one good image

That’s all I need. That’s what runs a whole session and maybe a whole campaign. Give me one good image.

It doesn’t need to be a photograph or a painting or a drawing. In fact usually it’s not — usually it’s not even the right image but rather maybe a misreading of a passage in a book. So it’s half mine. And sometimes it’s nine-tenths mine and I can’t even place the kernel of it, the source seed that I used to grow it into mine.

A jet airliner, broken, the fuselage bridging two mountain peaks, a crevasse below. Whirling snow, shrieking through the hollow cabin. And ghosts. A woman in leather and sheepskins and brass walks through the relative quiet of the cabin turning the tiny handle on a not-music box. And the ghosts enter the box one by one. She collects them.

A hundred kilometer tall column constructed by who knows what and who knows when fell to the desert floor here a hundred thousand years ago, now forming a startlingly regular mountain range that the geology does not demand. Water condensing at altitude runs down from it in the meter-deep channels carved into it. If you could stand in just the right place you could make out the decorations for what they were. Drawings? Writing? Abstractions? Is the permanently lost secret valuable. Will the builders be back?

0011
A woman with a crocodile’s head, maybe.

A literal water world. 5,000 kilometers to the core.

A pyramid on the moon.

A city built into the skull of demon, still warm a thousand years after it died.

A bustling marketplace of stone and silk suddenly filled with violence, generations of peace ruptured in a moment.

That’s basically the minimum I need to launch a game. Armed with that image I’m ready to expose it to the players and their creativity and let them wonder out loud, explore, and otherwise elaborate for me. This is improvisational jazz with the image as the theme we return to again and again, but extend and inspect. When I start this off I usually have no idea what is going to develop. Or I have an idea but I am prepared to surrender it if the players build something more beautiful or more compelling.

So games that require mechanical preparation–stat blocks, rooms that connect to rooms, and so on–are a liability here. They are fun but they are not this. I need my map to be largely blank with an improbable note here and there. Gnoll pirates here. A keep facing empty desert. A hole in the ocean.

So what do you need? What’s the minimum you need to start a game running? What do you need to keep it running?

6 thoughts on “one good image

  1. So far it seems all I need is someone to say ” I want to play a game”

    I have on multiple occasions come up with a complete setting and mechanics on the spot. One of these sessions where I created Pirates of THE Spanish Highlands is still one of the most memorable games I’ve ever run and the players consider it one of the best games they ever played.

    The game was born from play and that play came from players. All I need to run a game is someone to want to play it. Even if that game doesn’t exist yet.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. When I look at the maps my generators produce, I can’t help but start thinking about the people living there, the geography, the cultures, their history, their technology. And I need names for things: organisations, secret societies, people, their friends, their allies. And if I then get a generator to create faces for me, then that’s even better. And I need time to immerse myself in all of this. That’s why I still think I should spend more time working on Hex Describe. Sigh! https://campaignwiki.org/hex-describe/

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s