I wrote last week about coming to the end of my multi-year, multi-season campaign Sunset Empire. It's been a great ride, a game that's had lots of extremely good bits, characters we got to know and love very well, and stuffed to the seams with every piece of slightly dodgy Victoriana I could get my mitts on. I loved it to pieces.
Now I'm in the position of having to come up with a new game to run which will somehow fill the big London-sized hole in my creative world. I suspect this will be a tall order, and like with all big projects which have finally come to an end, I will wait for a while to dive into something new. It helps to give yourself some distance from a long, successful campaign before you try the next thing.
So, you ask, your eyes full of childlike wonder (or is it the dewy sheen of Too Much Whiskey?) ...where do campaigns come from?
One of my writing mentors described the process of coming up with the idea for a project as "composting". Maybe you scribble down a thought on a piece of paper. It seems promising, but it's not fully-formed yet. You throw it on the heap in the back yard of your creative process, and just leave it there for a while to break down a bit, get funky, and if you're lucky it will eventually become rich and fertile. Something that a story (or a campaign) could grow from.
Our amazing brains somehow have the capacity to work out ideas while we're not actively thinking about them. I will sometimes go to bed still not sure how to solve a particular problem in a piece, then wake up the next day (or the next) and realize, while I'm showering, that the answer is now quite clear. So it is with long term creative projects -- a lot of times you'll come up with a good "seed", but it will need some time on the compost heap before it adds up to anything. I have a hard drive (and many notebooks) full of scraps of ideas. Some of them will blossom, a lot of them won't add up to anything... or they'll change into something I wasn't expecting at all. None of that is wasted energy.
Being creative, whether you're an artist or a GM looking for a new game, is sometimes a process of nurturing your compost heap with the right ingredients. Watching movies, television, playing other games, reading books, listening to music, and even just being out in the world... it all goes on the heap.
I am very lucky that I have a wife who is incredibly supportive, even when I spend too much money on gaming books. It's true, over the course of my lifetime I may never get a chance to run all the games I own right now. But this probably won't stop me from acquiring and reading more game books. All of those books, which I read (or just nibble at) all the time, are ingredients for my creative compost heap. I had been collecting books of Victoriana for years before Sunset Empire. (Of course, as my friend Rob observed of his own Cold City game, it seemed as though the really useful stuff for my game happened to come out after I was well into the fourth year of playing. Oh well, the new edition of Cthulhu By Gaslight was really excellent and worth the wait.)
Gamers are in a unique position creatively because they enjoy a hobby which produces a great quantity and variety of material that is intended as a toolkit for creating games, in a dizzying number of flavours. And sometimes that's where I'll start as a GM approaching a new game -- wanting to try out a specific rule system, or explore a particular genre or setting. My players are encouraging me to consider actually running Primetime Adventures for the first time. And we have two new iterations of Fate to kick the tires on. And I've been talking about running Everway for a long time. Or Jon Tweet's other rules-lite classic, Over the Edge.
And there are those other games...
For now, it's all about sitting in the back yard, putting my feet up, sipping at a bottle of Waterloo Dark, and wondering what will eventually emerge from the compost heap.
That shiny new game, small and green and fragile, pushing its way toward the sun.