While creators of roleplaying game adventures focus on elements such as characters and encounters, they may be missing a fundamental part of great storytelling: emotion. RPG expert Robin D. Laws takes a look at the emotional beats of three classics, often putting them in RPG terms, in his book Hamlet's Hit Points.

Laws begins by defining the types of beats used in a narrative: procedural (affecting the protagonist's external or practical goal), dramatic (affecting the protagonist's inner goals), commentary (details on the story's thematic elements), anticipation (foreshadowing success), gratification (a pure feel-good moment), bringdown (a pure feel-bad moment), pipe (providing information, often shown to be significant later), question (something the audience wants to know the answer to),and reveal (an answer). He also defines the main results of these beats as hope and fear. Laws uses icons for each beat, along with upwards-pointing arrows for hope and downward-pointing ones for fear.

With these elements defined and illustrated, Laws applies them to three classic works: Hamlet, Dr.No and Casablanca. For each work Laws breaks down the work into beats, describing how each beat affects the viewer and established a series of rises and falls in the hope and fear of the audience. The top of each page has the icons for the beats discussed below.

Hamlet's Hit Points is useful -- to a point. Laws does an excellent job illustrating how the classics work by carefully pacing out their rises and falls, manipulating the audience with a great degree of subtlety. He also writes well, with a good sense of humor ("Unhappy Nazis are always an up arrow") and a good way to bridge the world of theater and cinema with the RPG. My concern is that in the world of the RPG -- where player choices can send things in wildly different directions than what the gamemaster wanted -- planning procedural and dramatic beats is subject to the wildly unknown. Hamlet's Hit Points isn't essential to creating a great adventure or campaign -- but it does address a part of the RPG world that's too easily overlooked.

Overall grade: B
Reviewed by James Lynch

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