More From the Game Master Chanel
Well, Channel is how CCM calls her chapters to fit in the retro-toon theme, she's been sticking to like glue.
Next up is deals wit three act episode summary of a old action cartoons of the 1980s, I let CCM explain more: " While no two episodes are the same, most of them do have a similar structure. This structure has been used in fiction throughout the ages; so to say that it’s time-tested is a woeful understatement.
Ideally, there should be three acts in an episode. Below, we’ll break these acts down and look at what each one covers.
Act One: The Setup
The first act establishes the situation. Invariably, the situation (known as the inciting incident) is a problematic one Otherwise, the heroes will be standing around with nothing to do during the episode, which is hardly fitting for a game based on the action-packed retro-toons!
In most episodes, this act will be the shortest. It doesn’t take much time to set the episode up and give the players an idea of what mission their characters will tackle. In fact, the heroes may not even be involved in the first act… at leas not immediately. It may be a “cut scene” (see page 89) that centers on one or more NP Cs
. Perhaps the master villain is planning to create a doomsday device, but needs three components in order to complete it. Act One could consist of two cut scenes in which the bad guys are shown stealing the initial two components. And perhaps a third cut scene could
be implemented that involves the heroes being thrown into the situation, possibly by a superior ordering them to guard the third component or something similar.
There’s something to be said for throwing the problem at the heroes right off the bat though. Doing so gives the players reason to care about the problem more, since their character are exposed to it first-hand. When taking this approach, be cautious. You don’t want to get the heroes stuck in too deep this early. That’s what Act Two is for.
Once the situation at hand is set in stone and the character have been introduced to it, you’re ready to move on to Act Two.
Below, you’ll find some advice for creating the first act of an episode.
If the heroes aren’t involved in Act One, or at least in a segment of it, you might consider writing a brief script for yourself to follow. This is particularly helpful if the scene in question is complex or requires a lot of specific information to be given to the players.
A script can be as simple or as elaborate as you want, so long as it conveys whatever it is you wish to convey. When you need a scene to be precise, scripting is the way to go.
The easiest type of script to write is one that resembles the script from a stage play. Simply write the characters’ names and what they say. Actions are also denoted in the text where necessary, though this needn’t be too prose-heavy. Direct and to-the-point is the most appropriate route. Another no-fuss way to script a scene is to simply write an outline of what needs to happen, much like you would do for a speech. This allows you a sense of freedom, while still ensuring that none of the important elements are accidentally left out. This is probably the best method for those who possess good ad-libbing skills.
The last method up for discussion is the most comprehensive, but likely the most rewarding as well. You can write out the scene in a short story format and simply read it aloud. Keep the text short, though, as there’s a fine line between playing a game and listening to the GM read a full-fledged story. You don’t need to write a novel in order to create an effective cut-scene with this method.
The Art of Inclusion
It is during Act One that the players will get a glimpse at what lies ahead for their characters. In most cases, the heroes will get a glimpse too. When laying out an episode, it’s your job to bring the problem to the heroes… or bring the heroes to
the problem. Either way, you have to find a way to get the ball rolling, which is really what Act One is all about.
There are always cut-and-dried options, such as having the boss assign the heroes a mission to go on or something equally obvious. Such options are fine and were, in fact, used liberally in the retro-toons. However, it’s far more rewarding
to exercise your creativity to devise more imaginative ways for drawing the heroes into the plot. If nothing else, these scenes of a more original nature can be sprinkled into the mix to keep the less original scenes from being too dominant.
Introducing New Elements
One of the most important roles of Act One is to introduce new people, places, and things that are (or will be) important to the story. If a new NPC, for instance, shows up halfway through the episode, the impact of the character’s appearance
will be diminished significantly in most cases. The players will probably be more baffled than anything.
Wise G Ms
utilize Act One to lay an immediate impression of the new element. If it’s an uber-gadget, demonstrate how awesome it is. If it’s a location, show the players why it’s interesting. If it’s an NPC, give the players an idea of what he’s
like. The best time to do this stuff is during the first act.
Act Two: The Confrontation
The second act is where you’ll find the meat of the episode. It’s the segment in which the heroes struggle to solve the problem(s) established in the first act. That is, the heroes confront the problem in an attempt to make things right. Act Two will conclude with the climax (see below).
Creating the basis for this act is all about pacing. You must try to plan for the most likely contingencies and cover as many bases as you can. Players are a crafty lot and will as often as not do something that you couldn’t have possibly predicted. As long as you consider some of the more common contingencies, you should be okay. Should the players go off the beaten path, you should ad-lib wildly or attempt to sneakily guide them back onto the right path. The latter option is tricky, as you could find yourself railroading the players, which will lead to their frustration at their lack of choices. Guide them; don’t force them. There’s a big difference.
