A Tale of Three Tales

Chromatic Chameleon's picture

As part of a gaming shopping spree, I picked up a book I'd heard was great as a GM's tool, Robin D Laws’ Hamlet’s Hit Points. I finally got around to reading it and instantly wanted to share my thoughts about Laws' ideas.

I genuinely like the book. I only wish for more explanations, especially related to role-playing, in exchange for one of the analyses that’s not Casablanca. I also feel this book would be a great guide for players, and it's these last two points I want to talk about.

Most of the book is an examination of Story Beats, or the ways scenes play out. Laws makes us aware of nine types of beats: Procedural, Dramatic Commentary, Anticipation, Gratification, Bring Down, Pipe, Question, and Revel. Most of these beat types can be in one of three emotional states―up, down or natural―with only Gratification and Bring Down stuck in their obvious directions. He then covers three famous written works―Hamlet, Casablanca and Dr. No―breaking down their scenes into beats to explain how they work. While these beats may be useful in conjunction with premade or railroad adventures, the method is really at its most helpful in a sandbox campaign.

It is this beat system that makes most reviewers claim the book is an excellent GM tool for creating adventures or campaigns, and it is, but I consider the work as a good guide for players as well. This is because nearly every one of Laws’ explanations can equally apply to PCs, which illustrates how the players’ actions are just as important as the GM's.

They can even learn the value of embracing negative outcomes to reinforce positive beats. As the players gain the ability to sense the relationship between drama and procedure, this knowledge aids in advancing the story goals without ignoring the roleplaying aspect. For example: Procedures are simply actions that move the story forward, whether they succeed or fail. These are often found in classic adventures and forgotten in sandboxes. Meanwhile the application of Anticipation beats can build suspense, and help in depicting a character's emotional state.

Of course, this is just a brief overview of this powerful gaming tool for both GMs and players. A short-form blog post cannot do the whole idea justice, but I do hope it encourages players to pick up the book to improve their playcraft. Maybe I'll revisit these in another blog... or maybe Robin Laws can be talked into posting on the idea!

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