Saturday, June 16, 2012

A ring by any other name...

Good morning all! I recently saw the movie Prometheus, and was rather impressed by it all. The 'old man' makeup on Mr. Weyland (and rough attempts at something called 'acting' from the leading lady's boyfriend) could have been better, but overall it was a good movie. An interesting plot element in the movie (mini-spoiler alert here) was the reasoning behind the 'Engineers' changing their minds about humanity, although I wonder whether a sequel is really necessary to resolve the question.This brings me to a point I'd like to make about how plots are woven in good RPGs. Ideally, a great campaign would have a definable beginning, middle, climax and ending, all woven around a major premise and its interwoven plot lines. In practice, most campaigns have sequels. The party slays the evil villain, defeats his army, and frees the kingdom. They go home heroes, some continuing to serve their liege, some returning to their homes, and others taking darker paths. Then, something brings them back together.

Our favorite characters have a way of making us want to reopen the book of their lives, and that applies to both the player and the Storyteller. So you jump back in with those wonderful heroes, bringing them all back together for one more grand quest to save the kingdom. The result?

Jaws: The Revenge.

To be fair, there are notable exceptions, but this happens so often as to almost be the rule. Maybe its because we try too hard to recapture the magic of something great. Sometimes we love the nostalgia so much, we hope it can carry us through a new campaign. Nostalgia is great, but it is rarely enough for more than a few sessions. Greatness is in the story, and how it connects, challenges, and defines the characters. Greatness is in feeling as if the current story holds enough mystery, freshness, and excitement to stand on its own, regardless of what came before it. A lot of Storytellers forget this part, and try to hang on the coat-tails of success or nostalgia.

Capture, don't recapture.

When you craft a story, ensure that it stands on its own merits; this applies regardless of whether its the first campaign for your heroes or the tenth. Pay homage to nostalgia, but don't try too hard to recapture a particular feel, or emotion. Let the story develop its own feel, its own wonder. Tie-in elements are wonderful tools because they allow us to lay the groundwork for new stories, but we mustn't rely on them exclusively. Recycling an old villain is just fine if it is feasible, but don't resurrect (literally or figuratively) a defeated foe just because he or she was a great one. Resurrect him or her because it is integral to your new, standalone story.

A ring by any other name...

Finally, when you are running a campaign, give yourself the room and creative freedom that comes from leaving certain plot lines unresolved. Even seemingly trivial or insignificant plot devices that are left dangling can provide wholesome fodder for new adventures. Bilbo's Ring of Invisibility was a significant plot device in J. R. R. Tolkien's The Hobbit, but you were never really told much about its past, its creator or its dangers. Its origins were a mystery that did not factor in to the conflict presented in that book. Many years later, Bilbo's favorite nephew Frodo learned the hard way that the One Ring indeed possessed quite a dark history, and the Lord of The Rings trilogy was born. The ring began as a tool that enabled Bilbo's bildungsroman - the ring's abilities put him on par with the dwarves, and allowed him to grow and mature from a sense of accomplishment and newly-found strength. Much later, the ring becomes a major plot device for Frodo, and over the course of three books Frodo's struggle against it decides the fate of all Middle Earth.

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