Cinematic vs Fun

I was thinking about the post I made the other day, all the while wondering why my package I’m waiting on from UPS is in Exception status now a full day later, when I got a feeling of deja vu. And for some reason, this time, when thinking about deja vu, I thought about The Matrix.

Yes, if you’ve seen that movie, you probably know the scene I mean: The climax of the second act, where the team is in a building, and the Machines block off all their exit points as police and Agents swarm the area. Much of the team is wiped out, Morpheus is captured, and now it seems the fate of Zion, and thus the whole human race, hangs in the balance. At this point, Neo and Trinity set alone out to rescue Morpheus, armed only with their wits and “Guns. Lots of guns.”

Yeah, that’s a great scene, both for the scene itself and the awesome climax it leads up to. Now, I find what goes wrong is when people try to be overly cinematic in their tabletop role-playing games…

See, on the opposite side of the spectrum from the grim, gritty, bleak and hopeless storytelling that is the “realism” crowd, there lies the GM who is trying to be overly dramatic and cinematic… And is usually as much of an “author GM” as the other sort. These GMs often make many of the same mistakes.

For example, using the scene from The Matrix as a guide, we have the party being split up, the party being partially wiped out, and one of the party members being captured and unable to free themselves. These may be exciting to watch, but it’s far less exciting in a game environment.

For example, the party being split up. Waiting for your turn is bad enough, but now you need to wait for your turn when it’s not even coming. Or perhaps the party being wiped out. This is even worse, because your turn certainly isn’t coming then. And heaven forbid you’re the one who is playing the captured character.

These are not stories, so much as they are games. As I’ve said before, games are supposed to be fun. Yes, there’s a storytelling element to these games, but it must not eclipse the fun factor. You must not be telling a story so much that your story actually grinds to a halt.

So what do you do? Wound the party, but give them a chance to rest and recover. Capture the party, but allow their escape somehow (the captors are careless, the characters are clever, there’s a sympathizer on the inside, the organization gets attacked by a third party and thrown into disarray, etc).

This is one of my soap boxes: Give the party a fighting chance. There probably should be the chance for failure, but causing the party to fail is only a good idea if it’s a more interesting choice than allowing them to succeed.

For a concrete example of what “should” happen versus what is interesting, I was running my group through Thunderspire. It was that absurd showdown in the Well of Demons, with all the traps that activate at once, including the ball of force that moves on the inner track. Burns, who at the time was playing a Cleric with Alchemy instead of Ritual Caster (rituals never got much use in my group…) thought he’d handle the ball of force in his own method: Put down a blast patch in its path.

Now, no rules were listed for what happens if the players tried to attack the force ball. Going by the common D&D interpetation of “force” energy, the patch should have had no effect and rolled over Burns and the other player near him.

However, I’d decided two things: One, that Burns had instated a creative solution, and two, that his failure was not interesting.

So, instead of no effect, I ruled that the explosion launched the orb into the air and it landed just beyond the two, where it kept rolling. The laughs I got from my group were well worth not doing damage to the players.

In the end, it’s about fun. If everyone’s having fun, everyone wins.


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