Have you seen MTV’s The Shannara Chronicles? Season 1 is on Netflix now, and it’s a great show to watch with a GM’s eye.
Not that it’s great all the time, mind you, but it uses all the standard fantasy tropes you might want to use in your games. Great adventure action scenes, heroines and heroes sacrificing everything to get the job done. All in big, obvious, plot points you can see and steal.
And some pretty uneven inter-party romance scenes. Let’s just say everyone looks great and has a cute butt, but not all the lines are great and not all the actors sell those uneven lines. A lot of things happen that make the plot work but don’t make much sense, but hey, we’ve got magic elf stones, sword fighting, betrayal, demons, d20s, and Star Trek.
It’s fun watching yourself watch the show. What parts work for you, and what don’t? How can that impact your game? For me, parts were total fails. And yet, I couldn’t stop watching. Why?
IMHO, it’s easier to see things to steal for your game from an uneven show you can take a step back from and analyse. So what were they?
- The party works. We had a 3 person party, a caster, a rogue, and a noble. All were young and first level when we start, and grow as the season progresses. Each had a backstory that enriched the show.
- NPCs don’t steal the show. There is a super high level druid who threatens to steal the young party’s thunder, but the plot demands they go off on their own while he manages a secondary plot of intrigue in the elven palace. It’s almost like the show’s GM is running two games, one with the party, and a one on one with the druid.
- “Bad” and “good” start off clear in the characters’ minds, and change as the series continues. We start off in a very elven point of view, where humans destroyed the world that was, and all elves are honorable, and other races are evil. We learn that what people believe isn’t necessarily true. This kind of worldview change is great to do in a game, and often takes a good chunk of a campaign to pull off.
- Related to the the good and bad theme was NPCs who are not what they first seem. Even evil jerks can turn out good, and a friendly face is not always attached to a friendly person.
- Tropes galore. Pit traps, splitting the party, magic swords, magic powers that grow with the character, mentors who make you feel safe then send you on your way, threshold guardians, characters with destiny, and heroic sacrifice. All great gaming material.
- Mooks (AKA minions). If you ever want to see the faceless mook trope, watch the elves.
Anyway, fun show. What did you think?