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CREATING YOUR FAVORITE RPG

PART ONE: DEFINING THE SOURCE

Defining the source means to take the source that you are attempting to base a game on, and break it down into pieces which can be defined in a way that you can then simulate using a game system. This first part of this process doesn't concern itself with the rules of games, but instead with describing the various aspects of the source in general terms that can then be translated into game terms. Articles in previous issues of Shadis which describe The Adventures of Brisco County Jr. and The X Files are examples of defining those sources in this way. Both of these articles are light on game terms or mechanics, instead defining the important elements of those sources in general terms. That's what this first part of this process is all about.

Defining the source is done by examining and defining the premise upon which the series is based, the elements of fiction (setting, characters, and plot) in the series, and how stories are told in the series.

THE PREMISE

The first step is to define the premise of the series. The premise is a simple statement that describes the source concisely, but completely. This is an important step in the process, for at each subsequent step, you should refer back to the premise to make sure you stay on track.

Put simply, the premise of a television series is a description of what the series is about. It often describes the setting, characters, and typical plots that can be expected in episodes of the series. For our purposes, the premise serves as the basis upon which the rest of our work towards defining the source will rest. The premise also defines the series in terms of it as a work of fiction. It broadly defines the key elements of fiction important to all types of fiction.

When defining the premise of the series, don't spend too much writing an exhaustive description of every facet of the series. That level of detail comes later. The idea of the premise is to summarize briefly what the series is about, not to describe each character or plot covered in the series' episodes.

The premise serves as a starting description of the series. It states what the series is about, who the characters are (in general terms), what they do, and where the series takes place.

The premise of a series or movie might also be compared to that of a roleplaying game. Stating the premise of a series is essentially the same as doing so for a roleplaying game, that is describing what the game is about.

The premise of a television series might also be compared to what is sometimes referred to as the spirit of a roleplaying game. The spirit of an roleplaying game is simply what the game is about. This goes beyond simply a description of the game world or characters, but also encompasses the game's systems and mechanics, and how the rules support the types of stories intended to be told with the game.

Throughout this article, I'm going to include examples of each part of the process by describing the series The X Files.

Example: The X Files - Premise

The X Files follows the exploits of a pair of modern-day FBI agents who investigate unexplained phenomenon. During the course of the series, Agents Mulder and Scully confront paranormal events, genetic mutations, reports of UFOs, genetic experiments, and a vast government cover-up working to conceal much of what they've seen.

This example premise provides us with many key ideas regarding the X Files. First, the setting is the modern world, but one in which UFOs, psychic powers, and other paranormal events are real. Second, the characters are defined as FBI agents. This not only tells us who the protagonists are, but also limits the setting of the series to the USA. Third, we know that the basic action in each episode is investigation towards an understanding of the truth behind the events investigated. Thus this simple premise describes the basics of the series, and also gives us much insight to The X Files as a work of fiction.

THE ELEMENTS OF FICTION

The next step is to define the source in terms that can be later translated into a game system. There are three basic elements of fiction common to all styles of fiction. These are: Setting, Characters, and Actions. By clearly defining each of these, you will have a better understanding of your source, and how the stories told in the source are structured.

One of the best ways I've found to work out the specifics of the elements of fiction is to simply pose questions about those elements, and then answer those questions based on the work being examined. In each of the following sections, a number of questions will be presented that will help you define the specific aspects of each of the elements of fiction.

SETTING

Setting is perhaps the easiest of the elements of fiction to describe, yet it is also the most encompassing. Simply put, it is the place and time in which the series takes place. The setting encompasses the world in which the events portrayed in the series occur. But the setting, while sometimes easy to describe, also encompasses many different aspects. These aspects include the time period, technology level, social and political situations, and more.

Answers to some of the following questions will provide specific information about the setting of the series you are defining.

What time period is the series set in?

The time period of the series is an important element of setting. A series that takes place in the old west (like The Adventures of Brisco County Jr.) is going to be very different than one that takes place in modern day.