Once you do some planning, jot down a few notes about possible encounters or scenes that might spring from the contingencies. Some sequences might happen regardless of the choices made by the players. For example, if you planned to have the villains capture an NPC, there’s no reason that the event won’t still occur if the P Cs
have decided to take a drastically different course of action than you had anticipated.
Or perhaps the villains have been shadowing the heroes with the intent to lay waste to them as soon as a good opportunity arises. The attack will most likely be carried out no matter where the heroes decide to go. Such events are mandatory.
Below, you’ll find some advice for creating the second act of an episode.
The problem was established in the first act, but it is during the second act that it escalates into a bigger problem. In the retro-toons, few things happened on a small scale. Everything was big and grandiose! For this reason, you should see to it that your episode follows suit. Don’t have your villain threaten the existence of a building when you can have him threaten an entire kingdom, an entire planet, or, heck, even the cosmos itself! Think big. It’s okay to make things look small scale in Act One, but in Act Two, the stakes should be raised.
Villains aren’t just going to stand around and wait for the heroes to thwart them. They’re going to further their plans. It’s crucial for them to remain active during the second act. Otherwise, your episode will be too static and predictable. If the heroes are making their way to the villain’s lair, let the villain find out what they’re up to… and have him do something about it. Perhaps he could send forth a gaggle of
his underlings to deal with them or maybe he could retreat to an alternate lair. He might even attack them himself. As long as the antagonists are doing something, your game will go okay. It might help to get inside the mind of the main villain. Try to figure out what he would be doing while the protagonists are trying to defeat him. Turn things around and try to become the antagonist and feel what he would feel; do what he
would do. Looking at the story from the villain’s perspective is always a good idea.
The Heroes Defeated?
Many, but certainly not all, episodes of the retro-toons ended the second act with the heroes in a bad way. The most common use of this mechanism is that the heroes’ plans to stop the villain have been crushed and all hope seems to be lost. Things look bad for our intrepid good guys. It’s also a very good place to insert a commercial break, as it gives the players a chance to discuss alternative courses of action. Plus, it builds suspense.
Don’t over-use this plot device, however. Constant utilization will lead to predictability (“Oh, jeez, it’s just about time for us to be greatly imperiled… again.”). When used in moderation, it can add drama to the episode, but when used too often, it can suck the drama away from it instead.
Don’t Give Up
When writing Act One, it’s likely that your cool ideas are going to get you jazzed up about the rest of the episode. This is a great thing, but a lot of Game Masters hit a stumbling block when writing Act Two because it is a much more involved process. Act Two is the meat and potatoes of any episode, so it stands to reason
that plotting it is going to take more work. Sometimes, those cool ideas from Act One have to be massaged and even altered in order to flow into Act Two.
All this can lead to frustration, as you begin second guessing yourself and saying, “This isn’t working”. Many Game Masters give up writing the episode at
this point. When you feel like quitting, step away for a little while and take a deep breath. Do whatever it is you do to relax and then come back to the episode
with a less beleaguered mind. This helps a lot!
Avoid being married to an idea you developed in Act One By all means, knead the heck out of it and do your best to make it work for Act Two, but if you just can’t get it right, don’t be afraid to scrap the darn thing and go back to Act One. Scrapping an idea and halting the writing of an episode are two very different things. Quitting shouldn’t even be an option. Press on and design an episode that will knock your
players’ socks off!
Act Three: The Resolution
Act Three is the act in which the problem at hand is resolved and the story concludes. In a nutshell, Act Three is the climax of the episode.
And with the climax comes the big climactic scene that results in the pay-off for the players. This scene invariably leads to the final outcome, which is usually the triumph of good over evil. The climactic scene is, more often than not, a combat sequence. Still, in the retro-toons, many climactic scenes were of a less violent nature. This is a positive thing, as it detracts from the episode’s predictability.
The closing scene of Act Three is often called the denouement and it’s generally defined as a period of calmness, where a state of equilibrium returns. The nature of the denouement can vary wildly, but there was one type that was gratuitously employed by the retro-toon writers. It involved the protagonists verbally wrapping things up, when suddenly, the token comic relief character said or did something funny. Everyone enjoyed a hearty laugh and the credits rolled. While that ending was the norm, less typical endings were presented as well. So, it’s okay to use the tried and true
ending, but you shouldn’t feel less inclined to pull off one that’s completely unique. This is your series, after all. Below, you’ll find some advice for creating the third act of an episode.
