Wednesday, November 25, 2015

In The Gap

"There are two opposing armies drawn up on the field, but there's a heavy fog.  They can't see each other.  Oh, they want to of course, very much.  You are in the gap between them.  You can just see us.  You can just see them.  Your mission is to get near enough to see them to signal their position to us, so giving us the advantage - but if in signaling their position to us you signal our position to them, it is they who will gain a very considerable advantage.  That's where you are, Quiller.  In the gap."


The Quiller Memorandum, 1966

The principle success in any mission that involves intrigue is the lack of certainty surrounding what to do.  If the players in an adventure thriller are certain they know what the next step should be, then the adventure isn't thrilling at all.  The thrill is in stumbling around in the dark, trying to do the right thing, never knowing for certain if they're going to avoid doing the wrong thing.

How does the reader, as a DM, learn how to make this possible?

See the right sort of movies.  Read the right sort of books.  Multiple times.  Try to learn something.

UPDATE:

I wrote this last night, before I went to bed, and now I am regretting it.  That sounds horribly pretentious and lazy - not to mention confrontational.  I believe that I wrote it this way because of an earlier argument I'd had with a very young hipster who feels that No Country For Old Men is the greatest movie ever made.

I was reaching for the premise that some works cannot be fully grasped in one go - and that very often what we think we're seeing is only the veneer of the plot that hides the importance of what's happening between characters.  The Quiller Memorandum (video here) has always been this for me because the story itself is very simple and - as people have described it to me - painfully slow.  Like endlessly waiting for the other shoe to drop, only to find that it never does.  That is because the plot is immaterial to the purpose of the film.  It is really a study more than a story; an in-depth examination of the way people in dangerous situations must expose themselves, being vulnerable, before anything can be discovered - with the expectation that they will lose everything.

I think good role-playing is that.  The recognition that keeping safe is not the key; and at the same time, approaching the issue cautiously, rationally and with every expectation that failure will probably mean an unfair or undeserved demise.

I know I cannot properly convey that feeling, as it comes from my gut while I watch or read something that is meant to challenge my preconception.  I sense the realization rather than find myself forming it in words.  A hard confession for a writer to make.

Anyway, it came out badly last night as I tried to punch that sentiment rather than hand it over gently.  I apologize.

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