The time period of a series also determines many other aspects of the series, some of which are discussed below. For instance, as might be expected, most science fiction series tend to be set sometime in the future, when technology has advanced beyond that of today. A series time period is also important in regards to understanding the current political and or sociological climate of the series.

Knowing the time period of a series also gives you an understanding of the history of the setting. or in simpler terms, the events which have caused the setting to be in the state it is. Of course, a series set in the modern-day, real world would have a history identical to our own, and most likely a similar political situation. As you would expect, most series have some aspect of their setting that differs from ours. For instance, a series like The X Files shares most of our history, but it also assumes a number of events in the past involving UFOs and other paranormal incidents. While these incidents are not publicly known, they still form a very significant part of the setting of The X Files.

In the case of series set in futuristic times, the 'future-history' of the series is an important aspect of the series' setting, one which offers much insight into the current state of affairs of the series. For instance, in the series seaQuest DSV, the exploration and colonization of the earth's oceans led to the formation of a number of confederations, each competing for ocean territory. After a nuclear exchange was only narrowly avoided, several of these confederations formed the United Earth/Oceans Organization (U.E.O.), whose role it is to maintain peace among the confederations. The seaQuest DSV is the flagship of the U.E.O fleet and is tasked with resolving dilemmas that arise between the numerous confederations.

Where is the series set?

This question focuses on where the series takes place. Does it take place on earth, on some other planet or star system, or in one specific country or city?

Like time period, identifying the physical setting of a series is important in understanding the series. A series set on one specific planet is going to be different in many ways than one set in the galaxy as a whole. Likewise, a series set in one city or country differs from one which spans the globe.

This aspect of the setting determines a number of elements about the series. It determines the types of situations that are likely to arise during the course of the series, as well as who or what might be encountered.

For example, the series Earth 2 takes place a on single planet, many, many light years from earth. The team of colonists in that series must face the challenges of a new world, armed only with what they brought with them. They have no additional supplies, nor can they seek advice or get aid from anyone.

What is the technology level of the series' setting?

The technology level of a series most often determines the types of equipment and gadgets used by characters in the series. Is the technology level of the series the same as our own? Less advanced, like in The Adventures of Brisco County Jr., or more advanced, like in Star Trek: Voyager or Babylon 5? The specifics of a series' technology is important, and is closely related to its characters (see below). Related to the question of technology is how big a role technology plays in the series? How common are different types of technology in the series?

Technology can usually be broken down into four basic categories: Weaponry, Communications, Transportation, and Entertainment/Convenience. Each of these is fairly self-explanatory, but a closer look at each might also be helpful.

Weaponry involves the technological level of the weapons and armor used in the series. Are most weapons simple firearms, as we have today, or are lasers or blasters common? What other types of unusual weapons are used in the series, such as sonic stun guns seen on seaQuest DSV, or the light sabers seen in Star Wars?

Communications involves not only telephone or video-phone, but also information exchange systems and computer networks such as the Internet. What forms of communication are used in the series? Are there telephones, cellular phones, video-phones, or personal communicators? Is there a global (or galaxy-wide) information network? How fast can information be retrieved and or sent? As an example, the Gear carried by the members of the Eden Advance team on Earth 2 allow them to communicate both visually and aurally, as well as offering a form of virtual reality. This equipment allows members of the team to scout ahead, while remaining in contact the rest of the group.

Transportation covers the technological devices which help people get from one place to another, such as automobiles, airplanes, etc. What advances have been made in transportation in the series? Are there hovercraft for example? The various Star Trek series all make use of transporter technology, in which a person's body is converted to energy, sent to another location, then reformed. This is an excellent example of a significant technological advance in the realm of transportation. What other unique forms of transportation are found in the series, if any? In seaQuest DSV, underwater transportation is very common and prevalent. As this show is so heavily involved with underwater activity, this makes good sense.

