This post will be revealing plot elements from the latest Marvel Studio’s theatrical release, Guardians of the Galaxy.
If you are here for a review, the movie is great, go see it. My daughter didn’t want to, she grudgingly went, and then demanded to see it again.
I’ve been known to read a comic book or two, in my time, but I’ll admit to not being up to speed on the sequential fiction magazines that the movie Guardians of the Galaxy was based on. But the trailer made me want to see the movie, even if I didn’t know who the characters were.*
But even though this story was very new to me, I had a strong sense of familiarity while watching, in part due to the recognizable and nostalgia-inducing soundtrack, but mostly because this story was pretty much what I had wanted out of every Dungeons & Dragons campaign I’d ever played in.
You Find Yourself in a Tavern…
Back in High School, I played a measurable quantity of D & D (I hesitate to say I played “a lot” because I never ended up being sacrificed by cultists in a steam tunnel, as some were predicting, and therefore I’m not sure it qualifies as “a lot”) and in general, every fresh campaign would start out the same way.
We’d make characters with some sketchy backstories and the Dungeon Master would suggest that some of the characters at least had some connections to make things easier, and then we’d all be plopped in a tavern to start the adventure. Usually to start off marching towards the nearest orc-lair or ancient dwarven ruin. (They were always referred to as ‘dungeons.’)
Occasionally, we wanted to have a break from fantasy, and we’d do some science fiction role-play gaming. Back in ye olde days, that meant playing Traveler, a game where making the character was nearly as fun as the actual game.
I think our Game Master (since it wasn’t D & D there wasn’t a Dungeon Master; try to keep up…) originally tried to start an adventure with having our newly made sci-fi characters meet in a space-tavern. It was a disaster. There wasn’t a nearby dungeon to invade, and no one wanted to team up without a compelling reason.
So the GM immediately had our characters arrested by superior forces. The one character who owned a ship had it conveniently impounded at the prison, and we’d had to work together to escape.
Boom. Guardians of the Galaxy. Watching that scenario unfold on screen brought back warm fuzzy memories. (I’m not talking about the Raccoon, don’t be weird.)
The movie even had that guy who missed the first gaming session.
GM: Okay, roll up a character and you’ll be in lockup with them.
Drax: Can I play a Jedi Knight? Or a Wizard? Can I have weird super-powers?
GM: Actually, just use this character here. You can use a knife.
GM: Fine. Two knives.
Drax also got to be the player who could be relied on to do that one really dumb thing, just to make the game more exciting.
GM: Okay, you’re in the Celestial Head, looking to make some money from the Collector.
Drax: I haven’t fought anything in a while. I make a call to Ronan and tell him where to find us.
GM: Quiet, you guys are all too busy to notice Drax making the call.
A little random plot complication can be a great thing.
Team Composition: The Trinity
People who’ve played MMORPGs (feel free to Google the acronym, people) have come across the Holy Trinity of Team Composition:
DPS stands for Damage-Per-Second, you needed team members who could pile on damage to overcome opponent’s rate at which they’d self-heal. Very important.
Tank would be a very survivable character who would attract incoming fire, to keep the rest of the team alive by not having them killed while they lay down the DPS.
Healer: they keep the Tank alive.
I think this classification system arose from Everquest (which I never played) but found its footing in online gamer consciousness via World of Warcraft (which I played a little bit.)
I played the hell out of City of Heroes, a superhero MMO, and although DPS-Tank-Healer was a reasonable framework in building up teams, there was an alternative trinity:
It’s all very similar to the typical team trinity, with a different specification.
Ranged characters bring the damage from a distance. They sacrifice survivability for being able to do big damage (if this is a balanced game.) They kind of fill the DPS role.
Melee characters brings the damage up close and personal. They have to be survivable, with some melee types (again if we’re balanced here) trading damage output for hardiness. They kind of fill the Tank role and DPS role.
Support characters keep everyone alive. Calling them Healers is too simple. Sometimes support characters improve combat abilities, so damage mitigation (mitigating damage from the enemy) occurs by killing the enemy on the first strike, other support actions heal reactively, but in general protect the team proactively.
There are similar analogues in tabletop roleplaying. Clerics were a mix of Melee/Support. Wizards were glass-cannon Ranged/Support, depending on what kind of wizard you wanted to play.
Why all this game theory talk? I’m just saying that the five-man lineup of the Guardians was a well-balanced team.
Gamora and Drax were the Melee types(with Drax being more of a Tank character), Star-Lord brought the Ranged proficiency, and both Rocket and Groot represented Support (with differing levels of combat secondaries, Ranged and Melee respectively.)
