|becky has a neg 4 to stealth checks (clank) wrote,|
@ 2018-11-19 19:40:00
|Entry tags:||rp writing|
Where Do You Get Your Ideas?
Coming Up With Plot For Games
I took a novel writing class earlier this year, which was a nerve wracking experience where I turned in 50 pages of mostly garbage to a published author I really admire. She told me while there’s some aspects of my writing that need work, I have a super power for generating ideas. I think a lot of writers get asked about where they get their ideas and when it comes to gaming I have a special talent for driving mods crazy by coming up for plot ideas with game they never asked for. (Haha. Oops.)
So, if you’re struggling, here is how my brain works and how I generate ideas.
I do not have an ounce of natural writing talent. My ability to string together a sentence comes from a lot of failure. When I was a kid, my teachers would very gravely show my parents assignments I’d written which were literally incomprehensible.*
What I actually like is math. I love learning new logic problems. The problem with math is that learning new math is boring. You learn how to solve a problem, then repeat solving that problem 30 to 40 times. It doesn’t matter if the numbers are different. You’re still doing the same damn thing over and over again. I used to drive my high school teachers crazy by never doing the homework and acing the tests (perfect score + extra bonus questions) so I’d end up with a C. A C was good enough for me. It’s not like math teachers really cared that they were wasting my time when I could have been learning something new.
So back to writing. What does that even have anything to do with writing? The cool thing about the sentence is you can write the same sentence a million different ways. You can write the same story a zillion different ways. Writing isn’t one of those things where there’s one way to do something and once you learn how you’re done. Writing is one of those things that you’re always learning how to create something.
Okay, so what does math and my long, long struggle with writing (still ongoing) have to do with generating ideas? Well...
*Okay, for the record, in the second grade I tried to write a short story entirely in onomatopoeia. Fuck Mrs. P for not understanding my eight year old brilliance. She was a racist piece of shit that was a little too super into Operation Desert Storm anyway. *Cough*
So Neil Gaiman was once asked the dreaded “where do you get your ideas from?” question and his answer (I’m paraphrasing) was he came up with many of his ideas when he was very bored, like at airports, where he sat around waiting for something to do and his mind started to wander. “So what if [insert a charming idea about a chair being a werewolf, aka a werechair, that I will never be able to replicate]...”
I don’t think it’s the being bored part that really generates ideas. The important part is to ask “what if?” A “what if” scenario is, at its heart, a logic problem.
Take comics, for example, my favorite comic book stories tend to be alternate universe “what if” stories. Let's look at...
[Wolverine lost a hand. Because of reasons.]
CASE STUDY: AGE OF APOCALYPSE
The basic premise of AOA is What if Charles Xavier died and Magneto led the X-Men instead? Let's look at this like a logic problem.
If Magneto is leading the X-Men, then the roster is going to change. Magneto knows different mutants than Xavier did and not everyone is going to follow his lead, even if he's trying to honor the memory of his friend. Okay, so Sabertooth is on the team. Also, since Xavier died, then events happened differently and that one off character Blink never died. Let's put her on the team because the team needs a Wolverine/Jubilee (for cartoon watchers)/Kitty Pryde (for comic readers) team up. You have to have a grizzly old man paired with plucky young girl on the team! Duh.
Okay, and if Magneto is the leader he’s going to spend more time on the same side as characters he doesn’t have a history with so obviously he falls in love with Rogue when he discovers his powers allow her to touch him because of reasons which naturally leads to them having a baby named Charles. Naturally.
Okay, okay. Sometimes "what if" stories get a little weird, but you kind of see how the logic problem is in place, right? We changed the variable (Charles Xavier) with another variable (Magneto), so what other numbers in the equation are going to change as a result? Only this isn't a math problem, it's a story, so there's a million ways we could do this.
What? You didn't follow my brilliant train of thought? I'm shocked.
Okay, okay. So most of the plots I come up with are completely selfish. But if you're a mod or a player looking for something to do, being selfish isn't a bad thing! (1) You need to have fun with and be invested in your own plot. If you aren't writing something you're interested in doing with one of your characters, or seeing something happen to your favorite characters, are you really going to be invested in the plot? (2) It's okay to be selfish because after you figure out the hook that interests you, then you take a step back to see how other players can partake and enjoy it.
CASE STUDY: POWER SWAPPING IS CLICHÉ AND I DON'T CARE
I had a really cool line developing in a game with another character. One character was a magic user, and the other a technical genius. My selfish "what if" thought was what if they got to power swap so they could appreciate what the other one is capable of a little better? I had some other characters I also wanted to see swap with specific people to bring them closer together, but the thought was totally selfish by one-hundred percent.
I was new to this game so I took it to the mods. "Hey mods, I know it's been done to death, but can we do a power swap plot?"
And the mods went, "Sure, but what if your magical character is responsible?" I mean, they shouldn't have to write all the plots, so they put it back on me with the characters I had to figure out how to make it work. And our logic problem was born.
What if Magical Character creates a temporary power swap situation? Okay, so I had to answer how. "Oh, in her source material she knows about a macguffin, but she's missing vital information about the macguffin because she's taken from a canon point before she gets the additional knowledge! Perfect!" Okay, from there, I worked it out logically how I wanted to organize the power swap. Since I had something I selfishly and specifically wanted to swap, then I was going to let all the players pick their own swaps and partner up. Etc, etc.
