Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Imagination and Inspiration

Before taking a break, a lot of what I was seeing was like eating cardboard and water. Characters and plot were becoming “blah”. My imagination was gone and nothing really that I seen impressed or intrigued me.

I’ve been thinking about it all and during the past week, I’ve been thinking of what made the early games so special to me. A part of it was my imagination. I was reading a large amount of graphic novels, regular comics, and paperback books with intriguing characters: the Dark Knight, Daredevil (Born Again), Iron Man (Armor Wars), Wolverine, the amazing and cynical Green Arrow, X-Men, Avengers, Thor, Transformers, Conan, Mack Bolan (The Executioner), etc.
All those characters and stories inspired me to make my own (and sometimes similar) characters or to tell a similar story or give a foundation of “something like this would be great in my game or to happen to my or someone else’s character”. Sometimes, it was modified. At times, it was a more direct carryover such as my ranger who was hunted and also hunting “the Hand” from Wolverine.

Additionally, my friends and I all understood, “the Hand” was evil and bad news. All that it took was a throwing star to be tossed across the room and lodged into the timber next to your character that was roughing up some guy. It was at that moment, unconditionally, we started grabbing the dice as we would have a knockdown dirty fight ahead of us.

It wasn’t just the characters and the plots. It was what they did. Reading the fight scenes in the comics, or their actions in the in the books, triggered us to have an imagination of about the same.

All of this built great things. I had a cleric of Thor who had the personality of Captain America, a returning hammer like Thor that would knock opponents down or shoot a lightning bolt, who always was in turmoil over being a combatant or a healer in battle. Often it was asked “What would Cap do?” and my friends at the time, they were doing something the same (some characters based off the character Hawk or Tiger Man from Buck Rogers) so we all knew what to expect from each other as well.

It was also about setting. I remember certain fall nights where there is a silence and crispness to the air – a magical feeling absorbing everything as if it was a long time ago. There were certain parts of books which capture my imagination. Part of Daredevil: Born Again has Cap in front of a fire “This one’s been shot. Medic! Over here, man! Put out those fires out. We don’t want a gas main going up” [A soldier with a voice that could command a GOD --] flash to a silhouette of a top of building with Thor with his hammer raised, only showing a little gold on the boot and the red cloak [ - - and DOES. Suddenly it’s RAINING so hard it HURTS. Everybody who can falls SILENT.]

Another part was, we didn't just do damage. We had things happen because there was something more. This is best shown in the Rise of the Runelords. I think this is all summed up with allowing the players add to their own characters descriptions. John had stated "Maug is going to grab a chicken leg of the table hit the kobold with it over the head and then stab him in the throat with it." It was simple, easy, imaginative, and interesting.

So what to do? I have to get my imagination and some inspiration back. To do that:
- I’ve started reading more. I have just received “Percy Jackson and the Olympians”.
- I’m picking up some old Conan paperbacks
- I’m looking to put up some new “old” posters here in the Dungeon. Surround myself with the things that may rekindle old memories while DMing.
- I will start working on a list of “things to remember when I play and DM” regarding characters, actions, and settings - to be more creative with what is happening and intriguing.
- Add back in the actions of the Kobolds in Rise of the Runelords.

What are some of the things that spark your imagination that I could read or that maybe you yourself should start looking at? Any works that I should look at?


  1. Hey George,

    I have this long MSword document with all sorts of gaming advice I've collected over the ages. The following item from that document may help. (Unattributed, because I didn't get who said it. I like it, whoever said it was wise)

    (Begin Quote)
    "Before a game I tell players:
    We are building a story together. You can make assumptions about the situations and encounters your characters are in and my job is to go along with whatever you're assuming unless it directly contradicts something that was already established."
    I tried it 3 times so far and it had a major effect on my sessions. Players stop asking the DM for trivial information. If they're in an inn, they assume there are sharp knives nearby if they need them. If they're in a mansion, they assume there are expensive art pieces and tapestries if that's needed for their next smart surprise move to work. Whenever they need something from their environment, players are now free to add to the world, build the story, and move the plot forward without having to double-check minor details with the DM." (End Quote)

    It's a great idea, because it stops the whole
    PC:"Is there gravel nearby? How much gravel? Can I pick up some? "
    that can happen in D&D. Something about the nature of D&D gets us bogged down in yes and no or white and black.

    Having the players write more into the environment via cooperative group play can be wonderfull. Have them just tell help tell the story.

    So, look to your players to help spark your imagination. Tell them the Phrase in quotes before the next few sessions you play.

    Look to your players.

  2. In the event your players cannot help you be creative... find new players. (It's not your job to entertain them. Its your job to entertain each other.)

    Listen to some great music, especially some instrumental soundtracks.

    Read books that have nothing to do with fantasy. (Kerouac's The Dharma Bums) or watch a movie outside of the normal fantasy genre (WALL-E) and see if there is anything you can steal from just a art of story telling perspective. As GMs, we tend to skip other genres we can learn from.

  3. George, I've been reading a lot of comics lately so I'll share some of my favorites.

    X-Factor turned into a detective agency some time ago, and it's been a lot of fun since then. They don't wear costumes, they just deal with problems clients bring them.

    Cable follows the exploits of Cable and the mutant "messiah" Hope. Hope is the first mutant born since "M-day" where the x-gene disappeared in all but 198 mutants. They fled to the future because Bishop thinks she eventually causes the downfall of mutants and wants to kill her.

    Booster Gold: The greatest hero never known. This follows booster's adventures trying to fix the timestream. Great fun.

    Marvel's galactic adventures have been my favorite read lately. Starting with Annihilation, this consists of Nova and Guardians of Galaxy with periodic arcs thrown in (like the war of kings mini series). I think it's consistent because the stories are separate from the main line, thus the writers are free to create their own arcs. I've got some of the trades if your interested in checking it out.

    Awesome quote Cyrus! I completely agree with the white and black comment. I've heard several times in the past that the rules wouldn't allow someone to do some action. My opinion is "then change the rules". I've seen far too many times where someone is caught up in the rules and not having fun because of it. The rules are a guideline, not a fun restrictor!

    And of course, George is the biggest proponent of this I know :)

  4. Cory, Thanks for the updates; Booster Gold is always interesting especially with the time travel. Do you use some traits of those characters with those that you build?

  5. My mutants and masterminds character Dragoon was modeled after Booster. Otherwise I haven't used these comics for inspiration yet. But then again, I haven't created a character in a while.

    Highlife, my Star Wars pilot, is the last one I created, but that was over a year ago. He's not really modeled after anyone, more modeled around a goal. Wouldn't be a bad idea to have a model to think back to though. Sometimes I find myself wondering what he should do next.

  6. One more thought-

    See if you can get your hands on any of this historical-fiction Dramas, like "Rome" or "The Tutors".

  7. Yes - look at some of the famous pilots or characters: Sky Lynx, etc.

    However, there's nothing saying that a character couldn't be built off Huffer or Prowl from the Transformers much like Balkup and Kup.

    Cyrus - much to your point, the movie Arthur has some of that in it. I need to check those movies out. I stayed away from movies in my blog as - movies sometimes seem to lose their luster for some reason (e.g., visual effects) where a book or comic requires more imagination.

  8. What about Murdock of the A-Team? :P

    I have the Tudors on DVD if you want to watch it. Very interesting stuff for political stories. Also on that level, the two Elizabeth movies are fantastic.