Monday, June 8, 2009

October Country: The MacReady’s Farm

I won’t pretend to utter any profundities when I say that I have no true understanding on how the creative process works. Much better artists than myself have tackled this topic to little or no avail. When writing, some projects are unwieldy beasts that need constant battle to wrestle into submission. Others spring fully formed like Athena from the brow of Zeus. Most fall somewhere in between these two extremes.

I do subscribe to the belief that sometimes an idea needs to put down on paper as soon as possible, if only to clear out the creative” In Box” for more suitable material yet to come. At other times, an idea needs to be written down in order to perform a creative exorcism; a way to keep it from haunting me and allow me some control over its ultimate fate. Over the past weekend, I encountered one such mental ghost that needed to be put to rest.

I can’t be positive where the idea came from but I suspect that it was a form of mental rebuttal to both Stonehell and the One Page Dungeon Contest entries that I’ve been eyeball deep in for awhile. It has little resemblance to what’s become my normal workload. It started simple enough: a very clear mental picture of a sleepy, upstate farm house underneath a grey autumn sky. But the more I turned the picture around in my head, the more the oddities of this farm became clear. First, I got the impression that the farm was located in some land where it is always autumn. The seasons never change there and the rustling of dead leaves is ever-present. Secondly, I saw a windmill protruding from behind the two-story farmhouse. It was an old thing, battered by the years, but the most striking aspect of it was the nimbus of lightning or some other energy that formed around it. I had no idea what this all meant so I undertook the task to find out by writing about it.

Firing up the computer, I sat down and, over the course of a couple of hours, wrote a four page description of the farm in a role-playing game format. The writing process was completely stream of consciousness. I didn’t break to ponder what certain things meant or why they were there. I just wrote them down as I encountered them. The end result was a very fantastical locale – the sort of place one explores in a dream, only to awake with half-memories of their encounters. An aura of melancholy and the slightly macabre pervaded the whole piece, which added to this unreal feeling. The next day I went back to paint in a few details but left the piece almost completely unchanged from its original and abrupt birth.

It’s not a traditional adventure or location by any stretch of the imagination. There are no monsters to fight; no traps to overcome, and no treasure to be gained. I’m not even certain that a game system exists that this could be used in. Perhaps some weird homebrewed game or experimental game system from the New School might suit it, but I can’t imagine what sort of game world would easily embrace this weird farm.

I went back and forth on whether to let this piece molder quietly in the folder of unused game ideas or to make it available for others to read. Ultimately, I thought that maybe, someone, somewhere, might find this of interest so I turned it into a .pdf and uploaded it to Orbitfiles. You can download a copy of October Country: The MacReady’s Farm here. There is no map accompanying the piece. Try as I might, I couldn't quite get what I had in my mind to jive with what I could produce on paper. Those interested with doing more with the farm will need to provide their own layout.

At the very least, the piece might give the reader some insight into what thoughts play around in my head when I’m not focusing on dungeons. Armchair psychiatrists will have a field day with it, as would my therapist, if I had one. At best, it may help me avoid being pigeon-holed as “the dungeon guy,” a title that I sometimes feel I’m in danger of acquiring forever.

For the record, let me state that I’m not certain what everything in the piece means or why things are the way they are. The title “October Country” is of course a reference to the Bradbury book by the same name. It has a certain beauty and mystery that felt appropriate for a land in which the winter never comes.


Mister Scratch said...

I have a game in mind but I could never find the right mechanic for it. It always begins with "There is snow on the beeches, so white, so white. The phone is ringing in the house. You are The Boy. You have always been The Boy." I think I have to follow your lead and just write anything. Thanks.

Amityville Mike said...

Just for the record, I'm still waiting to play Lucky the Duck in the oft-threatened Bunnies & Burrows mashup...

Anonymous said...

As always, thought provoking. Your Stone Creek mythos is expanding and evolving. I am looking forward to see where it will go over the next few years and hopefully decades.
PS I had been wanting to hear anything by Robert Johnson, but specifically "Hellhound on my Trail" for awhile now...(its that old heh heh Paganini/Paige thing). So thanks for the link.
Polemically (whatever that means) yours,

Dr-Rotwang said...

Oh, you might not utter profundities on the creative process -- but I will:

The Creative Process is, like climbing a mount--no, not really. Wait, hold on. The Creative Process is unpredictable, unpredictable like angry bull elephant. Okay, good, bull elephant. That's good, we can work with the power, the unpredictability, the odd, the shape's not that odd. Let's just stick with 'power' and 'unpredictability'. Okay -- The Creative Process is like an angry bull elephant -- powerful, unpredictable, and often uncontrollable.

Hmm. That's a good start. We can work with that. WORK! Crap, I hafta GO TO WORK!