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What Dr. Horrible’s Sing Along Blog Can Teach You About GMing
Posted By John Arcadian On July 25, 2008 @ 2:00 am In GMing Advice | 11 Comments
So if you didn’t catch Dr. Horrible’s Sing Along Blog while it was around then you missed out on something incredible and must now go purchase it on Itunes. For those who missed it, Dr. Horrible’s Sing Along Blog stars Neil Patrick Harris as Dr. Horrible, a low rent Villain trying to get into the Evil League of Evil. He has a crush on Penny, played by the incredibly hot Felicia Day, who he loses to his Arch-Nemesis The Hammer, played by Nathan Fillion. It is Joss Whedon’s writer’s strike project and an experiment in non-studio distribution methods. 1 part musical, 1 Part Super-villain Story, 1 Part Dry/Witty/Absurd Humor and chock full of advice on being a GM.
Wait what? No, I did mean that. Dr. Horrible’s Sing Along Blog (DHSAB) is an incredible story with outstanding production elements. There are a lot of ideas that can be picked up from watching it.
Villains are People too
Dr. Horrible, as his secret identity Billy, is completely normal. There is a definite dualism to his character. There might be a third even deeper level that is the same as the surface level. What Dr. Horrible/Billy’s dualism represents is the fact that villain’s are not one sided. What motivates the BBEG in your game to do the bad things he or she does? Lust for power? Desire to change the world? Greed? Think about the villain’s motivations, then think about what spawned them.
I’m not a fan of musicals, but the way the music works itself into the story keeps the whole experience in your head. I can’t see a sing along working well at the gaming table, but finding some element to set the mood and act as a unifying thread can draw the players in a bit. I ran a fantasy setting military game and gave everyone military insignia to pin onto their shirts. I noticed the players get more into military characteristics right after they glanced at someone else’s insignia. The mood setting element has to do two things: The first is to be Noticeable to the players. The second is to have it in the right amount. If it is too much of the game it might become gimmicky and if it is too little it might get lost. The music in DHSAB integrates with the story without overpowering. It is also memorable and draws you in.
The F.A.Q. on the site describes DHSAB as professional-ish. It rests somewhere between a college student film and a high quality studio production. There is experienced talent leading the way mixed in with a lot of volunteer work, lower budget technical capabilities and a bunch of people with similar personalities and different talents. This is exactly what you get at a gaming table. Everyone at the table is vested in the production for their sole enjoyment and love of the game, the end result is more reliant on the people than the high budget special effects and a lot of jokes get made.
Witty Dialogue and Timing
One of the things that makes DHSAB so wonderful is the excellent humor that is delivered at just the right time. “That’s not a good sound . . .” comes out of Dr. Horrible’s mouth right after his freeze ray is heard powering down or the best (IMHO) line of the production: “Oh look at my wrist, time to go”. Achieving witty dialogue at just the right time at the Gaming Table has got to be one of the hardest things to do, especially when it is coming from an NPC’s mouth. It is easy to crack jokes and pick up on trends in conversation, but to get the NPC’s to do it is very hard. Generally these kind of moments come during scripted dialogue or in conjunction with portraying an NPC’s demeanor. Getting it into your game will make unforgettable moments. The Halfing dinosaur salesman from the Talentia plains’ description of how they get the V.I.N.s (Velociraptor Identification Numbers) on the clawfoot dinosaurs’ underside will never be forgotten by my Gaming group.
If your villain is getting laughed at, run with it!
I’ve had a few games were the BBEG was supposed to be a big menacing force in the world. Didn’t quite turn out that way. The players picked up on some non-evil vibe that I was giving off or some funny moment and the villain’s street cred was shot. However, next best thing to a menacing villain is a hilarious one. Dr. Horrible has a dry and witty humor that is counter pointed nicely by the absurd humor and actions around him. If you find the villain slipping from his precipice of dastardliness, then considering giving him a push down the slope. It might change the theme a bit, but could yield some good results.
Neal Patrick Harris Can Sing
Not sure how this actually relates to GMing, but I just felt like pointing out that the dude has a good set of pipes.
So there is my application to the Evil League of Gnome Stew Commenters. If you’ve seen DHSAB and can think of more ways to garner GMing advice from it then please chime in! Better yet what other B-Movies, Internet Phenomena, or tongue in cheek ventures can you suggest to glean more from? Project Valkyrie anyone? And seriously, have you ever heard of a better villain than Bad Horse – The Thoroughbred of Sin?
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