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RPG Superstar 2015

Hamlet's Hit Points

***( )( ) (based on 1 rating)

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Hamlet's Hit Points presents a toolkit that helps make storytelling in any RPG easier and more fun by classifying story beats and letting you track their ups and downs from hope to fear and back.

Armed with these tools, you'll be equipped to lay compelling track for an emotional roller-coaster that will keep everyone at your game table involved, excited, riveted.

In these pages, you'll find definitions of nine critical story beats. You'll read about the relationships between those beats. You'll also find complete analyses of three stories you know already—Hamlet, Casablanca, and Dr. No— to show you how the system works.

Written with roleplayers in mind, Hamlet's Hit Points is an indispensable tool for understanding stories, in games and everywhere else.

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Product Reviews (1)

Average product rating:

***( )( ) (based on 1 rating)

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Pizza, no chocolate.

***( )( )

Finding this book was like stumbling across a chocolate pizza joint. It promises to combine two of my favourite topics -- Shakespeare and role-playing games -- as if they were made to go together. Alas, poor Yorick; such a harmonious fusion was too good to be true.

Robin Laws's slim book conducts a blitzkrieg narrative analysis of three "classic" stories -- Hamlet, Dr. No, and Casablanca. The purpose of these detailed studies is to demonstrate Laws's unique system of classifying "beats" and tracking up-and-down movements on a "hope/fear" graph. In theory, by seeing how these three stories operate, gamemasters should then be able to improve the narrative flow of their game sessions.

The narrative analyses themselves are fascinating -- at least, as a writer, I found them so. Laws's system isn't airtight, but it does help to see the storytelling flow in a different way than the standard (and much-abused) Freytag Narrative Arc. Some editing flaws create problems (his graphs don't always match his explanations, and he inexplicably omits one scene of Hamlet in Act Three), but if this were an academic thesis on narrative flow and audience reception, Laws would earn at least a couple of letters after his name. He also manages to keep things entertaining, especially when poking fun of the Freudian undertones (overtones?) of the Bond film.

Sadly, when it comes time to demonstrate how to apply all of these tricks, turns, and techniques to RPGs, Laws drops the ball. Of the book's 192 pages, a paltry 5 pages are devoted to role-playing narrative strategies. Granted, there are a few sidebars elsewhere in the book, and sometimes his narrative analysis refers to RPGs, but mostly just to remind us how unlike role-playing his case studies are. And let's face it, he's right; as much as I love Shakespeare and Hamlet, I'd never dream of trying to run a group of D&D players through it (Claudius would be dead in under ten minutes).

As cogent as Laws's narrative analyses are, his role-playing advice is nigh impenetrable. He relies on his pre-established terminology, but hardly provides any gaming examples -- or, when he does, he sticks to vagueness like this:

"If you spot a comparatively large number of the non-central gratification, bringdown, and commentary beats on your preliminary breakdown, cut them or find ways to fold them into your procedural or dramatic storylines. For example, your adventure notes may consist of reams of detail on a cool place, culture, or historical event. Matching these elements up with beat types helps you to turn them from passive narration into active events the players can shape through their decisions and die rolls."

I didn't really need to be told that players dislike info dumps, and I wish that Laws's solution made sense in practical terms, or that he could provide a few examples that came from role-playing.

And that, I think, is where Hamlet's Hit Points suffers its critical fumble: role-playing is an interactive, improvised, imagination-driven medium, which makes it ALMOST NOTHING like theatre or film. If this book had simply put forth a new approach to narrative analysis -- if it had been pure pizza, hold the chocolate -- it might not have found its niche market, but it would have been a much more satisfying read.



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