#RPGaDay2015, Day 26

rpg-a-day-2015Today’s entry asks the question, what is your Favorite Inspiration For Your Game?

Now, when I first saw the list of topics, I pretty much assumed that at this point, I’d probably be talking about the mix of genres that created FAR WEST. The short version of that: Once I noticed the similarities between Spaghetti Westerns and Chinese Wuxia, I couldn’t stop seeing the parallels. To this day, every time I encounter a plot element or trope from one, I immediately see how it is reflected in the other, and how I can find the midpoint for the FAR WEST setting.

But… The more I thought about it, the more I realized that as cool as that is, that’s not actually my favorite inspiration.

As cheesy as it sounds, my favorite inspiration is actually — players.

This is not some kumbaya, touchy-feely, “I love you guys” kind of tribute to the folks that I’ve played games with (although it certainly could be). No, this is a recognition of the actual nuts-and-bolts method that I’ve always used when running a game, which is to let the players define as much of what’s going on as possible, and then riff of what they’ve presented.

I codified this method in my game UnderWorld (15 years ago now), with a term that I called “Intuitive Continuity” — which was picked up by some of the indie story-gaming folks at The Forge website as part of their Big Model thesis of play. Basically, what I do is that I let the player’s actions, interests, and even their at-table suppositions amongst themselves, shape the actual reality and back-story of what’s occurring. The key to this, for me, was the realization that nothing exists until presented to the players — in other words, it doesn’t matter that I’d decided that the villain was actually planning X; if the players come up with a compelling case for the fact that he’s planning Y or Z, then I can juggle information behind the scenes to make that true, as long as it doesn’t violate anything I’ve presented to them already.

In the core rulebook of UnderWorld, I compared it to improvisational jazz — where I’m not entirely improvising — I know the key of the song, and I have a few practiced riffs that I’m good enough at that I can play automatically while my mind is focused a few bars ahead on composing something on-the-fly for when I reach that part. If I do it well enough, the whole thing is seamless.

That’s how I run my games, so in a very real way, my players are always my favorite inspiration.

Now, let’s check in with Dave Chapman, and special guest Andy Peregrine, for today’s video entry: