Thursday, 16 February 2017

Zero to One

"The distance from zero to one hundred is nothing compared to the distance from zero to one." That's a mangled paraphrasing of the great science fiction writer Spider Robinson, who clearly knows a little something about starting up a new roleplaying game.

We've been in a roleplaying hiatus here in Merrie Olde London Towne since October, with occasional bursts of one shots and social gatherings since then. My friend Rob is about to start a TIMEWATCH game, using a hack of the Cortex Plus rules, and I'm super eager to start that game -- especially since Rob has set it in the Weird 70s a la In Search Of.

But I'm a GM at heart, and I'm never happier than when I've got a game of my own to put my creative energies into. So I've been thinking a lot about getting my own game running, and lately my tastes have been running towards running an old-school fantasy game via CASTLES & CRUSADES. I wrote a while back about wanting to go back to the roots of the hobby and see what I can do by bringing 21st century HTHD ideas and indie gaming technology to the party, and that idea still appeals to me. It's everything else that's been driving me crazy.

If you read the old article, you can see that originally my sights were set on GREYHAWK, the original D&D campaign setting, which I thought was ripe for remixing. The more I thought about it, however, the more I wondered if that was the right way to go. If most of my players didn't have an emotional, nostalgic connection that that setting, what was the point?

Maybe I should do something different, I thought. What about RAVENLOFT? I'm a huge fan of the original module, and it would be simple enough to slip into the Gothic fantasy mode after running SUNSET EMPIRE years ago. Something old, something new...!

But wasn't the main thing that contemporary gaming brought to the party the idea of collaboration in games? Maybe I would be better served with no setting at all, instead going full DUNGEON WORLD and building setting out of pointed questions to the characters. That way you get the maximum amount of player investment in the action, right?

Or I could run a game using one of the more avant-garde contemporary takes on the fantasy adventure module, I thought, and really try to get to the core of what's changed in fantasy gaming over the decades while seeing the new stuff that the Old School Renaissance brings to the party. I feverishly searched through modules, often put off by what seemed like misogynist attitudes therein, and thought maybe I was better served to take the idea of "weird fantasy" -- that is, a fantasy adventure that's all about really off-the-wall, imaginative, trippy stuff like Michael Moorcock writes -- and run with it, creating my own weird fantasy setting. I scribbled down a few notes.

Maybe you're seeing the theme here, but it took me a while to realize it.

I have been spinning my wheels about what game to run for literally months, paralyzed by an overwhelming number of ideas and possibilities, mired in self-doubt about what is the right way to proceed or run a game. When I realized that I was in this cycle, which doesn't always happen (sometimes I have a really strong concept that I'm totally committed to, right out of the gate), I remembered that I often talk about this stuff with young GMs that are just starting out. It all seems so obvious when you're saying it to someone else, but when you're the one grappling with it, it's harder to see.

There is no such thing as a perfect game, and no such thing as a perfect choice. What you are down to is making your choices for a game, and committing to them "a hundred and crazy percent", as my wonderful wife would say. Set aside your ideas about what the game could be, and start working on what the game will be.

Get yourself a shovel and start to dig. That is literally the only way this ends, and the same is true of any creative endeavour.

This kind of creative paralysis and the war of expectations with the reality of a game-as-it-is-played often lead to games dying early deaths, when the GM finds that they would rather retire a game than have it play out and be a disappointment. This is wheel-spinning too. Games often take a while to find their feet, and they seldom work out the way you expected them to in your mind's eye. That's the way it's supposed to be, and you need to make your peace with the idea that everything will go according to plan. It's much better to simply be invested in the journey, seeing where a game will take you. Hold your ideas and your expectations lightly.

Today I'm leaning toward setting the game in my old stomping grounds, the Forgotten Realms, because I have a lot of material for that setting and there is no shame in using it if it will make my job easier. Maybe I'll be less certain of that choice tomorrow. At some point, I will sit down with my players and we will knock some ideas around, and characters will be made, and the glacier of possibilities will shrink considerably.

No matter what choices we make, they will not be the wrong ones.

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