Oh no, kids, it’s time for another episode of RPG to Filmmaking Comparisons. Brought to you by Kodak - we swear we’re still in business.
Some film directors are 100% true to the screenplay and have every shot storyboarded to look like they made a comic book adaptation of the movie before they ever yell, “Action!” In many cases, these are directors who also wrote the screenplay. Sound familiar?
Others use the blueprint approach - the screenplay is a guide and the crew will adjust as needed or desired during filming. Perhaps the best example of this is the Lord of the Rings Trilogy. The script was being rewritten on a daily basis, action sequences were made up on the spot during filming, and revisions were made during editing to end up with the final version. “It’s the most expensive independent film ever made,” was the joke on set. All the while, they still had to adhere to some of the absolutes about Middle Earth and the progression of the story already written down in Tolkien’s books and yet still be able to make it their own film.
And it’s not locked in stone to direct one way or the other. It’s a plethora of variance to suit the creative approach of those involved. Some actors want to work with directors who let them bring their own creativity to the film, others like to be told exactly what their character does and thinks.
It’s why I believe in “auditioning” players when looking to form a new group. Present them with an overview of how I like to GM (direct) and what I expect from my players (actors). But that’s another topic.
It all reminds me of watching The Firm (with Tom Cruise) in theatres waaaaaay back then. Two women sat behind us constantly commenting on what happened that way in the book and what didn’t. Shit you not and this quote is burned in my brain-damaged head for eternity, one of them said, “In the book, she didn’t take the dog with her.” It was the only time I gave the glaring “shut up” look to an adult in theatres.
Now those are some commonalities between RPG storytelling and other forms of fiction… yet RPGs are a horse of a different colour. By their very nature, elements of the story change during play as decided by player actions and randomizers. Screenplays, books, even video games (that allow you to come back from death to try again without any concerns of continuity) do not kill off a character or accidentally blow up something important because they rolled a 1. Everything in other works of fiction happen because the people writing it are in full control - it happens because it needs to happen. A hero solves the puzzle because the author wants them to solve the puzzle. They’re not sitting at their keyboard pulling their hair out because their hero sucks at riddles.
For me, all games are rough drafts. The text, regardless of who wrote it, is a guide post. Trying to stick to the script feels like whittling away at player agency - this particular thing has to happen because that’s in the script. Yet we use a randomizer to create spots of failure here and there and crits don’t just happen on their own. If anything, I prefer to use the script (adventure) as a guide - this is what happened before, what the NPCs goals and motivations are, and how things appear when the heroes arrive. What happens next is up to my players. Even if that means she doesn’t take the dog with her.