Monday, 30 September 2013

Yoga and the Art of GMing

What does yoga have to do with GMing? Get ready for your Tortured Metaphor of the Day.

GMing is all about being flexible.

Anecdote: I just finished a campaign creation session for a new game I'll be running through the Western University Roleplaying club this semester, Carnaby Street.

I had always wanted to run a game that was inspired by the Beatles, in some way. When I was trying to come up with ideas for games we could play, to give one of the new incarnations of Fate a test-spin, I came back to that concept that's been on my "compost heap" for a while and tossed it around. The Swinging Sixties are a big, colourful era with lots of gaming potential, although I'd want to steer well clear of the Austin Powers take on the era (which I feel stopped being funny over a decade ago). Also, no camp please. I like the Adam West Batman, but in small doses.

I was probably affected on some level by the recent CENTURY storyline in Alan Moore's League of Extraordinary Gentlemen on some level, and I won't go into the details of why, but what I ended up zeroing in on was Harry Potter. The underlying concept of the Potter books is to take the setting of many classic British children's books -- the British public school system -- and add magic. What would happen, I wondered, if you took that premise and applied it to the world of The Beatles and The Rolling Stones?

Carnaby Street. I was picturing something big and bright and stylish, something that borrowed heavily from Grant Morrison's brilliant comic The Invisibles (specifically, the look of the "Gideon Stargrave" and "Mister Six" digressions) and told a tale of magical youth kicking down the doors of perception. I started watching re-runs of the Diana Rigg incarnation of The Avengers as inspiration. (I'm not sure I actually got much for my game out of them, but I can't complain of an excuse to watch Diana Rigg look fabulous and kick people in the face. Also, the daffy implausibility of the plots is gold.)

I brought all that to the table. But my players took it in an entirely different direction.

Their Carnaby Street is a world of repressive government crackdowns, camps where young magicians are stripped of their power and reprogrammed into good citizens, and stylish young drug-experimenting magi on the run. Special Branch cracks heads and sorts out the "wrong sort" from tinkering in the domain of tweedy Eton types who run the country (the world?) from the oak-paneled back rooms of centuries-old clubs. But that's not stopping the young and stylish from taking a witch's brew of dangerous new drugs that help them stoke their magic and see into brave new worlds.

I'm not complaining. This is pretty cool stuff. And that's the tradeoff you make when you agree to collective campaign creation. You loosen your grip on the game world, let others play with it a bit, and see where that takes you.

Old school GMs probably get their knickers in a knot over this idea. And yes, it can be a nerve-wracking process surrendering a good deal of the design to your fellow players.

But the yoga masters? The flexible guys who go with the flow, they get paid dividends of buy-in by their players.

It's good to be flexible.

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