Location, Location, Location
While you should take into account interesting locations for battle sequences in any act, the one you choose for the climactic battle sequence (if indeed there is one) should be particularly memorable. Battling on a fat surface with nothing around can lead to a boring fight. But if you plunk the heroes and villains into an area bristling with assorted props and an intriguing layout, then you’ve already gotten a head start on developing a fun battle scene! Here are some ideas for battle locations: construction sites, moving trains, downtown areas, winding back-allies, the corridors of a space
station, on the deck of an aircraft carrier, ancient ruins, thick jungles, the top of a skyscraper, maze-like parking garages, floating cities, factories, castle battlements, zoos, amusement parks, shopping malls, warehouses, museums, gargantuan suspension bridges, craggy cliff sides, pyramids, junkyards, sewers, frozen rivers, rope bridges, deck of a rocking ships, clock towers, marshes, active volcanoes, abandoned
mines, collapsing tunnels, busy highways, sinking ships, art galleries, scaffolding,
supermarkets, elevator shafts, parades, low-gravity worlds, underwater valleys,
sunken ships, famous landmarks, and so forth.
The Big Escape
You don’t want to create new villains every time you prepare to run an episode do you? Of course not. This is why you need to concoct a way for the villains to avoid capture, death, or at least the master villain. Best of all, such escapes really keep to the spirit of the genre, as the retro-toons were notorious for
this kind of thing. Villains can be defeated, but be careful with letting them be imprisoned by the heroes. You’ll find your rogues gallery dwindling with
each passing episode… and that’s not productive for the series as a whole.
It’s acceptable to allow the villains to be captured during Acts One or Two, since they can always escape or be rescued later on during the episode. But Act Three marks the last segment of an episode, so it’s harder to spring captured villains at that point.
If the master villain is taken into custody, you should spend your Oomph on the “Villainous Escape” Trick (see page 65). Doing so is considered good form."
Next up is objectives or goal of the mission. It's usually one goal per episodes. I give examples after explain on the goals in the usual parenthesis.
- Capture: To get one or more bad guys. (The heroes are act to catch a thief.)
- Defend: The hero must protect one or more locations. (The heroes must protect the White House from a mad scientist.)
- Deliver: To deliver a someone or something to some one. Sometime the old fake is use on the heroes. (Deliver a powerful engine from a scientist lab to an army base where the engine is going to be use in a new tank.)
- Destroy: The heroes must get rid of one or more locations. (The heroes had to remove electric stoppers planted in the city by a master villain.)
- Escape: The heroes must escape from one or more villains. (The heroes must escape from the Master Villain's Headquarters.)
- Fix: The heroes must fix something. (The heroes must fix a force field protecting their headquarters from the evil forces)
- Infiltrate: The heroes must sneak into a location. (The heroes must sneak into a business own by a henchman of the master villain and find any information that connects the business man to the master villain.)
- Recruit: The heroes have to get one or more characters on their side. (The heroes must convince a lone ally to help them.)
- Rescue: The heroes must find and free a trapped character. (The heroes had to break out a innocent person in jail for a crime that he or she didn't do.)
- Retrieve: The heroes must find one or more items and bring them in a certain location (The heroes are hired by NASA to find parts of a lost satellite blow up by the Master Villain.)
- Scout: The hero must find out about someone or something (The heroes must deal with a contest that rumor has deals with their rogue gallery of villains.)
Next CCM talks about "Secondary Plots": "When designing an episode, you might consider adding another plot that is less significant than the primary plot These are called secondary plots and they really don’t have to take up that much room in your overall episode. How important they are is up to you, so use your best judgment. The retro-toons regularly used secondary plots to bulk up an episode’s content and to flesh out the characters more. You can use them for the same reason, but with an added bonus
it gives characters that may not be directly involved with the primary plot something to do that is still constructive to the story.
For example, let’s say that your primary plot, for a Warriors of the Cosmos episode, revolves around Nekrottus capturing Iconia’s greatest minds and forcing them to create for him a weapon of mass destruction. Obviously, the heroes are going to try to put an end to this madness. A secondary plot could be that one of the male heroes meets a sweet girl during Act One. They take a liking to each other and he finds out that her father is working on an important scientific experiment. She tells him that her father needs one important component in order to succeed and asks the hero to help. In truth, her
father is willingly working for Nekrottus and needs the part for the doomsday device. The girl may or may not be wise to this fact. So, one hero may find himself inadvertently doing Nekrottus’s bidding.
Not all secondary plots have to be tied directly to the primary plot, but you should be sure to draw both plots to a close during Act Three. To do otherwise would make the episode seem off kilter.
Don’t forget that a fantastic source of secondary plot ideas could be the P Cs
’ Subplots. You can mine those for all they’re worth and the players will usually be happy about that because they’ll have the opportunity to earn Oomph by coping with the problems that arise."
