Let them Eat Cake
I know you came here to read about role playing games, but I want to talk about cake. If you’re like me you like to breathe, eat cake, and (when you can) play games. There is other stuff, but I’m just listing the important ones here. See, we have a lot in common already. What is the best part of the cake? The icing! The rest is good, but the frosting is awesome, is mind-blowing, is stupefyingly great. In the traditional slice of cake though, the ratio of icing-to-not-icing is counter intuitive then isn’t it?
I’m including only a clipart slice of cake because if I put in a real one on here you’d probably leave off from reading and go find some cake. That is not a terrible idea, but please come back once you’ve found it. I don’t really want to get between you and cake. Anyway, back to the ratio. Icing is maybe 5-10% of each slice. Why? If icing is the better part, then why isn’t a traditional slice of cake 90% icing? Why bother with the cake anyway, and why not just go for the can of frosting only? Because it is a fallacy to think icing by itself can stand alone. The icing and the cake are partners. You need both. You probably knew that, and if you didn’t, maybe you’re the kind of person who buys and eats icing straight from the cans at the store. I’m not here to judge, but you should know that could prove problematic.
Both the cake and icing are good, but really, don’t you only get excited about the icing? Isn’t that the memorable part? You need both, and you need a balance. The same is true in writing when it comes to the ratio of questions and answers. You need to have a lot more questions (cake) than actual answers (icing). However, the fact is, questions are better than answers. For example, take the star wars movies. The original trilogy allowed the force to be mysterious. Some information was given, but overall there was no real scientific backing. The force was powerful, but the main protagonist was not in full control of it. In the prequel trilogy we get lots of character origin and dare I say it… midi-chlorians. (Excuse me while I go throw up a little bit of cake… no, no, kept it down. I’m good. Sorry. It has been over sixteen years and the pain isn’t gone.)
Your game, your story, (which is ultimately your character’s story) should take some cues from this principle. Our imagination is far more powerful when some details are left out. That thing in the dark is exponentially scarier than if seen in the full light of day. Why are the X-Files and horror movies in the dark? Because what we imagine is far scarier, thus more effective, more powerful. Leave your audience in the dark, and dole out the details, the answers, the truth over time. Because you got to have some icing on that cake.
Origin stories are an example of having your cake and eating it too. No wait, I mean you got your icing in my cake, or I got my cake in your icing. Let us just say it can be the best of both worlds. Because the audience and the character are gaining experience, we (and the characters) have lots of questions. Answers come, but they do so at a high cost. For example, in Star Wars, no I’ve already used that one. In Spider-Man (the 2002 Tobey Maguire flick) we have the origin of a superhero-to-be learning to use his powers. He didn’t know how to swing from his webs right away. He got hurt. We could identify.
If he could instantly perform amazing acrobatics, swing from his webs, etc.., well, it just wouldn’t be as interesting. It would be surface level, the icing level, and you know we’ve already established the need for a partnership. Little kids and surface level thinkers would be happy with just the whiz-bang special effects. But we as writers, as storytellers we need to go deeper. Why? Because our stories are truth. They are a reflection of the human condition. They are many things, and they take more effort than many games, but they mean so much more, because with each post we are baring a little our souls, and no one does that lightly.
So, in conclusion, give some thought to your characters and your stories, and pace those reveals. Your story will be richer and more enjoyable for everyone. Trust me, once you get the hang of it, it is a piece of cake!