Campaign for Glory

Having completed the important decisions behind our first step, we can move on to the next task – setting up the campaign itself.

For those new to roleplaying and it’s terminology, a campaign refers to the overall storyline and adventure arc of any given game. This story can be as simple as simply being the adventures of a shared party, or it can be as complex as a grand narrative regarding facing off against a giant conspiracy set in a vast world of political intrigue, vast exploration, and psychological thriller. A campaign is the essential backbone upon which any roleplaying game is set – it sets the expectations of the players and their characters alike.

Discussions on campaign development can be an entire series in itself, and one of the most important, and often most engaging, aspect of being a GM. It allows the GM to demonstrate their creativity, as they create the sandbox within which the later steps can improve upon.

It’s important to understand that for many campaigns, they are often a work in progress right up until the end, because the GM will often wish to adapt them to the actions of their players at the table. GMs can rarely anticipate every decision their players will make, and should be somewhat flexible with decisions they make whilst creating their campaigns. The campaign is there to facilitate the game, and if the campaign prevents people from having fun at the table, then both the campaign and game has failed.

With this in mind, there are three main considerations when it comes to creating a campaign:

  • The Rules System
  • The Characters
  • The Setting

If you recall, the biggest mistake that a GM can make is to overplan, and as such, I will be focusing on an inside-out approach to design, where I will create only what we need to play, and then make it up from there. This will not only minimise my own work, but also allow my players to collaborate of the creation and development of the game as we progress.

Making The Rules

One of the key decisions to be made at this stage is what rules system we will be using. This decision is key in determining how conflict resolution is handled, and shapes a lot of the expectations regarding the sort of things that the players can hope to achieve. The mechanics may also impact the narrative outcomes of the stories being told, and simple mechanical tweaks can make two otherwise identical campaigns vastly different in the way they play and the tone they impart.

It’s not wise to significantly adjust the rules during the game itself, as this can create confusion over the expectations of the players and their characters. However, the GM is advised to focus on the key rules of the game, such as the principles behind conflict resolution, so that they can come up with fair rulings for various situations that come up during the game. If such events become commonplace, they can be developed into something that can become a solid houserule at the table at a later time, but often it is better to come up with a quick and fun resolution at the time to keep the gameplay moving.

The D20 System

There are numerous rules systems available commercially, or simple conflict resolution mechanics that can be adapted to any form of campaign. One of the most prevalent systems is the D20 System, the basis of the widely popular Dungeons and Dragons game. It’s a highly flexible system with a very simple conflict resolution mechanic at it’s core:

If 1d20 + modifiers => Target DC, then action succeeds.

It’s simple, sublime, and very easy to understand and adapt to. It’s also one of the most comeprehensive rules sets covering a wide range of actions and situations, in various degrees of complexity. This had led to a huge library of material that can be used in games, as well as a number of key evolutions in many different systems.

My own history with roleplaying started with the simplistic “Easy to Master” Black Box version of Dungeons and Dragons that was released in 1991. Whilst the full comprehensive version of the D20 System can be somewhat overwhelming to new players, the streamlined version presented in many basic boxed sets make for ideal entry points for newer players, and as such I will be looking to developing a hybrid between the D20 System and Basic D&D.

I could speak forever on the actual rules mechanics of the system, but one of the best features of the Black Box set, and other basic sets, was how it eased new players in over time, using practical demonstrations to teach the system. These systems often focus on intruding new elements step by step, and I can use a similar method to develop and present the system we will ultimately be using. As such, I can focus more on developing the rules being used as we plan our first adventure and session in later steps of this series.

Enter the Players

At it’s core, any roleplaying game is based on the adventures of a shared party of PCs, or Player Characters. These are the stars of the show, and it’s the decisions and reactions of these characters, and their players, that drive the storyline.

Like campaigns themselves, the PCs can range from simplistic one-dimensional stereotypes, to complex narrative creations formed through the dynamics of the player, interactions with the rest of the party, and the sandbox world provided by the GM.

Playing a great PC is as much a skill that can be developed by time and practice as being a GM, and many players can easily be overwhelmed if they feel forced to create a lot of options at once, especially if they have little prior experience with roleplaying. Players can come from a range of backgrounds and expectations, meaning they might see their PC as a pawn or gaming piece, or want to see their PCs as widely developed and integrated into the setting as their favourite protagonists from epic literature.

As such, deciding upon and managing player expectations is an important part of any campaign. The players need to know if they are trained heroes, epic gods, bumbling fish out of water, or impotent specks of dust on the eyelids of eldritch beings. These decisions shape a campaign, and are often backed up by the rules system being used.

