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GMing Advice from Peter Jackson

Reading his foreword to The Making of Star Wars, I was surprised to see that Peter Jackson was dispensing GMing advice (yep, that [1] Peter Jackson):

“I think a lot of filmmakers fall into the trap of thinking, Well if it’s fantasy I can be more flamboyant. But the opposite is true. If you are bombarding the audience with images they’ve never seen before, you want to keep the camera as real and truthful as you can, as well as the performances of the actors.

Substitute “GMs” for “filmmakers” and “players” for “audience,” and that’s a solid piece of GMing advice: Even though you’re running a game full of fantastical elements, the characters in that world need have believable motivations, and they should act — on some level — like real people (even if they’re orcs, Vulcans, robots or whatever). And even though what happens in the game is outlandish and larger than life, the way you describe in-game events needs to have an element of plausibility to it as well.

I know there have been times when I’ve been so caught up in how cool an encounter, location or NPC was that I forgot that vital element of believability, and wound up with a two-dimensional character or a scene that fell flat because it just didn’t fit somehow. Peter’s comment is a good reminder to avoid falling into that trap.

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#1 Comment By Heather On July 20, 2007 @ 6:23 am

Absolutely, 100% true. It’s all about the willing suspension of disbelief, and in the fantastical more than anything else you need to carefully shepherd that suspension.

The timing of this post is interesting, since my husband wrote & posted an article on world-building last night that in many ways concentrated on this very thing. It was all about how to make a world complex and interesting and “real,” and I think that makes a huge difference in the ability of players to quickly and easily suspend disbelief.

#2 Comment By brcarl On July 20, 2007 @ 8:38 am

Telas: “If his character can cast Magic Missile, why is it so unbelievable that my monk can execute a 40-foot jump?”

I dunno… maybe because the world record is only 29 feet? And he wans’t carrying a 30 lb pack.

Perhaps the difference here is that jumping is something most everyone can do, but casting spells is not? So we’re less willing to suspend disbelief for stuff that we have a baseline for?

That doesn’t seem quite fair.

I LOVE my Sunday afternoon kung fu movies. I think the Crouching Tiger Hidden Wires phenomenon has taken things a bit far, but even the new generation of fight-em-ups are fun. Yet those fights are COMPLETELY ridiculous if you (sadly) have any experience with real street brawls. Still, I eat them up like they have chocolate sauce on top. Why? Because they’re entertaining! Fun!

…and thus we arrive back at Home Base: it’s all about the fun.

#3 Comment By Steve \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\ On July 20, 2007 @ 10:55 am

Its good advice.

You have to have the Evocative elements but you also have to have the mundane and mixing the two is the best effect, I think gandalf’s fireworks is the best example of this.

#4 Comment By Telas On July 20, 2007 @ 11:23 am

brcarl: It’s not the wire-fu, it’s the way it sometimes doesn’t fit the setting.

If everyone else at the table is watching Excalibur, why is someone watching Crouching Tiger? 😉

#5 Comment By John Arcadian On July 20, 2007 @ 12:07 pm

I’d say that is part of the setting you choose and part of the social contract. If everyone is playing crouching tiger with phenomenal jumping and that is out of the norm of the setting then it does cause a bit of disruption of the game.

If that is the norm for the setting, or spelled out in the game, but people are still not quite meshing with the setting then it becomes a social contract issue. Do we play the game as it is, or fix it to make it fun for the people playing the game.

#6 Comment By Sien On July 20, 2007 @ 2:46 pm

I don’t get it, is the guy in the pic Peter Jackson?

In my opinion, believability of characters and motives is far more important than abilities. Most fantasy characters can do stuff you would never believe, but the logic needs to be internal not external, i.e.: it is logical for monks to be able to jump this far because this is a fantasy world, but even though people have strange abilities in the fantasy world they still act normally because they are people.

Or, if they do act differently than in real life, make a point of it and be consistent.

.. 😉

#7 Comment By Martin On July 23, 2007 @ 8:07 am

This definitely ties into social contracts and getting everyone on the same page — good point. Heck, if the whole group agrees to suspend disbelief with a crane in the name of a crazy, over-the-top game, more power to them — although I don’t think most groups sit down with that expectation.

(Sien) I don’t get it, is the guy in the pic Peter Jackson?

Nope, just a guy in a cheesy alien costume — a cool concept rendered lame because it fails to balance fantasy and believability (and because it’s a shitty costume, of course ;)).