This is RPG-ology #41: Over My Shoulder, for April 2021.
Our thanks to Regis Pannier and the team at the Places to Go, People to Be French edition for locating copies of many lost Game Ideas Unlimited articles.
We are skipping another which has already been published, but since this thirteenth entry is itself an index of the first twelve, all but one of which have been republished here, we will go directly to it. A few editorial notes will be [bracketed].
I doubt any of you have been counting, but this is the thirteenth article in our Game Ideas Unlimited series. I’m not superstitious (in that sense of the word). The number thirteen doesn’t mean anything frightening to me. But if you’re adept at calendar math, you know that thirteen weeks (and not twelve) is three months, a quarter of a year.
It’s our anniversary.
I’m a believer in holidays that look back at the past, to see whence we came in an effort to know whither we are going. There are a dozen columns behind us, each one different. If you haven’t read them all, perhaps now would be a good time to see what ideas you missed; and if you have, it won’t hurt to jolt them back to your mind. But we’ll also take a moment to look at looking back.
I introduced myself and the series with a column appropriately called Introduction [not included in our republications but now available as mark Joseph “young” web log entry #384: Game Ideas Unlimited Introduction]. In it we promised that these columns would include many and varied ideas, sometimes giving you something you could use directly in your games, but more importantly trying to teach you how to be creative, where to find ideas. It also contained links to several other articles I’ve written, as a way both of introducing myself and of providing game ideas to you.
The second idea, An Amusing Dungeon, was primarily for fantasy gamers. It sketched out an adventure in which standard medieval fantasy characters found themselves in a magical amusement park, terrified of the rides and confused by the rest. More basically it was about devising challenging and creative settings by taking something familiar and putting it in the wrong place.
Transmats, the third entry, took us solidly into science fiction. If you run a sci-fi game and have matter transmission technology, you probably added a lot of things to your world after reading that one. Even if that’s not you, the challenge behind it was to look at the technology in your worlds and make sure you consider all the implications.
By the time we looked at My North Wall in the fourth article, we were looking for world ideas and finding them in very mundane places. There was a brief side trip into misdirection as a story tool and a chance to look for the leprechaun in the painting on my wall, but overall we were finding ways to draw ideas from the things around us.
The fifth article, Screen Wrap, talked about ways to use teleportation to create maze-like challenges. It was presented in a practical, nuts-and-bolts sort of way that works with both fantasy and science fiction, and included some ideas on getting a very similar effect without moving the characters at all.
If you’re carrying a notebook around just so you can write down something you see each day, it might be because you took my advice seriously in Pay Attention. This sixth column suggested things to include in such a volume, and how they might be useful in the future.
I told you a little bit about my family in number seven, and asked you about yours. I said we were all Living in the Past, and that there were far more story, world, and character ideas in the past than in the present, worth exploring. And from some of the mail I received, I’d say that many of you began exploring those ideas, finding out about your parents’ lives.
We went for a walk in a blizzard in Snow Day. I wanted you to move your mind out of where you were into another world, and experience it vividly enough that you could bring your friends into it with you. If we did that, the eighth entry succeeded, and may have helped you develop some tools for better presentation of your setting. And if it’s a hot day today, maybe you’d like to go back there for a moment and cool off a bit.
Number nine was in some ways controversial. I told you about Invisible Coins, and how to use these to control the direction of your game. Many of you are probably afraid of this idea, as I was; but sometimes the importance of the die roll isn’t what it is but what you wanted it to be.
Maybe we got a little heady with Empiricism [republished under the title Creatures], discussing the philosophy of David Hume. But the tenth article had a practical side, too, as it made us consider the limitations of communication, and examine the degree to which our descriptions need to convey impressions rather than information. It also had a clever sketch from Dimitrios “Jim” Denaxas “illustrating” the idea.
I unscrambled the word “Aptrusis“ in column eleven. In doing so, I looked at my own approach to solving a puzzle, and the place of puzzles in games.
Although column twelve was called Monster Design, I didn’t design a monster. Instead, I presented a set of ideas which to my mind were important in creating a good monster—not game mechanics, but the nature of the beast itself and the way it is presented within the game world.
The value in looking back lies in looking forward. [
Thirteen] weeks ago, I said I was going to give you ideas, but go beyond that to help you learn to find your own ideas. I promised that our column would turn in every direction, sometimes practical and sometimes esoteric, sometimes fantasy and sometimes science fiction, sometimes design and sometimes presentation. So far we’ve been there and done that—not in a tired way, I think, but in a way that suggests successes on which to build.
But my opinion is not the important one here. What matters is whether you think we’re achieving the objectives. More to the point, what of all this did you find useful? Of what that we’ve done would you like more? And is there anything you expected that you’ve not yet seen but would still like? Have we gone too far? Have we gone far enough? It’s not that I’ve run out of ideas—I might never run out of ideas. It’s that not all ideas are equally valued, and there are many directions which could be explored in the next quarter. I’m thinking about developing character background, looking again at how people think, maybe examining superstition. Which ideas will we pursue? In part that’s up to you. By the time you read this, I’ll be several weeks ahead in writing them; but your thoughts on what is worthwhile will certainly affect the future of the series at some point.
So roll some of those invisible dice, and as they clatter on the table [
write a forum post leave a comment] to tell me what it is that you really want them to say.