Wonder, Rigour, and Fun

Reading Natalie Nixon’s fabulous book, “The Creativity Leap” has dynamically altered the way in which I view my creative efforts generally. This includes how I approach roleplaying games. Combined with recent insights garnered while reading Stuart Brown’s excellent, “Play“, I have found myself aiming to game with some different approaches.

Let’s begin with the insight from Brown on the ways in which play energises and enriches human experience. It’s not an exaggeration to say that, for Brown, play is the most important activity we can engage with. In all aspects of life, his research suggests that human experience is enriched by a playful, open-ended, and spontaneous relationship with others.

Nixon’s insights around creativity have helped me to begin to see the different ways in which I can both be more creative in my gaming but also enrich the play. What it boils down to is the WonderRigorTM Framework Matrix, itself from the WonderRigorTM Discovery Deck, and a dose of introspection.

It all came together in a big way this morning when I read a suggestion from a reader attached to yesterday’s blog post:

Maybe try applying ur [sic] roll a dice prep method to this? If u [sic] can resolve a list down as far as a dice result then let it provide the direction. If that isn’t specific enough, make a sub-group of results and roll again.

There’s a sense in which, increasingly, the disparate elements of my reading and thinking over many months are starting to crystallise my methodology of roleplaying game play.

Firstly, I realised that I tend towards the “rigorous and certain” quadrant of the WonderRigorTM Framework Matrix. (I discovered this tool from Nixon’s book but it was better presented in her deck of cards). I want to be heading over to the left hand side to encourage a freer sense of play. Here’s the Matrix image (cadged from Nixon’s website, so please go check out her work):

Specialism (bottom-right) is where I am inhabiting right now: being very focused on system-mastery with a particular set of rules and carefully applying the suggestions of more experienced GMs. My goal has been to make my games “better” in some amorphous manner.

My recent Hiraeth game has veered sharply to the left-hand side of the Matrix and placed me into the territory of the Hack. When you need a solution quickly, this is the way to go. There is the certainty of the tried-and-tested processes but you are applying them in an environment or in a way that they weren’t build to serve. AD&D and the Open Table concept are proving eminently effective Hacks.

Better than that, however, Hiraeth has been more fun. This is because it’s less Rigorous – I am caring less about accuracy and more about spontaneously responding to my players. This has led to increased fun and enjoyment… for me as well as for players. I hadn’t realised this until Brown’s “Play” showed me how open-ended gaming would change the dynamic.

My next step, largely experimenting with my solo play, will be to veer to the top-left into Provoke territory. Ditch the Rigor and Certainty so that I can embrace the Wonder and Freedom. “What would happen if…?”

This is where the suggestion to generate decisions for my play around random tables proved genius. My anxiety arises from the uncertainty that comes with increased Freedom. It makes sense to challenge the inertia I feel from anxious thoughts with random inputs. In my Daybook today, I sketched out some simple 1d6 tables to get the ball rolling. With six items it’s possible to roll but also less threatening to choose (bearing in mind the Rule Of 7 around choices).

The real secret has, of course, been the simple of idea of playing around with the tools available. Taking this basic set of core RPG rules and seeing what happens when I use them with another World idea or element from a third set of sources. The Solo GMG‘s ideas around grabbing things from other games, rolling on random tables to help mash together locations, and other similar threads of thought have coalesced. The result is invigorating.

I’m enjoying this intentional steeping away from the Specialism I have built within my hobby – if only for a little while – into the realms of Hacks and Provocations. Who knows, after some time in those zones then perhaps I will find myself better able to Invent the play tools I am seeking for the longer term. It’s an exciting set of insights and I am looking forward to seeing where it leads.

Game on!

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