Entertainment is the area where much of our world's technological advances are most evident. Advances such as virtual reality, electronic game platforms (such Super NES, or Sega), and home theater are good examples of entertainment technology. What types of entertainment technology are found in the series? Does virtual reality exist? How about holographic simulations, such as those found on the Holodecks on Star Trek: The Next Generation? Lastly, items of convenience are those used in everyday life, by most everyone. Items such as microwave ovens and personal digital assistants (such Apple's Newton and Sharp's Message Pad) fall into this category. While this type of technology is generally not as important in stories as the previous types, it is still worthwhile to look at the way technology is used for entertainment and convenience in the series.

Are there any unusual or unique political or social situations?

Another aspect of a series' setting is its political and sociological situations. Is the series set in a (relatively) stable political environment, or is it unstable, with the threat of war looming on the horizon? Are there established political enemies in the series? The basis of many older television series was political differences and the presence of a very obvious enemy.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, and Babylon 5 both involve an near-unstable political environment, which provides much of the conflict in both those series. In the case of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, the tension between the Cardassian Empire and the planet Bajor, along with the involvement of the United Federation of Planets and Star Fleet, form the premise of the show. Likewise, on Babylon 5, the uneasy state of peace between the Minbari, Centauri, Narn, Terrans, and the Vorlons provide an ideal situation for dramatic conflict.

Another topic is that of sociology. What is the sociological climate of the setting? Is it much like our own current situation, or have things either improved or worsened? In the universe of the various Star Trek shows, for instance, the sociological situation is much improved over our own. The Federation has all but eliminated poverty, hunger, and many other problems faced by the people of our world. In contrast, Earth 2 supposes a setting in which the earth has become nearly uninhabitable, where most of the population has relocated to immense space stations orbiting earth. Ruled by the omnipresent and distrustful Council, society has become highly stratified, with an almost caste system separating the laborers from the politicians from the well-to-dos. Add to this the syndrome that has begun to afflict the children of the stations' inhabitants, and the social picture of the setting of Earth 2 is seen to be clearly bleak as best.

Does the setting account for any unusual or special abilities on the part of people (magic, psychic powers, etc.)?

The last aspect of setting to consider is that of special, or paranormal powers and or abilities. The settings of many science fiction and fantasy series include various types of special abilities, such as magic or psychic powers such as telekinesis or ESP. This aspect, while certainly a part of a series' setting, is also important when discussing Characters and Actions, each of which is discussed below. For now though, our concern to is establish if such abilities are present in the series' setting, and if so, how are these abilities used? Also important to consider is the rarity of these powers. Are they common or rare? Are they natural abilities, or are they a product of some bizarre sort of medical procedure or experiment?

As examples, in the fictional universe of seaQuest DSV, there are known psychics and telepaths, one of which is a member of the seaQuest crew. Similarly, within the universe of the Star Trek series, many races are known to have telepathic powers, such as the Vulcans and Betazeds. In the case of seaQuest DSV, these are natural abilities, and are portrayed as being very rare and difficult to use, as well as being of somewhat limited power. Multiple episodes of The X Files have suggested both magical and psychic powers, though the truth behind them remains a mystery.

Example: The X Files - Setting

The setting of The X Files is the modern world, one of extreme possibilities. The series takes place circa 1995 (current), and assumes a technology level equal to our own experience, and the political and social situations of our world.

But the setting of The X Files also assumes the existence of extraterrestrial life, paranormal powers, genetic mutations, and more. Also, The X Files assumes the existence of a government conspiracy which knows of these things, and is perhaps even responsible for many of them. Within the extent of this government agency or conspiracy, many technological advances have been made, but they play little to no part in the stories told on The X Files. They serve largely as a way of demonstrating the power and extent of the agency.

CHARACTERS

After defining and describing the setting of your series, the next element of fiction to consider is its characters. There are three main types of characters to consider, central characters, opposing characters and supporting characters. While all of these types of characters are important to the series, the focus in this article is towards central characters, as these are, in essence, the player characters of the series. Before we can discuss the concerns unique to each type of character, we should first consider those ideas that are common to all characters.

