Posts Tagged ‘inspiration’

A post about a fortnight ago at Some Space to Think has me thinking about what tools a DM has to build a ‘personal’ game, as well as what ‘personal’ actually means in a gaming context. Of course, this means that what would, to normal people, be a discussion of role-playing tips and techniques has turned into a lengthy series of posts that might as well be called ‘justifying my BA in English literature.’

I promise that the next post will actually be about role-playing. Honest. But a little literary theory never hurt anybody, and it’s important to understanding what I want to talk about next time.

For someone who majored in English literature, I have a generally antagonistic relationship with literary theory. For example, I tend to frame my analysis of work based off of my knowledge of the time period the work was written. It makes me cranky when people insist that a Freudian analysis of an 1847 work is clearly what the author intended. Other things that make me cranky: anything written by Michel Foucault, deconstruction, New Criticism.


If you think this is too hard on literary criticism, read the Wikipedia article on deconstruction

Panel 4 is pretty much how I got through college.

But the point of this article is not to rail against literary criticism, as much as I enjoy doing so. No, the point of this article is to discuss one of the backbones of Gothic literary theory: the sublime and the beautiful. Believe me when I say it’s taking all my willpower to resist speaking at length on the rise and development of the Gothic novel; how socio-political pressures in England influenced the typical Gothic setting; or the subversion/reinforcement of traditional gender roles in these novels. It’s really, really hard.

In modern times, the word sublime has taken on a connotation of something exquisite or transcendental. That’s not the definition Edmund Burke was going for when he wrote A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful. Burke drew on the original definition of sublime: a force of great magnitude that the mind has difficulty encapsulating. Infinity is an example of one such force. Darkness is another. Because our perception of these forces is limited, an emotional tension is created. On one side is our natural curiosity—we want to find out more about these mysterious forces. On the other side is our natural fear of the unknown, driven largely by our fear of death. Thus, the sublime is a force that compels us, but can also destroy us.

The beautiful, as Burke defines it, something that is well-made and aesthetically pleasing. A painting or sculpture can be beautiful. If I recall right, milk is also beautiful according to Burke.

On the other hand, maybe he was on to something.....

He goes on to say that the purpose of beautiful objects is to create pleasure, and also to calm the nerves, such as after encountering something sublime.

Burke also has a lot to say about pleasure and pain.

Fun fact: literary criticism is a lot more entertaining if you picture Pinhead reading it out loud to his fellow Cenobites. Just saying.

In fact, he spends more time talking about pleasure and pain than he does the sublime and the beautiful. Which is kind of odd, when you consider the title of his book. Both the sublime and the beautiful create pleasure, although through different means. The beautiful, as I mentioned earlier, drawing from the ‘passion of love’ (and not lust or desire, as Burke takes many pains to state), calms and soothes the soul of the viewer and creator. The sublime creates pleasure through a vicarious thrill—we are scared by it, but also relieved that it’s just a story or it couldn’t happen to me.

I’ve gone on for too long on a relatively minor work of literary criticism. And this is a very surface level description of Burke’s work. But it’s a good starting point for what I want to talk about next time. I might need to elaborate some more as I go on, but I’m hoping I’ve covered the most important parts of the work.

In summary:

1) Things we don’t understand are scary
2) Milk is tasty
3) Literary Criticism is a load of dingo droppings
4) Things we find pretty calm us down

EDIT: A quote from my dearest darling husband: “Lies, a BA in English is never justified, only rationalized.” How true, how true….


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There must be some kinda way out of here”
Said the joker to the thief
There’s too much confusion
I can’t get no relief

–All Along the Watchtower, Bob Dylan

All Along the Watchtower has become one of my favorite songs to listen to while planning my D&D sessions. The craft and care that went into that song is awe-inspiring. The lyrics work in a circle, one can simply keep repeating the song over and over, but even more interesting for me and my love of non-linear time is that it can be read in reverse. No, really, look!

Two riders were approaching,
the wind began to howl.
Outside in the distance
a wildcat did growl
While all the women came and went,
barefoot servants, too.
All along the watchtower,
princes kept the view
So let us not talk falsely now,
the hour is getting late.
But you and I, we’ve been through that, and this is not our fate
There are many here among us who feel that life is but a joke
No reason to get excited, the thief he kindly spoke
None of them along the line
know what any of it is worth.
Businessmen, they drink my wine,
plowmen dig my earth
There’s too much confusion, I can’t get no relief
There must be some way out of here said the joker to the thief

Holy crap, Bob Dylan is a freakin’ genius.

But even beyond that, there’s a certain feeling this song that I want to capture in my campaign. A certain sense of frantic despair is the closest description I can come up with. Results up to this point: failure, but I keep pursuing it with dogged determination.

Of course, that’s not the only song that I listen to while planning. Songs rotate in and out as appropriate, but right now my playlist includes Moody Blues “I Know You’re Out There Somewhere;” From Autumn to Ashes “Short Stories with Tragic Endings;” Heather Alexander “March of Cambreadth.”  Here are some links. It’s cool, I’ll wait while you listen.

