog: http://www.alanbarclay.com
Ron Edwards
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« Reply #4 on: December 15, 2006, 12:47:17 AM »

Hi Antti,

The people who've replied have asked a lot of questions. I'm posting instead to say, it might not be a big deal, and to offer some possible explanations for what you are encountering.

1. In 1994 or so, I and a few friends had not role-played for two or three years, and decided to start playing together. It was terrible. We spent ages doing the simplest things, just like you describe. For some reason, everyone had 100 opinions but no one was good at getting anything started in actual play. Looking back, I think that all of us were so concerned with how games had not been fun in the past, that we were too hesitant and too uncertain. We did everything to avoid trouble rather than to have fun.

2. I think you are right about the problems with authority. The real trouble, in my view, is that simply saying "the GM does it" is actually not a very good solution; it puts the pressure for enjoyment onto a single person for too long, for instance. We can talk about this a little bit more later.

3. I've observed the pressure you've described many times. I think it's based more on fear than reality. If the people are accustomed to playing with one person have total scene-authority - and also the responsibility for it to be "good" - then they get the idea that any input of that kind also has to be masterful, authoritative, prepared, and generally idealized as "good GMing." They can't see it, yet, as just throwing the ball up into the air and not knowing where or how it will land. So there you are, sitting at the table, and bam! You have to do it (make the scene, take "story responsibility," be good, be perfect, "do it right," et cetera) and it seems like everyone is looking at you.

However, the reality is much easier. In many ways, it is like learning how not to use certain muscles when doing something athletic - rather than having dozens of responsibilities at the moment, you really only have one or two, leaving the rest up to others' input and to the interactions during the scene itself. Instead of concerning yourself with the perfect setup, you begin with the minimum necessary and then only concern yourself with playing within the scene.

My main point is, have patience. All of what you're experiencing is like shaking the dust and dead bugs out of the bedsheets. It's kind of gross and icky at the moment, but it has to be done, and the end result is much more pleasant.

Best, Ron
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TonyLB
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« Reply #5 on: December 15, 2006, 06:30:29 AM »

Yeah.  I did an improv workshop with Jason Morningstar, and one of the things he said that stuck with me is this (filtered and elaborated by my mind):  "You don't have to worry that you'll do the wrong thing.  Whatever you do, that's the right thing, because you did it, and doing something is the most fundamentally right thing about improv."

Having all of these massive tools to make everything work out spectacularly is, really, the reason why you don't have to work your ass off.

On a side note (and I apologize if, in my sleep-deprived state, I've somehow missed that you already answered this) how long was the Covenant game supposed to last?  How many sessions were riding (in your perception) on getting the first session just right?
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Alan
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« Reply #6 on: December 15, 2006, 07:20:01 AM »

Or the other side of the coin is: assessment stops creativity dead in it's tracks. I think the human brain has two completely different places for those functions and can't do both at once. I've found this in my own writing: the more I work to get a perfect idea, the fewer ideas I have. One of the big lessons I had to learn for my own working was letting go of judgement and letting the ideas bounce off each other first and developing a list of possiblities before sitting back and saying "is this good?"

I think the enjoyment of roleplaying is as much about the process of group creation as about creating a "good idea" that you can relate _after_ the game. I'd suggest looking for improv advice and finding, say, three points to present to your group.
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- Alan

A Writer's Blog: http://www.alanbarclay.com
TroyLovesRPG
Member

Posts: 150


« Reply #7 on: December 15, 2006, 05:06:01 PM »

Hello Antti,

I'm sympathetic to your situation. I've experienced many of the same things and wonder why the game just isn't what I want it to be. I've concluded that it's me. At the time I did a lot of gaming my expectations and the things I liked were different. I was a different person. Gaming doesn't hold the same interest that it did ten years ago. I remember the great times I had and I want to recapture that. I suppose I would have to bring my old friends together, play the same game, eat the same snacks, listen to the same music and tell the same dumb jokes. I miss gaming. More so, I miss really good, exciting, thrilling gaming. What the hell happened to me?

Brainstorming can be planned in one way: begin. That's all you can do. Start spitting out ideas and don't stop until you choose to stop. Alan said "assessment stops creativity dead in it's tracks" and I agree. Creativity comes from a place without judgment or preconceived notions. I'm so guilty of coming up with an idea and immediately analyzing it to determine if its good. Stupid! Stupid! Stupid! That I could be creative and articulate my ideas is a great thing. Don't limit yourself by stopping your ideas before they happen.

Expectations tend to lead to disappointment, no matter who expects what of whom. Having high expectations of yourself as a GM is tremendous pressure and I'm certain you put more on yourself than the players. When things don't go as planned and you want more of the players, then you have placed expectations on them and guess what? Disappointment.

Ron's statement "We did everything to avoid trouble rather than to have fun." hits home in many ways. Playing it safe instead of tackling all the juicy problems, situations and conflicts along the way just does that. It eliminates all the juicy problems, situations and conflicts in your game. Remember: its just a game. Nobody really dies.

Troy
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Overdrive
Member

Posts: 100


« Reply #8 on: December 19, 2006, 01:18:31 PM »

Hey, thanks all for the replies, encouraging or not. You guys do rock, know that?

You point out something I haven't been able to put into words, or haven't had the tools to measure. Funny. I have the evidence in front of me, and don't see it until someone opens my eyes.

Maybe I start out with some scenes that sold me on to these games, as opposed to "working my ass off" with pre-determined scenarios.

One of the first experiments after years of un-happiness as a Gurps GM was a game of The Pool. I had this cool idea about a medieval castle and a master thief (after playing Thief, the computer game). Two players, one plays the thief and the other plays a nobleman invited to the castle by the lord; both long-term friends of mine. The thief's player creates cryptic writings at one of the towers, so the thief steals them and escapes by taking the lord as a hostage.

Another example was the first InSpectres game. I believe the inspectors got harassed by the police, at night, at a park, because of digging up "something" without proper permits. I think zombies were the reason why one of the policemen shot at one of the inspectors.

Then, in the first MLWM game, the Master sent one minion to get a human leg. They had just buried an unfortunate victim of a previous mission, so the minion goes and digs the corpse up and hacks one leg off. The Master immediately rules that he needed the whole leg, not just the lower part of it, and off the minion goes again. In the same game, a minion got arrested, and was thrown in a tool shed, guarded by the town priest.

Could I have created the arrest, and the guarding priest? I just took one of the very few named people from the list, the priest being the cruelest choice. And the police harassment, well of course the police will ask questions if you're digging up something in the park at any hour. In the first example, the player was very proactive and I just watched in amazement. I think there was much more improvisation back then. Anything was cool. Anything was better than what at least I was used to.

It became evident that by using these techniques, any game could be boosted. The first couple of sessions kind of proved it. I think that's when my expectations grew. I was thinking, is this cool enough? Trying to come up with cool stuff before the game, because I really felt certain coolness was necessary. There I was again.

Now it's pretty easy to say that I was again looking for techniques that would reduce the prep work... Then I sort of blamed the game systems for not being "easy" enough. I'd rather not go into that direction here, since I can try to undo and go back a bit.

I also think it's maybe not necessary to answer any of the specific questions. I can't disagree with anything said here. Let's just say that I'll try and look into your advice here. Ron, I'd also love to discuss your point 2) and get into the theory a bit, but at the same time I am having some trouble following the deep stuff, not in my native language and so on.

Cheers,
Antti
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