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Efficiently getting your ideas into play

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Efficiently getting your ideas into play

Hi all,

I've been thinking a lot lately about how I can make the best use of the game ideas I come up with.

I don't have a problem, generally, coming up with game ideas. I am awash with the things. But I do feel like I'm mediocre at getting them into play. For example, I might come up with an exciting NPC or location or mechanic, and make a note of it, but never use it. It's a bit like I my idea pipeline is very leaky.

I've seen lots of design and prep advice, of course, and some of it touches on this concern. But most of it blurs together generating ideas and using ideas.

(I've written more on this as a blog post, but it's 1800 words and you might not want to read all that. I think this thread will be fine if you don't)

I have two questions for the forum:

  1. Do you recognise this phenomen, this concern?
  2. Do you have any good tactics for mitigating it?


1-yes, therefore

1-yes, therefore
2-I focus on how to get things at the table materially (having a card for it, or a playturn track for when I should think about it, or a little plastic thingie to get NPCs cards to stand up, or a folder with things past and another for things to come, or a formatted sheet for places and situations, etc.)

Show, don’t tell

My take on this is that a lot of standard writing and screenplay advice applies here.

I generally find myself on the opposite side of this: I find myself having good ideas for how to introduce content, and wishing other players could introduce their material more smoothly and more artfully.

Consider how screenwriters and authors work to introduce material and content in a way that’s resonant, powerful, and yet also natural and seamless.

Show, don’t tell, is a great starting place.

Perhaps an example might be a good thing to discuss. What’s an idea you have had, and how did you struggle with getting it into play?

I do find that a lot of collaborative games present a problem for this, in that often a single player doesn’t have enough “bandwidth” to get the entire idea into play before another player contributes other detail (potentially “screwing up” the original idea). This is a large part of the charm of collaborative play, but also something that can be frustrating and a source of struggle for players.

The last paragraph is about

The last paragraph is about "narrative/dramatic coordination". Flagging, telegraphing moves, that sort of things. Building empathy in the group is also important. I find it takes one hour if you slack, half an hour if all agree on an improv-like warm up.


Yep, recognise this and unfortunately my strategy is similar to yours Rob...

1. Ideas are thrown into a small notebook with the most interesting encounters (could be a dungeon, could be a single NPC) being fleshed out as much as necessary onto a 3x5 card.
2. During game a roll on a generic 2d6 encounter table gives an idea of how to incorporate the random encounter, eg. as a wondrous event, deadly obstacle, hostile creature, etc. and the most appropriate card is picked.

There's a second side to the encounter table with the catalyst for the encounter, eg. a Godly intrusion, an obstruction, or the encounter happened before the party got there and they now have to deal with the fallout, etc. but it's optional.

The original plan was to mark/match up each card to the encounter type but never quite got around to it.

Still, there are quite a few cards that have never been used but surely that just means I'm not getting enough gaming in...

Paul T.:

wishing other players could introduce their material more smoothly and more artfully

This too! Haven't yet been able to work out how to push my players to bring in more of their backstory or even just adding elements to the scenery.


Building empathy in the group is also important [...] improv-like warm up.

Thought: Quite a lot of homework goes into GM'ing (or at the very least, some amount) in order to be effective at improvising and bringing their ideas to the table.
Question: Has anyone played in games where the players have been given/carried out similar homework tasks? Was there any discernible difference in play?

Places prepped by players

Places prepped by players like a mage sanctum, a character home world. I found them mostly descriptive : full of discovery and wonder, touching, but not dramatically grabbing. Because a player is a player (...) You need co-GMing to put the picture to life.
Which *prompts* (PbtA, LadyB, etc.) do well at a very small cost, no need for prep. What prompts do is : imply X is true and let Y blank to fill.
Eg : you need PCs A B and C to be a party. "A, why do you owe B a big one ? B, I see you worked in this organisation. What did C teach you that protected you from your hierarchy ? C, (...)"
TLDR ; State your idea and ask another player to fit it in.
My Capes hack uses this base rule I call "activation by two". The issue becomes : when do you need to refrain from pushing content, what should you leave blank. This is a matter of balance and experience. So, practice, practice. For this you need fast, draft games or PCs.

DeReel — I like your ideas

DeReel — I like your ideas for, essentially, mechanising the flow.

Qo — I like your card-centric idea. What's the typical path from notebook to cards?

Paul T — Sorry, I could have been clearer — I'm only interested in fairly conventional GMed games.

WRT examples — I'll look at writing up some examples of ideas that have got stuck somewhere, though that doesn't feel quite aligned with my main concern here — I don't care about individual ideas, I care about the average fate of ideas. I.e. I care about my overall efficiency at getting ideas into play.

Details! Examples!

Rob, I wonder if you could illustrate the kind of troubles you’re experiencing and the kind of thing you hope would happen more with some examples from play. That would help us understand better what you’re asking.

I also have an example of an attempt and a failure from a D&D game I played I could summarize, if that would help in any way.

More examples

I would still like to hear more about what kinds of problems you’re experiencing; looking at specifics might really help us brainstorm solutions.

I will share a story of my own. I briefly joined a D&D campaign, which had been going on for a long time. The GM was complaining that none of the players were using the detailed history that appeared in the source books to enrich the game in any way.

My character was not from the area, and he did not have the history skill, or anything like that. But the other characters did! I didn’t want to step on their toes by actually “knowing” this history. So I was trying to figure out how I can contribute to the situation.

