Wednesday, June 6, 2012

A DM Looks Back: Part 1: The Model Builder versus the Gardener.

Looking back and looking forward: How to Reconcile my First Setting with my Current Ideas on Gaming.

As my Legendfall game takes place in the aftermath of a four-year long campaign in a setting that I have worked on and off with for the past twelve years I wanted to take a bit of a look back at how I handled some of the work on that older campaign.  I have sadly lost hundreds of pages of work, but the mind's eye, memories, and discussions with former players has really made me wonder what I was working towards.  I hope to point out some of my mistakes in earlier designs and the pitfalls I fell into over the creation.

Imagine above but fatter, beardier.
G'esh was my baby.  I loved the setting like my own little nerd child, feeding it all of my fantasies of what made for a great setting.  I wrote for months, creating documentation that would make Tolkien proud.  Languages, cultures, a thousand little tidbits about a society that began to populate my dreams.  I would eat, sleep, and feel the setting in a way that you do a first love or a new addiction.

And by writing the world I killed its true progress for years. 

Why? Well, there are a few ways...  Prime Mover.  That heady feeling of just creating a setting, populating it with all of the pieces of a living breathing entity, making the whole world all to my own and giving it a loving glance.  And with this frenetic worldbuilding I came to a completely attractive, perfectly formed, still and unmoving world.

I created a great model, a 'perfect' world in miniature, but I hadn't made a true campaign.  The campaigns we create must breathe, survive the endless machinations of those wicked agents of change known as players, and grow.  While I was thinking in the form of a nice little model world, what I have thought of my world as is a garden.

Look at this nice scene to the left.  A very pretty scene, but it is frozen in time.  When this picture begins to move flowers will bloom, trees will grow, and fruits will be picked or rot on the vine.  The garden is an apt metaphor to a campaign in my own personal experience as DM and gardener extraordinaire.  You plant seeds and saplings, set down fertile ground, pull weeds... And then watch the magic happen.

Well, not exactly.  You prune, shear, shape, stake, and generally work harder during the growth than you ever do during the planting.
And the same can be said for any campaign... But you have a whole set of hired hands to help you.  When I began as a DM young and dumb I treated players as rabbits in my garden, looking to pluck fruit and eat the fruits of my labor.  And now I know I have a nice group of free labor to keep the whole thing in line.

My Rules Lawyer hoes the rows, keeping everything in check.  My artsy players make beautiful arrangements of our produce in words and drawings and silly little buttons and t-shirts.  My fellow gardeners bring fruits from their own games, trading little patches between us, and making each of the plots stronger.  And all I need to do is give up some of that control, that micromanagement of my game to create an even stronger place to play.

This is one of the big things I drill into any new DMs head.  Learn from my two decades of 'experience'... Yeah, its a fancy word for mistake in any language, but you may just prevent yourself from chasing those rat PCs out and help to grow some strong bonds and even better games.

As Always,

Good Gaming.