Sunday, May 02, 2010

Escaping a Maelstrom of Unfocused Ideas...

Good Morning, All:

My apologies for the delay in posting. It's been a rough weekend so far. I find myself this morning with a myriad of thoughts dancing through my brain, without a lot of focus. I have read a number of blog posts where the author, suffering a similar malady, often posts a few tidbits that he'll likely come back and explore later, depending on interest. I have yet to read, though, how a GM should handle the same kind of phenomenon. That might make a good post for today, so let's give it a try.

Whenever you are caught in this kind of unfocused whirlwind of ideas and concepts for your game, one of the best things you can do is to pull out some paper (or open up a word processor) and start writing. Collecting those ideas in a recorded format offers you a number of benefits. First, sometimes, by writing them down, you can make the whirlwind stop because the ideas have been acknowledged in a physical form. Second, you won't forget them, even as you move forward with developing one of the concepts. Third, you have plenty of ideas to fall back on when you find yourself with the opposite problem of GM Block. Fourth, by writing them down, you gain the ability to reflect on the list of concepts as a whole and as individual items, and then determine where you want to focus your efforts.

For example, here's a brief list of some of the concepts swirling around in my head right now.
* Races of the Madlands Campaign: do I really want to make new races, or should I find a way to use old races with new cultures?
* World of Samardan: Should I develop the planetary romance campaign I ran for just under two years using the Grim Tales rules as a new campaign setting for publication?
* Story Arcs: Should I go through the exercise of creating the three major story arcs for the Madlands Campaign? And if so, how can I implement those arcs within the matrix style of a sandbox campaign?
* Secret Organizations: What organizations and secret societies exist in the Madlands Campaign? Should membership grant you a special ability or privilege? Should that be in-game only, or should that be reflected in game mechanics?
* Encounters: Should I start creating a series of small encounters in preparation for the next sandbox style campaign? And as a bigger picture, what should I do to prep for that game?
That's only a small portion of the things drifting around in my head. This will work for now, for purposes of demonstrating the concepts here.

Once you've captured your list, you may find that a particular topic leaps out at you and you gain focus immediately. In some cases, you may not even finish the list before you are already well on your way towards building on one of the concepts that's spinning around in your head. That's perfectly okay, as the point of the exercise is simply to help you find focus and direct your creative energies. However, you may still find yourself at a loss, even after you've completed the list. The ideas are still spinning around in your head, and you may be asking yourself, "Okay, Self, where do I go from here?"

If you are still at a loss once you've completed the list, you should then evaluate the list for the impact it will have on your future gaming needs. I tend to evaluate items in terms of four categories, which I've borrowed shamelessly from some Seven Habits of Highly Effective People lecture I attended over a decade ago. These system evaluates items by two criteria: is it an emergency (needs to be done right now), and is it important to achieving your direct goals? The lecture identified the combination of these two elements in the following manner:
* Type A items are items that must be done immediately, and are important to achieving your direct goals.
* Type B items are items that must be done immediately, but are not important to achieving your direct goals.
* Type C items are items that can wait, and are important to achieving your direct goals.
* Type D items are items that can wait, and are not important to achieving your direct goals.

Once you've evaluated the list, you definitely want to focus on Type A items, as they are important and time-sensitive. Following that, you should aim to accomplish Type B items, since they are time-sensitive and could become problems if left undone. (Usually, these reflect items whose emphasis is placed on you by an external source, and you want to tackle these next so you don't get into trouble with that external source.) Don't worry about Type C items. As you finish the As and Bs, you will find that Type Cs naturally evolve into Type A items simply because of their importance to your direct goals, putting them on your list of things to do. You can simply forget Type D items. There's no pressure associated with them, and they aren't important to achieving your direct goals.

If you can't decide on which Type A item you should focus on, then choose the first one on the list and go with it. One of the reasons it is first on the list is because it was one of the first ideas to come to mind when you starting writing the list, which usually means that it is the one you have the greatest development on internally.

Once you choose an item and start working on it, you'll find your thoughts focusing more and more, and you'll become more productive with your time. Not all of us have a world of time to develop gaming concepts, so I feel it's a shame to waste that effort when you find yourself caught in a whirlwind of ideas without focus. This exercise should help you find that focus and get some things accomplished. When you are done, you can look back and gain a sense of accomplishment from the work you've developed, and your game will benefit from your efforts.

I definitely hope this helps. If you have any other suggestions, comments or concerns, please feel free to post them. I know I'd appreciate any other insights in how others address this particular situation, and how they overcome this particular hurdle.

Hope This Helps,

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