This week we'll be bringing you some advice from two professional game designers. Today we'll hear from Mike Mearls. Currently employed at Wizards of the Coast, Mr. Mearls is one of the brightest luminaries to come out of the d20 revolution. His list of credits is both long and impressive. You can read further insights of Mike's at his livejournal and at the Wizards website. Take it away, Mike!
Here's a few things I've learned:
1. When it comes to gaming, doing is better than thinking. Some of the best ideas I've had for adventures or mechanics have come off the top of my head. I think that, in the heat of the moment when I need something cool or entertaining, I just go with what's fun. It's easy in game and adventure design to get caught up in theory, or obsessed over minutia or corner case situations that don't have a real impact on play. When you have five players waiting for something cool to happen, all you want to do as GM is find something fun and entertaining. In that moment, you strip away everything except fun, and I think it's conducive to good gaming ideas.
So, run a game, or play a game (RP, video, or board; whatever's handy) and just focus on what was fun about it. At the end of the day, elegant die mechanics, compelling plot lines, and everything else are all crap unless the end result is fun.
(As an aside, adventures that I ran before publishing have always turned out better than ones that I never ran. I think this bit of advice is the reason why.)
2. Talk games with other, active gamers. I find that just talking about games is stimulating, particularly if you throw some ideas you've had out there. New perspectives, especially from people who game in ways that are really different from your own, can make you look at things in different ways. This doesn't mean slavishly doing what others tell you, but it does mean listening and learning. Sometimes, a fresh angle is what you need to get around a problem.
3. This next bit is totally cribbed from every lame motivational speaker ever, but I think it's useful to keep in mind. Failure is better than mediocrity. It's easy to get too worried about looking goofy, or stick too closely to how you think everyone else wants you to do something, and in the process lose your own voice, vision, and perspective. If you think an idea is maybe a bit stupid, or a little too weird, follow it. At the very least, talk it out with your gaming buddies. It's easy to talk yourself out of a risky but good idea.
(By the same token, if everyone thinks your idea is dumb, trust your friends.)
Hope that helps!