On Blank Slate Creativity

Or, why running a tabletop game intimidates me

I have a pretty awesome gaming group consisting of friends who get together after work. Drinks are shared, food is made, and dick jokes are had.  As is the nature with tabletop groups, running the game is something that comes up on occasion; as schedules shift, and obligations arise, new games constantly needed to be forged.  We have a couple different of systems at our disposal, but the most recent one we’ll be looking at is Dungeons and Dragons 4th edition. (Shh, I know it’s not most people’s favored system, but that’s for another time!)

As the question arose, the combination of both enthusiasm and dread hit me. Running a game is fun, for sure. It’s a challenging, but very rewarding role. I don’t mind handling off-the-rails things, or solutions I never dreamed of.  It’s coming up with a story from scratch that is rough on me. Without a situation or concept, it’s hard dredging up an idea or story line I think will be fun. How about trying to prevent a demon apocalypse? No, wait, we just did that. We wake up cold and alone, strangers in a strange land? No, also something we just did.

For some reason, coming up with a hook, or even a general idea, is something that I have an incredibly hard time forcing. Most often, it strikes when my mind is wandering on something else entirely — in this case, while taking a post-workout shower while seriously regretting the extra plate of potluck goodies I had.   At the end of the day, I think I struggle with it because I have so many options; the immensity of what I have at my fingertips overwhelms me. It’s not that I don’t have ideas; it’s that I almost readily discard every possibility, waiting for the ‘big’ one. Adding to the difficulty of this task is that little nagging voice behind every creative process–the one that says “hey, you know, that kind of sucks. You’re bad at this.”

In this case, though, instead of a ‘story’ thread, I want to focus on things that can seem tiring in game. Specifically, since there will be a first session where adventurers awkwardly shuffle together, I wanted to target this weirdness. I want to give them a reason to fight together, a reason why they should care about each other’s fate, and a reason to undertake a journey.  I’m actually pretty thrilled to see how well it’ll go; and once my party suffers experiences what I have planned, I’ll throw up an article on how it went.  Until then, I may do a couple of world-building pieces.

How about you, fellow gamers and story crafters? When trying to concept out an idea or story into something tangible, what do you find helps you grasp an idea that sticks?

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