Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Nuts & Bolts #71 - What's in a Name?

Actually this will have nothing to do with character names. Instead I want to talk about titles, and what they can do for your game sessions and your campaigns.

I try to generate a title for each session. I do this most frequently and successfully for my games run online. It's easier when you need to put something in the event name when creating your Google Hangout invite, or when you are running a play-by-post game and need to title the next story/chapter/arc's forum thread. Your hand is forced and you have to come up with something, even if it's just a quick something.

But a title says a lot. It helps to inform the players, readers, & viewers as to what they will be playing, reading, or viewing. Imagine if Ghostbusters had been called 55 Central Park West (the address of Dana Barrett's building). With all other marketing the same your view of the movie would still be skewed. It would seem to be more about this haunted building than it was around these guys and their weird ghost busting startup.

Titles can be tough though, especially if you don't have a plan yet of what is happening in the story. However titles can sometimes inspire story. Going back a decade or so I ran a play-by post game, early on as I was brainstorming the story I got inspired by the song High Hopes, by Pink Floyd. It gave me ideas for a post apocalypse game where mankind was struggling to rebuild on earth while another society had other plans (I said inspired by the song, not based on it).

As a lark I decided to title the first chapter (about an advanced aircraft that crashed near the PC's home) after the Pink Floyd album A Delicate Sound of Thunder. It was evocative of the very first few paragraphs I wrote for that story, and just a little Easter egg for myself. What followed was continued inspiration from the works of Pink Floyd, and I continued to name each successive chapter after an album of their. Meddle, A Saucerful of Secrets, Wish You Were Here, The Dark Side of the Moon, A Momentary Lapse of Reason, and so forth. After a while I was expecting to get called out by my players, but that never happened.

The best part was that I had a limited number of albums to work with and I made an effort to make sure that the titles fit thematically with the events of each chapter and the overall story. I knew where I was starting, and I had an end in mind, but because I rarely plot out the middle of RPG stories in advance I was also able to draw inspiration from the titles available to me to use. In the end my Pink Floyd inspired game ended (mostly) as I had intended, and each chapter along the way was inspired at least in part by their albums and songs.

But maybe you aren't finding the same kind of inspiration within the music you listen to, or the books you read. Or worse maybe you keep getting caught up in those books or movies, but don't want to just recreate the "wheel". Well there is always hope.

Over on Google+ a fellow by the name of +Charlie Hoover does daily geek questions/challenges. Recently he has taken to challenging the readers to use a specific word and either add it to a title or replace a world in the title with the challenge word and create something new. As an example that I mentioned last week, use witch or wizard in place of or in addition to a title. I thought about franchises, as I often do, and came with with The Witch Hard series: Witch Hard, Witch Hard 2: Witch Harder, Witch Hard with a Wizard, Wizard Free or Witch Hard, and A Good Day to Witch Hard.

At first this was just a goofy lark to answer the question of the day, but then I got thinking about The Witcher 3 that a friend of mine enjoyed (I haven't played it) and the Vin Diesel movie The Last Witch Hunter (which I also have not seen). I actually don't know anything about these except their titles but now I have in my brain the idea that my Witch Hard series idea could make for a series of fun RPG sessions. I can even steal parts of the plots of the original Die Hard films because by the time I add witches and witch hunters to the mix they'll probably be entirely different. Likewise Witch Hard would by necessity need to have room for 4-6 characters instead of one lone hero.

Still the idea has merit enough that I may well see if I can make Witch Hard, a story about 4-6 wizard students who have to come to the rescue of their classmates and teachers while trapped in their enchanted school by a group of witches who want to steal something from the school's vault. Think Harry Potter smashed up with Die Hard, mixed with a little Hansel & Gretel and/or Van Helsing.

Will it work? No clue, but the idea is fun (at least I think so), and it came from the simple exercise of swapping/adding words into an existing story to make it new. Maybe next time you are strapped for ideas consider a little word play with some of your favorite books or movies and see what you come up with. Maybe your players will enjoy a rousing evening of The Good, The Bad, and the Gelatinous Cube.