Like quite a few other people this past week, I went to see ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’. It has a 92% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and if you listen to the buzz, the movie is everything from the absolute best film this year to the second coming of ‘Star Wars’. While I won’t really go that far, I will say that I thoroughly enjoyed it, I wanted to go see it again right away and it desperately made me want to play in or run a pulpy science-fiction game. My favorite review of the movie even mentions its suitability as a roleplaying game:
“I want to play in this roleplaying game like not a video game but with dice and character sheets and OOH OOH CAN I PLAY THE TECHIE RACCOON WITH A CHIP ON HIS SHOULDER!?”
Yeah, that was pretty much the giddy thought racing through my head as well. From the way the team is introduced to the way they each have their own role to fill and eventually come together to take on the bad guys, it screamed ROLEPLAYING GAME to me. But translating the magic of a movie into a roleplaying game doesn’t always go as smoothly as it could. In some ways, just taking the narrative of a movie and slapping system rules on it can sap some of the magic out of what you’re trying to recapture.
Avoiding major spoilers, there is a moment in the film where one of the characters casts what is essentially a light spell, but in the film it’s a magical moment, capturing a sense of wonder and beauty in the midst of a life and death battle to save a planet. Something so simple, so elegant to get across the essence of the characters, yet you and I both know how moments like that can become invisible or steamrolled by the banality of the mechanics and the way we get caught up in them.
I know this is true for me and I imagine it’s true for others, but many of us got into gaming because it captures just a tiny bit of that wondrous sense of pretend we experienced as children, running around without rules or guidelines but still creating a magical world of heroes, bad guys, super powers and anything else that captured our nearly limitless imaginations. By the time we get to using roleplaying games and their various mechanics to facilitate that type of play, there’s often a little too much of the weight of the world on our shoulders to just freely pretend, but that magic is still part of what draws us in.
As you might have realized from some of my other articles, I’m a GM that believes in story first, crunch second. Part of the reason that I run games is to capture that bit of magic you can get from good movies, books, tv shows, comic books, and so on. I can remember way back in the early days of gaming for me, one of the other players in my group pointed out a game book’s illustration of a beautiful elven queen on a throne surrounded by stern looking guards, situated in a majestic forest palace. She smirked and said, “Our GM would totally turn that into a boring scene. Just some chick on a chair with guys standing around her.” She was right and that bothered me, but back then, I never thought I would ever know the rules well enough to be a GM and have a chance at doing a better job.
It’s up to everyone at the table to help bring a little of that movie magic into the game by describing little things with the same creativity we put into the big moments, but the GM needs to set the tone. If the GM doesn’t put effort into trying to capture the essence of awesome we see in our entertainment and want in our games, the players won’t really have any reason to bother. The game may as well be a tactical simulation instead of a roleplaying game.
Not every little thing needs to get played up, of course; sometimes a light spell is just a light spell and that’s okay. Just keep in mind the little moments in movies (or TV, or comics, or…) that really make you fall in love with the characters and the story. If you can find a way to work those little flashes of wonder and magic into your game, your players will be hooked.
Do you have any suggestions or examples on how to bring some of those little movie magic moments into your game?