The key ideas to consider when defining characters are identity (who the characters are), actions (what the characters do), and motivation (why the characters do what they do). A character's identity is similar to the premise of the series; a short, simple statement describing the character in enough detail that the character can be distinguished from others. For instance, the character of Special Agent Fox Mulder from The X Files can be described as: a brilliant investigator working for the FBI, with a passion for the unknown and inexplicable, who chooses to investigate cases that are unusual and that are in some way unexplainable.

Character actions are the different tasks the characters perform during a story. These are most often a function of the character's profession or the role they fill in the setting of the series. For instance, on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Miles O'Brien is the Chief of Operations for the station. In this role, it is his job to keep the station in top working order. His position tells us what types of actions he most often takes. Since the actions of the characters in a story form the basis of the story, this aspect of character is very closely related to the idea of Plot, and is discussed in more detail below.

A character's motivation is simply why he does what he does, as it pertains to the character's role in the series. For instance, using the previous example, why does Agent Mulder investigate cases involving unusual circumstances and/or the paranormal? To continue the example of Special Agent Fox Mulder, his motivation is simply to discover the truth, whatever that truth may be. As the cases seen in episodes of The X Files demonstrate, there is much truth to be learned, and Mulder is determined to do so.

One last aspect of characters that bears discussion is that of abilities and skills. This facet of character, closely related to character actions, reveals what types of activities the characters are proficient at performing and capable of attempting. Not all characters share the same abilities, nor should they. Most characters have skills or abilities that are unique to that character. This is one of the ways writers and creators make characters unique and individual. At the same time however, characters who have similar or identical professions may share some skills.

For example, in The X Files, Fox Mulder is a psychologist and a specialist at creating profiles of suspects based on the evidence of past crimes. Dana Scully is a doctor, and a specialist at forensics. Either character might be able to work up a profile of a serial killer, but of the two, only Scully is capable of performing an autopsy. Mulder wouldn't even attempt to do so, for it is beyond his area of expertise.

When defining characters' abilities, think in general areas of ability and expertise rather than narrow-focused, individual skills. To continue with the example above, Mulder might have the skills of Criminal Investigation, Psychology and Paranormal Lore, while Scully might have Criminal Investigation, Medicine, and Forensics. The similarities in their abilities allows them to work together on certain aspects of a case, while their specific and unique skills allow each to use those abilities as needed to help solve cases.

Central Characters

The central characters, or protagonists, of a series are the stars of the show. All kidding aside, this is the simplest way of determining which characters are important in the series. This first step, deciding which characters are the central characters, is the easy part. Once you've identified them, the next step is to define the characters according to the key ideas above, namely identity, actions, and motivation. The characters' abilities or skills are a part of both identity and actions, and when you define those aspects you should also define their abilities.

When defining the central characters, you should do so in two ways. First in a general way, in which you define them by the types of characters they are, as well as typical motivations and actions. The second way is to define them as individuals, each with a specific identity and motivation.

The distinction between defining the characters in general and specific terms will become useful when determining the style of game you want to play (see Determining the Style of Play below). If you choose a style of game in which the players each play one of the central characters from the series, you're going to want to define those specific characters very well, so the players are better equipped to roleplay the characters appropriately. If on the other hand you choose a style in which the characters are similar to the central characters, you need to understand them in a less specific way, and more towards describing what types of characters they are, and what motivates them in a general sense. This will aid the players in creating characters that mesh with the fictional setting of the series.

Below are a number of questions that will help you define the central characters of your series in both general and specific terms. These questions address the same areas as discussed above, namely identity, actions, and motivation, and offer examples from a number of television shows movies.

Who are the central characters?

The central characters of Star Trek: The Next Generation are members of the crew of the Starship Enterprise. They include Captain Jean-Luc Picard, Commander William Riker, Doctor Beverly Crusher, Chief Engineer Geordi LaForge, Counselor Deanna Troi, Chief of Security Worf, and Science Officer Lt. Commander Data.

Do they work for a specific organization or government or government agency?

The central characters in the movie Sneakers work together as a private security consulting firm. On seaQuest DSV, the central characters all serve on board the seaQuest, the flagship of the U.E.O. navy.

What motivates the characters?

The central characters of The X Files, agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully, work for the Federal Bureau of Investigation. They are motivated by desires for both justice and the truth.