Given my desire to create an introductory game that can teach my players how to to play, it should be fairly clear that the PCs will be simplistic, but with room to develop alongside my players. It’s important that the PCs are competent enough to be engaging to play, but not provide too many options that overwhelm the players with decision paralysis.

A Stable Party?

However, whilst the characters themselves is a simple decision, I get to make a further decision regarding the party that will have a significant impact on the campaign itself. Due to the fact that I will only have two players to start with, playing with only two PCs will cause some issues that need to be covered.

In most games, players only get a single character at the time. This allows the players to dedicate their focus to their own character, and each character can have a reasonable amount of time in the spotlight at the table. However, this standard is based on games having between four to six players, often with a mix of character skills and abilities to help the party succeed. As such, a party with only two PCs is somewhat underpowered.

I have a number of options to go with here. I could just go with an underpowered party, and modify adventures and encounters to take this into account. Alternatively, I could go with providing NPCs, or Non-Player Characters, to help round out the party. Both are workable options, but will require more work on my part as the GM, either in preparation or at the table.

An interesting alternative could be to off-load some of this extra work to the players themselves, by allowing them to run two PCs at the same time. This will help keep my players engaged for longer, as they run more than one PC. It also means that they can try out more than one type of character, so that they can explore more of the game at once.

To further build on this principle, we can introduce a “stable” of characters in the party. This stable allows the players to develop multiple characters at once, gives them spares to use when other characters are incapacitated, and will allow them to develop their roleplaying skills at their own pace. The ultimate aim here is to instill the idea that the party survival is more important than PC survival, so that the newer players don’t feel like they have lost if misfortune affects a character that they are running. It also means replacement PCs can be brought in quickly so as to not slow down the game.

What’s the Story?

Finally, it’s time to work on the storyline and background of the campaign itself. This provides the context of the game itself, and gives the players something to work with.

The majority of the basic sets that exist often used simplistic settings, often built using an inside-out design principle. As such, they only provide enough information to the players as they need to play, and leave plenty of room for the GM to build upon the setting as the campaign progresses.

Welcome to The Vale

One of the more memorable such settings is The Vale, the setting of the D&D Fast-Play series of modules that TSR released to celebrate 25 years.

The Vale was a very simple, very generic setting, in which the PCs live in a simple river valley surrounded by mountains. This gives the PCs a simple area to explore and have early adventures in as they learn the game and it’s possibilities. The Vale provides everything that the party needs, including the vitally important feature of a civilised home base which they can use to rest and prepare, referred to as Haven. It even includes The Patriarch, a simple father-like patron figure used to provide adventure hooks for the party.

This simplistic campaign setting is idea for the teaching environment that I am looking to foster, whilst providing a blank canvas to expand upon as the campaign progresses. The Vale is both isolated and civilised, so the players can experience the safety of adventuring in a frontier environment without disrupting the politics of the wider campaign world too much.

I also have the option that I can use a lot of the assets from the Fast Play modules, and other basic sets, with minimal fuss. It means less work for me, as these modules are often less complex than normal, and focus more on teaching the rules step by step rather than providing complex storylines with many plot twists.

Return to Basics

In many ways, these basic sets keep the campaign focused on the core gameplay aspects of Dungeons and Dragons – exploring mysterious ruins like Dungeons, and fighting dangerous monsters like Dragons. This is the gameplay that got me hooked, both as a player and a GM, and I look forward to bringing this gameplay to my players!

The Game Plan

The first of our four steps is planning and setting up the game itself. It’s very easy to overlook this step, especially if you already have a well established gaming group, either in real life or online. If you have already found something that works for you all, then you can simply just review this step and move on, but for those who are establishing an entirely new game, as I am, then read on.

There are many decisions that need to be made when you try to establish the game, and each of these discussions can be talked about at length in articles of their own, as the logistics of the actual games themselves can be just as complicated as any campaign planning, if not more so.

The key thing to remember is that if there is no game, there can be no campaign. It doesn’t really matter what work you do as a GM on creating an epic campaign, adventure, or encounter, if you don’t a game to play it in.

First, the Players

The first thing to consider when setting up a game are the players who make up the rest of the group you will be hopefully playing with. this will determine a lot of the possibilities regarding the game itself, and place limitations on future decisions regarding how the game works.

There are many different types of gaming groups, and the discussion of how to recruit players to your game has been covered many times by many people. The majority of groups will feature people who know each other and come together in order to play the game. As such, the game is the central focus of why everyone gets together. This may not always be the case, especially if your players come from your other social groups.

