Thursday, May 14, 2009

Winging It

Recently, the subject of "Winging It" came up on The RPG Haven. Since that's kind of my...uh...what I try to do without sucking, I figured I oughtta chime in, 'cause I have some thoughts about the subject. You'll find the content of this post copied over there, as well.

I liken the process of winging it to having a destination and some landmarks...but no map.

One or two of ya just read that and went, "Well, DUH", but some of you are probably thinking, "Wha....?" Most of you are probably thinking "Screw this, I'm'a go read", but for the few of you who aren't, here's more detail.

When I say I have a destination, I mean only that I form a general idea of how I want things to turn out in a broad sense. In fact, I really just set a goal -- just like I do with The Adventure Funnel, The Internet's Favorite Gaming Article Since 2006 Or Whatever.

In this case, though, the goal is a little more than just a plot objective -- it's a thesis statement. In a sense, it's a goal for the gamemaster, not necessarily the PCs. "Cause a ruckus", "Establish and maintain a sense of cosmic dread", "Articulate the importance of keeping your cool under fire", "Show how bad-ass Chico Pistolas is, so that when the PCs kack him, it's even cooler"...stuff like that. It's kind of a guide to how to get to where you wanna go.

So now that we know where we're headed, let's see about some landmarks. These are really just details, gimmicks, events, examples, little scenes and the like -- a few modular bits that I have on hand and shove in as I go. If my Hyborian game is all about rescuing virgins from a temple of Set in pure bad-ass "the mad exultation of battle when the blue baldes flame and crimson" mode, then a big, bloody fight against a bunch of Stygian temple guards might come in handy, as might a willful princess who knows steel as well as she knows men. If I know that the head priest in charge of this hoe-down is a towering figure with a booming voice, I might try to get a feel for the types of things he might say and how he might move and what kind of crazy faces he might make. That temple probably has snakes in it, and snakes that slither around in the darkness and leap out from dark crevices are scarier than the ones that rattle and make snake-face at you.

It's more important to know how it's gonna feel than how it's gonna go down. Dig?

So let's say that you want to follow this advice, because maybe the article on Cracked was shorter than you thought. So you assemble some quick ideas about 5 minutes before your next game, and there you have 'em -- maybe written down, maybe not. This is great, Doc, you say, but how do you make it actually happen? Where's your plot? Am I really gonna be able to make THAT up as you go? What do I need for THAT?


No, I'm serious. You need brash Han Soloness, you need that Conan readiness. You're not jumping in blind, either -- you've got what it takes.

You've seen a bunch of movies and you've read a bunch of books. You know how this stuff goes. You are prepared to Wing It.

Look. Think about it. All that a plot really needs to move forward is momentum. Start rolling that ball and don't stop pushing. You know how it's supposed to feel -you decided on your thesis-, so push that way. You have some landmarks, so steer towrads them. Listen to what the players are doing, or not doing. When it feels, according to your goal, like it's time for the giant crab or for the princess to flip out and start stabbing people or for the communicators to stop working -- make it happen. Push that ball. The players'll push back.

Now all of you are playing. Even you, the GM. Now you're on the road to wherever you're going; you know where it ends, so you know when to stop. Meantime, keep moving.

You want an example? Check back soon. My lunch is over.