Over the weekend I had the pleasure of catching Ant-Man. This was a bit of a departure from what we have come to expect from Marvel’s normal storytelling. Ant-Man focused more on the characters and a tiny (like ant sized) story in comparison to what else is going on in the MCU. The movie didn’t hop about the globe and this story just felt more intimate.
As I have been digesting the film in my mind, I was reminded of some advice Sean Preston gave me. At the time I was working with some friends to write an Agents of Oblivion adventure. I had come up with a storyline that, at one point, included a massive earthquake that decimated a large city. To me this represented the power of the bad guys. They had a device that could cause the ground to shake apart buildings.
In delivering the bullet points of the module to Sean he replied that the earthquake was too much and the story should be more intimate. I wanted more feedback and Sean, being his normal generous self, gave me the following bit of advice:
“The game is about the player’s characters and not about some massive event. By taking the focus of the players and placing it on a city being leveled you have, in a way, removed the players from the story. Make the story more intimate and about the PC’s experience.”
That was all paraphrased, of course. I cannot do credit to Mr. Preston’s delivery of words and wisdom. But the advice stuck to me. Why did the earthquake have to destroy a city? Couldn’t have been just as effective if the players were in a cavern and felt the earth move? Then down the adventure path they discover what caused that minor tremor, a device that could do more damage.
Since then I have done my best to focus all attention to the tale of those player characters right there in the thick of adventure. From time-to-time I bring in tales from outside the PC’s scope, but that is only to hint or hook players into more thrilling events for them to partake in. Isn’t this what we all want? To create a story right there at the table?
Backstory is important to the character and adventure, but it shouldn’t overshadow what we should all be crafting while we sit together rolling dice. I could have a game take place in a city that was destroyed by a doomsday device, but that should be it…the game’s backdrop is the ruined buildings for the actors to perform in front of.
Don’t get me wrong. Every now and then I want to run an Avengers sized game, but weekly I am just fine being the Ant-Man.