*The team’s assembled, roles are discussed.*
Star-Lord: Rocket and I do ranged. Drax, you pull aggro and hold it.
Gamora: If he can. I generate an obscene amount of aggro.
Star-Lord: We’re kind of light on control and support.
Groot: I Am Groot!
Rocket: We got that covered in spades, pretty-boy.
I’m totally up for a gaming discussion. Bring it.
Using the Archetype
I can’t speak for all gamers out there, but when making a character, I like to start with some known archetype or a character I really that I’m fond of, and model mine from there. Ideally, the finished concept should be different enough from the original so it doesn’t seem like a lame rip-off.
(They’re not rip-offs, man! They’re homages!)
For example: Peter Quill/Star-Lord, is totally a Buck Rogers homage.
Whaaaat? I hear you say. There’s nothing similar between Star-Lord and Gil Gerard’s Buck Rogers! Well, other than they’re both from the 80s.
There actually might be a lot in common, but I’m not talking about the Buck Rogers in the 25th Century movie (and television show.) I’m going further back.
The original Buck Rogers was a regular guy who, through mysterious means (I think it was a cave-in or something) awakens in the highly-advanced but troubled 25th century. He’s a plucky brave young fellow and quickly adapts, becoming a hero equipped with a ray gun, a jet pack, and a life-supporting bubble helmet. (Back then, a bubble helmet was all you needed, yo.)
Peter Quill isn’t in the 25th century, but being abducted by aliens and whisked across the galaxy to a high tech society in need of plucky brave heroes has a similar vibe. And he’s got ray guns, jet boot attachments, and the equivalent of a life-supporting bubble helmet. Which is totally all he needs to survive the vacuum of space, yo.
If I was doing some sci-fi gaming, and I went a Buck Rogers or Peter Quill route, I’d play them similarly, using the fish-out-of-water wry-observation-maker-on-the-alien-culture route. It’s a nice personality framework to operate in.
Sure, this isn’t a groundbreaking observation – employing archetypes was a long standing deal way before George Lucas accidentally did it so well in Star Wars, and so badly when he consciously tried it in The Phantom Menace. But it’s a tool gamers make use of, and I enjoyed seeing this archetypal personality in Star-Lord.
The Dark Aster – the Big Flying Dungeon
A good gaming session is paced between big set piece fights, the finale of a campaign (or mini-campaign) back in the old D & D gaming days was an assault on the final level of the Dungeon.
It didn’t matter what the Dungeon was:
- the old ruin where we’d discovered some dark magic was being brewed,
- or the castle the prince/princess/Egg-McMuffin that the king would pay us for was held,
- or the battlefield HQ of the Big Bad who’d organized the orc clans and got them into an annoying trade union.
With the Dark Aster, we got something like all three of the above.
A fortress to be fought through, with an object to retrieve, during a high stakes battle for civilization.
And there were opportunities for extra people who showed up to game that night.
GM: Okay, here’s a character sheet. You’re a Ravager and you get a ship.
Yondu: Sweet! I get to kill things!
GM: It’s really important that you kill things.
(Yondu also gets to be that guy who tries to derail the plot at the end and ruin the game.)
Yondu: I force Pete to give me the orb!
Star-Lord: *winking to GM* Sure, but like, don’t open it until you get it to your buyer. You know how dangerous it is.
Yondu: I totally open it to make sure he’s not tricking me.
GM: *rolls dice* Nope, you believe the orb’s got the infinity gem. Eventually you discover that he’s tricked you.
Star-Lord: I put a troll in the orb! Boom!
It’s important not to let the plot be derailed, too much.
Okay, Guardians of the Galaxy was a complete blast. If you haven’t seen it, it’s too bad that you read this and have been spoiled.
I have a big urge get some friends over and get some dice rolling. Do something good, do something bad, or maybe a little of both?
A little of both.
Most images from Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy, obviously.
Buck Rogers artwork by the original series illustrator Dick Calkins; image of Gil Gerard and Erin Gray as Captain Buck Rogers and Colonel Wilma Deering is from the movie Buck Rogers in the 25th Century.
* Full disclosure: I’d read comics with a previous incarnation of Star-Lord (who was Peter Quill, but not an abducted kid raised by alien criminals, if I recall correctly) and Drax (who flew around and had energy blasting powers. I think?) I’m pretty sure I’d read stories with Gamora, hanging out with the soul-gem carrying Adam Warlock. I knew nothing of Rocket and Groot. But now I am Groot.
I make no claims to the artwork, but some claims to most of the text above. Clearly, where I’m quoting the movie at the end of the article: I have no claim on that.
© Patrick Sponaugle 2014 Some Rights Reserved