No One Cares That You are a Beautiful and Unique Snow Flake Except Your Mom, Part II- Show Don’t Tell and Star Wars

I did a post last week talking about disliking pages and pages of back story from my players in my current Swords and Sorcery OSR style game and how I handle (in general) back story in other games.

I got some good comments and feedback via Google+ and comments on the blog.

My post even got a post reaction from two fellow bloggers (The Rhetorical Gamer, and Role | Playing).  I was pretty flattered by that.  I read through their reactions and I’ll admit it, their right.  However so am I.  Different ways of handling things, preferences, and fun is what makes this hobby fun and diverse.

I do want to state that I’m not opposed to back story from my players, which some people seemed to take as what I was saying, I’m just not in favor of pages of back story.

I am a big fan of show, don’t tell mentality.  If you want to give me, as I said in the last post, a few pieces of fluff to build upon in game that’s awesome!  I just don’t need family trees and histories and etc, especially if it isn’t something that isn’t going to come up and occur in game.

The other morning it dawned on me that Star Wars Episodes IV-VI are an excellent example of my preferred play-style (again you may disagree, which is totally jake with me).

A Long Time Ago in a Galaxy Far, Far Away..

Let’s treat Star Wars Episode IV as if it was an actual game session that we were watching.  The GM has told the players to roll some dice and create a character.  They have a few minutes to get a handle on them and then it’s go time.  When everyone is ready….

Boom!!  Opening Crawl begins!  This is the GM telling us what is going on in the game setting/session.

When you look at Episode IV there is only one character who really has any back story that filters in and that is Luke, but again it all happens on screen and the players (if this was a game) are experiencing it as they play.

You don’t know that Leia is adopted until the third movie….

You don’t know how Han and Chewie ended up together…

You don’t know how Vader got in the suit…

You don’t know who created C3PO and R2D2…

None of that background is as important as what is currently happening to the characters at that moment, sure it may come up as blurbs here and there and add flavor, but is quick and built on.

As you progress through the V and VI, small bits of “back story” flit in but again are small things that a player could jot down, but not huge walls of text.

Lando adds to Han’s back story through play.  He’s a new player that is thrown into the game and is asked to connect his character with one of the others.  It is easiest, given both character’s personalities to link them into a shady deal in the past, but again it’s never mentioned.  All you know is that somehow Han fucked over Lando.

Please don’t point out what is explained in the Extended Universe (I read the books and some of the comics, so I know), comics, back of toys, etc.  If we take the info given to us only through the lens of EP IV-VI movies, things become completely different than with all the superfluous information from the extended sources. 

Episodes I-III are crap (from this example’s point of view and not the myriad of OTHER reasons- see video below for that) because they are basically the back story that DIDN’T to be told.  They aren’t interesting and really didn’t add anything to the game play at hand.

If you want deep and complicated back story as a player or a GM, more power to you and there is nothing wrong with that.

I just don’t desire overly complicated and convoluted back story in my games.  Every so often I get a wild hair up my butt and ask for it.  Again I’ll state that if a player WANTS to do it, I never tell them no.  Let the writer beware.

I just look forward to the stories that are emergent in play and not what is on paper.

Absolutely feel free to disagree or agree with what I’ve said.  I look forward, as always, to the discussion.

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About wrathofzombie

I am a History major attending a community college until I can get more financial aid and attend a four year school. I am living in NJ with my girlfriend who is currently wrapping up on obtaining her PhD in Toxicology. I love Star Wars, Role-playing, video games, working out, reading, writing, and hanging with my girlfriend, dog (Perfect), and two kittens (Birch and Brambles). My main focus on this site will be my discussion of Role-playing games and ideas and hopefully contribute something worth a damn. View all posts by wrathofzombie

7 responses to “No One Cares That You are a Beautiful and Unique Snow Flake Except Your Mom, Part II- Show Don’t Tell and Star Wars

  • Malik

    Gotta say I agree with you here, bothon the Star Wars and backstory fronts. Both these posts have articulated well what I think so I’ll probably just link all my new players here before each char gen session if that’s cool with you…

    • wrathofzombie

      @ Malik- Thanks much 🙂 I’m more than cool w/ you directing your players here. If you like (or not) the Backstory thing I pointed out in the previous session- feel free to use it or make it better:) Feel free to do whatever.

  • morrisonmp

    Well, of course you’re right. Whatever works best for you and your group is what matters. There is no one, true way.