What specific skills or abilities do the characters have?

The characters in Sneakers are all experts of sorts in different aspects of security, including both physical and electronic security. The crew of the Enterprise on Star Trek: The Next Generation are all Star Fleet officers, trained in many various skills and duties that related to exploration of space.

Opposing Characters

Opposing characters are the villains of the series, or to use less adversarial terms, antagonists. This does not always mean that they are evil or bad, simply that they represent forces somehow opposed to the central characters. Very often, the plot of a story begins with some sort of action on the part of the antagonist(s). For example, the escape of Dr. Emilio Lizardo (Lord John Worfin) in The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the Eighth Dimension and the subsequent kidnapping of Dr. Hikita is the basis of the plot of that movie. The various crimes and incidents investigated in episodes of The X Files are usually at the hand of some sort of opposing character.

Unless you plan to run adventures based directly on episodes of your series, you will probably only need to define the opposing characters in general terms, rather than specific ones. Of course, in the case of recurring villains, you may need to define them more precisely. The questions above can also be used to define the series' opposing and supporting characters (see below).

Supporting Characters

Supporting characters are characters who are friends to the central characters, whose actions help move the plot along, without becoming the focus of the episode. A good example of supporting characters are Perry White and Jimmy Olsen in Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman. These two characters help Lois and Clark (and Superman of course), but they rarely take the spotlight. Another example of a supporting character is Garak, the Cardassian tailor on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Garak was once a spy in the employ of the Cardassian Obsidian Order, and his knowledge and expertise have aided the crew of the station on more than one occasion.

Supporting characters need not be described in great detail, and very often, there is not enough detail with which to do so in the first place. When defining these characters, their role in the stories is the most important aspect to define, but accurately defining their actions, abilities, and motivations also helps bring the feel and atmosphere of the series to life.

Example: The X Files - Characters

The central characters of The X Files are Fox Mulder and Dana Scully, a pair of special field agents working for the FBI, assigned to investigating cases with unusual or unexplained aspects. While each is motivated to seek justice and uphold the law, they also are determined to find the truth behind the events of the cases they investigate.

Supporting characters on The X Files include Deep Throat, Mr. X (names given by the series' producers), and Assistant Director Walter Skinner. The former two characters aid Mulder and Scully by providing them with classified information that relates to the cases they are assigned to. These men do this because they feel a need to help expose the truth of the government cover-ups concealing capture alien technology and radical experiments performed by government agencies. Assistant Director Skinner aids Mulder and Scully by allowing their investigations to continue despite threats and warnings from officials in higher positions in the government.

Opposing characters are the most uncommon in The X Files. In most episodes, there is no clear cut villain, and when there is, it is usually only for one or two episodes. There is one recurring characters on The X Files who would be considered an opposing character. That is the man referred to in the show's credits as the Smoking Man. This man holds a position of power in the government, one that is definitely involved in the cover-ups and conspiracies encountered by agents Mulder and Scully. On more than one occasion this man has actively opposed the agents, though in most instances, he is content to simply observe their activities, in order to ensure the agents do not get too close to the truth.

ACTIONS AND PLOT

The last element of fiction that needs to be discussed is that of actions and plot. The plot of a story is simply, the sequence of incidents or events which make up that story. These events and incidents are nearly all the result of actions taken by characters, whether they be the protagonists (central characters) or antagonists (opposing characters). In some cases, plot events are the result of actions the of supporting characters, but this is a rare occurrence.

The first part of this element, actions, refers to what the characters do within the context of the story. The results of these actions are the events and incidents which make up the story's plot. This aspect of fiction is, naturally, very closely related to that of character, since without characters, most actions can not occur.

This aspect of your series is most always best defined in fairly general terms, that is the types of actions performed, rather than specific ones. For instance, instead of noting that Scully performed an autopsy on the body of Ray Soames in an episode of The X Files, it would be more useful to simply note that Scully often performs autopsies during the course of her and agent Mulder's investigations.