Next up is "Using Themes" and I let CCM do that one, " A good story can work on multiple levels. Even in the retro-toons (which tended to be more about fun than about deep meaning), the writers often subscribed to this belief. The most common method of doing so was to develop the story with a theme in mind. A theme is an underlying message, morality, philosophy, or weighty issue that can be woven into the fabric of the story to evoke a more meaningful experience.
You too can use themes when creating episodes. In fact, you are encouraged to do so. If you think back to the old cartoons, you’ll recall that some of them had a “moral of the story” after-show message. That’s what theme is all about.
Instituting a theme may sound heady and intimidating, but it’s actually easy. Before starting on Act One, ask yourself what you want the overriding message of the episode to be. Let’s say that you choose “teamwork” as your theme. At that point, you should think ahead a bit and come up with at least one idea for making teamwork be the key to solving a problem during the episode. It doesn’t need to be fleshed out yet; you just need a seed. Perhaps you want to introduce a foe that’s so powerful that none of the heroes could defeat it in a one-on-one confrontation. You could even take that a step
further and plan it so that even the combined might of all the heroes would be insufficient to defeat it… so that they’ll actually have to team up with the villains in order to do so.
The trick to instilling a theme is to make it subtle. You needn’t bonk the players over the head with it to make it work. In fact, it’s usually best if the players don’t get it until the inevitable “moral of the story” segment at the conclusion of the session."
Of course, mini-series were pretty common, so we got that cover in "To Be Continued...". More from CCM about this one: "Most retro-toon series kept their episodes… well, episodic. That is, each episode was its own self-contained story that didn’t carry over directly into the next episode. The advantage of this, of course, was that viewers could tune into any given episode without getting lost. The disadvantage was that
the stories were limited in their breadth due to the fact that everything had to ft within a snug 22-minute package.
It wasn’t uncommon, however, for the writers to craft a two-part or three-part story on occasion. This allowed them to tell a more epic story than they could within the normal restraints of a single episode. Therefore, you can whip up some multi-part stories for your own series. In such a case, develop the overall story using the three-act structure. If, for example, you are going with a three-parter, Act Three would occur during the third episode, though it may not take up the entirety of the episode.
Each episode (except the final episode) almost invariably ended with three words emblazoned upon the screen: “To be continued…” And just as invariably, these words would appear just as a cliffhanger situation was established. This made the viewer anxious to watch the next episode to find out what happened to the heroes. Such devices can be used in Cartoon Action Hour as well. Just be prepared to have
impatient players chuck things at you as soon as you say, “to be continued."
Our next sub-section deals with Game Mastering Advice, and I let CCM do the work here,
"The Jobs of the GM
The term “Game Master” says it all. An emphasis must be put on “Master”, for these two words so perfectly sum up what you must strive for as the GM. What must you try to master? We’re glad you asked.
Master of Storytelling
You are, in many ways, the primary storyteller. It’s true. While the players have a gigantic impact on how the story unfolds, you are the one who knows what is really going on. You know about the ambush the bad guys have set up. You know when
the main villain will strike. You know that the player’s “buddy” is really in cahoots with the enemy. You know that the niece of one of the P Cs
is going to get kidnapped. Of course, the P Cs
’ actions can drastically affect all this stuff. After all, it’s no fun for players to be railroaded by a pushy GM who already has everything etched in stone. You must be able to roll with the punches and improvise wildly in order to give the players freedom. Remember, this is an interactive storytelling game. And there’s nothing interactive about stubbornly refusing to change things according to the P Cs
The trick is to find a balance between totalitarian G Ming
and being an absolute pushover when it comes to how much freedom you give the players. In any case, you control the pace of the game, the events that the P Cs
must deal with, who the bad guys are, and so on. For this reason, you should work toward becoming the master of verbal storytelling. The better you describe the scenes and events, the more enthralling the game will be.
Master of Acting
The players play the main heroes. You play everyone else! Any time the P Cs
meet up with another NPC, guess who steps into the shoes of that character? You do. This means you might be playing quite a few characters in a given episode. That’s okay - it can be a great deal of fun. Think about the diversity: you might be playing a crazy old coot in one scene and a buffed-out warrior in the next or perhaps both of them… in the same scene.
Master of Refereeing
Games are meant to be fun, and Cartoon Action Hour is no exception. There are a zillion things the players could be doing instead of sitting around a table pretending to be someone else. That’s why you must make sure that a good
time is had by all.
This means keeping things on track when trouble pops up. If the players spiral into an argument, it’s up to you to defuse the situation. If one of the players begins disrupting the game by telling jokes or long-winded stories about gaming sessions of days gone by, you’re the one who gets to straighten her out. If a player starts bickering needlessly about the rules, you get to settle the issue.
