Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Three Series to Learn Narrative Structure Dos and Don'ts...

These three series influenced how I build campaigns, storylines, and my dos and don'ts in designing.

So I have been looking into enhancing my own DMing through various sources.  I have discussed various books that have influenced my thinking... But what about the elephant in the room?  The bigger picture?

Yes, I went literal.  What of it?

Television influences most of us in how we handle any media.  As we go through our lives as DMs, GMs, Storytellers, or just writers we will find specific influences being spawned through the narratives of television.

TV has had a life longer than our own hobby, and if we look into the boob tube we can find some fantastic influences in the most unlikely places.

Here are three unlikely places where we may find a reflection of what we do, and the pride and pitfalls of each series.

The Wire: The Ultimate Urban Campaign

Plenty of people talk about the influence of the series in multiple places, but why D&D.  Other than this alignment chart, the Wire provides two important lessons:

A Campaign Does NOT Need to Have a True Greater Victory. Evil may prevail but it isn't your fault.  There's a reason why alignments exist... You may die, you may grow too old for the game, but the game will go on with new generations.

The Scenery is a Character: Baltimore is a dangerous place, and it is its own greatest monster.  It creates the minions of decay and improvement that battle within, and it will outlive them all.   And you cannot fight the Scenery.

Omar is the competent showman, the rogue, and the killer... But he is the product of his environs.  Always remember that the Place creates the Monster as much as a Monster creates its Place.  

The Twilight Zone: The Monsters Unseen

Rod Serling was a genius.  In his work in the Twilight Zone the war vet used his nightmares and crooked ideas to produce ideas that were both fantastic and unnervingly familiar.  He brought a viewpoint that I see anew every time I sit down to enjoy a few episodes, and taught me some lessons:

The Scariest Monsters are Ourselves: Even as a science fiction anthology, the episodes which affected me strongest were those that exposed the ideology of the day in a raw format that hid only the rough edges.  One of the best episodes of the series, originally presented as a standard alien control story, is still taught in the classroom as a deconstruction of prejudice in the period.

Sometimes the Danger is in the Details:
There are about a quarter of you who jumped upon seeing the associated picture.  Anthony Freemont is one of the great unexpected characters, and Serling knew it.  When I think of the great villains are a child with more power than they should have, a car that makes you truthful, a fortune telling knick-knack, or the endless march of progress.

An 'enemy' need not be the big sword-swinger or spell-slinger... It can be simple things that change the game and alter our perceptions.

Supernatural: Lessons of When it Goes Awry.

Supernatural is my personal example of when to stop.  Sometimes you just need to let the Campaign go.  Epic battles, a creature to kill, and an interesting cast of characters.

Then comes the revolving door of the Afterlife.  And when you finally get down, destroy the greatest evil known to the land, ancient evils are defeated and imprisoned?

Just stop.  Please.  Don't go further.  I know you want to keep going... But sometimes you just need to know your swan song.

So I've thrown out my ideas... What do you think?  What are the television series that inspire you?  Feel free to comment or email me at my name at  

As Always,

Good Gaming.