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Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Story Telling With Marvel

Today I wanted to expand on something that I have mentioned before, though I can honestly say I don't remember where that was.  Recently I mentioned how useful comic books are as inspiration for GMs, especially on the side of story telling.  They match up with the way a game's story is told.  Sometimes the content of a comic ranges a few hours in-world and sometimes its covers days of time.  The same thing can happen at the table where a major battle lasting mere minutes in game take the whole session, or lots of role-playing scenes pop up and cover many days of downtime or travel.  Some comics release on a (very nearly) weekly schedule and others are once a month, much like many campaigns are played.  There are story arcs within story arcs and these can and should interact with bigger things happening within the world.  Not everyone has the time, or the money (they're expensive to keep up with), to read comic books.  However, there is something similar, and perhaps even more useful, that most of us nerds have been watching: Marvel's Netflix series.

The first thing you have to remember when looking at these for inspiration is that they are, very much, the table top experience.  It does not matter what genre or system you play in, these shows are a very good representation of what we do at the table, though our parties tends towards a handful more than a single person.  This is especially true of the Netflix series which feature the less overpowered, more flawed, more real heroes.  The characters are not so different from everyone else, especially at first, they are just slightly more talented, recognize how they could use their talents, and / or are willing to do things other people are not.  In addition to that, as short seasoned shows that draw from the comics and contain a range of characters, the series are perfect examples of an RPG story arc.  There are little arcs and bits going on within it, but there is also the bigger picture going on throughout the season.

That is the first place to take a lesson.  In both seasons of Daredevil and the one of Jessica Jones there is a lot of depth.  From Fisk's history and personal life to the development and evolution of Patsy Walker we have pieces that aren't strictly important to the main arc but are molded by it.  At your table there are going to be things, events, and characters that are molded by your adventurers and their quest.  Whatever that quest is, by getting involved in the larger world around them there will always be others who are affected.  While you could, of course, narrate cut scenes involving such things to reveal information to the players, it is probably a better choice to focus on weaving in how the characters learn such information.

Now, the Netflix series aren't just great for lessons in remembering how things change and ripple out from your players.  It is also a lesson in how NPC attitudes develop in relation to those players.  Much in the way Foggy struggles being a friend to Matt, the NPCs may find themselves struggling to be committed allies to a group of adventurers who, very likely, find themselves outside the law if not above it.  That allegiance may sway back and forth with the PCs getting help sometimes and not others.  It may also cause the NPC to take their own action and forcing the PCs to deal with that added trouble.  NPCs, especially important, powerful, or just willful ones, do their own thing and many of them may not just sit and wait for the PCs to come back.

The last thing I wanted to mention about story telling that we can learn from Marvel's Netflix series is all about setting and story arcs weaving into an even bigger picture.  To be fair though, this is a lesson still in the making.  For those of you who are unaware of the comics or of Marvel's plans, there is a whole lot more coming to Netflix.  At this point you should have seen that come out of Comic Con though.  There were a number of teasers.  Starting with Daredevil, the intent was always to do 4 series that would lead into one big crossover series.  For those of you still out of the loop, Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and Iron Fist would all get their own series followed by the team up we're all waiting for: The Defenders.

What is so amazing about this goal is something we have actually seen before.  We saw it in Phase 1.  We saw it in Phase 2.  It will all come to a head again in Infinity Wars.  What I am talking about is the very separate and unique movies that make up a larger story (the Avengers).  Each one tackles a different hero or heroes with different set drops and themes.  These not only span the globe, however, but the cosmos.  Not only that but we only get 2-3 hours of exposure to each.

The Netflix series has a whole lot going for it that they just don't.  First off we get 13 episodes at about 40 minutes each.  That's close to 4 times as much time to cover things.  Secondly, we have the goal of a big crossover event, but instead of this shaking the cosmos, it all takes place within New York City.  Granted a city is huge, and New York especially so, but that is such a small scale to work with for what is, roughly, the same hero diversity.  Finally we have the diversity between how the series are handled.  They are all darker and more 'real' than the movie counterparts.  But what really takes the cake is how different Jessica Jones is from Daredevil, while still being within a circle you expect.  If you have seen the teasers for Luke Cage and Iron Fist then you know, as well as I do, that the next two series are going to happen similarly.

Take each of these series and treat it as an arc.  Your characters may all be a part of each arc, but you can do those arcs in different styles, maintain the campaign's feel, AND stay close to 'home'.  As fun as it is to bring players out into the wider world(s), you don't have to and Marvel just gives us the perfect example.  That being said of course, there is still so much for them to show us.  We have Luke Cage coming up and the Defenders was slated for next year.  That, of course, means that Iron Fist will also be next year.  Spring for Iron Fist and Fall for Defenders if I had my guess.  But don't forget, we also have season 3 of Daredevil soon too.

Oh, and one last thing I want to mention that we should all do more of as GMs, taking a lesson from Marvel.  Your PCs are probably not the only heroes.  Their villains aren't the only villains.  Dealing with those things is common and tough, but what about dealing with the aftermath of more powerful heroes and events?  It is woven into the Netflix shows, but more as background and narrative device than anything else.  But what if the Chitauri invaded "today" and after that insane hour or so, there were still some left hiding.  Daredevil would certainly have something to worry about in Hell's Kitchen.

So, watch the series again and keep an eye out for story telling tricks.  Watch for foreshadowing or hints you missed the first time.  Keep a GM's point of view as you go through them.  There is always more to learn.

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