Marvel Plot Points

A fan site for the Marvel Heroic Roleplaying Game by Margaret Weis Productions

Structuring Events the Marvel Movie Way

If any of you out there are like me, you can’t get enough of the movies and TV shows coming out of Marvel Studios. There are plenty of superhero movies out there these days, and while it’s great that the technology of movie making has caught up to the imaginations of comic book writers (for now, anyway), there is a difference between good movies and bad. Is it casting? Special effects? The loads of trivia they cram on the screen? Well, if you didn’t read the title of this post, then the thing that makes the difference between a well told story and something less than good is: Structure.

I have found that the thing I really like about the Marvel movies is that they really move along. Often enough I will sit through a selected film and the credits are rolling before I even realize any time has passed. I don’t feel cheated, and I don’t feel like the movie was too short. To the contrary, I am thoroughly entertained by most of what I’ve seen. The reason for this is that a good movie follows a good flow and when that flow is played out, it feels as natural as breathing. That is where I hope to go here.

The Hook

(I should note that this idea of a ‘Hook’ is a bit different from the one found in the Operations Manual. That kind of Hook lets everyone know where the heroes were before the story started. This one is about how they get in.)

A good story needs investment. A Hook is what gets you into the story. For example, in Breakout (New Avengers #1), before anything else happens, you get two pages of the conversation where Electro is hired to crack open the Raft. That bit of information doesn’t appear in the published event, but it might be the sort of thing a Watcher can show his or her players to get them involved after the players lay out what they’re doing before the Raft goes Ka-blooey.

Joseph Campbell and the Monomyth

If you’ve ever seen Star Wars, then you’ve had an education in the Monomyth. The Monomyth is an idea developed by Joseph Campbell as a tool for analyzing literature. The claim is that many great stories from around the world follow a similar framework of steps and phases that appeal to people on some basic level. I’m not going to go into a long drawn out discussion of the Monomyth (check out the link for that), but I will outline the three main points:

  • Departure: The hero or heroes establish their normal lives leading up to the events that send them on the mission.
  • Initiation:  The hero or heroes have adventures that guide transformation.
  • Return: Things return to normal, but the heroes have changed.

Keeping these concepts as the backbone of what you’re doing, you can easily avoid the meandering plot that essentially goes nowhere. In a game of Marvel Heroic Roleplaying, this can keep players engaged with the story as your Action/Transition Scene format never loses sight of the goal.

Generally, Marvel movies follow this format, and there’s a good reason for it. It works.

The Stinger

There’s another convention that the Marvel movies have embraced. It is called the Stinger, and it’s an additional scene inserted somewhere in the end credits of the movie. I always look forward to these because they give a clue as to what we’ll be seeing in future movies. Without these, movie viewers would have no idea about Thanos, the Infinity Stones, or a number of other things that the various Stingers have told us about. What’s even funnier is that those scenes are the parts of the movies that people can’t stop talking about. It’s as though the movies barely exist without them.

I suggest trying the Stinger. As a Watcher, you usually have a good idea where you want to go next after the story ends. Use that. If you’re doing a major Event, like, say, Civil War, there’s likely a clear end game you want to maneuver toward. There are always things that can build to that. Sprinkle them between sessions; hint at the next session. The possibilities are wide open here, and this can be a great tool to make players hungry for the next session. Even if you tease something a month or two ahead of time, they’ll be itching for the payoff.

Here’s just something to think about. If you have anything to say about it, please let us now in the comments.


This is really worth mentioning. Mark posted a while ago about setting up your universe the way the Marvel movies have with side games leading up to the first full session. I think it feeds nicely into what I’m doing here. Check it out.


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This entry was posted on February 10, 2014 by in Cinematic Universe and tagged , , , .

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