Thursday, December 6, 2007

Lessons of Life

New Beginnings & Transformation

What better than to practice New Beginnings? Reinventing ourselves with the stories we tell ourselves is something we do throughout our lives. We often take the stories of others, those around us, in whom we have placed our confidence. And so stories are viral. They get around. Some to everyone, some to few, some to no one but the teller. Transformation is the process of engaging in new beginnings. It is a process we often enjoy, but just as often do not, and much depends on our age in life. New beginnings of course come with the most frequency to the young. And so the young should be aware of this and engage in the process with understanding. To constantly think when one is young they have learned enough, or have a great understanding, would benefit to consider that perhaps their facts are misplaced, or perhaps along the way they were lied to. And so as life goes on we form new opinions out of old. And life transforms us. Stories are the vehicle we use to make sense of our transformations. We have stories going on in our minds all the time. These stories we tell ourselves we also tell to one another. We even go so far as to invent stories just so that we can tell them to our friends, or share our experiences with others through fiction. As a kind of alias, least our imperfections be presented as such. The process of shamanism seems to me to be one of exploring the other world. With an animal guide at ones side moving through the unheralded world between the worlds where the invisible creatures roam. To engage in that world. It is from this place, this divine realm, from these places beyond the veil that we derive our most ancient stories. The stories which have come up through time and never ceased to haunt our imaginations. Beowulf. Gilgimesh and Enkidu. Arthur. From the depths of the ancient stories we have seen continuously replenished generation by generation the themes. Humanity has scarce changed since man first began to till the land. "There is nothing new under the sun". And yet, there are New Beginnings.Role Playing provides New Beginnings. It provides stories. And these stories speak of our transformations. And sometimes they may bring healing. Other times they may bring us sorrow, or laughter, or joy. It all depends on who happens to be playing, the quality of the Gamesmastering, the verve of the players, and an ability to suspect disbelief long enough to experience something new, and transform.
So ... here we are ... we few ... we Gamesmasters who envision the possibilities of more Literary Quality Worlds ...We stand at the dawn of a new era of Games with the RPG. It is very exciting. Our Players clamoring for action and adventure before us, our World Woven back-story behind us, our books, charts, papers, pencils, dice on the table ... and what do we do?In our excitement we rush the story.We ... must ... gain ... control ... of ... ourselves.Rushing the story is the equivalent of an author who rushes the book straight into the plot, without any setup or background. As we read the details of the Character actions, we don't get much sense of their lives, nor of the community, nor terrain, nor weather, nor much of what all else is going on in the world, with the exception of those things which directly impact the immediate Plot. In a book I think we'd all agree that this is not what we expect. Nor, usually, does it amount to high quality literary work.In our RPGs, my question to the group is this: Do we find ourselves rushing the story? How much time do you spend with the Players giving them information about the World itself, before plunging into the Adventure?Stories like to have a beginning, middle and end. And the Hero's Journey usually begins with the Hero in quite the ordinary world. There is setup. There is back-story. The Hero lives in the little village of Hamfest. His life, before the adventure, consists primarily of ordinary things. Feeding the hogs, cleaning the barn, repairing the leather on his old worn out shoes. At the time of year where the adventure is to begin there is a freezing wind coming down off of the eastern mountains, and the pond is still frozen from the long brutal winter. A hog died this winter, frozen after falling through a crack in the ice of Foxwood stream that boundsNorth Stye. Mrs. Hogsworth, the old matron of the household, scolds her children while cooking eggs and bacon for breakfast. Old Jeremiah is whittling a stick at the head of the long wooden table in the kitchen reflecting on the hardships they've all endured, and hoping that this year they can save enough money to mend the door of the barn and if they're lucky purchase a new wagon in the small village of Hamfest, several miles off. He remembers last year's Spring Fare with some small pleasure - the joy the children all got from seeing the sites, the foods, the actors, and the magicians and clowns. He then remembers darkly, his brow furrowing, the strange adventures that began just after the fair, and how in the end the McFearson's house burned down and the little McFearson girl, Mary, was killed, and how the McFearson's moved away after that. The children are all figiting and two of them start an argument over whose turn it is to clean the stalls in the barn. Jeremiah looks up sternly and says, "Gorn, I reckon its your turn today. And make sure you get the corners. Afterwards we'll all head out this afternoon to go look at the McFearson House on the hill - there's been strange sounds coming from up the Hill and I'm thinkin we best go see what it is." Outside the wind begins to howl, and in the distance thunder can be heard. The children all shiver.That's the setup. Notice the background information about the local area, the region, the homey setting, the ordinariness. This is how adventures begin. It's a story. It has a beginning and the beginning has a texture, a context, atmosphere, history, and gives us an idea of who is who, and what is what. THEN the Adventurebegins.That's the thought for today, Gamesmasters. I hope this helps. Try stopping for a moment before your Game begins. Breath in. Breath out. Reflect on the back-story of your game World. Think about who your Characters are, and what they do, and what they are doing, and what the mood and setting are. Then when you begin, instead of just starting into the action with "Ok, what are you people doing?", try deliberately setting the mood. Begin the story ... "And so... on this Fourth Day of the Month of Googlak... we find our Heroes trudging through the misty swamps of Hoggoroth, under a cloud of stinging insects, boots drenched with mud, sloggingunder heavy loads and pouring sweat as they mumble and mutter curses for the foul luck they've had of late..." ... and so on. Then, amid the Action, try at logical breaking points (after they've slain the monster, as they are leaving the dungeon, as they enter the town, as they enter the bar - ie - where Scenes break) adding the same kind of flavor and detail.Some GMs I know are pressured to "Get things going!" by their Players who want ACTION. That's understandable. We all want Action. However, there is a certain enjoyment that comes from a pleasure delayed. And there is a certain story-element that goes missing when the context of the story is limited because we've leapstraight into the action (plot).Players, I find, really do appreciate it when the GM gives them the context, back-story and setup before the Adventure begins. It draws them into the Story. Into the World. The Middle of the story is all of the Plot and Adventure where the Heroes engage the World. That we know how to do.The End of the story is where the Heroes return home. If all went well and they did not perish, they return home to find the Ordinary World is still going along as it always does. Jeremiah at his whittling, Mrs. Hogsworth sweeping the kitchen and scolding her children. The wind is still cold, and the barn still needs to bemended.So my advice is to not rush the story. Remember Beginning, Middle and End.- Mark

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