- Gnome Stew - http://www.gnomestew.com -

Learning From… Nikita

Posted By Don Mappin On September 20, 2011 @ 2:00 am In GMing Advice | 4 Comments

It isn’t often that a movie garners a remake/reboot, a five year stint as a television series and is then resurrected—again—as another television series. Plus, I’d wager a fair number of gamers have have thought of the draw of a wrongly-accused killer “repurposed” as a secret, government assassin. I mean, who wouldn’t?

So, clearly, there are some things we can learn from the latest iteration of Le Femme Nikita.

New Again

Chances are good that you’re familiar with the CW’s new television series, Nikita, starring Maggie Q. Nikita is based on the 1990 french movie of the same name (Nikita), which was later rebooted in a US movie with Bridget Fonda, Point of No Return. That, in turn, led to Le Femme Nikita, a television series on the USA network (1997-2001) starring Peta Wilson.

All versions are a variation of of the concept of a young, beautiful woman down on her luck (heroine addict/killer/wrong place, wrong time) being forcibly trained as a covert assassin. Then cool stuff happens. There’s a fair amount of duplication in the ABC television series, Alias (2001-2006) as well.

Much of the makeup of Nikita, in particular this latest iteration, is rife with storytelling lessons. As with our other previous examination, Tron: Legacy, spoilers will abound. Be warned!

Embracing Familiarity

In the recap outlined earlier, all versions of Nikita share a common theme with subtle variations. What’s refreshing about Nikita—and the other iterations—is that they don’t venture far from the formula. It’s just…cool. The first instinct may be to run away from that but they all draw upon the source material and seek to replicate and then improve upon. So while each bring something familiar to the table, when I tell you “Nikita” you know what I’m talking about, conceptually.

As GM’s we find inspiration in many different ways but feel constrained or perhaps judged by being too true to our source material. If there’s a good story, no matter where it came from, tell it, I say.

You don’t always have to file off the serial numbers.

Being Vulnerable

Beyond Nikita being a general badass and seemingly always one step ahead of the bad guys, she also messes up a fair amount. Not small things either, but missing the occasional trap, getting her butt kicked, and even betrayed from within. It’s refreshing to see Nikita’s occasional mistakes that validate her as human and make her a more identifiable character. Fallible, as are we all.

So shouldn’t our NPCs be equally fallible? It’s alright for the PCs to have a plan that goes off without a hitch or the villain making a key miscalculation, opening up the door for the characters to take advantage. A slip on the part of the femme fatale or the sneering magic wielder that doesn’t place the laser-guided fireball on exactly the right 5’ square are nice changes of pace.

Keep Them Guessing

Rare is the show that keeps me guessing until the final credits, but Nikita does an admirable job. There are plots within plots within schemes. It’s all rather clever when it comes together; what you think is happening actually is but there’s another layer (or two) that we’re not aware of until the very end. In particular I like the episode that has an interrogation training exercise go “wrong.”

Layering your plots is a complicated matter—and likely something you won’t want to do on a regular basis. But on occasion is a an equally powerful storytelling tool. The surface victory of the PCs in the end advances the machinations of the villain as well, for example.

The danger is doing this with increasing regularity so that it becomes old hat. Ideally no one should suspect the other layer is there, or understand necessarily what the outcomes are until the final reveal.

Advance The Story

One of my pet peeves is storytelling that, at the end of the day, hasn’t done much to move the train along. Most television shows latch upon a successful formula and drive it mercilessly into the ground. Nikita is a breath of fresh air in that regard. In the span of just one season multiple key characters are killed (in increasingly clever ways to maintain the identify of Nikita’s mole), her protégée, Alex, betrays her mentor—and is setup as the foil for season two—while the very man tasked with capturing Nikita changes sides.

Season two in no way mimics season one; they are completely different. Instead of taking the proven formula, the story is advanced in new and dramatic ways. In our desktop games that’s easier said than done, however.

I’m not discussing small changes but instead, radical, dramatic shifts. Major NPCs who’s allegiances changes or are outright killed. Taking the PC’s story lines in new, unforeseen directions and cutting away the safety net.

This begs the question of when have you gone too far? As long as the essence of the campaign is intact I put forward that nearly anything is fair game. A degree of trust is required here; I’m not advocating doing crazy shit for the sake of doing crazy shit or slaughtering PCs for giggles. But anything that upsets the status quo and takes the campaign a new direction—perhaps even temporarily—meets this criteria. Shake things up a bit.

Keep Them Guessing, Redux

Similar to the above, Nikita stories also distinguish themselves in the variety of ways they are told. In one mission Nikita may solve through brute force, the next a mission goes awry and the target changes midstream, and another may require undercover espionage where no one must know she was there. That variety also allows for new, interesting ways to showcase the characters. I’m a big proponent in bringing this storytelling style and adventure design to your table. Put characters in unfamiliar situations and allow the players to stretch themselves. Now don’t ask the fighter to take on the role of the thief for an evening—make sure the characters are still effective in their own way—but certainly strive to occasionally take them out of their comfort zone. It’s incredibly satisfying on both sides of the screen.

What other shows or media have you drawn upon for a lesson learned in your own games? Tell us!

About  Don Mappin

For nearly 30 years RPGs have been a staple of Don’s life — so that means he’s pretty old. Author of a dozen RPG books, Don has worked with companies such as ICE, Last Unicorn Games, Decipher, and AEG. He now spends his time working in IT management, enjoying his family and two children, or gaming.




4 Comments (Open | Close)

4 Comments To "Learning From… Nikita"

#1 Comment By Necrognomicon On September 21, 2011 @ 2:28 am

There’s also a Hong Kong version called Black Cat with Simon Yam in it.

#2 Comment By Redcrow On September 21, 2011 @ 11:55 pm

I’ve lifted ideas from novels, comics, t.v., movies, even other games. I even recall once in the mid 90’s watching a commercial for Snuggle fabric softener and getting an ‘Aha!’ idea from it. Don’t ask.

The t.v. show in recent memory that gave me the most good ideas for gaming would probably have to be Prison Break. All the twists, turns, and backstabbing made for some excellent plot points for the Shadowrun game I was running at the time. One of the most memorable games I’ve ever run.

#3 Comment By John Arcadian On September 22, 2011 @ 10:22 am

@Redcrow – Sorry, gotta ask. What was the Snuggle commercial aha moment? I’ve thrown in more than a few WTF? moments because of weird inspirations like that.

#4 Comment By Redcrow On September 22, 2011 @ 8:26 pm

@John Arcadian – It basically involved a bomb smuggled inside a child’s stuffed teddy bear. The Shadowrun group was hired with the task of protecting a family because the husband was the target of assassination. The group had some history with the assassin hired to do the job and she made the group a tad bit paranoid. Eventually the group picked up on the clue I dropped of the little girl complaining that her teddy bear wouldn’t talk anymore and the mother consoling her by saying they would stop to get some batteries when they had a chance.

For just a second they dismissed it as idle nervous conversation, but then I could actually see it silently dawn on them one by one.


Article printed from Gnome Stew: http://www.gnomestew.com

URL to article: http://www.gnomestew.com/gming-advice/learning-from-nikita/

All articles copyright by their individual authors. All rights reserved.