Monday, July 14, 2014

How to be Creative, also Blobbins

Or at least, this is how I think I think creatively.  Your mileage may vary.


Keep a slush pile. This is where you put all of your incomplete ideas, or ideas that don't quite meet your criteria for quality control. Odds are good that you have tons of ideas that are aaaaalmost good enough. Sometimes you can frankenstein two sorta-good ideas into a brilliant mongrel. Sometimes you can read over an old idea and think of a way to improve it.

And don't just ignore your slush pile until you've run 100% dry of ideas.  Refer back to it often, maybe before you start thinking of anything at all.

Your slush pile can be a file on a computer or a small notebook. Maybe you're watching a movie and the people on screen realize that the stillborn calf is pregnant with something that is not a cow and you're like, “That's a fucked up idea and I like it”, then that goes into your notebook. It is the fertile, messy mulch beneath the shrubbery of your brain.

Ex: “blue goblins” + “boneless and they live in jars” = “boneless blue goblins that live in urns”


Use your ideas. If you use your blue, boneless goblins in a module, I guarantee you'll have some more ideas about the goblins while you are roleplaying one, or after a player asks you what's in the goblin's pockets.

Basically, you are just asking yourself "What are the implications of what I have just written?  What does this stuff imply?"

This works for writing, too. Expanding a small idea into a paragraph will usually involve answering some more questions that crop up. How do these boneless urn-goblins feel about their urns? How do they feel about skeletons, especially given that they don't have any? If you can't turn a boneless goblin into a skeletonized undead, is there a different kind of undead that you can turn them into?

Of course, if you ever find yourself writing boring facts (the average blue goblin burrow contains 20-400 individuals, who are ruled by a chieftain of level 3, blah blah blah) then you must STOP IMMEDIATELY. That sort of square noise takes 3 seconds to invent at the table, and 3 seconds to invent at the computer.  There is no need to predecide how big the average blue goblin burrow is when you can decide it during a session just as readily.


Don't let "creativity" just be something that you do when you sit down to fill out the rest of your 50-room dungeon. 

Constantly revisit your old ideas when you are taking a shower, taking a shit, taking a break at work, trying avoid premature ejaculation, etc. These events will give your brain a richer and more varied texture, which will inform your ideas. Like, when you're taking a shit, your brain will wrinkle up more because it smells bad. This will make you approach the whole boneless blue goblin conundrum from a different angle than if, say, you were frolicking with some baby deer and thinking about boneless blue goblins.  

Plus, if you're sculpting an idea while you are driving, walking, jogging somewhere, you'll be constantly receiving a procession of images and places. I was driving down Highway 5 and drove past Harris Ranch (like, billions of cows) and the smell alone gave me ideas.  Or maybe the methane was just getting to my brain.

When you see an interesting post on the internet, you must ask yourself "yes, but is it gamable?"  When you are chillaxing with your bros, and one of your bros tells a cool story you must also ask yourself "yes, but is it gamable?"  When your crazy uncle sends you an email about how contrails are turning all the Mexicans into lizards, you must ask yourself "yes, but is it gamable?"


Steal shamelessly. That awesome thing in Princess Mononoke? Steal it. Repaint it. It's yours now.

BUT also pay attention to why you like the thing in the first place, because that's the element you want to steal, not necessarily the whole enchilada. Like, when the severed wolf's head bites the giant boar, why is that so cool? Is it because it's a head? Is it because its a wolf? Is it because it was a dead body part that just attacked someone? Figure out which part of the DNA contains the awesome, and then just steal that part. It'll make it easier to recombine with the rest of your slush pile.

(Although I have bunches of inspiring pictures on my computer, I don't consider them part of my slush pile.  I try to extract the part of the picture's DNA that I really like, and add that to the slush pile.  And also, I find a bunch of brief word-concepts easier to parse than a folder with a thousand images in it.  "one eyeball shared between both sockets", "strength proportionate to colorfulness", "hot chick with huge, grafted muscle-arms", etc.)

Like, a lot of the city encounters in Vornheim are powerful good because they force players to deal with something. You could just take the kernel (the "how is this forcing a PC to deal with it?") at the center of a Vornheim entry and flesh it out yourself.  “persistent entertainers demand PCs join their cause” becomes "snake charmer guild demands that PCs assist in reclaiming/repairing the giant snake sanctuary in Central Park".


