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Opening Credits via PowerPoint

At this year’s Mastering Your GM-Fu [1] seminar, RPG freelancer and TT reader Walt C. mentioned that he uses a PowerPoint presentation to do opening credits for his game sessions. I thought that this sounded awesome, so I asked him if he’d be kind enough to share his technique with the GMing community. Thanks, Walt!
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While I was sitting in the “Mastering your GM-Fu” seminar at Gen Con, someone asked about rituals to use in order to signal that it’s time to game. Many good methods were offered, including the “sitting silently behind the screen” method, the playing of music, and the traditional “ask if we’re ready to play?” method. I offered one of my current methods, which was to create a PowerPoint presentation.

A few years ago, I acquired a flat screen monitor that I hooked to the front of my laptop, facing the players. While I’d intended to use it to show NPCs (I usually cast my NPCs as real people) and other information, it occurred to me that I could string some slides together and create an opening sequence that would grab the players’ attention and set the tone for the session.

While all of my presentations are a little different, they usually have the same features:

Campaign Title

A campaign title can really enhance the mood and reinforce the campaign theme. Currently, my campaign title slide is first, but you can throw it in whenever appropriate (I usually let my song dictate where I put the campaign title).

Theme Song

Moreso than the campaign title, a theme song really sets the tone. It can also provide context for your slides. I often include and time my slides to work with the theme song.

Stars

The player characters are the stars of the campaign and should be included. I usually have two-three slides of each PC, with his or her name appearing at the bottom of the last slide (unlike a real series, I’ll use the PC name rather than the actor/model’s name).

If a player hasn’t figured out what his or her character looks like yet, I’ll cast a placeholder until he or she does (sometimes, the player will go with what I used).

Supporting Characters

I’ll also slot in any recurring NPCs (those that show up in almost every adventure). These slides are NEVER as elaborate as the Stars (a subtle reminder that the PCs are the stars). These NPCs only get one slide.

Key Locations

These provide the bulk of the slides. This is very easy to do if your game is in a modern location; my current M&M game is based in Seattle, so I use a lot of Seattle landmarks. I’ll also include common locations: the bookstore/coffee shop owned by one of the PCs, the current theatre that the Queen Vampire acts in, etc.

Thematic slides can also be used in place of locations. Pictures of dark forests and rained on castles can help set the mood for a gritty fantasy campaign, or pictures of planets and starships can set the tone of a space campaign.

Recurring NPCs

I’ll also usually throw in a slide of an NPC that the PCs have met more than once. Unless they are a Guest Star, I usually don’t give them a name caption and slot them separately from the supporting characters.

Episode Title

I tend to structure my campaigns like a TV series, so I’ll generally include an episode title (more generally, it’s an adventure/scenario title). An episode title can either act as a teaser for the session to come, or act as a memory prompt if the players are still in the middle of it (you could also add Part numbers as well, e.g. Four against the Chaos Lord, Part Three, and change them for each session). You might even try giving “session titles” rather than episode titles, which can help the players determine what is important to look for in the session.

Guest Stars

After the episode title, I’ll usually list guest stars, using the supporting character format. This gives the players people to focus on when we start playing. If I really feel that I need to keep a prominent NPC a secret, then he or she will be left out of the presentation.

End

I’ll also throw in an end slide that includes the gaming group name (or reference) and year.

Recap

If I feel it’s necessary, I’ll let the final slide or slides recap important points from previous parts of the adventure. This would usually be accompanied by a hard copy version that can be referenced during play.

Obviously, the utility of the presentation depends upon the campaign. It is much easier to do a presentation of a modern day espionage campaign than a high fantasy campaign with lots of strange races. Slide pictures are usually appropriated from the web, but I’ve also scanned pictures and other information.

The size of my presentation really depends on the length of the song (I originally made them shorter, but players complained that they wanted to hear the whole song).

Creating a PowerPoint presentation can take a bit of time, but once you have the template in place, it’s easy to swap out episode titles, Guest Stars, new Stars, and other info. I usually monkey a bit with it between sessions just to change things up (a new picture of a supporting character, for example, or new animations).

I should also note that it’s not necessary to have a separate monitor. Simply playing the presentation for the players on your laptop screen (or desktop, if it’s in the same room) works just as well.

My players really love it, and I’ve found that it really adds something to the campaign. Try it out and let me know how it works for you!

