Thursday, December 23, 2010

Random Creativity?

I've been trying to harness some awesome inspiration I recently acquired and have come to an interesting observation (at least to me).

Normally, I enjoy rolling on random tables and rolling up stats randomly.  I like this as a first step, because it often fires up my imagination once I start seeing the stats or looking at the raw data.  An excellent example of this is James Raggi's Random Esoteric Creature Generator.  A few rolls on these tables and an awesomely grotesque--and completely unique--creature is staring back at me from inside my mind.  Character creation is much the same way.  Perhaps my only real reason for liking "3d6 in order" is that it instantly throws into my mind at least one image of a character.  It feels like that character already exists, in fact, that the numbers already existed and were somehow channeled onto the character sheet from some PC-Limbo where my new dungeon delver was waiting.

What I find funny, however, is that I'm much less competent at looking at the raw and finding the story in it when it comes to dungeon maps.  Other maps?  No problem.  But for some reason, I've found that drawing the dungeon first doesn't really fire my imagination.  I end up with lame maps full of squares.  On the other hand, coming up with a story, or even just a cool title, almost always helps me make a much cooler dungeon, full of secret passageways, magical portals, pits of ooze, etc.

So how do other people handle this? Which comes first for you, when creating a dungeon or other adventure.


  1. Either way is fine, although I don't come up with stories so much as concepts. I don't like coming up with a full story in advance, because I'd rather have it evolve out of play. But I can start with a triggering event, now or in the past, and build around that.

    Perhaps a good middle path would work, too. Come up with a dungeon concept and perhaps a level concept; these can be rolled up randomly. Come up with two or three special room concepts, again possibly with a random roll. Design room shapes specifically for those concepts. Fill in tunnels and rooms around the special rooms, and randomly stock them. List all the monsters you rolled up randomly and roll random relationships between them, so that you come up with stuff like a group of goblins who love a black pudding but hate an ogre; build around those random rolls (maybe the goblins worship the pudding? Naybe the ogre is their tyrannical master, and they are growing the pudding to sic on the ogre?)

  2. Perhaps my use of "story" is inappropriate, because I think I'm doing the same thing that you are, more or less. What I call story is really just what's going on in an area. But really the "story" only materializes when PCs enter the scene and interact with it. Maybe I should call my thing "setting" or "scene" something like that.

    I like what you're saying about the Goblins and Black Pudding situation. The random rolls do truly help you come up with some whacked out relationships because they force you to creatively solve the problem of why these two are in the same dungeon.

  3. I first think up (or steal) cool scene ideas. It can be anything, as long as its cool. Once I have a few I then think up stories where I can insert those scenes in and then I draw the map for the story to take place.

  4. Ah, see. This is interesting. I'm starting to realize that people come at creating scenes in all sorts of different ways. It's actually kind of awesome. I think the default method I go by is creating an interesting character or monster group, and what he/she/they are up to, then create the physical area, then fill in the random stuff. For instance, I might think of an evil shaman, then place him in an abandoned ruin of a castle. He'll have set up some traps and stuff. Then fill in the rest of the rooms/caves with Moldvay random room contents. Once the random stuff goes in, I'll try to figure out how the evil shaman deals with the fact that there's a group of albino apes in his castle with him. (His flunkies? A group he can't seem to eject?) Once this is all done, the scene is set. Enter the PCs and see what they do.