Back in July of 2016 I went a bit off topic to blog about a new TV series I saw: Stranger Things. What a difference a few years make, as the show went on to become a cultural sensation and further promoted the D&D legacy into our culture.
Recently I had the opportunity to watch a new show, The Mandalorian, that has quickly become the new “It Show”. Much of that is due to the popularity of Star Wars for over 40 years, and some of it to the quality of the show.
I’m not going to review the show or risk spoilers, but just in case—spoiler alert! What struck me the most about the show was how closely it adhered to classic RPG beats. It was similar to reading a RPGLit book—the dice rolls, traditions and tropes were all right there on the screen. Some may argue that these are devices more similar to video games; that may be true but video games themselves drew from tabletop traditions. I find this revealing: for decades Star Wars was defined as following ancient mythical storylines: The Heroes Journey and classic fairy tales wrapped in a fantasy/scifi setting. But throughout the Star Wars trilogy there hasn’t really been traditional gaming mechanics. Yes, characters develop some abilities—mostly the young Jedi protagonists—but this was done through plot advancement and some handwaving. (Lukes Jedi training might only have lasted in days or weeks, and yet was the sum of his formal education in the movies).
The Mandalorian is a completely different beast. There is a serial adventure nature to the show. “Mando” finishes adventures with special alloy treasure that he brings to the “Armorer” to have forged into upgraded equipment. There are side adventures. There is new, cool equipment that gives added abilities and firepower. The Mando takes real damage, needs healing and is restrained by ammo and weapon limitations. You have temporary NPC’s (who mostly die and thus don’t have a lengthy plotline) that aid the Mandalorian for that particular adventure. I think it’s incredible that popular culture is embracing (perhaps unknowingly) a clear gaming format into a high-profile serialized event.
I’m not sure I’ve seen another high budget show that adheres to gaming mechanics in such a clear way. Thoughts?