Soap Opera Elements

Monday, 27. September 2010

Any ongoing campaign is going to have a bit of transience in it’s players or possibly storyteller depending upon it’s setup.  Likewise, we want all of our campaigns to have outside appeal to the casual listener if we are to be able to spread the trade so to speak.  In this regard, we need to have both short term and long term appeal of story elements.  Something the casual listener can sink into in a short time, yet details that longer term listeners (players in this case.) hang on for.

In order to do this, I believe we can take a few good lessons from soap operas.  Not in the “as the stomach turns” sort of way unless thats the sort of game you’re running, but rather in the ability to create short and long term hook for players and listeners.  Soaps do this through a few methods and I think they are all easily adapted to most game campaigns, long term and short. There are 2 in particular that I want to touch on.

The idea of running several concurrent story lines is one that soaps use frequently.  Minor or major, elements are introduced continually and constantly shifting in importance depending on the characters perceived goals.   At least one of the  story lines needs to be short term resolution, developed or solved within a few sessions.  This is as I said, your hook for anyone listening short term, and makes for good “water cooler” conversation if you’re one who frequently discusses games.   One of them should also be very long term, running over the course of the campaign before transitioning into yet another story element.   Story points with this come slowly, and make for a long term hook into the game, as well as a good direction of overarching goals.

The other useful concept is that of gradualism.  The major plotline is typically slow to progress, and can linger in the face of other more important, but temporary subgoals. Taking time to make sure all elements are well developed can be very useful.  Even as players goals are reached, the next major drama is built into the storyline at a slow pace, until it becomes the next major issues they’re dealing with.

Some of the other more nauseating elements in my mind are unchanging characters, suddenly struck up conversations,  last minute rescues, betrayal and all that goes with it.  Things that make soap operas soaps.  I think a lot of the times our players expect the unchanging characters, lessons that aren’t learned from the last time and the constant morality of the character.  They tend to be either evil or good, and any deviation from the usual pattern is a trick.  There are a lot of elements listed are useful, but if overused produce the same “as the stomach turns” feeling that comes with not being productive and watching TV in the afternoon. (I haven’t done this in a while, mind you!)

Love them or hate them soaps produce a lot of plot elements that can be judiciously applied to RPG’s for a good overall result.  The trick is to not overuse elements, to apply them gradually and to run them concurrently.

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