Monday, December 1, 2014

Worldbuilding Tides

"Conceiving the nation in narrative terms allows us to speak of it in a more tentative and less totalizing manner.  It allows us to remember that the nation (or nation building) is always an unfinished, incompleted task.  Structured in such a way, it remains ready always to absorb the varied and ambivalent cultural strands which, in the process, are always re-forming and re-formulating the nation.  This is one reason why there can never be a fixed narrative of the nation."

Dr. Selwyn R. Cudjoe, speaking at Wellesley College

It perhaps speaks to my delusion that most everything I read seems to be talking about my D&D world.  This is how I viewed the above quote - that it was less about the actual nation and more about my personal construction.  My world has grown to the point where it can never be finished.  It is a rare day, in fact, that I come to the end of any project, since long before the projects end I hit a point of ennui and find I must leave off them for several months.  Thus I work at a round-table of projects, one after another, usually dependent on how much energy I have at the moment.

The diligence with which I work at any project depends upon how much thinking the project requires. Maps, for instance, require very little - it is mostly handcrafted, detailed work upon a set premise that decides ahead of time what lines will go where or what colors will be used to fill in what parts. When I want to work but I don't particularly want to think, I make maps.

Conversely, the sort of rule-making that I've done on the wiki this last month is difficult, taxing work, the sort that compels me to overthink a passage of 100 words to the point where I want to throw it all out and begin again.  Rule-making is harder than book writing, for not only do I have to create rules that will compel the player to think or give the player options, I must anticipate the player's desire to innovate and the player's willingness to break the rule the moment it is put in place.

Everything else fits between these two poles.  Some work, like detailing monsters or sketching out random tables, bores me.  I know this differs from the reader.  I myself used to enjoy it.  However, random tables never seem to work during a game and as such I have lost my taste for it. Comparatively, some work can be engaging for a time, until repetition simply makes further effort untenable.  I give myself these enormous projects to work on and these eventually do exhaust me. They only ever get finished because I come back to them again and again over a period of years until at last they are worn down to completion.

Truth is, however, that the more difficult projects are also the most useful, by far.  While maps were needed at first, most of the maps I work on now represent areas the party will probably never venture.  While I do work on the trade tables regularly, the table as it exists now works well enough that I could probably leave it completely alone for years.

The things that really needs my attention are rules - the one thing I haven't got the energy to work on day in and day out.  It always happens that I get myself worked into an intellectual corner from which I spend weeks trying to escape.  Possessing a somewhat obsessive personality, I chafe at just moving on to the next rule - what's the point, my befuddled brain thinks, if I don't solve this quandary?

But since every quandary needs distance (can't solve them by thinking about them all the time), I put down rule-making entirely and revert to trade, weather tables or maps.  So it has been since I began this silly role-playing thing.

Obviously, I can't claim to be unproductive.  It does frustrate me that I have to tell my players, weekly, that no, I don't have their new rules designed for them.  They've had a taste of those rules and they want them, very badly.  Yet at the pace I'm progressing, it could take three to five years before they premiere in my world.

It seems strange that I wrote a book in 8 months (a big book) but I can't simply write down the rules in my head in comparative time.

I have to comfort myself with Cudjoe's words, however.  There is no such thing as finished.  The future will hold new ideas and new tools, new social expectations and new player viewpoints, affected by the real world, and I will be pressed to address them as they arrive.  The "narrative" of worldbuilding cannot be linear - it is, rather, very messy.  Not because I'm failing to do all the effective work that I have, but because there will always be more.  More work of more variety, fulfilling farther-reaching goals that have already overwhelmed me.

Besides, I like making maps, however useless the new ones are at this point.  I haven't in a few months, because I've been working towards more practical additions to the world.  My work is like the tide rolling in and raising the boats for a time . . . but in the end the tide will roll back, the land will be left a desert and I'll make maps again.

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