Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Formula Fail


There are a lot of recent blog posts about innovation, especially when it comes to the OSR.  Well, I didn't set out to write about innovation.  What really motivated me this morning was my annoyance with the new TV show iZombie.  However, my little tirade seems to dovetail with my thoughts on innovation, so here goes nothing...

I had high hopes, but it disappoints.  It's a great premise: girl becomes zombie and gets job at the morgue in order to eat brains... and helps homicide detective solve crimes.  In this case, being a zombie doesn't reduce you to a shambling, drooling idiot - it just makes you really pale with white hair, less enthused about everyday life, and crave brains.

Despite all the fresh trappings of zombidom, there's 2 episodes left and the first season is awfully predictable.  Which means kind of boring.  At every turn, the show's creator and episode writers had a chance to do the unexpected, but instead they chose the path well traveled, the easy road that wouldn't throw the writers for a loop.

It's a shame, is all.  Anyway, let's get to my other point... the innovation stuff.

You can have new places: cities, dungeons, towers, forests, realms, and even worlds.  You can have new characters: a duke, head of security, affable peasant, irritating computer, etc.  You can have a really interesting story, hook, or cultural facet - like everyone wears some kind of mask.

However, if your adventure or campaign follows every logical plot-point without deviation or derailment, even an innovative setting will feel stale.  Thankfully, roleplaying isn't just about the Game Master's carefully crafted story.  The PCs are there to do their own thing, make their own choices, etc.  Unfortunately, a lot of players will try to adhere to either the story and how it "should" play out or the GM's not-quite-invisible wishes.

GMs, you run the show.  That means even when you're giving the PCs free reign, the game will occasionally go in whatever direction you planned (not talking about the minor details, but the big picture).  Be careful you don't course-correct events like in those stories about time travel.  It can happen without your realizing it.  You actually want the train to get derailed!

Well, now I've veered off again and instead of iZombie and OSR innovation, I'm doling out more Game Mastering advice.  Well, what are you going to do?  How to Game Master like a Fucking Boss is still on my mind.  Devoting yourself to a subject for a long period of time will do that to a person.

Getting back to innovation, altering outward appearances isn't enough to make something innovative.  It also takes something else:  breaking the formula.  Years ago, I talked about how the OSR, to me, equates to non-standardization.  Which is tricky, because a certain amount of standardization is inherent in RPGs, let alone the OSR.  Creators need to find a balance and create with a mind towards breaking whatever mold, whatever preconceived notion is guiding their hand.

Don't be like iZombie and take an exciting new direction and then plot it out in the most formulaic way possible.  I'd rather see a dwarven stronghold in the northern mountains that goes off-script and off the rails, than a strange world full of new creatures that live in a giant bubble yet behave exactly like you'd expect.

VS