Monday, February 14, 2011

Unblocking with Blocks

I have spent the past several weeks frozen in mental Carbonite as I struggle to plan the next great adventure for my players. The inspirational constipation known as writer's block is something that everyone who writes will experience in their lifetime. I have been frustrated by it before, and I'm sure I will again. This particular bout of blockage, however, seemed more obnoxious than those of the past. Rather than suffering from a mere lack of inspiration, I was faced with a glut of good ideas hindered by an insidious inability to assemble them into a coherent structure known as an adventure. My muse was before me, but firmly out of reach.

Oh for a muse of fire...
I tried most of my usual tricks to break the block. I held brainstorming sessions with friends, perused the blogs and ready-made adventures for ideas, drew maps and redrew and redrew... nothing worked. These strategies only added to my frustration because, while they improved upon my idea, they did not make it function.

Until today. Finally. Sweet Relief! I finally felt something budge. While poking around Gnome Stew, I stumbled upon this article about dungeon design checklists, which I believe I have read before, but which finally hit home.

I decided to give the technique a try. I knew I had some of the elements that I could plug into the list, and hoped that by doing so, I could figure out what I was missing. I plugged in the encounters and NPCs/monsters I knew I wanted, plugged in the theme -The 1 sentence pitch for the dungeon and then plugged in the names of my PCs and their particular areas of expertise...

As I began to match my PCs with their "spotlight" encounters, my block began to shift. Rather than struggling with the layout and content of each room in the dungeon, I was suddenly able to view it as a series or an array of encounters, each designed to play to the strengths of one or more of my characters. Each of these encounters would be an anchor point in my dungeon, a discrete block of location, challenge and skilled problem solver. I had my major blocks and as I looked at what I had and what I was missing, my mind began to whirl with ways to flesh out, foreshadow and tie together these major blocks with minor blocks. If a major block consisted of a fight or roleplaying encounter, a minor block might be a trap or wall that must be climbed to reach that encounter... suddenly, my dungeonscape was morphing from a series of discrete blocks into a dynamic and intertwined system. A coherent creation.

Now, I still need to work on putting my blocks down on grid paper, but I feel confident that my new sense of clarity will allow me to do just that. If I feel myself blocked in the future, I will remember my dungeon checklist, and attempt to unblock with blocks.

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