Arrows and Shields of GM Styles

I started watching Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. when it premiered, and hearing all the comparisons to Arrow caused my curiosity to pique about that show. There are a lot of things you could say on the subject of those two serials set in a world of superheroes; Rob Donoghue recently said some smart things about the relationships on the shows’ early episodes.

From the first episode, I was hooked on Arrow. MAoS, not so much, but I’m watching it because history tells me that Joss Whedon is a slow builder. Here’s where the comparison, for me, turned to gaming — specifically on GMing and starting a campaign:

  • Arrow is the campaign that an excited GM puts together for a group that doesn’t necessarily have buy-in to the game, and fills that first session with enough action, intrigue, and mystery to get people wanting to come back to the next session.
  • Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is the campaign that a long-term GM puts together for a group of friends who all know him well enough to trust that he’ll not drop the ball, and be okay spending the first few sessions slowing engaging the world in neat and tidy ways.

You need to know what sort of campaign you’re starting, as do all of your players. Are you looking to blast out with an Arrow-style campaign, or slow-build with a MAoS-style one?

There are pitfalls with each style, with the obvious one for the MAoS setup being that your players need to be on board and trust you with the slow build. (If you look at the Internet, you see some people who keep watching with faith, and others who are grumbling, so you might not have 100% of either at your table, but a mix.)

The Arrow setup can get buy-in pretty strongly, but whereas the MAoS one holds a general promise of “this will get more interesting once we lay groundwork,” Arrow’s makes a direct problem of “these things that happened in the first session will be important, and we’ll resolve what’s introduced in future sessions.” If you don’t manage the mystery and intrigue elements, and just try to pile on more in order to hide that you’re not good at resolution, it’s gonna crash and burn.

There isn’t much more to compare to, because they’re very different shows — there’s more fruit in comparing Agents of SHIELD[1] to Leverage than to Arrow. (The exception being talking about how the larger worlds of their IP, but MAoS is still building.) Still, looking at the two shows is like looking at two different GM styles.

– Ryan

[1] Man alive, typing that out as-billed is annoying.


One Response to Arrows and Shields of GM Styles

  1. Mike Myler says:

    This is an excellent way of looking at it.
    It’ll be interesting to consider when we see if the budding, quick-prep, flash campaign of Arrow breaks into the full-fledged, epic experience that MAoS was(is?) supposed to be.