Master of the Rules
It’s your responsibility to know the rules of the game. You can discard or modify the rules as you see ft, but you are the one who makes any and all judgments on the rules. Besides, becoming familiar with all the rules will speed the game up immeasurably, as you won’t need to constantly refer to the rulebook during the game.
Basic GM Skills
You’ll develop certain skills and abilities as you run more and more games. To help you along, we’ll discuss some of the areas you might want to concentrate on. Don’t let yourself feel overwhelmed by these. To be honest, your skills will improve over time. The more you run games, the better you’ll become.
As the GM, your aim is to give the players a solid idea of what their characters’ surroundings are like. There is a delicate balance to preserve in doing this. On one hand, you don’t want to skimp on the details – this will simply strip away the images in the players’ imaginations, making the game world a colorless, generic place. On the other hand, you don’t want to drown the players with your descriptions – if the players
really want to know exactly how many buttons are on an NPC’s jacket, then, they can ask you.
Give them enough detail to make the setting interesting, but not so much that the game bogs down. In general, give detailed descriptions of things that will either add to the atmosphere or have some importance to the story. You can mention the rest briefly.
Below are three examples.
Example 1: “You enter Lord Margoth’s castle. It has gray walls and there’s a big door on the opposite wall. Suddenly a sense of foreboding and dread washes over you.”
While the above example adequately tells you what your character sees, it lacks excitement, drama, or pizzazz. It works, but it’s definitely a no-frills approach. Let’s try again, shall we?
Example 2: ''“You push open the large wooden door, using the slate gray stone handle, and enter Lord Margoth’s castle. The first thing you see is a long staircase covered with a regal red carpet made of crushed velvet. On the wall is a morbid coat-of-
arms with six skulls, a set of crossed swords, and a green and brown snake. The ceiling of the room is roughly twenty feet from the floor and has a chandelier made of bone. Across the room is an ornate metal door with a gargoyle-themed handle. On the
floor, you see....”''
Wow! The GM in the above example was going overboard with describing every single detail. This isn’t necessary. When the GM drones on, it can have the not-so-positive effect of boring the players. Let’s have one more whack at it.
Example 3: “As you open the heavy wooden door, a musty odor hits your nose. You step inside Lord Margoth’s castle and immediately take notice of the long staircase leading to the upper sections of the structure. Morbid trappings, like a chandelier made of bone, fill the room, and you see an ornate metal door on the opposite wall.”
See? The above example provided a good atmosphere while giving the players a decent amount of information about their surroundings. The players quickly get a sense of their surroundings, yet they weren’t bombarded with an
abundance of useless information. This is what describing a scene is all about... implanting images in the players’ minds without having to spend an hour to do so.
The art of improvisation is crucial in Game Mastering. No matter how well planned your episode is, the players will invariably come up with something you never thought of.
And there’s nothing wrong with that – it keeps you on your toes. Besides, if the players never did anything unpredictable, much of the challenge would dissipate for you. It can be quite fun to keep the game going while improvising wildly. One important thing to remember is that you should avoid letting the game get too far off-track when improvising. Concoct some way to bring the action back in line with the plot. That said, you shouldn’t railroad the players into moving along a perfectly linear plot-path. Doing so will give the players the feeling of having no control. Give them plenty of choices, while still maintaining the point of the episode. It’s a fine line to walk, but it’s not nearly as difficult as it may at first seem.
Yes, gang, this means cheating. Not the malicious variety of cheating, though. Let me explain. Many G Ms
will ignore the actual die rolls during the game if it makes for a better story. If a player flubs a crucial roll at the climax of the episode and the story would be more interesting had the character succeeded, then by all means devise a way for her to succeed. It’s not really cheating if it makes for a better tale.
Don’t let the players know you’re fudging, though. Let them believe they succeeded on their own. It doesn’t harm anyone, so just keep it your own little secret. To fudge successfully, it’s a good idea for you to utilize a “GM screen.” Anything will
work for this - a folder, a cereal box, or an upturned open book. As long as it blocks the players’ view of your die rolls, you’re good to go. Many G Ms
dislike the idea of fudging. No problem. If it doesn’t seem right to you, go right ahead and stick exclusively to the rules.
Pacing is the art of keeping the game moving at an appropriate speed. If you’re running an edge-of-your-seat chase sequence, keep the action fast and furious. Don’t bog the game down with a heap of details. Talk fast and don’t give the players a whole
lot of time to think.
On the other hand, if you’re running a melodramatic scene where two best friends must part ways forever don’t zip through it at a break-neck speed. Allow the players to savor the moment and perhaps feel the emotion from the scene. Think about the scene you’re doing and pace it accordingly."
Next up CCM takes about doing Embracing the Genre—or in this case, the 1980s Retro-Toon Adventures. I let her do much of the talking here again.