Determining the types of actions taken by the characters in the series is a simply matter of watching episodes of the series, and noting the actions the characters take. In the series Earth 2, the characters travel the land towards the continent known as New Pacifica, where the colony they have been sent to establish will based. Along the way, the characters search for food and water, deal with the environment of an alien world, and confront the other inhabitants of the world, both the natural inhabitants and those placed there by the Council.

Once you have considered the idea of actions, you can next consider the resulting combinations of those actions, or plot. As noted before, plot is the sequence of events and incidents which make up a story. But plots are more than merely the combinations of events and incidents; they also help define the series by describing those events and incidents most likely to occur. When defining actions and plot, you should also work to define the types of events, incidents, and resulting plots that are likely to be seen in the series you are defining. A good way to do this is to simply take notes on the plots of the episodes that you feel really capture the essence of the series. For instance, many fans of The X Files feel the episodes 'Squeeze' and 'The Erlenmeyer Flask' are among the best examples of what the show is about. Likewise, many fans of Star Trek: The Next Generation feel that the episodes 'Yesterday's Enterprise' and 'The Best of Both Worlds' (Parts 1& 2) are among the best of that series. Using these types of episodes as a guide will help you identify the types of plots that fit with the series as you envision it. Also, these notes can serve as a guide when you are creating your own plots, as described later in this article.

Does this mean that there are only a set number of plots and stories possible based on a single series? Absolutely not! In fact, a change of pace is sometimes a welcome change. Likewise, some of the best episodes of many television series are the ones which offer a slightly different type of story. In these cases, the story is most often centered around the characters themselves, rather than on what they do. A good example of this type of story is the episode 'Family' from Star Trek: The Next Generation, in which the personal lives of Captain Picard and Lt. Worf are the focus, rather than the actions they and the rest of the crew take.

Example: The X Files - Actions and Plot

Episodes of The X Files involve some manner of unexplained phenomena or incident. After a report of the incident, agents Mulder and Scully investigate the incident, searching for the perpetrator if appropriate, and the truth if possible. During the course of the investigation, the agents gather evidence that leads them to a solution of the case. In many instances, the solution is either not complete or cannot be substantiated, and the case investigated remains unsolved.

TECHNIQUES AND TRAPPINGS

At this point, we have discussed the series' Premise, its Setting, Characters, and Actions/Plot. But do these ideas describe the series completely and definitively? Not at all. There is much more to a work of fiction (be it a television series, movie, or a book) beyond these elements. There is another aspect of the series that needs to be described if you are to have a thorough understanding of the series. This aspect is difficult to describe, as it encompasses many ideas and elements. This is what I call Techniques and Trappings.

Techniques and Trappings is a catch-all category for the other elements of fiction that are important to the structure of stories in the series, as well as other specific aspects of the series that are important yet which cannot be categorized in any of the previous areas discussed. But Techniques and Trappings are not simply a separate aspect of the series to be defined. They also represent a further defining of the series' Premise, and its Setting, Characters, and Action/Plot.

Though this grouping of varying aspects may imply that Techniques and Trappings are secondary in importance, they are far from it. Techniques and Trappings are not simply lumped together because they aren't important. Instead, they represent elements which are too diverse to consider separately, and too important to gloss over or ignore. Also, not all the elements of Techniques and Trappings are consistently found in all types of fiction, as are Setting, Characters, and Action/Plot. Some of these are very common, while others are less frequently encountered.

Lastly, the elements that comprise Techniques and Trappings extend beyond the scope of most roleplaying system rules, and are instead methods, procedures, and tricks that can be employed to better capture the feel of the source. The previously discussed Elements of Fiction can all be defined by most roleplaying game systems. Most of what I include in Techniques and Trappings cannot.

The elements which make up the Techniques and Trappings of a series describe what the stories are about, how those stories are told, and specific aspects of the series' Setting, Characters, and Actions/Plots that make it unique. Specifically, techniques refers to various types of storytelling techniques and devices used in the series, such as mood, tone, flashbacks, parallel stories, etc. Trappings refers to how the stories are told, and other aspects such as theme, which help decorate the story, and give it more significance.

