Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Nuts & Bolts #8 - Dramatic Editing

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Dramatic Editing is a mechanic I first encountered in White Wolf's criminally overlooked Pulp game Adventure! (yes the ! is part of the title). I've seen it here and there since, but never as integral to the game play as I feel it was in Adventure!, and never with the clever mechanics for cliffhangers that the aforementioned game has.

So what is Dramatic Editing? Well let's call it fortune or luck, at least insofar as the character would see it. It's the force that ensures that after crashing in the Sahara they just happen to find an oasis just over the next dune.  It's the luck of getting shot and having your trusted flask take the bullet for you (R.I.P. trusty flask).  It's the holy crap did Indiana Jones just fall off that cliff? Nope, he grabbed a root right at the edge and climbs up just as his estranged dad is mourning. (editor's note: in Adventure! Dramatic Editing is almost always used in life or death, or major setback situations, other games may allow a more casual use of such mechanics).

For the player Dramatic Editing is their way to wrest control over the narrative from the GM even if only for a moment, to reverse their character's fortunes.  This comes into play by spending points (meta points that the characters don't have access to), to buy effects to edit the situation.  A minor offscreen effect might only cost a single point and ensures help or rescue within a short period of time (like finding that oasis). A major effect that takes place on screen like that flask taking a bullet for your character, might cost three points, and probably is going to need for you to have established prior that your character has a flask. Don't have the points to pay? Well luckily you can also take some complications to reduce the cost. Yeah you leaped from the burning building, but you broke your leg on the way down - ouch!

Thematically this fits with the Pulp genre and style of Adventure! extremely well.  Pulp was often over the top at times, and even when not the serial nature of the stories and the larger than life heroics of the characters were often rife with good fortune and happy coincidence. Of course Indian Jones isn't going to die, but his climb to safety isn't going to be easy, and it's going to have ramifications like aiding in the reconciliation between himself and his estranged father.

Of course nowhere were the kinds of death defying luck and fortune more evident that during the cliffhangers between serials. Zounds! The evil Dr. Hand's men have sabotaged the Golden Goose, Whip Langstrom's trusty flying boat! How will he survive? Tune in next week! Cliffhangers are the final scene of one session/episode/serial and the first of the next.  They ensured that audiences would return (players too) and allowed for things to end and start on high notes.

Within a cliffhanger Dramatic Editing works as normal with the additional advantage of having some time between sessions to brainstorm how you are going to save your character's butt from the fire.  Since cliffhangers are always of the life in immediate danger flavor players are often going to be needing to saddle their characters with complications to afford the high cost of immediate effects.  When your plane is plummeting from the sky no amount of "there's help fifteen minutes away" is going to save your bacon.  These complications can help drive the story to unexpected places, or even provide a way for NPC antagonists to gain the upper hand on the PCs.

Any game using some kind of "meta pool" including just about any form of benefit points (see Nuts & Bolts #5: Fringe Benefits) could make use of Dramatic Editing type mechanics and many already do.  The use of Dramatic Editing for resolving cliffhangers is something that I have not seen a lot of games use. Perhaps it is due to the particular connection that cliffhangers have to the Pulp genre and style, or perhaps because it requires a certain amount of planning on the part of the GM so that the session can reach the cliffhanger without going over or being under on time for the session.  Regardless I think that given the nature of the hobby cliffhangers are something that could add a great deal of flavor, and can provide excellent reasons why certain character's may skip a session when their player's are not around. They should not be used every session, or to excess, but both Dramatic Editing and Cliffhangers can be potent tools in the arsenal of GMs and Players alike.

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