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Good evening, afternoon, or whatever time it happens to be there, ladies and gents! I happen to be Andy, who happens to be a freelance web designer, musician, writer, and whatnot.

Roman Catholic, student of tabletop gaming, and someday soon I'll have my own designs in the field!

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Tuesday, October 18, 2011

What I Learned From Baccano!


So, for those not in the know, I'm going to be talking chiefly about an animated series called Baccano!, which is mostly set in the 1930s, and features gangster action and a train heist. Basically. It's very, very well-done, half the characters are pretty much clinically insane, and there's a good bit of bloody violence in it. Where it truly shines, though, and the point that I'll be touching on, is in its narrative.

Not Just the Jumble
One of the most memorable parts of Baccano! is the incredibly jumbled manner in which the story is told. The show mixes together three main arcs and a backstory arc, hopping between stories, cutting back and forth in the middle of scenes, eventually filling the viewers in with everything. Now, that could be a really cool way to tell a story in an RPG, though it would also require very, very careful handling of things by the GM. However, that's not actually what I'm here to talk about.

No, what I'm here to talk about is the stories themselves. Baccano! (and yes, the exclamation point is intentional) is based on a series of novels, each of which is roughly unrelated to the others, save that characters cross between stories, living through different arcs. Characters in a 1930 story may show up again in a 1932 story. In the animated series, three of those stories were adapted. Each one has different main plots, and yet because of the characters, they're pulled together. What's even more interesting is how the ending of one story seamlessly blurs into the beginning of a new one.

Why Ends and Beginnings?
I touch on this subject, because many game-masters are deeply concerned with the subject of endings and beginnings, of making sure that when a plot ends, all the loose ends are tied up, and that when a plot begins, it begins from a standstill. This Baccano! show, though, doesn't like to do that. When it ends, it leaves plenty of unresolved questions, even as it brings resolution to some threads. It promises that life keeps chugging along at a frantic pace, with the same energy that was going as the story began.

When you think about it, that's more true-to-life, anyhow. It also means that there's a certain art to framing the beginning and end of the story. Events will keep happening, but depending on what event you choose as the start of your story, and what event you decide suffices as the end, the story can be completely different. What's interesting, though, is that this means that the entire story doesn't have to build up to one moment. The world doesn't have to center around these pivotal events, and the story can be assumed to keep going, even after the curtain falls.

It takes a certain agreement on the part of the players, of course. They have to be content with the fact that this story they're in won't tie up every single loose end out there. Not every player is fine with this, and that's okay. If you can find players who are fine with it, though, it's a good way to prevent a shorter story from spiraling into a "fate of the world" quest. Not that there's anything wrong with them.

They just seem to happen all the time.

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