Friday, March 15, 2013

My Process

Enough with the appeals for Sara Bakay's fundraising campaign. For today. Seriously, I'm beginning to feel a bit like Jerry Lewis. I'll resume shilling for Sara tomorrow. (You CAN, however, click on the picture of her to the immediate RIGHT and go to her IndieGoGo page.)

Today, I think I'll talk to you about my creative process. Because this is ostensibly a blog about game design and game writing. Not pretty girls. I think there are other websites out there where you can see pretty girls. I'm not sure. Try Googling it. (Then again, she sure is pretty, and talented, and funny). 

When I talk about my creative process, I'm not thinking about how I go about writing material for an existing game. That's something different. That's just a matter of following an outline and writing what the editor wants. If you've played RPGs, read an RPG, know the rules of English, and can follow instructions, you can be a freelance writer in the hobby games business. Ask my friend Paul Caughell (Hi, Paul!). All it took for him was to get noticed. Specifically, by me. 

I'm talking about my creative process when I'm starting with whole cloth. A blank page. Tabula Rasa. 

Generally, one of the things that you fans believe is true: All of us in the business sit around and dream up games together. It can be as simple as a conversation over drinks during GenCon that turns into an idea. Or an online chat where what starts out as a joke, or an off-hand comment, sparks a concept. There have been times where other pros have asked me to look at their work, and give my opinion. And they've actually taken my advice. Or I'll share an idea with someone, and they'll say something like "needs more cowbell" and I'll put in more cowbell. It's a creative industry, and many of us share our nascent ideas with each other -- to get an outside, professional opinion. 

So let's say I have one of these conversations, and it triggers an RPG idea. What's the next step?

First, I try to define the idea. What am I thinking? This isn't as easy as it sounds. I'll try to write down every idea this concept triggers, and come up with a collection of thoughts. This is the "wool-gathering" part of the process. Every idea goes into the pot. Often, I'll make reference to existing properties or ideas, because that provides an easy shorthand. I'm going to have to provide an example, much as I hate to....

Lately, single-race RPGs seem all the rage. It started with John Wick's Orks RPG. Now, you can do this one of two ways: a) either there is only one race in the world, or b) the world is presented through the lens of a single race. It's a little-known secret that I love elves. When they appear in Jim Butcher's Dresden Files series, I perk up. I love the way he portrays the Courts of Summer and Winter. Tolkien's elves? Love what he did with them, at least conceptually. And I also agree with Michael Moorcock, who thinks Tolkien's elves are banal crap. I want to do elves my way. 

So, it's off to the notebook to jot down some notes: Elves are the most important race in the world; they're dominant. They are at the height of their power and influence. They can't be the only race in the world (and have you ever wondered why 99% of fantasy settings include all different kinds of races? We -- humans -- are the only race in the real world, and yet almost every fantasy setting includes dwarves, or elves, or orcs... It's odd.). The classic approach is a conflict with elves and humans (or Melniboneans vs. humans, or Vadhagh vs. humans) -- basically an elder race contending with a younger race. I'm going to go with that. 

I could go with the other classic animosity -- elves vs. dwarves. Two elder races fighting with each other. Maybe for dominance over the world? I don't know how I feel about this yet, so I'll stick a pin in it and come back to it later. 

I love the way the elves are portrayed in Hellboy 2. I'm aiming at that kind of vibe. A proud, warrior race. Being pushed out by a younger, more numerous race. Their lands being encroached upon. For some reason, I think of the Klingons in Star Trek: The Undiscovered Country; "We're a proud race, and we intend to go on, being proud." Wait. Elves as Klingons. Whoa! 

When do I set it? Like I said, I like Jim Butcher's work (and Simon R. Green's stuff, too). I'm a huge fan of the modern urban fantasy genre. So, my impulse is to set the game in contemporary times. Go with the Hellboy, Dresden Files, Nightside vibe. But, that brings in guns, and the concept of glamour -- it makes it more of a covert, hidden war. And I don't want that. So it looks like I'm going with a traditional fantasy setting. 

One of the ideas that's central to elf mythology is the concept of the Seelie and Unseelie courts, two diametrically opposed philosophies. Good and Evil. Day and Night. Summer and Winter. The Seelie are generally good, happy, light, growth, while they Unseelie are evil, cruel, darkness, death. I want that dichotomy in the game. Two courts, with different approaches to the question of the "human problem." Both of them not so nice, actually. This will give the setting another conflict in which players can engage....

So, fantasy setting. Elves are the dominant race. Humans are young, new, and encroaching on elven lands. Elves as Klingons. Two courts -- political infighting. 

Next up, I move on to the questions of what you play, and what you can do in the game. 

Oh, and if I see one of you steal this idea, I'm totally suing you. Just saying. 

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