I was reading through the history of TSR and the Gygax/Arneson stuff of the early '80s when I came across this video from 1985 where 60 Minutes did a piece on D&D. Basically the video is about how if you played D&D you would probably end up killing yourself or someone else. The best thing that could have happened in that interview with Gygax was for him to pull out a +4 sword of bullshit slaying and lop the head off. Blah blah blah. In summary, that video is the retelling of the age old story of how we seek to place blame on largely benign objects and seemingly esoteric practices when in fact our own flaws and shortcomings should be examined instead. Anyway. Everyone pretty much knows and has read the nonsense over D&D from those days so I'll not beat that dead horse.
I remember this fear talk because around the same time as this video, I was about nine years old and loving me some D&D. I had friends that loved it too and that game served as a common ground upon which we could meet and talk and play. Adults and their fear-mongering be damned!
I feel like I owe a lot to D&D and I owe a lot to my parents for not having given in to the hysteria surrounding the game. D&D is what I played and knew as a nine year old and it was a catalyst for my imagination, a fountain of ideas and dreams, and a way of escaping my own geographic solitude (a large farm in Eastern Kentucky). D&D offered up a way that I could take an idea and give it weight. It allowed me to create context in my imagination at an early age. It made me want to read and write and draw. It made me want to study and explore and learn. It allowed me to interact with other awkward kids my age.
So, all this made me think about playing games and why I have loved them since Ed Bradley and BADD were shitting all over the red box. It also made me think about the way I play and design games now. And here it is. I played and designed then to escape and have fun and I play and design now to escape and have fun. I like to run adventures where the players are part of a story, where that story is part of a larger story. I like games that make me feel like I am part of something larger. I like games that inspire and give me the desire to create.
Why do you play games? What kind of games draw you in and keep you coming back?
A few days ago I was in the Peddler's Mall (which is basically a perpetual flea market that took over an abandoned Wal-Mart building) near my place. I came across some of the most useless items I had ever seen, like what appeared to be a hubcap with a University of Kentucky logo hand drawn in sharpie on the front (very poorly drawn), and a cross made of glued macaroni with red pipe cleaners spiraled around it ($1).
In Far Away Land, there is a spell to create a Magical Pigeon. The original intent for the pigeon was that it could be used to carry messages as it obeys the caster. However, someone pointed out that the range of the pigeon was only 5'. The idea behind this short range was that the caster could create the pigeon up to 5', but the pigeon itself would be able to fly like a normal pigeon.
Someone also pointed out that if the pigeon could fly only 5' from the caster, it would basically be following the caster, pooping, maybe irritating some foes at close range, and not doing much else for good. While that's pretty funny, it's also pretty damn useless. But it got me to thinking - are there useless things in rpgs and do useless things need to be there? Does a fictional world seem more real with useless things scattered about? (I'm not talking about useless mechanics here).
I read somewhere that Gary Gygax originally created adventures that consisted of a brief list of rooms and a map (or something like this) – ultimate adventure simplicity. This was really the inspiration early on for the Far Away Land adventures. I wanted small, self-contained little worlds that gave GMs and players the framework for very open scenarios and possibilities. Over the course of the last few months, I think I have lost sight of this original goal. FAL adventures have become fairly large – some more than 15 pages. One adventure was so big it consisted of two parts. That’s crazy and it’s completely the opposite of where I wanted to take these mini-scenarios.
So, I am returning to the original goal of creating tight, short, standalone adventures that are open and flexible. The reason for this is simple (at least from my creative goal/playing standpoint). Short adventures that provide a framework for players and GMs are less complicated by nature. They are easier to get into and easier to run. The GM can read the whole thing in a single sitting, in less than ten minutes. The ideas in a small, compact adventure aren’t meant to tell the GM what to do but rather to give them a creative push to come up with ideas on their own while offering a compass as to the direction to be taken. In fact, small adventures rely more on the imagination of the GM as the GM is required to fill in and make decisions. Basically, the GM becomes part of the design process and as the author, I am putting my faith in the GM that he or she has the ability to do this. I believe GMs do have this ability and if they don’t, it is a skill that can be attained over time. As far as I’m concerned, this is how it should be and that is the crowd I am writing adventures for.
One of the main design points of FAL was to create a game that would feel like games felt when I was 10. The openness and flexibility of the system was meant to be a catalyst/reflection for this type of gaming. Adventures that do the opposite of this negate that openness and therefore, undermine one of the core aspects of FAL.
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