Then There Were Three

For me, I already have two players in mind, whom I know fairly well. Two players and a GM, for a total of three people, is a bit on the small side for most roleplaying games, as they tend to recommend a party of between four to six player characters, in addition to a single GM, and it takes a lot of skill and effort to adequately play multiple characters, especially using more complicated rules systems. As such, I will keep my game open for new players, but if I keep the early games simple and roleplaying light, having each player playing two PCs gives us the minimum party level needed for a reasonable game.

Getting Everyone Together

Your players will often determine how, when, and where they can all meet up, and one of the trickiest aspects of organising a game can be sorting out a time when everyone can get together.

Playing a game is a big commitment, and it can often take a lot of effort for people to make space in their often busy lives for a gaming session of any reasonable length. Planning the session might be the fourth, and final step of this series, but even now it’s worth considering what sort of time frame you are looking for with each game session.

It’s important to understand and accept that not all the time in any gaming session is going to be used for the actual gaming itself. You will need to allow for a period of time at the start and end of each session for the players to set up and to clear up.

Setting the Standard

A standard session length, which is often used in conventions, is a four hour time slot, that includes half an hour at the beginning and end of each session for the players to get ready and pack up respectively. This standard means that a quarter of the time you allocate for the session will often be taken up by non-gaming activities.

This is a good guideline to use in most cases, it is worth remembering that four hours is equivalent to an entire morning, afternoon, or evening. You may find that this might be too much of a commitment for everyone, and as such might want to consider shorter sessions, such as two-hour session with only a quarter of an hour to get ready and pack up.

Commitment Issues

You will also need to consider the fact that many games will require a commitment of more than one session, and many campaigns can run for months, years, or even decades. Changes in real-life circumstances for the players is often the biggest cause of the death of any gaming group, and whilst these cannot be avoided, it is worth considering the minimum commitment required for everyone involved.

Game Time

For me, the game is likely to take place in the evening, during the week, as this is often when my players and I have the most free time. Commuting back from work can be an issue, and long gaming sessions would be undesirable as chances are that we will all be required to be ready for work the following day.

With this in mind, we will be looking at a session length of about two hours, with a quarter of an hour to set up and clear up at each end. This would equate to roughly one hour and a half of game time per session. Because of the nature of our sessions, there’s a good chance that we will get together earlier, for socialising and refreshments as needed, depending upon issues like commuting.

How Do We Game?

You might have noticed that I asked how we will get together to game. This is important because there’s many different ways to get together and play a game in the 21st century.

Early in the hobby, options were severely limited, and it was almost taken for granted that setting up a game would require sorting out a physical place for everyone to meet up – be it at one of the players’ homes or in a community space.

However, we have seen many changes over the previous decades, especially regarding computing technology, communications media, and the evolution of the internet. Now, it’s just as common for many players to get together to game online, often using a communications package like Discord or Skype, and/or virtual tabletops like Roll20 and Fantasy Grounds.

This means that it isn’t always neccessary to get everyone together at the same physical space in order to play a game, as long as you can get them together online at the same time. This has led to more opportunities for gaming, and many groups can often stay gaming together even as they move about the globe.

Online and Feeling Fine

For me, the majority of my games these days are online. One of my players, a good friend of mine who is known online as Ouroboros (or Ouro to me), I have know for over fifteen years now, despite the fact that he lives in the Netherlands. As myself, and my other player, my missus, live in the UK, we need to consider that there is a one hour time difference between us, which is another reason why long sessions late into the evening are undesirable.

Luckily, we have a common set up for our games – we tend to use Discord to talk in a group chat for our games, and use Roll20 as a virtual tabletop to play our games. Whilst we might lose the visual and tactile aspects of gaming, such as body language in roleplaying, or the feel of actually rolling dice, we still retain enough of the experience to make it worthwhile.

Plus, because of the limitations we have with our games, we often focus on simple roleplaying light games anyway, so we don’t lose out on too much, and often focus on what we can achieve with the platform that we are using.

The decision to play a game online using a virtual tabletop like Roll20 is important, because it will shape much of the planning for the game itself in future stages, as a virtual tabletop can often require slightly more preparation and planning, as you often need to find the appropriate assets to use in your games.

Anyway, this week has a been a long one, and we have only just sorted out the basics of our game, including how many players we will have and how we will all get together to actually play the game. There’s still plenty more decisions to go, as we move on to the second step – Planning the Campaign – next week.