Stealing names can be fun. Figure out what part of the name you like the most. Is it the vowels/assonance? The consonants/alliteration? Can you transform the consonants into something similar? K=G. T=D. S=Z. P=B=V. L=R. M=N. J=CH. 'crocodile' = 'grogotyr' = 'gorgodile'. 'jerusalem' = 'cheluzaren'.


Turn normal animals into unlikely chimeras. This is how you shed tropes.

My favorite way to make a chimera by giving one animal the biology or lifestyle of another. Like what if there were some wolves that were 100% marine and never left the water? What would a giant land-dwelling starfish eat? What if there were people that lived like ants?

The laziest kind of chimera is just to remix body shapes. Sure, if you combine a bird with a horse you get a pegasus, and that was the pinnacle of creativity 1000 years ago. If you mix an octopus and a dog you get an octodog, and I suppose that's sort of creative, too. The laziest of this lazy method is just to make it an intelligent humanoid. Jellfish people. Kangaroo-folk. Giraffo-morphs.  Even that can sort of open up interesting avenues of thought.

(There's nothing wrong with lazy creativity like this, but if you are going to invent some kangaroo-folk, don't just stop there.  You can't smash kangaroo and Australian stereotypes together and expect to transport your players to a fantastic realm of fantasy.  If you include only the things that come easily to mind when you cross kangaroos and Australians, then your kangaroo-folk have no more surprises for your players, beyond the initial concept of kangaroo-people.  Which means you need to add more.  This is why cat-people almost always suck.  People just apply cat stereotypes (playful, curious, fierce, hunters) to a race of humanoids and call it a day.  So if you want to make cat-people that aren't boring, you need to add something else to the mix.  Columbian catnip druglords.  Ruled by black cat bad-luck warlocks and a storm giant witch.  Ecology of cuckoos.  Worshippers of Nyarlathotep but also of themselves.  Masters of engineering and fire magic.  Literally, anything but just cat tropes.  Please.)


Inversions are fun. You can invert tropes. Write an adventure about saving a dragon from a princess. Write about a type of fey that gives people babies instead of stealing them. Write about dwarves that hate gold. At the very least, these will get you asking questions. What's up with these dwarves? How'd they get this way?

Or just ask yourself open ended questions. What's the opposite of a dragon? What's the opposite of a bar mitzvah?  What's the opposite of sex?

Exaggerations are fun. Write about a dragon that was just way, way, way into stealing princesses, not even imprisoning them—just stealing them like princess catch-and-release. Write about fey that are so into-baby stealing that they steal bee larva and only eat baby fruits. Write about dwarves that are so rigid and uncreative that they need a king from a different race.

Reskins are fun. Reskin Lincoln assassination or the plot of Master of the Flying Guillotine. The ninja turtles are now barbarian berserkers who want you to help them fight a ninja and his demon rat. Remix and rearrange.  Your slush pile can help you with this.

Change scope. Tsunamis make sense, but why would a small pond suddenly smash the canoes and flood the town? (Big phenomenon → small.) People get pregnant all the time, but why would every woman in town suddenly get pregnant at exactly the same time? (Local phenomenon → regional.)


When you're writing stuff down, keep it fluid for as long as you can. Sometimes you'll write a story and you don't know what it's about until you finish it. Sometimes you'll write a dungeon and not realize what the treasure is at the center until you finish it—the it's obvious.  Write all the interesting things down first, and then fill in all the logical considerations later.

(If you write down so much cool stuff that there's no way to mesh it all together into a coherent adventure/dungeon, that's okay.  Just remove a few conflicting parts and put them back into your slush pile.  You'll use them later, and they'll be just as awesome then, too.)

Before you draw a single room in your dungeon, figure out what the theme is and then write down all of the Coolest Things Possible involving that theme. Like if your theme is “cloud castle that imprisons powerful dwarven geomancers”, sit down and brainstorm the coolest possible rooms in that dungeon. A room where terramantic criminals are forced to levitate in the center of their cells, while their jailors drag them around like balloons. Air elemental guards living inside a giant bagpipe that also doubles as the alarm system. Gaseous, floating rust monsters trained to sniff out metals and stones, because terramantic dwarven criminals can pull a Magneto. Dragnets used to harvest water out of clouds, like a trawler.

