18 May 2011

Evoking a Mood: The Digression

Let me start with a question: How does one evoke a setting? 

Let me backtrack now. My personal style of gaming is that of freeform wackiness and fun, generally inspired by the fact that A) I'm a nut and B) When I started playing, I didn't have access to the rest of the game. I had one book (The "E" from BECMI) and myself and my brother, our collective imaginations, and a lot of spare time. Nobody had taught me to play, nobody said, "this is what adventures look like." So as a result, my adventures had a lot of stuff I'd cribbed from Magic: The Gathering and TV Shows and video games that I'd played as well as everything else I could think of. It was a game for me and my brother to play, and fun was the most important part. It's still like that, if you're wondering- I'm not above changing entire settings to make them more fun if people seem like they're not enjoying it, or adding something that I'd like to the mix, or whatever- it's kind of how I roll. It makes internal sense, but it's hard to explain.

If it makes a good metaphor, it's exactly like jamming. I take the ideas the players put out and put my spin on them, and they take where I'm going with it and they might go one way, or go another, and then I take that and off we go, totally improvising tomb raidings and castle invasions and interrogation scenes and plundering, all from our collective, free-flowing brainstorming. It's literally the only way I know how to play. 

And yet one reads about people who meticulously detail settings and worlds and empires and people just enough that there's a robust and interesting world with secrets and betrayals and hidden feints within feints and yet open enough that their players are still able to affect the world and have an impact on it. I'm thinking of the inestimable Mr. Raggi, as an example, or various pre-published settings that people swear by (Greyhawk and Blackmoor as two notable examples). 

It's bizarre, and I have no idea how they do it. The concept of a fully pre-formed world before your players sit down is so bizarre. It's one thing to have some ideas hastily written down to be future "hooks" and "leads" for your players or to write down a couple of names or have a vague idea about some part of the setting (I'm gonna have a pseudo-greek nation and a pseudo-arabic nation and a nation of half-giants, just as an example from the semi-attached setting of SKELETON PUNCHER, but that's about as far as it's probably going to get until I get somebody to play it...) I can only suppose that it's a result of recording what players do and hear and like in the setting that gets made into canon, the same way that 5 year long campaigns seem super detailed and extravagant, except that the complexity and cast of characters didn't spring out of nowhere, but were invented bit by bit over five years. 

It's a thought anyways. 

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