Four Steps to Gaming Success

Last week, I mentioned that I want to run a new roleplaying game in the New Year, and as such I will be writing a four-part series on how I set up and plan for any new game.

Now, you might be asking yourself – why only four parts? There’s a lot of detail on what is needed to set up and run a campaign, and how is it possible to only cover that in four parts?

The answer is that it’s not possible to cover everything you will possibly need in just four parts. It would be a struggle to cover everything in forty parts. In fact, a GM might find themselves working on their campaign for years and years, depending on how long the campaign goes on for.

As such, I have no intention to even try and cover everything. Instead, I will be focusing on the basics, fully aware that my game will be a work in progress. I just need enough planning to get started, and can then flesh it out as the game develops.

The Four Steps

The four stages I have identified are, as follows:

  1. Game Planning
  2. Campaign Planning
  3. Adventure Planning
  4. Session Planning

This process increases the focus of the planning at each step, bringing it down to what is needed to do what is most important in any game – the actual PLAYING of the game.

The Biggest Mistake

Many GMs make the mistake of forgetting that the ultimate aim of any game or campaign is to be played, and therefore it’s what you can actually bring to the table that matters. A key mistake is to plan too much detail that never really sees the light of day unless you share your campaign notes with your group.

I will attempt to tackle each of these stages, in order, and detail them her on this site. There may be spoilers for my players, but if they really want to read this and get a heads up on what is coming, then that’s their choice.

So come back next week for when we tackle the first step of planning a new game – actually organising and setting up the game in the first place!

The Final Countdown

charge!Finally, after several weeks, I have managed to complete this article series describing my “boom and bust” working cycle. The article series covered six different steps:

  1. Decide to Start A New Project
  2. Plan the Scope Too Wide
  3. Work Myself Too Hard
  4. Burn Myself Out
  5. Abandon My Project
  6. Re-Evaluate and Repeat

This final article will serve as a conclusion that will round off this series. Instead of going over everything that has been discussed so far, since you can just go back and click the links to those articles, this conclusion will focus on my own self-discoveries and decisions as I have gone over each step, updating them with a look towards other possible projects that I am considering. After all, I have mentioned my past and my present approaches, and now that we have the full cycle covered, it seems only right that I should add my future planned approach here as well.

Start Over Renewal Restart Round Red ButtonStep 1 – Decide to Start A New Project

As I stated in the second article of this series, I used to destroy all my old work, or otherwise look for a way to get that “fresh start” approach that fires me up when I begin a project. I decided that in future, I would instead archive my work, so that I could look towards deciding if I wanted to return to previous projects. As of yet, I have not returned to any previous projects, so I don’t know if this is going to be beneficial in the future, but I feel that as I archive more and more material, the opportunities to go back to previous projects will increase.

sniper-scope-wall-decal-2-203-pStep 2 – Plan the Scope Too Wide

In the third article of this series, I admitted that my plans are often too wide in their scope, becoming nebulous due to lack of concrete boundaries. Addressing this issue, I detailed a narrow plan that I was intending to use for this series – a series of eight articles based around each of the steps of my cycle, capped with an introduction and a conclusion.

Looking back, I have managed to stick to this plan, and as such, I have managed to complete this series, and for the first time in a long time I have finally completed a project. It feels great to be finally reaching this stage, and I am able to look towards moving on to other projects.

As I also stated, I have no plans to progress or propagate this series further, besides general social media techniques. While there are opportunities, such as embellishing further on various issues, addressing certain questions, and looking back in the future at similar examples, there really is no need for me to continue what is basically a one-off series.

What I can say is that the plan worked, helping me stay focused and reducing the chances of burning out and abandoning this project. It wasn’t easy, but by covering what I was doing and how I was going to do it beforehand, I could bring myself back to task, despite the waning enthusiasm for the project as I slowly burnt out.

images (6)Step 3 – Work Myself Too Hard

In the fourth article of this series, I asked myself if I was overworking myself, and what could I do about it. Given the issues with my low work tolerance, thanks largely to my Crohn’s disease, the answer was a resounding “Yes.”

This would become evident to me the further that I progressed along the series, as I would be writing later and later during each week, to the point that I was sometimes writing my post the day before it was due. Yet, I managed to keep things focused and get each article scheduled and posted on time.

I also started exploring my own issues of self-worth, particularly based on my desire to prove myself as a games designer. Although I admit that it might take some time for me to resolve these issues, acknowledging them as a driving factor in overworking is a good start.

