Over the weekend a group of us went to see 'Fast Five'. For those not in the know, Fast Five is the fifth Fast and the Furious movie to come out. Take a second and think about that? These movies, simple action movies with generally fairly sub par writing, are one of the few movie franchises to make it through five movies without a reboot or super significant time gap. Honestly, I can't think of another series to have made five movies in ten years aside from James Bond, and those movies have very weak continuity between them. So, I figure that Fast and the Furious must be doing something right, and in the spirit of it being the fifth movie, here are five things I've taken from the franchise.
As a warning, there may be some minor spoilers here for all 5 Fast and the Furious movies.
1) Action Doesn't Have To Mean Combat
This is something of a given, and I've talked about it here before, but the Fast and the Furious movies really hammer it home. These are fairly action packed movies, and yet the characters are very rarely holding guns and fighting. The vast majority of the action comes from the races and using cars, and gun play or fighting comes as a strong second.
There are already several systems that capitalize on this (like SpyCraft) and make it possible for the GM to have the "big action sequence" be a chase or race instead of a gunfight. Try it in your game, and watch how much it can spice things up just because it is different than the normal combat!
2) Strong Character Interaction Trumps Plot
This one is a bit harder to pull off in a game as the GM, and ultimately you need the PCs to help with this. However, the Fast and the Furious movies (particularly 1, 2, 4, and 5) have done a good job of establishing characters and who they are in the world. The writing for the individual plots may be a bit loose and shaky, but the characters themselves become believable and consistent, even if they are a bit outlandish. Their reactions to each other are believable, and show a lot about their relationship and who they are, all of which pulls together to help keep things intriguing despite the vagueries of the plot. It doesn't matter as much that what started this race is kinda silly and stupid, what matters is that Brian is once again trying to prove himself to Dominic and finally win one.
3) A LOT Can Happen Off Screen
One of my favorite parts of the whole franchise, and this is not necessarily a good thing, is how much changes with the characters between movies. These aren't plot holes, but something major has to be happening off screen between stories that we just don't see. We're left to piece the information together, but I think it is also something you could use in a game. Especially in a game where you were doing time skips. It can lead to intrigue, and new ways to bring old people back into the story as life changes they went through make it possible for them to come back. We never are told what happens between 2 & 4 that makes Brian leave Miami and go back to being a cop in L.A. We don't know what happens to Tej's garage that makes him available to help out in 5 either. Ultimately, these things aren't important aside from the growth it shows the characters having gone through and the way others react to them. Something I intend to keep in mind with the time skips I do in my own games.
4) Let The PCs Enjoy Their Power
Sometimes, one of the best way to show just how much a PC has grown is to hand wave something that previously would have been a big deal. Let them do the set up, do the build up, and then just let the PC handle whatever it is. Especially if it is a minor detail that would be difficult to pull off. This can work wonders, as it also shows just how much better the PC is than the "average" at whatever it is they're doing. It also lets you set up villains later on as bigger threats when they're not able to be just hand waved, because they're just that much better as well. There is a lot of power in a quick cut in film that goes to the resolution. The same can be said for a single die roll in an RPG, followed by the GM going "and you just totally destroy him."
5) Cool Does Not Happen On Its Own
Finally, if you want the big and cool situations to happen. If you want your PCs to go diving through windows and flip kicking grenades back at people. If you want these things to happen, you need to set it up so the PC can do it. It is not the PCs job to set up the giant set-piece scene, it is the GM's job, and if you do it right, and play it right, than the PCs will play into it. Yes, the ultimate decision of whether or not that Space Marine runs through a wall to help his friend out is up to the PC, but the player can't make that decision if there isn't a friend in potential trouble on the other side of a wall.
So, don't be afraid to set things up for crazy solutions to be fun and rewarding. Especially when it fits into your universe. Players are good at catching details that might help them, and even better at coming up with insane solutions to sane problems. Just give them the sane problems to apply those solutions to.