I’ve described a creativity technique I use for roleplaying games in a previous post. As promised, here’s an example for a story created with this technique.
The game we were playing is called Houses of the Blooded. It’s a game about intrigues, romance and revenge – a bloody and melodramatical opera. To establish the drama, the system gives the players a lot of leeway to shape and influence the plot. Speaking of my players, they were all nobles and part of a loose secret order whose members back one another in the courts and ballrooms.
I sent out the call for suggestion and four out of my five players replied with the following concepts:
- Black moon
- Tears in rain
- A hunting lodge at a lake on a clearing in a forest
- Fire, something is burning that’s not meant to be
- Betrayal / traitor
- Spell circle
- Edelweiss (the flower)
Looking at these inspirations, one might think that vague concepts (Dream, Betrayal) would be easier to find a use for since they are more generic. That’s true but at the same time they don’t provide nearly as much inspiration as more complex ones.
The one concept that resonated with me the most was black moon. This worked really well for me since the color black is the color of forbidden revenge in the world of Houses of the Blooded. This brought to mind the central image of the moon turning black to foreshadow a revenge. The skies gaze down upon the bloodshed to happen.
Given this omen I also knew I wanted to have a more social situation and so I came up with a marriage ceremony. Also since my players had been quite bloodthirsty I wanted them to protect instead of destroy so a prophecy told them to ensure the completion of the ceremony.
Of course the location given was an excellent place for such a supernatural omen, so the entire event was happening at a hunting lodge at a lake on a clearing in a forest. This also defined that the groom was big on outdoor activities like hunting, which meant that a formalized hunt had to be part of the event.
And that was my entire setup. As you can see I only used two of the concepts but it was enough to kickstart my imagination. Then as we went through the two sessions it took us to conclude the story I also used other concepts on the fly. For example I had a Thunderstorm seperate the hunting lodge from the rest and make excursions into the wild for help look like a really bad idea.
If you want to read more about this session, I’ve posted a detailed writeup on the HotBlooded forums.
If you’re into pen and paper roleplaying games and (like me) often end up in the Game Master/Storyteller/Referee seat, let me help you. I’ll share with you a little something with you that might help you and your players if you’re stuck in a creative rut. It’s a technique I’ve developed and successfully used quite a few times now. It can be used for any game and it goes like this:
- Ask your players for 2 concepts each
- Write all concepts down on a piece of paper
- Look at them and be inspired
- Reward the player as a suggested concept comes up in play
No worries. I’ll explain in some more detail now and I’ll put a detailed example up in a couple days.
Before the game starts, generally when setting up the next date to play, I ask my players for input. That’s a bit vague and since people are more likely to respond to precise orders I’m asking for precisely two “concepts” from each player. A concept could be anything they come up with: a character, a location, a phrase, a situation – whatever. Previous examples are “The Wine-king”, “a sacred gravesite”, or “tears in rain”. I don’t force my players to make suggestions (you can’t force creativity) but I do try to encourage them through the promise of tiny, temporary but tangible in-game benefits (Bonuses to a roll, Style or Fate Points etc.) that are awarded once a player’s suggestion comes up during play.
So how does this work? Well I begin by pooling all the suggestions and writing them on a piece of paper. Then I try to use them as a springboard for my imagination. It’s actually important for me to work with pencil and paper here, so I can place the concepts about arbitrarilly and scribble in between them, draw lines connecting them, and so on. Usually one or two of the concepts pretty quickly jump out at me and suggest some sort of core story seed. This could be an important character or event that becomes the center of the session. Then I try to combine this with some or all of the other concepts to create an overarching, more complete plot. Usually the already existing story elements of the campaign (characters and places) also enter the equation and help flesh out the story.
Sounds like a few unneccessary steps just to come up with something whole cloth? Well they’re not. There’s two really good reasons for this:
Firstly this method provides my players with a (voluntary) way to influence the next session and the general direction of the campaign by simply telling me what they want to see. “The streets run with blood” suggests something different than “A dagger grasped by a velvet glove”. Now you may scream about dirty indie-fueled player empowerement and how this takes away a player’s sense of wonder and discovery but I have a counter-argument! The other nice thing about this technique is that it gives players a way to steer the game without taking away the surprise of an unfolding story. After all you never know if I even use your concept or what I make out of it.
And secondly (and much more important to me): trying to stay within the confines of this player generated input helps me be a lot more creative. One could argue that such limits inhibits creativity but I find that (for me personally) it seems to be quite the contrary: It focuses my creative juices. It is a lot easier for me to come up with something if I have a few guidelines as opposed to an endless blank canvas. This seems to generally be the case as I’ve heard a lot of people say similar things, just recently at the GDC for example. So it seems there is something to it. Additionally I believe that the jumbled combination of concepts that I would not have put together myself can easily create some new associations. This is a technique not uncommon for brainstorming – looking for the connection in the seemingly unconnected – to try to break out of the mold of the usual ideas.