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#1 Comment By Micah On August 25, 2007 @ 5:16 am

Wow. That is probably the most unusual “let’s get going” tactic I’ve ever heard of. I am constantly amazed and humbled at the effort that some people put into their games. I struggle just to stay one step ahead in the story.

#2 Comment By Scot Newbury On August 25, 2007 @ 7:28 am

I agree with Micah’s comment about this being an unusual tactic to get a session started. I may just have to use this myself.

I would also echo Walt’s comments about the work needed to pull this off. I’m a corporate trainer by trade and spend a lot of time developing presentations for courses and the single biggest suggestion I can give anyone attempting this is to plan it out.

Take some time to plan it out before you dive in. How long is the song you’re going to use? How many slides for the PCs? Locations? Supporting Cast?

One suggestion would be to “storyboard” it out on a wall. Get a stack of paper and put them up on the wall, one sheet per slide and write on it what you’re planning. By doing this you can see it before you spend all that time and then when you’re almost done realize you didn’t plan for something and have to start all over again.

#3 Comment By hellibrarian On August 25, 2007 @ 11:46 am

I’ve done the opening crawl a couple of times during my Star Wars campaign, but have never thought of opening titles. They would have been really great when my group was playing Stargate SG-1. Even though I’m playing in our groups’ Firefly/Serenity game, I’m thinking I’m gonna try this out on them.

#4 Comment By dugrdan On August 25, 2007 @ 12:19 pm

I’ve been using Powerpoint for my StarWars campaign for a few years. The opening text crawl is accompanied by music from the movies. The text movement is not as authentic as the movies, (I’m using Powerpoint 97 which has limited WordArt effects) but it does provide the feeling the players need to get into the mood. Each opening text crawl recaps the plot so far and introduces new elements of the story line.

Following the crawl, I follow the traditional LucasArts starscape that pans down to a space or planet scene. The players really get to feel like they are entering a pirates lair when they descend from stars, through clouds, to a retreat where partying reavers fire their blasters into the sky to the discordant rap of their favorite band.

During the game I can enhance the mood by using sound and graphics with Powerpoint’s animation menu. Starships and monsters can move into and out of the scene using overlapping transparent .gif files. You can create some fairly spectacular effects with simple photo editing software, and multiple graphics layers. I’ve invested in a WACOM graphics tablet and a microphone to assist in creating original game art and sound.

Making this sort of game takes a lot of prep time. I don’t watch much TV, which helps. I like to draw and write, which helps too. Usually it will take a couple of months to put together a high quality presentation. But the looks of enjoyment on my player’s faces make it all worth while.

#5 Comment By dugrdan On August 25, 2007 @ 12:37 pm

A few other comments.

I’ve found that linking sounds to buttons in Powerpoint allows you to include spontaneous effects during a game session. Having a button that triggers a monstrous roar, a blaster shot, or a resonant gong; can wake a sleepy player up.

Also, if you have a character that needs to monologue for a speech, you can record the speech in .wav or .mp3 format and insert it into the game. I used this in one game where some stormtroopers explained why they turned against their commander. One of the troopers had a scarred throat. Imitating his raspy voice would have killed me during a game, but all I had to do was click one button and a pre-recorded monologue gave the players the information and mood that I wanted.

Finally, Powerpoint as a post-game recap can be fun for the other players. For one fantasy campaign I participated in, I created a spoof of the previous adventure. Cheesy special effects, goofy looking player character icons, and jabs at the gamemaster made it fun for all (including the GM). A warning, my character experienced much injury and calamity after this presentation. Be careful what you say about the GM!

#6 Comment By Jeff Dougan On August 25, 2007 @ 7:23 pm

Check out several related threads on the Eden Studios Unisystem boards; many groups over there have gone past PowerPoint to creating actual TV-like credit sequences. One of the best of these probably belongs to Jason Vey’s Nocturnum: Pittsburgh Chronicles group, and can be seen at his web site.

#7 Comment By bignose On August 26, 2007 @ 12:32 am

A pre-written slide show displaying on the computer sounds like one of the surest ways to *kill* interaction from the group.

If we wanted to watch a movie, that’s what we should do; but instead we got together around this table for interacting with each other. This suggestion is very different from using props or paper handouts; those at least can be interactive. A computer slideshow is *entirely* passive for the audience.

Sure sounds like exactly the opposite of what we want when we get together for an RPG.

#8 Comment By Lobisome On August 26, 2007 @ 3:37 am

Hi.

