Getting It Right: Setting the Stage

image curtsy of NBCSometimes tv really screws up and drops the ball. Other times they get it right. This is a column about when they get it right and how tv can teach us to be a better gamer.

Sometimes a pilot for a show comes along that leaves you wanting to know more, or perhaps it sets up interesting characters. These are good things and perhaps the show I am going to talk about today does a bit of those things, but that is not what it is doing right. Honestly, Revolution is hitting low marks on the interesting character scale and the core mystery it has set up – what happened to all the power? – is better left unexplained since anyway you come at an explanation will likely be silly.

What Revolution does do right is establish a world and establish the quest, both great skills for a GM to have. Before we go forward, a quick warning. From here on in there may be spoilers.





As you most likely already know from trailers, the premise in Revolution is that suddenly all the power goes out across the world and never comes back on. The show opens on a home where a mom, sister and little brother are hanging out. Mom talks on her cell, girl watches tv too into bugs bunny to talk to her grandma on the phone, and little brother, still in diapers mind you, is playing with some tablet or other. Then dad comes home worried, warning mom to save water, fill the bath tub. They give each other a hard look and she asks, “Is it happening?” Then we see the power start going out, and there is a bit of needless tension as dad tries to download something.

Let’s looks at what the show is doing right here. In under 10 minutes it sets up the premise of what is happening and introduces what will become a McGuffin as we get farther into the show. It does this by being heavy handed, showing us over-the-top examples of modern technology dependency.  The show goes so far as to have the little brother cry when the tablet stops working.

As a GM we can use our party’s first encounter or perhaps run a cut scene to start the game, something that deals in equally broad strokes. Have the slavers beating the chattel in the streets with no one stopping them or sympathetic beggars asking for food to show a poor totalitarian world. Is magic common? Then hammer that home. The shop owner does not light a candle, but mumbles a magic word.

Paint the scene in bold colors, use stereotypes and symbols that the players will connect to. Moving forward you can tone all this down, but taking ten minutes to show the world rather than giving 30 pages of world background to read before the first session will go a long way to making it feel more like home.

So back to the show. We jump ahead 15 years and little brother and girl have mostly grown up. They are living in a village wearing clothing that looks off the rack from Ross rather than being handmade, but I digress. We get a bit of family life and then the militia shows up and demands dad come with them. No reason given, just some mucky-muck general wants to see him and his brother and the cranky commander of the militia does not want a hassle. Of course one little brother gets hot headed and pulls a crossbow on the militiaman and shit goes bang and dad gets dead and little brother gets arrested.

As dad is dying he tells girl to go find her uncle, you know, the other guy the militia was looking for, ‘cause he can help get her brother back. Boom, quest given. It is not subtle. It simply sets up what needs to be done and why. The show spells out the stakes – get a loved one back – and sets up a long journey to find the uncle which gives plenty of opportunity for sandboxy adventure.

Don’t get me wrong, subtlety has its place, but the beginning of an adventure is not always it. This is your chance as a GM to make the world feel real and the quest have meaning.

So while you may not be a perfect show, thanks for getting that much right, Revolution.

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