By the time you finish your idea list, you might also realize that there is also a flumph masterminding the whole thing. Or that this is actually a jail for fire elementalist elves as well, because you've been watching to much Last Airbender.  And because you've kept your outline as fluid as possible, you don't have to redraw your map or rewrite the motivations for the warden.  (Full-detail maps and necessary-but-mundane NPCs are good examples of things that you should do late in the process.)

THEN you draw out your dungeon. THEN you flesh out all the extra rooms so that the things is complete.


Creativity is a muscle.  There's only so much you can do in a day.  If you are frustrated, or you absolutely can't come up with anything, or you've already read through your slush pile twice and can't come up with anything--STEP AWAY FROM THE COMPUTER and go do something else.  You can't force it.

Also, there are going to be days when your brain is going to be dry.  That's okay; don't sweat it.  Spend the time organizing your slush pile or go read some interesting stuff elsewhere.


Blobbins are blue, boneless goblins. Each goblin lives in an urn, each exactly the size of the blobbin. They make their urns out of clay and fingernails. Parents make their baby's first urn, and then they trade up as they grow, like hermit crabs. Urns are never re-used, but are instead filled with fingernail clippings and lost teeth and then used in construction. They do this because a blobbin considers their urn to be part of their body, and crawling inside another blobbin's urn is akin to crawling inside their skin. When a blobbin dies, the body is discarded like trash (fed to cave pigs) while the urn is revered.

Blobbin graveyards are just caves filled with urns. For reasons not understood, nearly every blobbin goes on to become a pale blue ghost that resides inside their urn. Blobbin urns are sometimes filled with some amount of treasure that they valued in life, but blobbins make for vengeful ghosts. The trick to robbing blobbin urn-graves is to get the blobbin to blame someone else. The traditional method is to throw a weasel into the urn, and then replace any gold coins with an equal number of copper ones. By the time the blobbin ghost has finished shriveling the weasel, the tomb robbers are gone and the blobbin ghost is none the wiser, since they cannot tell copper from gold (at least, their ghosts cannot).

Blobbin urns also make handy weapons if thrown, since they tend to blame the nearest creature, and blobbin ghosts are furious if their urn is smashed.

When they run, it looks like a deflated tire rolling down a hill.

Blobbins revere a god called the Great Blue Smoke Monster. Blobbin clerics are easy to spot. They carry a gigantic urn on their back, painting with blue and black triangles. Inside each of these urns is a Blue Smoke Monster which obeys the cleric and is regarded as a divine manifestation of the true Great Blue Smoke Monster.

Blobbins fear skeletons. Even smiling at them will cause them to recoil in disgust from visible teeth, and even the bravest blobbins warriors will flee from an animated skeleton.

Although blobbins cannot be made into undead skeletons, they are sometime animated into highly malleable zombies. Able to squish under doors and hide themselves under saddles, blobbin zombies are feared as assassins. They prefer to strangle their prey. Necromancers are also sometimes fond of stuffing them into chests, in order to guard treasure. Additionally, Blobbin zombies can also cushion fragile materials in a chest, protecting it from bumps and bangs.

Blobbins are hunted for the rich blue dye that can be harvested from their gallbladders. It is a deep, rich blue, and is very popular. However, the price ensures that only the aristocracy will be able to afford silk dyed Blobbin Blue.

Unlike their green-skinned relatives, blobbins are very clean. They frequently wear armor made from cave tortoises or giant snails. By using their elasticity of their heads, they are able to throw spears with great accuracy and power. They favorite weapon is a short-hafted trident (very effective against the squishy bodies of fellow blobbins). 

 Their favorite forms of recreation are spear-chucking, moshing, and naknak (sort of like spoken word poetry but with lots of sound effects). They are sometimes accompanied by clay golems shaped to look like small rhinos, painted blue with white triangles. Blobbins are sometimes valued as mercenaries because of their usefulness in breaking sieges (they can survive being launched by catapult).

Stats as goblins, except that they don't take any damage from bludgeoning. Also, they value their urn as highly as their life, and so they are quite easy to blackmail/bully once a PC has their urn.


  1. Absolutely amazing. I agree 100% with your description of the creative process. The Blobbins are sure to be featured in my game, very cool!

  2. The opposite of sex is television.

    Source: first thing I thought of when I read that line

  3. Near 2023, this post still be gold.