So, what did I do about these facts, when I found myself overworking? Well, I could have started slowing down the project, even abandoning it for a brief time, but instead I found that I could sacrifice other chores in order to complete this series.

misc-clean-all-the-things-l-232For example, I reduced the amount of housework and other daily chores that I felt needed to be done, to give me the time I needed for the all important leisure time which allowed me to recuperate from overworking easier. In addition, this article series allowed my fiancé to see some of the issues that I faced, and she helped support me by not pressuring me to overwork, and picking some of the slack by trying to do more herself.

Ultimately, it was, is, and still will be, the little things and the little differences that are important – slight changes here and there, that will have significant influence over the outcome of events. Hopefully, I will be able to continue this trend of positive change to improve things for myself as time goes on.

Burning carStep 4 – Burn Myself Out

In the fifth article of the series, I discussed how I often neglect my own downtime, and how this significantly affected my ability to recuperate from overworking. This would become evident as I found myself needing more downtime, and thus was finding myself able to write later and later during the week between articles.

I addressed this by increasing my downtime, and trying to make better use of that time. However, despite the positive effects of this, I still found myself struggling, and may need to admit defeat here – a week simply might not be enough time between articles for me.

MaslowsHierarchyOfNeeds.svgMost importantly, I did my best to counter my desire to work in my downtime, because of my drive to prove myself as a games designer. I didn’t force myself to adhere to unrealistic levels of perfection, or to achieve overly demanding content production goals. By sticking to my plan, and trying to keep this project as simple as it required, I found that I was able to finish this project in a timely manner.

Overall, I failed to avoid burnout, but I did manage to limit it to a certain degree, and as such, I believe that this is the way to go forward for me. Shorter projects may be more suitable for bigger ones right now, as I continue to develop the ability to limit, and hopefully avoid, overworking and burning out completely.

Cartoon-Car-crash-pq9561Step 5 – Abandon My Project

In the sixth article of this series, I tackled the somewhat dark topic of “crashes” and the stress and trauma that they can cause. By talking candidly about this subject, I was able to address my own self-destructive behaviours evident from my own crashes – the most distinctive of these being the urge to abandon my projects.

I must admit, addressing these issues was heard, particularly as I found myself overworking and burning out during this project. However, writing this article series turned out to be a form of therapy in it’s own right, as I was able to ask myself questions, tackle my feelings, and talk about them in an open manner which meant that they were not simply cluttering my mind with endless stress.

Depression and SorrowIn addition, by engaging in other less impactful desperation actions, I was able to stave off the bigger crash – abandoning this project. There were times when I was tired and exhausted, feeling like life was an endless battle that simply wasn’t worth fighting any more, while wondering why I was even bothering to finishing this article series.

However, I found that by not denying these feelings, but instead accepting and processing them, while allowing myself respite in a place of sanctuary – which, in most cases, is my bed – I was able to cope with them. Such times simply become downtime, where I would accept that I needed a break and would go and do something which, if it couldn’t make me feel better and more positive, allowed me to feel less negative.

download (4)So overall, I managed to succeed in avoiding a crash  – this time. In that regard, this step, and this project, was and is a success. However, the question still remains whether or not I have managed to break the cycle, or whether I have just managed to put off the inevitable.

Regardless, now is a positive moment, and will remain thus, and that is a milestone that is sure to come in handy in the future. As such, I will continue this method of catharsis as a means of dealing with my thoughts and emotions, as part of the bigger plan of positive change. It may be a long time until I achieve serenity permanently, but for now, brief visits that get longer each time seems like a good way to get there.

reeval projectStep 6 – Re-Evaluate and Repeat

The seventh article in the series covered what happens after a crash. However, since I didn’t crash, it might seem a bit odd that I am recapping and looking at my success with this step. How can I possibly write about a step that I haven’t taken yet?

This is a good question, but as I came very close to crashing while writing this series, I realised that my behaviour could be seen a cycle of mini-crashes. By allowing myself to engage in minor desperation behaviours, I realised that I was actually triggering the recovery process earlier, before a more significant crash could occur.

download (5)This seems like a good thing, even if it is just a matter of perspective. Triggering the recovery process meant that I would recuperate more efficiently, than I might have done otherwise. I don’t know if this is a good long-term solution, but hopefully if I can increase the time between these mini-crashes, or even start developing the ability to use the recovery process without crashing, then that might be a solution.

In addition, I tackled more questions about why this is a cycle for me, particularly my instinct to prove myself worthy, particularly as a games designer. These questions still have no concrete answers yet, but by verbalising the questions to myself, I at least have a place to start.