What the Stories are about

The first key aspect of Techniques and Trappings is a description of what the series' stories are about. There are two basic areas that pertain to this; the story's content, and its theme. Content refers to the specific types of events and circumstances that are likely to be at the center of the series' stories. For instance, stories on The X Files all deal with unexplained or paranormal phenomena, stories on Star Trek: Voyager are about the new worlds the ship and its crew encounter on their way home, and stories on the Thunderbirds portray the exploits of International Rescue, a high-tech rescue operations team in the 21st century.

The content of a series' stories is very closely related to the idea of Actions described above, but where our discussion of Actions was concerned with the specific actions taken by the characters, content in more concerned with the types of things that are likely to occur during the series. The distinction here is a fine one, but an important one. It is not enough to simply state the likely or most common Actions seen on the series. You should also describe the types of events common on the series as well. For example, when discussing the idea of Actions and Plot of The X Files, I said that agents Mulder and Scully investigate unusual or paranormal phenomena. When discussing the content of The X Files however, I would also describe the different types of paranormal phenomena, such as UFOs, alien abductions, psychic abilities, etc.

The other half of our description of what a series' stories are about is theme. A story's theme is in essence, what that story is about, or the story's message or moral. Not all series make use of theme, though most do, even if it is understated and de-emphasized. Many series, such as Star Trek: The Next Generation, have explored many different themes over the course of many episodes. In the case of some series, the individual episodes don't have themes, but the series as a whole does. In this case, it is common that many of the individual episodes serve to reinforce the series' theme (or themes) rather than offer one of their own. An excellent example of this idea is The X Files, where each episode serves to reinforce the central idea of the series, specifically, The Truth is Out There. Each episode of The X Files involves Mulder and Scully search for the truth, and in each episode, the audience gets a new glimpse at that same truth.

How the Stories are Told

Once we understand what the stories told in the series are about, the next thing to consider is how those stories are told. This aspect of the series involves two main ideas; the basic structure of the series' stories, and the types of fictional techniques and devices used on the series.

Story structure refers to the way in which the events (or scenes) of the story are presented to the audience. Does each episode of the series follow a similar sequence of events, or is each different from previous episodes? Most series follow a structure of some sort, and if you watch enough episodes of a given series, you'll begin to recognize the way stories progress on the series. Story structure is closely related to the different types of stories commonly seen on the series, and on their content. Different types of stories require different structures. For instance, the mission-type of stories as seen on Star Trek: The Next Generation are usually structured differently than the survival and exploration-based stories seen on Earth 2.

For instance, the stories on Star Trek: The Next Generation are often based on a mission of some sort, whether it be to chart a remote star system, or to investigate some sort of anomaly. These stories are about the efforts of the crew in their attempts to accomplish the mission, and the dilemmas and challenges that arise during their attempts. The stories on Earth 2 are based on the efforts of the Eden Advance team to reach New Pacifica and establish a new earth colony. These stories are most often about the difficulties the characters face as they traverse the planet and encounter its inhabitants.

What types of stories are most often seen in the series? Are they investigations such as on The X Files, or are they missions like on Star Trek: The Next Generation, or do they involve different events and circumstances in the lives of the central characters as on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Knowing the types of stories that are common in a series can help when creating your own adventures, as you will have a model from which to design adventures that will fit the nature of the series.

Now that you have a good grasp on the basic structure of the stories on your series, the next thing to consider is the specific types of fictional or storytelling techniques used on the series. These are, simply put, storytelling devices and techniques used by the series writers (and hopefully also by you as the gamemaster) in the stories told in the series' episodes. There are many, many different storytelling devices used in fiction, such as dream sequences, flashbacks and parallel stories. In general, storytelling techniques are not used very often on television series or movies, though they are in most novels. In fact, the relatively sparse use of these types of techniques make them all the more effective when they are used.