This is a GREAT idea, but not only for PPoint tabletop games. Right now I’m have GREAT temptations to use is to my PBEM main page!

I mean, use these definitions to fill the main page, so the gamers and lurkers will get the idea of the game at a glance.

🙂

#9 Comment By Andy Smith On August 26, 2007 @ 10:07 am

I’ve used this idea for two campaignes I’ve run one -One Unknown Armies and One Call of Cthulhu set in 1960’s war torn Vietnam.

Both of these have worked because
A) my group meets very irregularly and the PP helps to get us focused and recap what happened last time.
B) both of these were modern campaigns and therefore there is a huge image library out there on the internet for me to plunder 🙂

I would say that once the initial PP is over I occassionally use PP to set up specific scenario scenes but I’d stop using it in a heartbeat if I felt it was closing down the roleplaying element of the game.

On the contrary its been a great addition and one welcomed by my players as it adds to the atmosphere.
I’d recommend it to any PP savvy GM’s out there who want to spice up/speed up their pre game intro’s

#10 Comment By Badlapje On August 27, 2007 @ 9:05 am

this sounds very nifty indeed. Is it possible to get an example of this? Just to get the general idea?

#11 Comment By Telas On August 27, 2007 @ 11:41 am

Good idea.

Could you post one on YouTube, by any chance?

#12 Comment By Walt C On August 28, 2007 @ 6:44 am

Scott: Storyboarding sounds like a great idea, although I’ve never used it myself. I usually just set the song and start posting images (playing with animations shortly thereafter).

For first-timers, I’d strongly recommend using a TV theme song (the TV version, not the original). These are often only a minute or so long, and therefore less daunting to make a powerpoint around (although if you have a friend that’s into mixing music, you can always have him or her “shorten” a song for you).”

dugrdan: I’ve also used sound effects to great effect, especially in Star Wars. I usually just use my media player to play them, though.

Jeff: That Nocturnum sequence blew me away. My first thought was “man, this is incredible and way too much of a time investment for me!” My second thought was “must be a b*tch to re-edit when a PC dies.”

bignose: I don’t really see how a 2-3 minute opening credits sequence equates to a 90-120 minute movie. Within those 2-3 minutes, I establish mood, theme, visual representations of places and characters, NPCs, and plot hooks (which saves me from long, boring descriptions later). My games are generally roleplay-heavy and I’ve never had a player complain about it (whereas they have complained if I skipped it).

Badlapje and Telas: I’d prolly violate far too many copyrights if I posted it on YouTube. I did have it in my laptop at Gen Con (note to self: get a convention center hotel next time!).

Walt

#13 Comment By John Arcadian On August 28, 2007 @ 8:38 am

Walt C “I’d strongly recommend using a TV theme song ”

I second! TV theme songs are made directly to elicit mood while being short and compact. Since something is being drifted to gaming from the television field it is a good idea to keep going and use the TV themes as well. Video game music works well too, but I’m a huge proponent of drifting video game ideas to tabletop gaming.

#14 Comment By Badlapje On August 29, 2007 @ 8:09 am

ah, good point. Didn’t think about copyright. However: can you email it to me? That way you don’t violate copyright 😀

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#15 Comment By Martin On August 30, 2007 @ 1:57 pm

I’m not a lawyer, but I think you’d be OK to post a video of your PP intro playing provided you left the pictures and turned off the music. That would be pretty cool to see, even just with empty boxes where the Stars, etc. would go — and probably quite useful, too.

#16 Comment By Andrew Royle On September 2, 2007 @ 1:12 pm

As one of the players in Andy Smiths games (I’ve used this idea for two campaignes I’ve run one -One Unknown Armies and One Call of Cthulhu set in 1960’s war torn Vietnam.) I’m afraid I have to disagree with Bignoses view that “Sure sounds like exactly the opposite of what we want when we get together for an RPG.” – but then again we don’t all like the same stuff which makes the world a better place. 🙂

Andy’s Powerpoints are an excellent mood setter and when linked with atmospheric or period music really help add an extra dimension to the game. As players we all look forward to the latest multi media presentation and is very relevant when playing in the ‘Nam campaign which was after all the first televised war – so seeing vid clips etc helps bring set the scene. He’s going to try & post them on YouTube if possible as they really are worth seeing.

#17 Comment By badlapje On September 4, 2007 @ 3:24 am

nice 🙂

#18 Pingback By Dungeon Mastering » The lost art of generating hype On September 4, 2007 @ 11:02 pm

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