More on Creative Vectors

August 12, 2008

Creative Vectors are elements of a game design, or the current fictional/imaginary situation in play, that suggest what kinds of stories to create/which directions the story can go.


Effectively, the point of setting in rpgs is to provide groups with vectors to use in play.  Arguably, a successful setting in terms of play, is one which provides the right kind, and sufficient vectors for a group to create great play.

The crucial jump is taking ideas from setting, and narrowing or specifying it into vectors in the immediate situation.  “Two clans at war” suggests things, but, “My sister was actually a foundling from the other clan, and we’re about to execute her real brother…” makes it concrete, and lays out specific things for play.

Genreless or settingless games often have this hurdle to leap- each group has to produce their own set of vectors that works for them, instead of drawing from an existing set.  Some games focus on providing tools (Flags, Kickers, Spiritual Attributes, Beliefs, etc.) for folks to make their own, though, if a group is unable to figure out how to put it together for play, they often end up falling flat.


Characters can either be a source of vectors from set up or used to develop them through play.

For example, games like Primetime Adventures, Riddle of Steel, Burning Wheel, etc. set up Flags which are used as vectors from the start (“I will slay the king who took my throne!”, etc.).  Other games, begin with a more neutral, untied character, and then as play proceeds, they develop more and more and become nested with vectors as part of play – Dogs in the Vineyard, Polaris, Inspectres.

Both styles, though, ultimately end up tying characters to vectors as part of character development.  In games where character development is irrelevant, the vectors are more an issue of setting or color (such as gamist or illusionist play).


A key aspect of play is how the group actually handles introducing, changing, and playing with vectors.

Traditional play has left nearly all the work in the hands of the GM for most games.  A lot of traditional groups have found their own methods of play, usually under the umbrella of “style”, with little or no ways of talking about it specifically- leaving a lot of folks forced to try to find compatible play through trial and error.

The key rpg innovation this last decade has been nailing down the actual procedures of play, and giving folks actual language to talk about what’s happening in play, how they adhere or deviate from a common set of rules (and so, even having the ability to talk about who gets what input, over what vectors).

When Vincent Baker talks about the “Fruitful Void”, he’s talking about how the system helps us aim our vectors, our stories, our play, at things we commonly find fun, instead of fighting over it or going in opposite directions.


  1. I’m not positive I’m understanding you, but for me the fascinating challenge would be ***mapping creative-vector-space***. I’m undertaking a web search to find resources on this topic, which I hope to organise at: metagate.ning.com (still lots of dud links there, waiting to be filled in/out).

  2. We can map how a game design works, or how choices made by the GM/group with regards to vectors work, but I don’t think we can map a vector outside of that.

    Probably in the next few months I’ll have more specific tools and writing about this idea, and probably will be better able to express it.

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