    As to the Star Wars example… looking at it another way. I think your presentation of the way events unfold relates first to the differing nature of Star Wars as movie and Star Wars as RPG. In A New Hope, for example, Luke is clearly the “main” character and thus he gets the exposition and back story.

    Looked at from my perspective as a GM, I see it differently. Just a few examples: If Ben Kenobi were a PC, then the GM would probably want to know why he was hanging around in the desert all those years… so that would be a mystery to the other players but would be important backstory for the GM to already know. As for Han and Lando — maybe the GM inserted Lando because that was a character written into Han’s player’s back story? I’ve done that with PCs in my games plenty of times (drawn on their back story to cast my NPCs, in fact, I prefer it that way).

    And when it comes to Han and Chewie… well, I had a similar experience as a player in a Shadowrun game. I was a Face-type and my friend was a huge beast of a troll. We established our back stories firmly together, built off each other, set up our living arrangements together, had similar contacts, etc. And the back story was something we could both draw on when weird **** would go down. It also explained to the GM up-front that we wanted to play out a buddy story. We made it clear that we were loyal, wouldn’t turn on each other, and had a rare (for that world) kind of relationship that made us awesome. Of course we still “showed” that during play, but establishing it ahead of time was vital to the closeness it imparted in game. So maybe the same is true to Han and Chewie? Maybe they built their back story together and shared it with the GM?

    In fact (sorry, this is long) having two — or more — players work together to create a shared back story is something I love to do as a player and would love even more when it happens when I GM…

    It just… works for me.

    • wrathofzombie

      @Morrisonmp- That’s cool and sounds like it was fun and awesome! I will go and say that the back story you present for Star Wars and for your Shadowrun game sound fun and engaging.

      I think that players coming up with a story together on how they met or whatever is awesome and should be rewarded. Your back stories, or those from Star Wars (if we are using it as a RPG and not just as a movie) could be done in a small amount of text, leaving the rest to be flushed out during play. That’s all I’m using this as an example of.

      I’m not arguing for no back story at all, but merely no long ass walls of text.

      Again if the players want to do it, then I’m more than happy to support them and work in what I can, just not that I prefer walls of text.

  • anarkeith

    Two ways to look at it. Main story (in play) is evolutionary. It’s the “show” part of the equation. As morrisonmp points out, sometimes backstory is important to the players. So, where does the acknowledgement for player backstory come from? Because, after all, that’s what people are looking for when they develop a backstory. As a GM, I want my players to take an interest in the backstory of my world (and to create new stories for that world through their choices.) So, perhaps I need to invest a little attention in their characters in exchange for their investment in my game. Alternately, as in morrison’s example, players may invest in one another’s backstories. Thus they get validation and attention from each other.

    It seems like that’s the best of both worlds. Players and GMs want attention for their creations. So, how do we set up the game to encourage investment in each other’s work? Are there techniques to make the “tell” part of the equation more “show”?

  • wrathofzombie

    @Anarkeith- I agree totally that as a GM I want the players to be invested in the world as you, the GM, have put so much damned time into the the thing. If creating stuff and and adding it in makes the player invested, awesome and I’ll happily do it.

    I’ve created homebrew settings that were just a rough base, and then as a group the first session was sitting down and creating the world together and adding what players wanted to see in the world… I would flush out the details later. If we had enough time we would make characters or save that for the second session. That gets the players engaged because they are contributing.

    Show, don’t tell- I’m not a HUGE fan of the system, but it is known that I do like Aspects from FATE. That is a great way of personality, back story, and ambition/motivations all wrapped up in a nice neat little package that has a small mechanic that rewards motivated players. Players or the GM activating one of them to “get a character into a situation, etc” can help a player become invested (if they aren’t already) because they want to see what will happen to their character.

    The same can be said about Savage Worlds benny mechanic. Players putting themselves in harms way because their character is Vengeful because someone shot their mama while she was in the shower is a good way to reward a player for taking a chance, being true to their character, and playing through their back story.

  • llanwyre

    I have to admit that what you’re saying makes sense, even though I had a pretty visceral reaction against your original post. It’s part of the reason I loved White Wolf’s Prologues–as GM, you get to hash out each character’s back story in person, giving you the chance to negotiate key events to fit your world and to ask any questions about things that don’t make sense. I always found that putting a timer on each Prologue (20 minutes or so) meant that the players had to cut down to the bare minimum of what was important.

    Also, totally TOTALLY agree about Episodes I-III. That analysis makes me happy.

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