By approaching a brainstorming session with a topic and goal in mind, I can create a cure for scum that has balanced pros and cons. This will provide interesting choices for the players, and will add drama to the story.
This is my personal process and approach to brainstorming. This method is what I’ve found works for me, and may not work for you. I recommend developing your own process for generating and testing ideas.
I always brainstorm using a sketchbook with pencil or pen. I don’t like typing out my ideas because being on the computer proves too much of a distraction.
Knowing When to Stop
Instead of setting a time limit, I stop when I feel like I’ve generated enough ideas to pick a winner. If I get bored while brainstorming and haven’t decided on the best idea, I’ll stop and resume after resting, often the next day.
There are no bad ideas
I don’t remember where I learned it, but I was told there are no bad ideas during a brainstorm. Listing lots of bad ideas and working through them to determine why they are bad can point to the best choice.
The first idea can be the best, or not
I’ve heard that your first idea to a problem is always the worst solution. I find that’s not the case. The first idea I write down in a brainstorm is one that I’ve been thinking over for some time, that’s already been tested against the goal. It doesn’t mean the first idea is always the best—it shouldn’t be thrown out simply because it was the first.
Setting a Goal
I start the brainstorm session by writing the topic down. While there are no bad ideas, there are off topic ones. An idea that doesn’t follow the topic doesn’t get written down.
The goal for this brainstorm is to establish a cure for a scummed individual that has balanced pros and cons. The ability to cure a scummed should never be the default option. The brainstorm can begin now that the topic is established.
The First Ideas
- Transfer the scum to another person, then deal with the new monster that was created
- Absorb the scum into yourself. Over time the player characters get corrupted and go insane
- Scoop/vacuum/collect the scum and store it as a physical object, perhaps as weaponry. Keeping large amounts of scum is volatile and causes unpredictable results
I stopped after writing down these three ideas. The previous article mentions that the existence of scum is theoretical and it can’t be detected. These ideas go against that fact because they turn scum into an object that can be controlled and kept. Being able to control and keep scum would prove that it’s real, and the substance would lose a lot of its mystery.
I had to add to the goal of the brainstorm: while keeping scum theoretical and undetectable.
Next Round of Ideas
- Indulge in the scummed’s desires / letting them win
- Get them to admit their guilt and wrongdoing
- Capture the monster and lock them away. They become deprived of their methods and eventually the scum fades away
- Show them love, compassion, and forgiveness
- Have them hurt their loved ones
I felt after this round I had enough ideas to start working through them.
Letting Them Win
I think that letting the monsters win to cure them is an interesting way of resolving the situation. Imagine the parent example mentioned in the previous article. What if the players sympathize with the monster and bring them an actual predator to exact justice on? Sacrificing one life to save another would be the very definition of a morally gray choice.
Get Them To Admit Guilt
I felt this would lead to sappy scenarios where players shout “Monster, repent!” while trying to get the monster to admit they are in the wrong. I’m not a fan of this idea.
Depriving the Monster
This would add the fact that scum fades away after some time to the overall lore. That could reinforce the idea that only a few people believe in the substance’s existence. “If scum is turning people into monsters, why isn’t everyone a monster? Oh, it fades away? That sounds like a convenient excuse.” The scum fighters would be continually declared insane or zealots. This idea would introduce some logistics problems, such as how to capture and contain the monster that may slow down some of the storytelling.
Show Them Love
This idea came from watching videos explaining how Steven Universe subverts traditional depictions of masculinity in media by showing a boy who uses love and compassion to save the day. One Shot RPG would stand out as a product if there was a valid non-violent option to resolve conflict.
Hurt Loved Ones
This would add drama when the characters convince (or force) the monster’s loved ones to step in the face of danger. However, I don’t like this idea because it introduces a problem if the monster doesn’t have anyone left they care about. I want the cure to always be an available option.
I ended up choosing that curing a scummed individual involves indulging its desires. I think that the idea of the players having to enable the monster’s violent agenda in order to save them gives them an interesting choice. Will the characters be able to live with themselves if they have to become as monstrous as what they’re trying to defeat?
Now that there’s a way to cure a scummed individual, there needs to be some more drawbacks attached. While there are repercussions to enabling the monster, I felt like that wasn’t enough to keep players from attempting to cure the monster each time. I started a second brainstorming session with the topic of drawbacks to curing a scummed individual.
Ideas For Drawbacks
- Someone else nearby becomes scummed / scum is transferred
- A new cosmic horror is born
- Explosion around the individual
- Person goes insane
- Others nearby are killed or sickened
- Land is corrupted
- Person retains some features of their scummed version. Can never return to everyday life
It’d be interesting if by saving one individual from being scummed the characters cause another, unknown person to become a monster. Is the cost of a random person’s life enough to justify saving someone you personally know? Certainly they have their own friends and loved ones. This idea contradicts the fact that scum is an unprovable substance (and this idea was already thrown out during the first brainstorm) but I think I can justify it in this context. Because a random person becomes scummed, there’s no way to prove cause and effect. The argument could be made that person was going to become scummed anyways, or was already scummed and hasn’t been discovered until now.
New Cosmic Horror
The army would have a hard time sweeping scum under the rug if a new cosmic horror appears out of nowhere and flies into space for everyone to see. The people would wonder why the military wasn’t there to stop it.
Explosion Around the Individual
I didn’t like this idea because it would be too violent of a drawback.
Saving your loved one from being a monster, only to have them become insane would be an interesting choice to make.
A bunch of people become sick for no explainable reason? That would help keep scum a mysterious substance.
Land Is Corrupted
Not a huge drawback, unless there was large sentiment attached to the area. This would probably prove scum’s existence. Plus I’d have to define “corruption” in this case.
Retain Scummed Features
In addition to any guilt the cured feels for the harm they’ve caused, they’re also doomed to live an alternative life. They can’t show themselves in public (without covering up) because they retain some of their twisted appearance. They can never go back to their previous life or their friends or family. Their only option is isolation or to become a scum fighter, which would also brand them a traitor, heretic, and insane. This can also be used as a backstory for some characters.
I decided to go with both the idea that another individual becomes scummed, and the cured retains some of their monstrous features. Both provide some interesting decisions for the players and can add some interest to the story.
Putting It All Together
Players have the option of curing a scummed monster, but that decision has drawbacks. The characters have to indulge in the monster’s fantasy, perhaps aiding them in causing others harm. After the individual is cured they retain some of their monstrous features, which prevents them from returning to their previous life. Worst of all, curing an individual causes an unknown person nearby to become scummed, repeating the horrific cycle. Is the life of an unknown person worth saving someone you personally know?