"The retro-toon genre may be extremely wide open in terms of possibilities, but it has plenty of distinguishing characteristics that separate it from other genres. Many of these characteristics are discussed in depth below.
Logic in the retro-toons was drastically different than the logic in our own, more mundane, world. You’ll need to throw real world logic out the window when running Cartoon Action Hour, as it has no place in the game.
A hero leaping from the top of one airship to another goes against everything we know about physics, but in the retro-toons, it happened on a regular basis. Ditto: for pulling the rug out from under the bad guy’s feet, sending her flying through the air and onto her butt, or one hero dispatching, a horde of Goons.
The point is, cartoon logic is far more dramatic than real world logic and thus should be used whenever possible. If a player devises a creative but implausible maneuver or plan, by all means let her give it a try.
There are limits to this, obviously. A paramilitary commando shouldn’t be allowed to pick up the earth and move it out of the way of an incoming asteroid, no matter how cool it may seem. A superhero, on the other hand, may be able to pull that off. It’s simply an issue of you, the GM, making a judgment call about how far is too far and then sticking to it.
Cartoon Logic Examples
Some of these have already been mentioned in the main text and some
are even enforced by the game rules. They are included here for the sake
- When a flying vehicle explodes, there is always a parachute or escape pod employed.
- Guns may look like real guns, but they always shoot lasers. Bullets don’t seem to exist in the world of the retro-toons.
- Bladed weapons are everywhere, but they never actually cut anyone.
- Fire usually just makes characters turn black with soot. Burns never appear. In fact, fire is usually more of an implied threat than something that actually hurts characters.
- Quicksand (or something similar) is common, even though no one seems to die from it. Instead, they are rescued or sucked into an underground land.
- When a character is violently flung around and lands hard on the ground (or into a wall), it always makes an exaggeratedly funny “bounce” or “thump” kind of sound, accompanied by the “camera” shaking to maximize the effect of the impact.
- Master villains are inexplicably inclined to rattle off their plans to captured heroes, thinking them to no longer be a danger.
- Characters leaping from one airship to another.
- One hero can take on an entire group of goons.
- Rugs are unceremoniously yanked out from under characters, sending them hurling through the air.
- Heroes can temporarily disorient a villain by cramming a garbage can (or whatever) over her head and upper torso. This is usually accompanied by the villain bellowing, “Who turned the lights out?”
- Huge guns don’t deal as much damage to characters as they do to vehicles and structures. This is because they always seem to fail to score a direct hit on characters, resulting in a near hit. The impact from the nearby explosion sends the character into
a hard object.
Cheese and How to Use It
- Sentient beings cannot die, but non-sentient robots can be blown to smithereens with wild abandon. This is why robots were so common in the retro-toons.
- Noggin knockers (wherein a hero slams two villains’ heads together) are common and effective attacks.
- Gargantuan monsters with gaping maws can be stymied (at least for a moment) by jamming a large stick in its mouth, wedging it open and preventing it from chomping down.
- When a gunfight breaks out, almost every shot misses… even when thousands of guns are being fired.
- Men seldom (if ever) strike women in a direct manner. If you watch the old cartoons, you’ll notice that men hardly ever cause actual harm to the female characters, especially by a melee attack. In fact, whenever possible, men fought men and women fought women… and when it wasn’t possible, men put on the “kid gloves” when dealing with them.
Hey, we all love the retro-toons, but there’s no way to deny that they were laden with cheese. Certain series were lighter on it than others, but it was present in nearly every one of them. At first, this may sound like an insult to the genre, though that’s not the case at all. The cheesiness is a big part of the appeal! It’s one of the factors that set these brilliant shows apart from those that came later.
Since we have established the fact that the retro-toons were full of cheese, let’s also establish the fact that cheese can be used to add favor to your games of Cartoon Action Hour (pun most likely intended!). As the Game Master, you can have great fun by adding cheesy elements. Here are some ways to do exactly that.
Mention the Animation
Since you’re essentially playing out episodes from a fictitious cartoon series, you can describe the animation. This reinforces the fact that this isn’t just another RPG; this is an RPG about the retro-toons. Plus, it can help immerse the players in the
genre. A few examples of this are as follows:
- If there’s a trap door in the P Cs’ immediate area, mention that it is of a slightly different coloration than the surrounding terrain. This reflects the fact that the artists who drew the backgrounds were different than those who drew the “moving parts”
of the scene. The moving parts were usually a little bit brighter. While this tips the players off that there’s a trap door nearby, it all works out because it adds spice to the scene. Besides, some players are so “into” the genre that they’ll instantly have
their characters step right onto the trap door in question, just like the characters always seem to do in the retro-toons. This has actually happened on numerous occasions.