You done? Awesome. Anyway, perhaps this is why I sometimes feel the general mood of the story  is somewhat disjointed at times. From 80s love ballads to angry angsty songs of lost to a song with lots of killing… well, I always said I had a varied taste in music. Also, once I start throwing in what I perceive as character theme songs, well, it’s a very interesting play list, at least.

Here’s a freebie, since this our resident bard deemed this Cedrick’s theme song. Well, he goes with the original version, but this is what I have on my iGadget.

I don’t really go for lyrics as a direct source of inspiration (well… sometimes *cough*). But I find it helpful for getting myself into a proper mindset.

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Hey, I made it to one hundred posts! How exciting! It only took about 10 months to get here. By my very quick and off the cuff math, that’s about one post every three days. Falling a bit short of my goal of five posts a week, but not bad, overall. I suppose there’s nothing for it, except to post more.

You see, my writing can all be explained by this image. My drive to write is Pac-man, my inspiration is power pellets, and the ghosts symbolize procrastination, writer's block, distraction, and self-doubt. Pac-man is such a deep game.

As large round numbers seem to signal a time for reflection, I’ve been pondering the direction I want to take with the blog. To tell the truth, I’m a bit unsure of what to do. Don’t worry, I’m not going to stop writing! I’m just less sure of what I want to write about. Should I move more towards crunch in my posts, and move out of my relative comfort zone? Or should I continue writing whatever fluff comes to mind? I hate the idea of stagnating just because I’m comfortable, but even so, I can’t shake the feeling that I would somehow be “selling out.” Either way, there will be some changes in the future, even if I’m not entirely sure what they are yet.

Reads left to right

I rest my case.

When describing myself or my role in the group, I usually classify myself as ‘comedic support’ or ‘weird animaly-type sidekick thing.’ I’m usually pretty laid back. I’ll support my friends as much as possible, but being in charge…? It goes against my very nature to act as leader. And yet I’ve somehow I’m… content to be in charge of the weekly D&D game. My newly found confidence also seems to have extended to getting Sword Club off the ground. One of my worst habits is my tendency to self-depreciate, so I think it’s good for me to take a look back and realize how much awesome stuff I’ve actually done. Somehow, I managed to work a create change in-game mechanics and game lore into my campaign, at fairly seamlessly. I still haven’t caused a party wipe! I have yet to grow tired and complacent with the game, which means I’m still not afraid to try new things, even if I end up failing all over the place. Sword club keeps expanding, and I’m still thinking of ways to teach fighting techniques to my little swordlings (although I do defer to two of my friends since they both have black belts in Tae Kwan Do). I taught people how to fight with rondels all by myself! I wrote over 100 posts (some were just too awful to see the light of day). I also learned about the best sport ever.

Life may not be exactly where I thought it would be right now, but that doesn’t mean that it’s bad. It’s just different, and that can be good. It’s been a fun trip, and I’m looking forward to the next 100 posts.

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Aaah, I am mostly functional again. As such, I’ve been strolling through the blogsphere again. Critical Hits posted an interesting link touching on my previous blog post, and written much more clearly and concisely than my own. So, give it a read (actually read the entire blog, it’s good stuff). I don’t really have much more to add to this conversation, so I’ll stop there. But it really is good to know that I’m not the only one frustrated in this matter.

Inspiration, that tricky and mutable beast. It is a fearsome beast to tame, but with some patience, it is possible. But for those that don’t have the time or patience, there is one easy solution for inspiration in a gaming setting. Steal, steal, steal. It worked for Shakespeare, it worked for Neil Gaiman, and it can work for you, too. Is there a character from a book or movie that you think about constantly? Introduce them as an NPC, to help or hinder the party. An image from a horror movie that haunts your nightmares? Incorporate it into your campaign somehow!  Or is there a movie/play/novel you absolutely hate? Why not use that as a basis to ‘get it right?’

Exactly like this

For the record, I’ve used all three of these techniques with varying degrees of success. Limited success with the NPCs, but the other two have been working out pretty well for me, overall. But if that fails, I like to flip through books, especially fluff books like Faiths and Pantheons or The Underdark, and see what catches my eye. Even if something doesn’t fit in with my campaign at the moment, I jot a note down in my ever-growing DM binder.

My current campaign is a mixture of flipping through my husband’s Forgotten Realms books and finding the whole pantheon they had set up pretty sweet (this was about three years ago, now), and confusion about why, in a world centered around magic and the like, WOTC had decided to kill of the god of magic, with no replacement. I mean, yeah, they kill Mystra all the time. But this time, I felt the need to ‘fix’ what had been done, or in the least explore the consequences of killing one of the most powerful beings in existence (with a couple of other homages thrown in for good measure). So, uh, thanks for killing Mystra (again), WOTC! Write down everything that interests you, no matter how small, somewhere. Look it over when you’re scrambling for ideas. Who knows, maybe a D&D version of L.A. Confidential would make an awesome game session, or you might want to rework that pretentious art film into an enjoyable social experience (even though I actually quite like La Jetee, it’s not exactly something I would watch with other people). Anything and everything around is a potential piece of inspiration, if it just gets used right.

This is what I aim for in each and every campaign I craft. Maybe that's not the healthiest additude to take.

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