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by Mike on 24 April 2023
Our imagination is an amazing gift. With a little focus and some fine tuning of our environment, we can use it to build fantastic worlds we and our players can enjoy for the rest of our lives. What can we do to further the creation of worlds in the depths of our imagination?
I've written about this topic in chapters 25 an 26 of [Return of the Lazy Dungeon Master] and in a few Sly Flourish articles including:
It's not enough to tell ourselves to simply "think about our game" without any structure to the thought. Many GMs over the past half-century discussed how much of their game came from pondering their game while in the shower, out for a walk, stuck in traffic, at a boring meeting, or otherwise stuck in a moment in time where their only distraction was one that came from their own heads.
If we want to truly benefit from our amazing skull-bound universe-simulators some structure to our thought process can help. We need first to take conscious stock of our intentions — we want to focus our thinking on our game and our world. This involves two steps: setting up our environment and focusing our thought.
First, we must set up the right environment for our universe-building work. Here are some ideas:
Some great activities in which we can engage in such active daydreaming include:
It should come as no surprise that all of these should be done away from our smartphones. Don't worry, the world can live without us for thirty minutes.
With our environment set we can focus our daydreaming by asking ourselves specific questions. I like to think of this as brain-work. What are we going to work on during our next thought-session? Sometimes this can be higher-order questions like "what three ideas do I want to bring to my next game?" but sometimes it can be true immersive daydreaming with a prompt like "What is my villain seeing right now? What actions are they taking? What conversation are they having with their underlings?".
Here are some potential prompts for your focused brain-gaming:
One interesting way to fill in details of our focused daydreaming is to think in first person. What would it be like if we were really there. Not everyone can do this, a phenomenon called aphantasia affects about one in twenty according to current research. For those afflicted, this idea of thinking in first person — focusing on images specifically — is difficult to impossible. Not being a scientist in the field, I have little help to offer but potentially focusing on abstract questions without the visuals might still focus our minds in ways to build out our games.
For those of us able to build images in our head, the simulation grows ever more detailed. What does it feel like? What the smell in the air? What would we hear?
When we're using immersive daydreaming to build our world and thinking about our game, there are a few directions our thoughts might go that we want to avoid. These include:
We're not writing a novel. We're setting up a world for the characters to explore but we are not those characters. Our players are. We can set the stage, set the environment, and set out the NPCs but we should avoid assuming what the characters will do and what direction they will head. We'll find that out when we actually run it our game.
This process of structured daydreaming can do wonders for our D&D game. It lets us imagine the world with all of our senses. It lets us go there. Give yourself the time, space, and environment to use our amazing gift of imagination to build out amazing worlds we and our players can explore together.
Special thanks to Lilia for conversations on this topic.
Each week I record an episode of the Lazy RPG Talk Show (also available as a podcast) in which I talk about all things in tabletop RPGs. Here are last week's topics with timestamped links to the YouTube video:
Also on the Talk Show, I answer questions from Sly Flourish Patreons. Here are last week's questions and answers:
Each week I think about what I learned in my last RPG session and write them up as D&D tips. Here are this week's tips:
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