Monday, February 29, 2016

Soap operas, the Sequel

In my last post, I’m not sure that I accomplished explaining why some of the sagas we know and love are what I consider to be soap operas. So here’s a second attempt using some examples. (You do not need to be a comic book fan to get the point!)

Eons ago, Peter Parker met Gwen Stacey at Empire State University. They became a couple. Then you find out that her father is the police captain. Of all the people killed in New York during a Spidey/Doc Ock fight - it’s Captain Stacey. It just so happens that Peter’s best friend and his best friend’s father are both the Green Goblin, and both seem sexually intoxicated with Gwen. But it doesn’t stop there. The Lizard is Peter’s science teacher (or Doc Ock is in the movies). The Jackal was Gwen’s teacher, and boy did he get pissed when she died (either because of Spiderman or the Green Goblin, depending on your point of view). Then apparently the Green Goblin and Gwen had children together years ago, but no one knew, but because of the Green Goblin, they age fast enough to get involved in the story lines.

Many of us might be willing to have a willful suspension of disbelief and accept that a radioactive spider can bite a kid and turn him into a superhero, but can we really believe that of all the people in New York City, this one kid has so many personal relationships with people who undergo horrible tragedies that lead them to become super villains? That’s why it’s a soap opera. Every single character that seems to enter into Spiderman’s field of vision seems to get some tragic back story and then gain super powers. Just like on the old time soap operas when you learn that the character you thought was from England turns out to be the main character’s long lost daughter and they just figure it in time to avoid having her marry her brother.

But why do they do this? This is an easy form of storytelling. Instead of introducing new characters every week (like most modern police procedurals do), they keep using the same characters you’ve learned about and giving them new story arcs. That made sense in those days of television, because they wanted to keep using the same actors and not have to bring in new folks all the time. It made it easier for the fans, because they could get to know these characters, and even if there were plot twists, they felt more attached to the characters.

But does it work in your campaigns? I think it does. Can your party/players remember every quest giver they ever had? Probably not. Every major enemy? Probably not. By reusing the same quest givers and even some of the enemies, you make it easier for the players to remember who is who and even develop some relationships - even if those relationships are born of hatred.


  1. I think that what you describe really fits as a roleplaying standard because of our tendency as people (and player characters) to have a frame of reference that revolves around ourselves. In the real world, the events in it don't necessarily have anything to do with us; but in RPGs, anything the GM says could potentially directly or indirectly affect us. This train of thought can lead to a paranoid, superstitious kind of reaction to our fantasy setting's events. It is only natural that the flaming fireball that obliterated Standard Castle the day after we visited might be something that the PCs need and are supposed to investigate.

    This made me think of an old rivalry between myself and a good friend. We good-naturedly like to disagree about tghe merits of Star Trek The Next Generation vs. Deep Space Nine...and mostly it comes down to the Next Generation being more of a procedural where the officers stay the same but there are new bad guys every episode; with the exceptions like Q as dius ex machina and say the borg, romulans, etc. as baddies, they wrap things up pretty good, Picard says "Engage!" and they're off to new worlds. Deep Space Nine is more political, more soap opera, with characters in a significantly more limited setting. Conversations, alliances, bloodlines, past rivalries; all of these things mean a great deal more in DS9.

    Great topic. I've been fleshing out my own setting lately, and have turned to BE's The Royalty for help and ideas; a great starting point, especially if you are starting smaller scale, with a few regions and a major city or so. All of the hard thinking is done, it's just a matter of tweaking the flavours.


  2. I love the compare on the two Star Treks. In one they wander from adventure to adventure (like Scooby Doo), while in the other their station is set and adventure needs to come to them. I guess I hadn't remembered to slip that very important difference in.