- The above actually goes for secret doors or even areas of a wall where a creature is going to burst through.
- For some reason, the animation for walking characters often looked stiff. So don’t fail to describe it that way… or better yet, imitate it!
- If the characters are using firearms, you can bet that they are emitting laser blasts, even if the guns are supposed to be machine guns or shotguns. Since this is the case, why not bring that up?
- The retro-toons were notorious for using stock footage. The most prominent example is a certain blonde-haired hero who transformed from a wimpy prince to a brave muscle man by using a magical sword. His cat changed too, if you still
aren’t sure whom we’re referencing. You can use it too, by mentioning that a particular scene or background is stock footage. Using it repeatedly throughout the series can be quite fun.
Have a Blast with Sound Effects
Before running Cartoon Action Hour, you should consider watching some retro-toons while paying close attention to the sound effects. You’ll find that some of these sound effects were used over and over again, even in different series. You can either record them or just imitate them during the game. Either method will suffice. If you use a particular laser gun sound for every laser used in the series, then you’re
establishing an offbeat kind of continuity.
Use Corny Dialogue
Don’t be afraid to insert clichéd dialogue and bad puns. In the same vein, don’t be afraid to spout it off in a manner that would make high quality voice actors cringe. Not all of the voice actors were good at their jobs, so it can be a hoot to mimic that aspect of things.
Many of the retro-toons were formatted so that each episode concluded with a 30-second vignette. The contents of these vignettes varied from series to series, though they typically fell into one of two types:
- Safety Tips: Safety tip segments typically featured kids doing something dangerous until one or two heroes inevitably came along and set them straight. Knowing is, as they say, half the battle.
- Moral of the Story: Moral of the Story segments tied directly into one or more of the events that transpired during the episode. It usually consisted of one of the heroes pointing out what the often heavy-handed moral was (“Truth is always
the best option”).
actually gain an Experience Point for taking part in the After-Show Message, as per the rules on page 61.
Running the After-Show Message
As GM, your job is a simple one in this case – set the scene and let the P Cs
do the rest. If you’re going for a Safety Tip, describe what the kids are doing and then tell the volunteering player(s) that their heroes see this going on. If you’re aiming for a Moral of the Story bit, tell the participating player what the moral is and allow her to run with it by means of narration.
Be aware, however, that few players are likely to play it straight. Brace yourself for some major wackiness, including some off color humor. While that may not be
authentic to the After-Show Messages from the retro-toons, it’ll probably end the game with a big laugh from all the players, which is always a good thing.
Besides, it’s always fun to watch the players exercise their wit and satirical abilities.
Multiple P Cs
Not every retro-toon focused on a small cast of primary heroes; quite the contrary. Some of them had large casts with rotating focuses. For example, one episode
may concentrate on two or three heroes, while the next one might concentrate on another batch entirely.
Obviously, if each player has but one character, this style of cartoon is going to be impossible to recreate. The solution is actually simpler than one might think. You could instruct the players to create more than one PC apiece so that you can alternate them accordingly from episode to episode.
The major advantage in this approach is variety. With so many heroes to work with, you’ll never run out of story ideas for them. It keeps things fresh and also prevents players from becoming bored with the series.
The disadvantage is that the individual P Cs
won’t gain as much experience, thus slowing down the advancement rate. Really, this disadvantage is a disadvantage only to the players. In a way, though, it’s not really a disadvantage to the overall series, because it regulates advancement, keeping power bloat from occurring.
It is entirely possible to run 30-minute episodes. Hey, why not? The retro-toon writers had roughly the same amount of time to tell a story, so there’s no reason why you can’t pull it off. Sure, the stories are going to be less intricate than they might ordinarily be, but there’s a certain charm to these fast-paced, straightforward episodes.
If you don’t feel comfortable with 30-minute episodes, try bumping them up to 45 minutes or even an hour. These lengths are still brief enough for you to get the
When running shorter episodes, you should consider utilizing scene-based combat for all but major showdowns. This alone will speed things up exponentially, giving you more time for non-combat sequences.
Saturday Morning Line-Ups
Running abbreviated episodes opens up a uniquely fun opportunity – the chance to play out a whole morning’s worth of series. By that, we mean that you can develop a handful of series and during your session run an episode of each one, back to back. This can create extra work for you as well as the players, but it’s remarkably rewarding.
Over the years, numerous series have hatched one or more animated movies. These movies generally boasted a more grandiose story, a darker tone, better animation, and lots of changes to the series from that point on.
Death may not have been a part of the retro-toons, but when a cartoon series spawned its own cartoon movie, all bets were off! Even during these movies, though, death didn’t come cheap. It was always a pivotal moment, chock-full of drama and sentiment.
