Being in my last semester of art school, I don't really have the time to do any gaming for the most part. There's simply too many time-consuming projects, many of which suck the creative juices right out of you, and the rest just take too freakin' long to finish to devote time to any other pursuit. So it was with some measure of enthusiasm that I was invited to do some D&D on Saturday. Not only did I get to play, but I got to wear the viking hat, as they say.
For a long time, I was loathe to put anything unoriginal into a game setting. I thought that I was a creative type, a story writer, and so everything I made should be original, springing forth from my own brain and drawing upon nothing else apart from general impressions. When you're trying to be both a gamer and a comics writer, this is a really tough thing to do, because your creativity gets stretched kind of thin, and you end up putting your efforts into one thing or another, but not really both.
So this time around, invited to fill in as DM for a game that had begun as a completely improvised one-shot, with characters but no real setting apart from some handwavey vague details, I decided to make up a setting for this game that would fit the characters and the situation described to me. And I ripped off a half dozen published game settings to do it.
And it felt good.
I like my patchwork game world. I like that I didn't have to stretch my brain to come up with utterly unique names and situations, but rather just picked and chose names and concepts that I liked from other game worlds, and made a setting that made some sort of internal sense. I quickly typed up a four-page summary of the setting as a handout, complete with map (thank you, Wizards of the Coast Map Archive). I came up with a basic story idea after glancing through the Creature Collection and considering the ending of the last adventure, and made a couple of level-appropriate encounters (thank you, Hypertext SRD). I wrote everything on Initiative Cards and Storyteller Aids, grabbed my screen, and felt more prepared to run a game than I think I have in years.
And it ran well. While I still miss the quality of character roleplaying that I enjoyed in my old California game group, it turned out nonetheless to be the sort of game that one thinks of in later years when looking over the old gamebooks and getting nostalgic. It was what a good D&D game session should be.
I don't know if it was just that I was so in need of a break from homework, or if it was the college atmosphere (we played in an empty classroom); if it was the fact that I didn't overthink and overplan the entire thing, but planned just enough; if it was that I got to make a fun world that was just what I wanted and I knew instinctively; if it was that one of our players had her laptop and the school internet connection so we could have the "Diablo II" soundtrack playing on a loop in the background (thank you Bee.fm); if it was that I didn't feel a lot of pressure to perform because the improv that came before was, well, very improvisational... I don't know exactly what it was, but man, it was fun. It reminded me why I like gaming so much.