Thursday, June 11, 2009

Snatching from TV

When writing modules for my home campaigns, I always think of them as TV shows. It provides (at least to me) a structure that is lacking in the otherwise loose collection of modules called a "campaign" wherein the characters grow stronger (if not necessarily smarter) simply by killing things.

For characters to grow, and for players to better enjoy adventures, there needs to be some kind of over-arcing plotline. I'm not saying that a string of one-off adventures with the same PCs isn't fun but there's nothing like an epic plot that peaks out of the shadows during the course of a campaign. And nothing heightens the tension and grabs player attention more than a season finale (a la a TV show finale).

Now, you as DM aren't trying to raise the ratings for your show but you are, with a "finale", raising the stakes for both players and PCs. To do this effectively, I look at what my favorite shows are up to and what the writers were thinking when they penned a season finale. This blog post stems from a behind the scenes look from Star Trek: TNG season 3 wherein Michael Pillar, the scribe for the seminal episode "Best of Both Worlds" describes his thoughts. To put it succinctly, he didn't think he'd be writing the second part of that episode (the 4th season opener) so he increased the jeopardy to the crew without care because he wouldn't have to deal with the denoument. As a result, he created one of the best hours on TV and in Star Trek lore. (As it turned out, Michael did indeed return for the 4th season at Gene Roddenberry's personal request.)

One of my favorite Millennium episodes (the second season finale) was great probably for the same reason--the writing team behind that was not coming back for the next season. As a result, they made it appear that the planet's population was going to succumb to a deadly viral outbreak and a handful of regular characters were terminated (or made to appear so).

I guess what I'm getting at is try to one-up yourself when "finale" time comes. Give no thought to how the PCs are going to get out of the situation for this adventure (trust me, they'll find a way). The gloves should come off and you don't take prisoners. No ideas? Look to your own favorite shows for inspiration. You'll know you've struck gold when your players' eyes widen but then fear is quickly replaced by that grin which says, "This is cool."

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