Also, the movies’ plots were set on a larger scale. The scope and the stakes were almost always magnified.
Making The Movie Work
Design the story as a movie. In other words, make the plot self-contained and make it grandiose in comparison to other story-lines you’ve run for the series up to that point.
Pull out all the stops! Bring out the best bad guys! Do something unexpected! And, yes, allow death. But only when dramatically appropriate.
Playing out a movie is also a good excuse for changes in character attitudes, outlooks, or even physical form. Someone who’s really tired of her character can even use the movie as a nice dramatic way to remove their character from the game and start anew (and remember, if they later decide they liked their old character better, cartoon heroes have a hard time staying dead for long).
What follows is a list of suggested rules for you to use:
- Whenever a character gains her 4th Setback token, she must make an opposed check using her Stamina versus the attack Trait’s rating. Failure means that you can opt to kill her off. In all fairness, you should at least allow the character to hover at death’s door long enough to say a few last words, hopefully something melodramatic and poignant.
- All P Cs begin the movie with two additional base Oomph. This can push the number to higher than the normal limit of 5. The movie should be where all the coolest stuff happens and that begins with the P Cs having more cinematic leeway.
- Characters receive 2 to 3 Experience Points (your call) instead of just 1 for participating in the movie. After the movie, characters that played a role in it may
immediately advance. Treat it as if it were the end of a season.
The Star of the Show
It was commonplace for the retro-toons to have one hero that acted as the star of the show while the other heroes played second fiddle to her. Sometimes, the star character was really no more powerful than the others, but the stories revolved around her. Other times, however, the star was clearly superior to her
comrades. The amount by which she was more powerful varied from series to series, ranging from slightly more capable to so much more potent that there was hardly a reason for the other heroes to exist.
When a show did have a star hero, the series itself was typically named after him in full (“The Adventures of Justarr”) or in part (“Steel Man and the Protectors of the Galaxy”).The “star” concept works better for a cartoon than it does for a role-playing game. After all, few players want to play second banana to a fellow player’s hero. This can quite easily spoil the fun for the players. However, some playing groups
may have no problem playing sidekicks, finding it more of a challenge.
In any event, it puts your Game Mastering skills to the test, because it’s your job to provide all the heroes with balanced challenges... and something that may be a challenge for the second-string heroes may be a cakewalk for the main
protagonist. One way to do this is to have two types of villains: ones that can go toe-to-toe with the lesser heroes and ones that can duke it out with the star. And do your best to discourage the main hero from polishing off the other heroes’ villains for them. Such behavior is bad form and directly goes against the spirit of the cartoons.
If you want the star hero to be slightly tougher than the others, allow the character an extra 2-4 Po P Ps
to build it with. If you’re after a star that is moderately more proficient than the co-stars, add 5- 10 Po P Ps
. If you’re aiming to make the star vastly more powerful, hand out an extra 11-20 Po P Ps
The “camera” doesn’t need to be focused on the heroes all the time. In fact, the retro-toons often used a spiffy little method of showing what’s going on elsewhere called cut scenes. Cut scenes can be a great asset to you when running Cartoon Action Hour.
A cut scene is simply a scene that takes place solely with NP Cs
. The players get to see what happens, but it’s important to stress to them that their characters don’t and therefore they cannot act upon it. It’s just a narrative device that can make things more entertaining and retro-toon-a-rifc.
The most common use of cut scenes is when the retro-toons would show the bad guys
doing bad guy things. Perhaps the Master Villain is shown bawling out his underlings for their failure. Or maybe a couple of henchmen are depicted carrying out an important part of the Master Villain’s most recent evil scheme.
Of course, not all cut scenes have to revolve around villains. You can employ them for almost any purpose, which often entails centering upon the P Cs
’ allies or even completely neutral parties.
Putting Cut Scenes to Use
To carry out a cut scene, you must play the roles of all the characters participating in it. This may feel a bit awkward at first, but don’t give up. It comes easier in time. In addition to adding entertainment for the players, cut scenes prove useful in another way as well. They can be utilized to help show the passage of time. By moving away from the main scene to a cut scene and then back again, you can dictate that a certain amount of time has passed.
EXAMPLE: The P Cs are involved in a scene in which they are receiving their mission that will involve traveling to a far-away land. Once the scene wraps up, the GM goes to a cut scene that involves the villains. After that, he cuts back to the P Cs, who have now just arrived at the aforementioned “far-away land”.
One last thing to remember is that cut scenes should be kept short and to-the-point. The players are there to get involved in the action, not to watch you perform a one-person stage show."
This Channel is done. They is no "NYK" for this chapter, so I'm free to move to each feature series after this post is up.