Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Episodic Game vs. Episodic Show

Still dealing with a power outage at home, but a trip in to work to recharge the phones is giving me a bit of time at a laptop so I can at least have a small post today. The topic for the day was inspired by discussion of how many of our favorite heroes (Batman, the Supernatural boys, etc) adventures end versus how games end. Most importantly in how things all come to a head. So, for today, I want to talk about that with the hopes of maybe finding a way to fix it, or just pointing out a pitfall a GM may fall into.
The TV Show Ending
In a lot of TV shows the ending can be a bit lackluster from time to time. The main character of the show doesn't necessarily cause events to come to a close as much as they just happen to be there when it does happen. The villain goes nuts and causes their contraption to blow up, meaning Batman just has to escape; some angel drops in and saves Sam and Dean from the demon in question; or two villains take each other out in a blaze of glory. These endings are often cinematic, but they have problems when being implemented in a game. Let's look at a few.

Out Of The Players' Hands
This is the big one to be aware of. A lot of these endings, by definition, are out of the players' hands. When that happens, the players can feel robbed or cheated of the ending that they think they deserved. They may also feel that the adventure was on rails, and thus that nothing they did had any impact - even if they were instrumental in why things played out this way.

But Why?
Why is this the feeling that comes across? Directly because the player doesn't have a direct impact on the ending. Even if they brought the person in who wrapped things up, they may feel upstaged by the NPC.   Some players may be ok with this, but a lot of people will feel robbed. It is part of the basic psychology between being the human directly involved, and being a human consuming a story - or being a part of the story. Even in those stories the character involved often feels unfulfilled with the ending, and that is something your players are going to feel when this happens.

How To Fix?
I'm not so sure how to fix this, but the best way would be to give your players a key hand in what happens. Even if it isn't the big fix that solves things, if it is a pivotal part it can be enough. Play up their role and show how much it matters. More importantly though, give them closure. A satisfying ending can make up for a lot unfulfilled longings.


  1. Thanks for overcoming the hurdles to posting, and getting in a thought-provoker! One way to fix it is try an have the PCs have something at stake in the story. If they're investigating a crime, perhaps it was committed against them directly. Or, if there is evidence of weird phenomena, then one of the PCs is haunted by odd visions or compulsions.

    Batman fights crime because of what happened to his family. Why do the PCs engage in stories? When you're crafting encounters, look for hooks in the PCs backgrounds or in the in-game history that you can use to tie the PCs in.

    Then, when you hit resolution, make them earn it! They find the missing amulet, but only if they solve the riddle-spell set to self destruct the thief's lair. They end the haunting visions, but only if they locate the gibbering mouther that has oozed into the wall of the inn they've been using as a base.

  2. One way could be to have the PCs make it possible for the NPC to act. The NPC can be powerful but needs their help to be free to act. "You have to get the crowd out of here before I can do this!"