Single Creator Syndrome

by Solomoriah

Adventure writing is like any other form of writing in many ways.  For instance, every writer has a style, and with experience you can recognize it.  Style shows not only in the words the author chooses, but also in the concepts and philosophies he or she promotes.

Really, there’s nothing wrong with having a style, but it’s important to avoid letting your style make you too predictable, especially if it’s an adventure you’re writing.

I don’t know how many times, in discussions held in person or online, that a GM has said “I don’t use monster X because I don’t like it.”  Sometimes it’s a game mechanical thing, sometimes its more a factor of the monster’s imaginary ecology or role or backstory.  It really doesn’t matter why, though.

So the GM whose existence we are imagining creates a new adventure for his group of regular players.  They all know him, so they know his style.  And in the course of the adventure, an NPC hints at the presence of a vampire (for instance) and all the players think, nah, our GM doesn’t like vampires, and they don’t even take it seriously.

I call this “Single Creator Syndrome.”  It’s the opposite of the defect often called “Design by Committee,” but while perhaps a bit less lame, it’s still a defect.

I’ll digress a bit, into the world of fiction.  One of my favorite science fiction shows was Babylon 5, and anyone who is a true fan of the show knows that many of the episodes, including basically the entire last season, were written by one man, J. Michael Straczynski.  He’s one of my favorite all-around writers, and the show was a masterpiece.  But in the final episodes, wrapping up the aftermath of the Shadow War, I noticed that the main characters all seemed to hold the same beliefs.  Not just similar beliefs… they all believed exactly alike, to the point that I couldn’t have reliably told you whether any particular quote was from G’Kar or Captain Sheridan or Delenn.  The reason is simple… they all shared Straczynski’s beliefs.  Single creator syndrome.

Back on topic.  I’ve also heard many GMs say that they never use adventure modules.  That’s too bad, really, because using an adventure module written by another author is one of the easiest ways to escape from Single Creator Syndrome.  Oh, sure, you may still go through and change some things you really don’t like, but the overall adventure will still be in the author’s style instead of in yours.

Another, harder, way is to create NPCs who hold beliefs that disagree with yours, and then don’t let them be just cardboard cutouts.  Do some reading.  Read things written by people you don’t agree with, and remember that, in any reasonably large and expansive fantasy world, there should be at least a few people (or dragons, or whatever) who believe just like that.

Stretch a bit.  Use the monsters you usually don’t like, or which for some reason you’ve just omitted.  I hardly ever use giants, a weakness I’m trying to overcome.  It’s not that I dislike giants, I just never think of them when I’m choosing monsters.  So I’m strongly considering running J.D. Neal’s Saga of the Giants adventures (found on our Downloads page) as a way to overcome that weak point and surprise my players.

The point is, don’t let yourself fall into a rut.  Whether it’s a matter of running an adventure module, or changing things up in your dungeon design, don’t let Single Creator Syndrome take the fire out of your game.

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