Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Inspiration Point: The Inverse Story

Inspiration point is a series where I touch on places to get ideas for your games. Essentially, it touches on ideas for generating story content, or character content, and how you might want to implement it in your game. For today, I want to talk about taking an established - and well known - story, and turning it on its ear for the benefit of your game.

The Situation
You're sitting around the table and deciding on what the holiday multi-shot (or new campaign) your group is going to play will be. Some  people want to move into sci-fi, they're sick of all the fantasy stuff. Others are fine with this, but they don't want to learn a whole lot of new world rules and stuff. They want something they know. That spurs further discussion, and the next thing you know, everyone wants you to run Star Wars. They start discussing characters and what they want to do, and you're left scrambling to come up with a story. So, what do you do?

The Solution
Well, they said they wanted something they knew, so give them something they know. You know the plot for the movies, right? So why not use that. Ah, but that can cause problems. After all, they know the plot line already, and they don't want to play established characters. This means that twists won't be as surprising, and that to tie them up in the movie events would be to be messing with the franchise the group loves, or just forcing them into playing the roles they said they didn't want with a new name. That's perfectly fine though, you know why? Because you're not going to run them through the movie's plot. You're going to reverse the story and go at it from the other side of things. Make the good guys bad, and the bad guys good, and see what happens.

How It Works
So, how does this work? Well, it's quite simple really. In any good, and sufficiently deep, story the choice of hero is more a matter of point of view than anything else. All those bad guys you see the heroes defeating? I guarantee that most of them are not thinking "I'm a villain's henchman!" In fact, unless the movie is just flat out having one be the "forces of evil", they're probably scared crapless because they're in a fight, and just trying to do their job/what they think is right. This method is designed to take that, shift the perspective, and thus paint events in new light.

Some Examples
This may be easier with some examples, so here we go:

In the original Star Wars trilogy, what do you have? Luke Skywalker and his friends in the rebellion, fighting against the Empire and Darth Vader, two Sith lords, and their Galactic Empire. How do you spin that? Well, look at it. The "good guys" in the movie are a group of rebels that are fighting against the established government. By today's terminology, they are terrorists and traitors. You make the PCs work as agents for the Empire, their job is to ensure peace, order, and fair play in their system. You focus on some of the more extremist rebel action, and the aspects of the Empire that work and protect their citizenry. This isn't even changing canon, as there had to have been some people who believed in the unity, peace, and protection that the Empire stood for, just look at how many Rebel heroes started off in the Imperial Academy.

It works with other tales as well.

The Predator movies are generally about young hunters from an honor bound society trying to prove their worth and be accepted as adults. In other words, they're like alien YA stories that have just gone horribly wrong for the quirky protagonist.

The Umbrella corporation (makers of the T virus in Resident Evil) was working towards a way to help people, and just hit a snag. Now everything could be lost, including all the good that the medical break through could do. (ok, this one is a bit of a stretch)

Superman goes rogue like every third week, the Government needs to have their own team ready just in case it happens again, and noted philanthropist Lex Luthor is here to help. And hey, doesn't Supes seem to be getting kind of heavy handed lately?

The point is, shift the perspective of the game to the "bad guys" side, and show the players the world through that lens. They don't get to see how broken up Superman is that he had to destroy half of metropolis in his fight. They just see him pound another hero through the city, and then fly off. They don't get to hear the justification for the rebel bombing of the bacta facility was to stop the spread of a virus, they just have rebels blowing up a medical facility. Change the perspective, shift the tune, and you can make the "bad guys" the "heroes" and put a wonderful new twist on a known story.

Hell, who isn't going to get a dramatic moment out of trying to fly a TIE fighter and save their base, and all the friends they have living inside it, from an attack squadron of X-Wings looking to blow it up.


  1. I'm surprised that the "inverse story" isn't a more popularly-employed trope in film, literature, and even games. After being exposed to so many "black-and-white" simplistic narratives, in my opinion the most interesting stories I've seen or read or played are the "gray" ones that force its audience to weigh the pros and cons of each opposing side, or at the very least consider that certain morals in the characters only go skin-deep (my favorite examples are certain episodes from the new Doctor Who, manga series Death Note, and Portal 2). If art imitates life, and real life isn't so neatly "black-and-white," then why do so many stories across the media spectrum lack the kind of moral discussion that A.L. discusses here?

  2. Because many people go to stories to have a moment of simplicity in a complex life. Especially in an RPG many people want a simple moment where they can just be the hero and the bad guy is just the bad guy. It's the sort of intellectual candy that Captain America offers and can be very enjoyable sometimes.

    That said, I very much enjoy the more gray stories that A.L. discusses, and wish I saw more of them.

  3. There is definitely room for both. Sometimes, you just want simple fantasy with the evil wizard trying to take over the world. Sometimes though, you want something you can really sink your teeth into.

    For that second one, there is a wonderful saying that basically goes: the villain is the hero of their own story.