Thursday, June 16, 2011

What I'm Burning

One of the reasons I really love the act of creation in these story games I play is that none of them require me to to one of things I really suck at: coming up with a plot. A plot certainly comes about and I have my hand in creating it - both as a player and the game master - but virtually none of it is predetermined. It moves forward a small increment at a time, spinning off the situations created in play, without really worrying about what's going to happen next. (This often isn't as random as it sounds, as there's usually some goal the group is driving towards, but we're totally making it up as we go.)

The reason why this is so freeing for me is that, if I'm running a game, all I have to do is come up with a cool situation that provides enough grist for the storytelling mill. Players fill in smaller details during character creation to put in things that they care about, and then the game is about exploring the world while alternately tying up and creating lose ends. For instance, in the Burning Wheel game I'm now running with some good friends of mine, I pitched them this:
Crime is dead. The people of the Wardship of Towminster know very little of violence, despite living in a relatively large and lively city. There are, of course, the occasional squabbles over bushels of wheat and hands of daughters, but the sight of blood on the street is a rarity, so much so that the last such happening is almost beyond any local reckoning. And what was there to fight about anyway? Strong, stark mountains nestle the city as a mother would a baby, and the valley supplies all they need; useful flora and fauna are found in such variety and in such abundance that the people are left to want for almost nothing. War is also absent. No other Wardships - if they even exist! - call Towminster their enemy. How easy it must be to be Ward here! People do die, of course, but there is no sorrow. Lives are long and full. And the dead are always Claimed almost immediately after passing so that no one need look upon the dead and violate their sanctity. 

However, as is often the case, things were not always this way. Centuries - perhaps even millennia! - ago, crime was commonplace. Political corruption even more so. The two sicknesses fed each other until... until... well, until something Changed. What, when, how... if any of these things were ever known, they certainly aren't now. If any record was ever kept, it has been long lost - or long hidden. Tales of such are still told, but they are now little more than popular campfire stories, used to frighten children and occupy drunkards. The Ward may well know more - and probably does - but no one can say. The Ward least of all, as each in turn becomes Mute when the Command is taken up.

For all the tales and gossip about the Change, the only thing that the people know for certain is that there has been everlasting peace ever since. Those who transgress become Taken; those who wander become Lost; those that do neither become neither; and to be Claimed at the end of a long life is to be welcomed back home. This is the way of things.
But today there is a body in the streets. Today there is a transgressor not Taken. Today there is fear about Tomorrow. And our dear players are among the very few under suspicion.
This provided fertile enough ground for a game. The players had a hand in it during character creation, making suggestions like that the dead guy should be related to one of them or that maybe it was the Church that was responsible. It's all been delicious fun and, whether or not any of you are jazzed by that pitch, I had a tremendous amount of fun coming up with it. There's a Trouble in Towminster thread on the Burning Wheel forums if anyone is interesting in seeing where the story goes.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Pure Creation

I neglect this blog too much these days. I really shouldn't. I'm no longer unemployed, but that's not really much of an excuse. I think the real reason is that I've artificially constrained the purpose of this blog in my mind. I started using it as a tertiary job search tool, as a watered-down version of a portfolio, and the president to continue that got immense. I started judging too harshly. I started pre-vetoing ideas that weren't "good enough," worried about tarnishing my "brand." (Really? How self-important am I?)

But fuck that noise. This is pure, unbridled creation. I can do with it as I choose - so long as it's about something. (This is a blog, not live journal.)

So right now I'm not going to talk about transit or UX, I'm gonna talk about something I've become more and more passionate about over the last year or so: games. Specifically, indie tabletop RPG's, such as Burning Wheel, FreeMarket, and Apocalypse World. Why? These games are not about measuring dicks with dice. They aren't about "winning" or about "being the best." They're about telling a story together - and making it up as you go. They're colloquially called "story games" - and I love them. If you do any kind of creative work, you'll love them, too. In fact I'm going to go even farther: anyone who does creative work should be playing indie RPG's like this. If you're not, you're doing the creative part of your brain a disservice.

I'll post examples about each of the particular games I mentioned over the next few days and hopefully you'll see why they light my creative spark and why I feel like they'll help make me a better designer.