So, did I succeed in my ultimate goal – to break my “boom and bust” cycle? In a manner, yes I have succeeded, as I have not yet crashed and managed to complete this article series. However, whether this is because I have truly broken the cycle and changed my behaviour, or whether this is simply a case that I never reached Step 5 in this project, remains to be seen.

silhouette of a man's head with a glowing light bulb, and gears.Either way, I have completed this article series, and that is a positive thing. This article got deep at times, and certainly got very meta, but it appears to have been worth it to reach this point. I might not have proved myself as a games designer, but I certainly proved something – that I am capable of asking myself questions and trying to learn from them. That, in itself, gives me some worth as a philosopher. However, whether or not society values philosophers remains to be seen.

Meanwhile, I can try to tackle my self-worth issues, and move on to other projects in the future, hoping that this self-analysis of my own working process and the changes that I have looked into as a result will serve me in the future. if not, well, I can always try again, looking for better solutions next time.

images (2)The Future

So, what have I got planned for the future? I can’t say at this time. I intend to take some time off for a few weeks – July, August, and September are busy times for me, for various reasons, including a summer holiday. It is time for me to start projects in some of the other arenas in my life, including finally doing the housework!

In the meantime, I get to ponder my next project, including questions like why I want to prove myself as a games designer and how I intend to do that. Until then, continue to stay AWESOME!

Step 6: Rinse and Repeat

8iEjn5qoTSo, here we are at the final step in my “boom and bust” cycle. We have gone all the way from deciding to start a new project, through burning out and crashing, and we have now reached Step 6: Re-Evaluate and Repeat.

For me, this marks a great step in this project, because for the past week, I have been struggling to bring myself to finish this article, and thus the series, on time. In fact, I am writing this the day before release. This is demonstrative of the issues raised thus far in the series, such as burning out. It was a close call, but this is the final step, leaving only one more article in the series – the conclusion – left to do.

reeval projectBut for now, it is back to the final step – Re-Evaluate and Repeat. This step comes about because of a few different factors in the human psyche. These factors tend to help us recover, but in turn, also often trap us into performing the same tasks over and over. This is what makes the “boom and bust” process a cycle.

The main issue here is that the majority of these factors are actually positive, and breaking them here can actually be detrimental to your well-being. It is not recommended that the cycle is actually broken here – instead, by hopefully understanding how they work, you can make the most of them, and set yourself up for greater success next time round.

Puzzle-piecesPicking Up The Pieces

The first factor that we must consider is that we come with an in-built recovery system, which helps us deal with the effects of any “crash” that we experience. The principle is simple in theory – the whole point of “crashing” as a survival instinct is to engage our “fight or flight” process to escape stress causing situations. This often results in desperate behaviours that can cause immense damage to ourselves and those around us. As such, it is often a risky, but vital, gambit to save ourselves.

costabravaphoto3As such, the after effects of such actions often leaves a lot of psychological debris, including additional stress, for everyone involved. However, should such actions be successful, and the situation is escaped, we will often find ourselves in a situation where we can take stock of the situation, repair the damage, and go on to rebuild our lives.

knowledge_lifecycle2The Cycle of Knowledge

The opportunity and act of rebuilding allows for us to re-evaluate our circumstances and look for opportunities for improvement and refinement. This is all part of what is called the Cycle of Knowledge, a common cycle that allows us to understand our work, recognise patterns, and adapt to new situations. It is this process that allows us to predict the future to a certain extent, simply by looking at what has occurred in the past.

The Cycle of Knowledge has three steps, and represents a process of asking questions, answering those questions, and then implementing those answers. Once this is done, the cycle repeats as more questions are asked based on those answers.

academics_logoAlthough the Cycle of Knowledge is a key part of the majority of academic study, and includes a large focus on established methodology as part of the process, we do also tend to follow a more primitive version of this cycle intuitively so that we can learn from our own experiences. This occurs at a subconscious level for the most part, so we are not always aware of this process as it goes, although many people may consciously engage in this process as part of rational thinking.

face_question_markAsking Questions

The first step in the Cycle of Knowledge is always based around formulating and asking the questions that we seek answers to. The questions themselves are important, because they will shape our thinking in a profound way, often determining what types of answers we end up with. This is well understood in academics, and as such, questions are often specifically formulated, sometimes to the point of abstraction or uselessness.

For most people, the questions involved will often be things like “What just happened,” “Why did that happen,” “Will that happen again,” and so on. Such intuitive questions are often nebulous and unfocused, as we often assume and imply certain specifics to the questions that we simply don’t state.

