Reading through the April ’09 issue of Wired, I came across this quote from James Cameron (yes, that James Cameron):

But the beauty of [adventures] is that they don’t have to be logical. They just have to have plausibility. If there’s a visceral, cinematic thing happening that [your players like], they don’t care if it goes against what’s likely.

That’s more or less how I read it, too — I finished the last sentence, and immediately thought how well what he’d said applied to gaming. Here’s the original quote so you can see what I changed:

But the beauty of movies is that they don’t have to be logical. They just have to have plausibility. If there’s a visceral, cinematic thing happening that the audience likes, they don’t care if it goes against what’s likely.

While this maxim — make it plausible (even if only barely) and fun, and it’ll work out just fine — won’t mesh with every player’s particular tastes, I’d say it applies 95% of the time, and to 95% of groups.

And it’s one of those gaming truisms that took me a loooooong time to figure out. I’m prone to overthinking things, and adventure prep is no exception. The times I’ve been able to deliver the most fun scenarios to my players are generally also the times when I’ve followed Cameron’s advice.

A core of plausibility — or in the case of settings and genres that are wildly implausible by nature, a core that’s internally consistent with the world/genre — surrounded by a fresh, juicy ball of fun is a powerful thing.

About  Martin Ralya

A father, husband, writer, small-press publisher, former RPG industry freelancer, and lifelong geek, Martin has been gaming since 1987 and GMing since 1989. He lives in Utah with his amazing wife Alysia and their awesome daughter Lark in a house full of books and games.



7 Responses to James Cameron on Creating Fun RPG Adventures

  1. Excellent advise! I never thought of it that way, but it is spot on.

  2. I meant excellent advice of course. Although Martin does advise excellently! :)

  3. Spot on. One of my favorite things about running one-shots (or 2-3 session games) is that the players are much more willing to indulge the GM in plausible vs. logical storylines.

  4. I think this depends a lot on your group and your game/genre.

    Some players are happy to suspend disbelief and run with it, some players are pains in the ass that will argue for an hour on bullet penetration dynamics*, and some players will see hidden clues in the occurance of the implausable.

    Similarly, beer and pretzel, comedy or action games need little, if any sensible framework behind them, while detective, horror, or romance games may require a more careful progression of events.

  5. For the longest time when I was starting out being a GM, I got hung up on beating myself up over “What was accurate”. Down to being frightened to draw maps because I didn’t understand tectonic movements and etc.

    Then the GM that brought me into gaming told me, essentially: There’s a main difference between Hard Science and Space Opera. They have very different feels, and people read them for different things. People don’t play RPGs for Hard Science, they play for Space Opera. Hard Science is “Realism”, while Space Opera is “Believable”. All you need is for it to be believable, and as long as it can be believed, you can have fun.

  6. Good stuff, Martin!

    I like how your GM explained it, Karizma. That’s a great mindset, and very true.

  7. @Karizma – Oh, totally. Maybe not to the plate tectonics level, but I distinctly remember abandoning cool map ideas because I wasn’t sure you could really have mountains there, or a river that ran that way, or whatever. Oy.

    @Matthew J. Neagley – Good point! That’s part of what I was getting at in the last paragraph — internal consistency being the key for wildly implausible settings (and I’d certainly put Toon or Paranoia in that bucket).

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