So, Avengers has been out long enough that I am comfortable spoiling minor bits of it. That said, I recognize that a little warning is in order, so here it is – I’m about to discuss a minor plot twist from The Avengers.
Ok, Loki has a magic stick. If he touches your heart with it, you serve him loyally. Late in the game, Loki and Tony Stark have a fantastic scene which culminates in Loki attempting to use the stick on Stark. This is a good plan on Loki’s part, but it fails because Stark has the arc reactor gizmo over his heart. This isn’t really explained within The Avengers, but anyone who’s seen Iron Man knows this.
In many senses of narrative, this is a HUGE cheat. If this had worked, Loki’s plan would have almost certainly succeeded, and it was dumb luck that it didn’t work.
Success through dumb luck makes for pretty lame narrative, and this bit bugged me at first, but I realized something – it wasn’t about the narrative. That was a moment of satisfaction for the audience. From the very start of that scene, many nerds were already wondering about the interaction of stick and reactor, and even if you weren’t, when it failed, it was a moment that let you, as a member of the audience, get it, and that’s a pretty powerful reward.
This is on my mind because in RPGs, players have elements of both protagonist and audience, but it’s very easy to focus purely on their role as protagonist when thinking about narrative and fiction. Doing so can be very rewarding, but it’s easy to forget that you may get more punch from crossing the fourth wall (so to speak) and violating the rules of narrative in order to deliver a reward directly to your players. Help them feel smart or awesome.
And yes, there are ways to do this within the narrative, but they strain things. Avengers suggests to me that it might sometimes be worth cutting out the middleman and jumping right to your players.