I read the entry (in the book) for a mysterious castle we were headed towards, and then came up with a plan. You see, in this campaign there was a roll we would make in the morning to see how the magical aura of the area was affecting our characters, and there could be serious repercussions. (It was a sort of extra-planar curse, I believe.) My character happened to miss such a roll at the beginning of the next session.

So, I described my character waking up in a panic, and then described a nightmarish and terrifying dream with lots of imagery which evoked different aspects of the history of the castle in roundabout and colourful ways. I thought this was a nice bit of role-playing, and a nice touch which would allow the GM and the other players to riff on the history of the place and to make something interesting of it.

Unfortunately, the GM’s response was to say that my character’s dream echoed some of the actual history of the place. He seemed excited that I was bringing this information in to play, but his response was to pick up the source book and to read the section on the castle’s history, out loud.

As you can imagine, it wasn’t particularly riveting, nor was it interesting to any of the players. There was nothing useful, nothing to interact with, indeed nothing for us to *play with* at all. The players were quiet while he read the section, and then returned to the actual concerns we had to deal with. (“Uh, ok. Well, back to the game!”) It was never brought up again!

I never bothered to do anything like that in that game again.

Is that an example of the kind of thing you were talking about? Failed delivery of interesting content?

Rob Alexander said "For

Rob Alexander said "For example, I might come up with an exciting NPC or location or mechanic, and make a note of it, but never use it."
So suppose he's got a harddriveful of diverse and picturesque inns. When the party of adventurers enters an Inn, he goes something like "OK,a room is 2pb and a mat is 1pb. Chose what you want (...) OK then, after a good/bad night of rest what do you do? "
Whereas he could have gotten his hands on an Inn in the Inn folder of the Locations folder. He could have then described the Lincoln green tapestries darkened by peat smoke and the clanking noise of the nearby forge. And every detail of the place was available to hook and charm the players into a gameworld. The same applies for the house rule about fighting in a cloud of smoke. The problem is accessing the information on the spot. Or that's what I think.

Many possible stumbling points!

DeReel, you're right that one of the problems being described here is (now that I've read the essay) having a bunch of "ideas" brainstormed and sitting somewhere in a folder, yet being disappointed and not seeing them find their way into the game.

When I was younger, I used to spend a lot of time brainstorming, and collected many folders of "adventure seeds" and various oddball NPCs, locations, and other ideas. I would agree that the vast majority of these ideas never made it into my games. That doesn't surprise me; the ideas have no real common source or common thread - they don't share themes or focus, so they're never going to be "right" to belong together in a single format.

Nowadays, all my ideas or prep have to do with a specific game and specific characters, and that kind of prep and brainstorming is much more efficient. Whereas in the past maybe 2-5% of my ideas made it into play, nowadays it's more like 80-90% (or even more!).

This is because I try hard to make sure that my ideas are predicated on particular games and particular characters. I don't sit on the train and think up "a cool fantasy NPC!". Instead, I always *start with* the players in one of my games and the themes they're interested in, and then create ideas in reaction to those. Basically, I want every bit of my prep as a GM to be, in some fashion, part of a conversation with the players. Instead of "a cool fantasy NPC!", I'm thinking of "what kind of NPC would really highlight this aspect of Julie's character?" That kind of idea is more likely to suit my actual game (obviously!), connected tangibly to something I'm actually doing, necessarily of interest to the people I'm playing with, and so closely related to something that a player (e.g. Julie) is bringing into my game that there's almost no way I could ever forget the idea: every time I play with Julie and this issue/theme/aspect comes up, I can't help but be reminded of the idea I had.

Anybody else seeing the

Anybody else seeing the analogy with a classroom ?

yes, it's about ideas in a folder (or a notebook, or in a file..

DeReel's got what I mean - I've had ideas, developed them some (at least enough to write them in words), but then for lots of different reasons they never get into play. More interesting than inns, typically - ideas I feel are exciting or highly charged, NPCs or creatures or locations or traps.

NB in case it wasn't clear, I'm very much in a GM'd game headspace at the moment. And I'm not playing in worlds for which a lengthy sourcebook exists --- I hate that kind of thing.


So, I would start with what I described in the post, above.

Pick an idea you want to see in play.

Pick an “anchor” - some significant feature, theme, or element of play you want to highlight. (This is generally something a player has brought to the table, or something created by or related to a player’s ideas or interests, probably because of choices they’ve made in character creation and play.)

Modify the idea as needed to suit this theme or feature, and bring it into the game.

(But if you’re generating a variety of ideas with a wide range of themes and topics, I would never expect to get more than a small portion of them into play in the first place - that’s just how it goes!)

I can demonstrate with an example, if you give me an idea and a game where you’d like to see it brought into play.

Sorry to interject, but there

Sorry to interject, but there's the possibility of something else. It's something I do all the time : when I have to work on a piece, I don't like doing it and I block. So I find a derivative activity and I follow through. When I come back to the main work, I am fresh again. There are tricks and ropes (such as making the second activity something related but with a different nature of task). And this may have something to do, indirectly - of course - with the topic. Preparing for an RPG session is preparing something for the players, for this genre, this adventure. Maybe your mind tricks yourself away from this task it sees as work. Hypothetically.

Very true!

Sometimes when I am prepping for a game, I design tools which help me to prep, instead. It’s sort of one step removed from the actual goal, and it works really well for me. Once a have a tool for prepping ready to go, of course I HAVE to try it, to see if it works - and when I do that, I have to create material. :)

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