Some series use techniques that are unique to them, or at least, the approach to their use is unique. A good example of this type of technique is that of the Captain's Log or Ship's Log on Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Voyager (Station Log on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine). The presentation of these logs is a form of narrative that tells the viewers the basic background of the story, as well as offering them bits of off screen action that are indirectly important to the plot of the story. The Captain's Log is also often used as a form of denouement, in which the Captain or Commander reports on the resolution of the story.

Another similar type of techniques are specific storytelling conventions used in a series' stories. The specific ways in which a series' stories are told help define the series as much as descriptions of its setting and characters. For instance, on The X Files, the audience, as well as Agents Mulder and Scully, never learn the real truth behind the events seen in each episode of the series. This facet of The X Files is one of its most important, yet it cannot be categorized as any standard sort of fictional element. This is something that is key to the nature of the show.

Specific and Unique Elements of the Series

The last part of Techniques and Trappings we need to define are the specific and unique aspects of the series' Setting, Characters, or Actions and have not yet been defined. This includes specific types of equipment, as well as specific organizations, opposing characters or political situations. Whereas earlier in the process you were making notes about the series' Setting, Characters, and Actions, now is the time for more detail and information about the specifics of each of those elements.

At this point you should describe the unique vehicles and pieces of equipment used on the series. For example, if you were basing your game on seaQuest DSV, you would describe the seaQuest DSV itself, along with the specific other vehicles and weapons used by characters on the series. If your game was to based on any of the Star Trek series, you would describe the transporters, food replicators, phasers, and other items commonly seen on the Star Trek series. The key things to consider are specific types of technology, that are in some cases central to the show's premise, such as the seaQuest DSV on seaQuest DSV, or the Thunderbirds and all of International Rescue's equipment on the Thunderbirds.

Like specific types of equipment, you should describe any specific organizations and opposing characters that are important to the series. Organizations might include specific governments or agencies, such as the Cardassian Empire from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, or the U.E.O. on seaQuest DSV. These types of organizations were likely covered briefly in your description of the series' Setting, but here you should work out as much detail as possible, or at least as much as you think you'll need when running a game based on the series.

Like organizations or governments were covered under the series Setting, opposing characters should have been noted under Characters. But again, now is the time to go into detail about the more significant and important opposing characters of the series. For instance, during the first season of Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, the character of Lex Luthor was very prominent. If you were basing a game on that series, at this point you would want to describe Luthor in as much detail as possible.

Example: The X Files - Techniques and Trappings

The stories on The X Files all involve unexplained events or paranormal phenomena, and agents Mulder and Scully's search for the truth behind them. Whether the stories are about UFO encounters, genetic mutations, or government conspiracies, it is the truth that Mulder and Scully search for. Despite their efforts, however, in nearly all cases, Mulder and Scully never discover the real truth behind the events and situations they investigate.

In keeping with the emphasis on the truth that is so prevalent in The X Files, it should be no surprise that virtually all episodes of The X Files explore one theme: The Truth is Out There. This theme is the basis on which the show is built. Trust No One is another important theme of The X Files. On more than one occasion, Mulder and Scully have been manipulated or lied to, sometimes even by people they have every reason to trust.

Opposed to Mulder and Scully's efforts to uncover the truth is a vast and powerful conspiracy that stretches from the intelligence community and the military to the Justice Department. The full extent of this agency's power is unknown, but it has been able to exert its influence within the FBI, as well as US Air Force, and the Executive Branch of the government. This conspiracy is involved with the cover up of captured UFO technology, and unsanctioned military experimentation.

Three men who have ties to this organization have appeared on The X Files. First was the character of Deep Throat, a man who provided Mulder and Scully with aid and secret information which helped them in their investigations. Deep Throat was killed by agents working for the conspiracy at the end of the first season. Another character with ties to this organization is the man known only as Mr. X. This man has taken Deep Throat's place helping Mulder and Scully. The last character of note with ties to the conspiracy is known as the Smoking Man. This man is in a position of some authority in the conspiracy, as by all appearances it was he who ordered Scully be abducted and experimented upon.

Back to Overview

Part 2: Determining the Style of Play

Part 3: Designing the Game

Part 4: Playing the Game

Copyright ©1996 Louis J. Prosperi

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