In the context of Step 6 of the “boom and bust” cycle, the most common questions relate to the events leading up to the “crash” and the circumstances that followed. We often try to understand what just happened, and how to prevent it from happening again.

EvidenceGathering Evidence

Once we have asked the questions, we will then look towards trying to discover the answers to those questions by gathering evidence. Deciding what counts as evidence is an important factor in many academic studies. As part of this process, and because of the specific nature of many academic questions, this step will also include making claims or hypotheses in order to prove or disprove.

One issue with this process of making claims, is that because the answer is typically formulated before the evidence is gathered, it can lead to some evidence being censured or dismissed, as we tend to use rationalisation of what we already believe to be true, instead of taking an unbiased approach.

3162813_origWe also tend to do this rationalisation intuitively, as we try to discover what happened in a way that can help preserve our often already damaged self-esteem. As such, we try to find reasons to absolve ourselves of blame, including trying to put the blame on others, while trying to portray ourselves in as positive a light as possible. In our minds, we are always the heroes, not the villains, regardless of our actions – simply because this is important for our own mental welfare.

In the context of Step 6, this will often revolve around trying to identify the true source of stress that caused the “crash” event, while underplaying how much our own stress tolerance has had to play in the affair. We tend to neglect looking at what we could have done better, simply because this would show us as being more fallible and fragile than we wish to believe ourselves to be.

Pencil_blogDrawing Conclusions

The final step in the Cycle of Knowledge is to draw conclusions and find the answers to the questions that we asked in the first step. In order to do this, the evidence that we find will be looked at and interpreted in the context of the questions being asked, before being stated.

In academics, such conclusions are often simply whether the evidence backs up or refutes a previously stated hypothesis. This makes it easier to answer complex questions, but tends to carry to baggage that the evidence and the conclusions can be tainted by the perceptions, intents, and beliefs of the academics involved.

exploding-head-by-keith-haring1-300x300-300x300Intuitively, the same thing can often occur with us on a more innate level, as we have the tendency to accept or reject conclusions depending upon whether or not they support our own self-narrative of events. This is because such self-narrative is often based on our own previous experiences, conclusions, and principles. it is rare that we will have the mental strength and self-confidence to expose ourselves to the stresses of cognitive dissonance resulting from having conflicting beliefs.

In the context of Step 6, most individuals are extremely fragile after the trauma of a “crash” event, and as such, are going to favour drawing conclusions that allow them to reinforce their own principles rather than challenge them. Unfortunately, this can lead to returning to the same principles that resulted in the “crash” event in the first place, simply because the individuals will often fail to identify any means of self-improvements, simply because they downplay their own personal responsibility in the events to absolve themselves of guilt.


The ultimate aim of the Cycle of Knowledge, however, is to find answers so that we can move on, and eventually improve ourselves. This motive is a fundamental motive referred to as self-actualisation, and is portrayed as the ultimate need in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. In many ways, all the other needs identified can be seen as a form of self-actualisation, as we seek to move from a position of perceived weakness to a position of perceived strength.

self-actualization-1-638In moving to a position of perceived strength, we can then look towards challenging our own weaker beliefs, to slowly and surely improve our own mental well-being. As such, we can steadily increase our own stress tolerances, and better cope with challenges to our own psyche that might otherwise cause trauma, and potentially a “crash” event.

It is this desire to improve ourselves that often results in the “boom and bust” cycle actually being a cycle, as actions to improve ourselves are often at the heart of our decision making processes when we decide to start or continue new projects, and the scope of them.

RWS_Tarot_12_Hanged_ManAs stated previously, it is detrimental to try and break the cycle at this point. This is because the only way to break the cycle here is not to try and improve yourself, not to recover, and to leave yourself vulnerable. While we all take different times to recover from various types of trauma, leaving ourselves vulnerable to more trauma will actually make us more likely to engage in future, potentially more self-destructive, “crash” events.

In many ways, failing to recover is indicative not of successfully breaking the cycle here, but rather that the individual is still undergoing their “crash” event, and has such has yet to reach this stage of the “boom and bust” cycle.

download (5)Positive Action

However, this issue with breaking the cycle at Step 6 doesn’t necessarily leave you helplessly doomed to repeat the cycle again. Instead, positive actions here can help establish a strong foundation from which to challenge and hopefully break the cycle next time round.

images (1)Acceptance

First and foremost, acceptance of your role in the events of your crash is important, as it allows you to examine what you might be able to change in the future. Don’t dwell on the blame, however, but instead understand and accept that you acted the best you can under the circumstances. Ultimately, the “crash” should be considered a learning experience, from which you can look towards improving in the future.