It was my selfish desire, but I made sure everyone got to benefit. As a mod, you should run things you want to see in the game, but let everyone benefit. If you're interested in something, chances are other players will be, too.
Even power swap plots. :B
I like to bring up this game called Hell Adjacent because the mod running it taught me a lot about coming up with plot and regularly humored me. So, to explain what I mean by "mixing up plot" I'm going to explain the premise of the game and how she did it, and then explain how you can use the same concept in other game settings.
CASE STUDY: HELL ADJACENT
Okay, Hell Adjacent was a horror survival game about an evil hotel that acted like a TARDIS. It took the players to new worlds, and sometimes horrible things happened inside the evil TARDIS-hotel that players had to deal with. With me so far? The mod did something really, really clever in order to keep the plot going and make it feel fresh.
1. She had a schedule. Every two weeks OOC = one week in game. And every week was the start of a new plot. Having a plot schedule is a great way to keep the action going. It's also a logic problem. If every two weeks I have to come up with plot then [here is the plot I'm going to come up with]. But if you're like me and have anxiety, it can also be a way to freak out and wonder what the heck kind of plot you're going to come up with next time around. That's why...
2. Mix up the plot. So not only did this mod have a schedule, she came up with a plot pattern. Week One: the evil hotel will go to a fandom setting. Week Two: The hotel will be parked in a void giving players nowhere to go but some horror scenario will happen inside the hotel. Week Three: the evil hotel will go to a non-fandom setting. Week Four: Rest week with the hotel in the void, but nothing horrible happens.
By having the four different kinds of plot, the mod gave herself some variables to work with and add to her equation. She could make a list of fandom settings, a list of horror scenarios, a list of historical/generic settings and then also have the rest weeks to give characters and their players some recovery time. It was mixed up enough that it never felt stale. And it's a concept I vowed to use if I ever allowed myself to try my hand at running a game.
CASE STUDY: DUNGEON, DRAGON
I'm pretty sad about dungeon_dragon, actually. I built up a lot of the game but never got it off the ground. Lots of anxiety and self doubt, even though there was a lot of interest.
BUT... taking what I learned from Hell Adjacent, I did have a plot plan and a document which was a list of plot ideas. I think I was going to have an event or rest period every two weeks, too. Of course, my game wasn't a horror survival game. It was an OC[ish] game based off Dungeon and Dragons in a fixed city setting. So obviously the kind of plots I ran were going to be different.
1. Schedule. Okay. Two weeks. But crap! What kind of plot was I going to run every two weeks?
2. Mixing up ideas. Okay, so my ideas were.... Week One: Something dangerous comes out of the dungeon and attacks the city. Week Two: Rest/recovery for the attack. Week Three: Cultural event or holiday, since the city was going to be a fantasy metropolis of a bunch of cultures, I could make up all kinds of cool setting flavor text stuff. Week Four: Something, something, idk. I'm too lazy to try and dig up that plot document to figure out the fourth type of plot or the actual plot type order. You get the idea, right?
Come up with your schedule, come up with some different types of plot, and mix it up. It'll be easier to think of things that way and you'll have the side benefit of mixing it up enough that things will stay fresh feeling.
I love coming up with game ideas. Just like I love coming up with plot ideas. Unfortunately? My follow through sucks pretty hard so I try not to run games. Instead, I try to just give plot ideas to whoever will have me in their game instead.
The problem is when I'm not in a game and haven't found one to join, my brain starts generating game ideas. Well! My loss is your gain! Let me take you through how I use my Logic Puzzle method to generate game ideas and settings. Do to so, I'm going to take you through my thought process for how I developed, but never ultimately ran dungeon_dragon. (Spoiler: instead I joined my current game.)
CASE STUDY: DUNGEON, DRAGON (AGAIN)
Okay, let's put it all together.
1. The selfish desire. Gee, I'm not in a game right now. I guess I better make one. You know what I haven't seen? A good high fantasy game with original characters. You know what I miss? Playing dungeons and dragons. I bet there are other players out there who have old D&D characters they want to bring back and revisit, too.
2. Logic Problem One. Well, crap. D&D table top games are usually about a group of murder hobos who break into dungeons, kill everything in sight and steal treasure. That won't work for a journal game. I don't want to be like a DM and think of weekly scenarios. Also how many characters will be in the game? They can't all travel together.
That means the first logic problem is I need to think of a stable, stationary setting that will somehow also incorporate a big dungeon that will occasionally give the players something to do. I know! There are old underground ruins. Some adventurers discovered it a long time ago, and it started a Gold Rush of sorts. Except instead of prospecting for gold, it's a bunch of characters murdering monsters and undead creatures to get treasure.
3. Logic Problem Two. Okay, so if this city grew up around the old ruins, what is this city going to look like? What's the history?
And so on, and so forth.
I hope this helps you come up with plot! Whether you're a mod running a game, or a loudmouthed player like myself that enjoys pitching ideas. :B
I welcome your feedback. Thank you for reading!
Edited To Add This Note: After writing this I had a good lol with some of my friends about my examples. I wrote an essay about how to generate ideas and the idea I gave them as an example is a power swap??? I mean, the point of the post is to go through how I generate ideas, not make plot prompts but I still thought it was pretty funny in retrospect.