Sunday, 13 May 2012

Creation by Question

I ran a first session of Diaspora today; it was entirely comprised of setting- and character generation, which went well - so far, the system looks interesting, and I can't wait to get it started and see how it works in practice.

What struck me while playing is that it's important for lots of questions to be asked during the game. That sounds like a banal observation, but it isn't: I'm not talking about the necessary sort of questions that players have to ask ("Where is the exit?" "What are the orcs carrying?" etc.) but questions which spur the questionee to think, and thereby create.

For instance, I was describing one of the worlds, in one of the systems we were creating, as being a water world, populated by Melnibonean-esque decadent epicureans. One of the players cut in, "Do they live on the surface in big floating cities, or under the water, or what?" And I was forced to think, "Well, where do they live?" And in answering the question more detail was added to the setting: creation by question in action.

There is a lot of power in this, and it applies not just during shared setting-creation type games like Diaspora: it applies in any kind of game - I'm reminded of a Yoon-Suin session I ran online in which one of the players asked whether hijras existed, and I had to think, "Well, do they?" The answer was yes, and another detail was added to the world. But it just as frequently happens during character generation too: "My character is about six feet, built like a brick-shit house, and he's carrying a glaive." "What does the glaive look like?" "Well....It's engraved with runic patterns." "What do they mean?" "Er...he doesn't know, it's a family heirloom and it's a mystery." And so on: questions have power.

I think this comes from the fact that, like using random generators, questions spur creativity through restricting the options. It is the same adage that I've used before: give a man a paper and pencil and say "write a story" and he'll take 10 times as long to come up with something than he would if you'd said "write a story about a murder", and it'll probably be 10 times less interesting. Likewise, saying to somebody "Come up with a world" is a thoroughly different proposition to saying to him: "What is the geography of your world like? Is there a desert? What kind of people live there? Are they warlike? Do they do drugs?" By restricting his creativity, you give it legs.


  1. My husband is reading the game book right now. It's a really interesting system. I don't know if we can convince our friends to play with us since they're very stuck on Pathfinder, but I like this idea of creation through question.

  2. Questions spur the intuition. They let you just realize what your subconscious already knows about the setting.

  3. Your general point is well taken - questions are the essence of research, of course. I'm interested in the smaller issue of what is Diaspora, though. Are you using it for your moons of Jupiter game?

    I am attracted/repelled by the procedural generation of star systems in Traveller - it can be a game with a fully realised interconnected politically active and consequent world or it can be Elite; the context-stripping elements of the Endless Wilderness Picaresque played up to 11, endless heists and getaways and no going back to deal with the wreckage you created. It sounds like Diaspora offers a limited set of worlds with loose connectivity between them, which is NOT Trav but also not the same as a general hexcrawl or an empire game. So what attracts you to it? What game are you doing with it?

    1. I wanted to run something Hard SF-ish and fancied something different. I wish there was a more profound answer than that!

      We'll see how it goes. It's Traveller through a story-game lens; players have quite a bit of narrative control, and you're not supposed to plan much. It's all quite abstract.

      I'll probably blog about where it goes - not sure yet, as it's really down to the players and what they come up with.

  4. I really enjoyed the set-up phase yesterday; I'm eager to see what happens when we start playing and also to see how the fate system works in play.

  5. I'm reminded of the great animation director Chuck Jones and his and writer Michael Maltese's rules regarding creating Road Runner cartoons. It forced them to figure out some very entertaining variations on a theme.

    I don't remember if it was a quote or something I read but I truly believe that "art is a taking away." Restricting choices forces the creator to use what's left in a different, creative way. By boxing him in a bit it helps him think "outside the box."


  6. Well, it does make sense that a question will harbor an answer. I personally like asking "what ifs" about things we take for granted in the D&D universe using our understanding of theology, philosophy, economics, history, etc. to try to make a more 'real feeling' world.... And I ask my players to do the same.

    After a few years of running a campaign you have so much more through asking questions than you would by just saying "Wizards/Dragons/Demons/Gods did it!" rather than knowing the hows and whys of what they did.



  7. Well said! I too have been playing DIASPORA lately and am really enjoying the FATE system.