Focus on your recovery until you feel that you are strong enough to move on to actual self-improvement. Don’t push yourself too hard at this stage. Slow progress is better than no progress, and there will be time to challenge yourself later on. Accept that people take differing amounts of time to recover, simply because the impact of trauma is different for each individual.


When you feel up to it, you can begin to look at what happened and try to find areas for self-improvement. Were there warning signs that you missed? Could you have acted and reacted differently? Were there any misunderstandings or principles that held you back from taking more appropriate action? When asking these questions, try to be as open and honest with yourself as you can, and only tackle questions that you feel capable of dealing with.

images (2)In addition, remember that you are yourself now, looking back at who you were then – and as such, try not to be overly critical of yourself. You possess new knowledge and new experiences compared to what you had then, simply by virtue of going through such “crash” events.

Focus purely on what you can do better next time, should the “boom and bust” cycle occur, as opposed to what you should have done better last time. You can’t change the past, but you can change the future, and that is done by learning in the present.

p02b35hcMove On

Ultimately, you should focus on moving on with your life. While it may be tempting to reassess and evaluate what happened, you must remember that you must decide to implement and actually carry out any conclusions that you have drawn to move on. Don’t let fear hold you back.

It can be difficult to move on, particularly if you feel that you are doomed to repeat your past mistakes over and over. But it should be understood that the alternative is not to move on, and to remain fragile and vulnerable.

How you move on is important however. Perhaps there was a flaw in your set up which undermined you to the point that you crashed? Perhaps you tackled projects that you were ill-suited or unprepared for? Perhaps you are driven by desires that are unrealistic and doomed to failure?

identify-ppt-18bc1If so, none of these should prevent you from moving on, but instead could be used to identify future potential issues and avoid tackling challenges which you are incapable of at this time. It may even be the case that you should move on to a period of recovery, reflection, and reinvention, to prepare yourself for the possibility of having to challenge your own principles and mindset, in a more controlled manner.

game-designerMy Approach – Past and Present

My approach at this step has always been very haphazard. In the past, I have always taken varying times to recover from my “crash” events, ranging from hours or days, to weeks and months at a time. Quite often part of my “crash” will include a vow to “never return” only to repeat the same thing at some later date.

While I do learn from my experiences, and as such I tend to progress that little bit further each time, I ultimately end up repeating the same mistakes, going through the same processes, and resulting in the same “crashes.”

images (3)A big part of this involves the fact that I have an innate desire to prove myself as being a Games Designer, largely driven out of a desire to prove my worth to myself and others.

Challenging this central concept is difficult for me, but it may be time that I looked at this in detail. I am driven by what it means to be a Games Designer, but this is largely based on my own interpretation of what a Games Designer actually is. Might it be that there is some flaw in this interpretation that is bringing about my repeated failures?

download (7)Taking this series as an example, this series has NOT been about Games Design. Anyone reading this series wouldn’t think that I am a Games Designer, if I didn’t keep mentioning it. Instead, it features a lot of social-psychology and self-understanding, with some very general counselling advice. In general, these articles ask more questions than they answer, as they explore the ideas of questioning ourselves as a means of learning and understanding our own place in the various arenas of life.

Does this mean that I am wasting my time looking to prove myself as a Games Designer, when I could look towards some other avenue to prove my self worth? Maybe.

Ghostwatch_Technical_FaultAlternatively, it could be that my very desire to prove myself is at fault here. I try to prove myself because I feel worthless, but perhaps this is because I do not fully understand my worth in terms of myself and others. I don’t think that I have ever asked myself if, how and why others value me, or indeed what other people seem to value in others.

These are some very fundamental questions, and answering them could be interesting projects, just as this one has been. I am pretty sure that I am not the only person that seeks answers to such questions, and it may be useful if I can show my processes with others.

images (4)Finally, as I asked above, could it be that I simply don’t understand what a Games Designer is, and that my own interpretation of the concept is flawed and needs to be challenged? Perhaps I just need to start asking what people think being a Games Designer is all about, and see if there are any flaws in my interpretation that can be fixed and allow me to better weather, if not avoid, any future incidents of the dreaded “boom and bust” cycle?

Lots of questions to consider here, and I won’t get into the answers here just yet. This was the final step of the “boom and bust” cycle, leaving the conclusion for next week as the final article in this series. There I will finally go over what we have learnt, and maybe share a few of the answers that I currently have.

So, until next week, stay AWESOME!