creative burdens: invention and interpretation

Having talked previously about creative burdens, let’s break them down in the Soft Horizon.

There are two kinds of creative burden demanded from players in the Soft Horizon and (as expected) they vary by role: the ref has different demands from the other players.

During character creation, players must interpret their organization’s remit and specifiers to describe an organization that bonds them together and supplies an immediate goal. Let’s say you have rolled Commercial (remit), Industrial (specifier), and Secret (specifier). Player must now invent an organization that is fundamentally a profit-seeking entity and whose niche is industrial activity. And it’s a secret! They need to wonder what a secret commercial entity is (maybe its true purpose is the only secret?). They need to decide how one makes money off of industry and what kind of industry. And they need to think about industrial secrets. Pulling these three oracles together to create a description of their organization is the first significant creative burden in the game.

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A very small land, high up, warm and serene, connected to the nearest other land by a flowing body of water.

The ref at least, though often all players, will develop a community along similar lines — they will interpret a set of oracles. So me might have oracles “enormous and needs gods”, “lowlands, cold and obscure”, “far from other lands”, and “occasional airship traffic”. We have a relatively isolated, enormous, low altitude flying mountain that needs gods. From this the ref will pile on some interpretation and make it connect to the organization and the characters.

When play begins, the ref will have filled out a prep sheet for themselves which summarizes their inventions and interpretations going into play. They will create the following:

  • An interpretation of the player organization’s big problem. For a commercial organization the cue is that profits are low. The ref will interpret this in the context of a community and create a specific problem that is immediate.
  • An invention of one or more fronts. Using the existing facts, imagine some opposition to the characters’ purpose or interests.
  • An invention of one idea to start some shit: a conflict to throw in the mix if things slow down.
  • An invention of one possible deadline to introduce.
  • An invention of one possible hazard to inflict.
  • An interpretation of one player’s bond as a problem.
  • An interpretation of one player’s scar as a problem.
  • An invention of an interesting NPC.

This list will get updated before every session. Each entry is a sentence or less–just enough to trigger the concept for the ref in play.

So much for pre-play play.

During play there is the usual conversation improvisation that is fundamentally interpretation of all existing data. This is highly creative and hopefully leads to conflicts which will generate more data for interpretation. The ref is also jump-starting things with information from the ref’s prep sheet which they will interpret in the context of the existing conversation to liven things up.

During a conflict the ref will invent a risk. They are cued by the type but the exact nature of the fallout that will happen if the risk is realized is their invention. This is, to me, the heaviest creative burden on the ref in this game and also the most fun. The risk is revelation, for example: what will be revealed that no one expected (not even the ref until now) if things don’t go exactly as planned? A betrayal perhaps? This is immediate improvisational creation in the ref’s hands.

Players will interpret their methods, their bonds, their loot, and their scars to develop the narration of the conflict and at the same time seek greater advantage. And in Sand Dogs, they may interpret a flashback cue to narrate a whole scene from their past that has bearing on the current conflict.

Those are the main creative burdens on the players in the Soft Horizon. There is no creative burden to create new rules or interpret new rules from existing rules (no rule zero). There is very limited creative burden to create an “adventure”. There is no burden to create maps or stat monsters or balance encounters.

The location of the creative burden is definitive. This is what makes this game what it is.

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