Diametrically Opposed States of Mind

Corona is driving me a little cabin-crazy. Creatively, it’s spun me flopping forth and back to twin poles of fantasy: the grounded and the weird.

First hand, the images of knights serving lords in the land of man and brutal warfare has me in thrall. There are fantasies of a world built on sweat and backstabbing that raise banners high that speak to greater myth and legend. The height of stakes are measured in blood spilled. Magic is whispered, rumors are their own form of supernatural, and unspeakable foes are exactly that. Music and poetry, tradition and storytelling lead and inspire and point to greater mysteries of an ancient era, now fallen asleep.

Lord of the Rings, The Witcher, viking sagas, Greek epics, and Roman dramas, call forth these tapestries of grand fantasy that are grounded and gritty.

But then I go and draw blobs like this on a lazy afternoon:

Second hand is a universe of severals connected by gates that could lead to cursed faerie hospitals for sharks or chronoblivion. Dreams flow from exposed craniums that are taken in gargantuan guzzles and produce whimsical music that breaks invisible rules of harmony and synchronicity. Anything is possible, so long as the logic works backwards and no mind presses for beyond the (barely) perceived. Because, as you know, lemonfolk wield lightning, eyes cry outward, and the sandaled feet of giants are pink (the toenails are baby blue).

Consuming too much Adventure Time instrumentals and watching Adam Koebel’s review of Troika lands me solidly in this circle of senselessness. It’s all-encompassing and anachronistic, pushing fantasy into the realm of the unbelievable.

Now the advice. Both of these states of mind, grounded and weird, come with a unique TONE. As a GM, it is your job to separate the wheat from the chaff. What mixes like chocolate and peanut butter (well) and what mixes like mint and peanut butter (that is to say not at all)? You know your table. What is the style you can run with and run well? Where does one tone break down?

For the grounded, it breaks when things become either too tense or not at all. Throwing a custard pie at the Steward of Gondor and being immediately executed for throwing said pie are the two extremities in a nutshell.

For the weird, it breaks when nothing makes sense anymore. When these portals lead to either literal hell or the wonderful land of marshmallows, players will just start acting randomly or be confused into total paralysis.

What tones do you bounce between? Does it depend on the music you listen to, books you read or the movies you watch? I would assume so. But do you notice patterns in the movement between these bursts of excitement and creativity that surround your gaming experience?

6 thoughts on “Diametrically Opposed States of Mind

  1. I say whether grounded or just weird play all in at any given point in time. If this matter find contest between the two, It’s better to be brutalized by one side over the other than to have razor wire grooving your ass crevice.

  2. What matters is output, sometimes grounded, sometimes weird. Good efforts in either are cumulative.

  3. I rather oscillate between doomed (Black Sun-like, Xas Irkalla-like) and hopeful (pretty much anything else, but especially Ryuutama) tones: there is a clear distinction to me if characters’ actions can’t or can change anything significant in a world.
    Grounded and whimsical is not much of an axis, as most of things remain fairly grounded.

    1. Doomed and hopeful is a strong dichotomy, as it affects both you (by guiding what you deem as possible) and your players (by giving them a different level of autonomy).

      Grounded and whimsical affect me as the GM more than the players. Sure, the tone is different for everyone at the table depending on which I lean into more, but that’s the thing: I decide that from the outset. Grounded vs. whimsical also seems to illustrate my relationship with the rules of the game. Grounded games have a heavy emphasis on things playing exactly as the rules are written, down to encumbrance and exact change (in copper pennies, of course). Whimsical games don’t ignore rules, but they break them all the time. “This ymorganflob is immune to lace-tying spells. You could try bopping him with the Q-ball and see if that flips the polarity of his anti-zorg field.”

      So just as your tone is a dial for how much of the world the PCs can change, my tone shows how willing I am to play RAW on a given day. Neat!

    2. Maybe it would be more helpful to say grounded as “grounded (in realism and universal rules).”

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