Welcome to Guidance! Every so often I dive back into this special category of blog for Guidance called the Algalon Paradigm. Its named for the World of Warcraft character, Algalon the Observer, who’s basically this celestial dude who’s been sent to the World of Warcraft to judge whether or not their world is corrupted / worthy of continued existence. Now, I’m not THAT harsh in this blug, since I generally write about things I enjoy and are useful to you, my readers. And boy, do I have one for y’all today! Today, we’re going to talk about Gravity Falls.
… and I’m sure half of you are now humming its catchy theme song. And those of you who know it and aren’t, are. God I’m awful.
Gravity Falls is a Disney Channel… wait! Come back! I promise I have a good reason for talking about this! Come BACK!
Gravity Falls is a Disney Channel series about two twins, Dipper and Mabel Pines, who are sent off to Oregon to spend their summer at the fictional town of Gravity Falls, where their “Grunkle” (Great + Uncle = Grunkle) Stan lives. Stan’s something of a … hackney business man? Yeah, let’s go with that. He runs a shop called the Mystery Shack where it’s established very early on that he basically swindles peoples into believing that different junky attractions he and his worker, Sues, builds are actually paranormal relics. At first Dipper is very skeptical about the whole ordeal while his sister basically tries to make the best out of a bad situation when he discovers a mysterious journal out in the middle of the woods. The journal has writings about all sorts of strange paranormal occurences around Gravity Falls. Before Dipper can ride the book off as the ramblings of a madman, however, he and his sister encounter one of those supernatural occurrences, and the rest of the series is centered around exploring the mysteries and oddities of Gravity Falls!
A LOT happens in this series despite only being two seasons long, and the series heavily focuses around the mystery of Dipper’s journal—who wrote it and what does it mean? The narrative is expertly crafted as a mystery, and while it’s safe to say that there are filler episodes (especially in Season 1 when the show is trying to find its legs), most of those filler episodes have a great payoff in the series finale. It’s a fun, entertaining show that does the mystery genre better service then many adult series. Much, much better….
Lessons for GMs
Gravity Falls has a lot of lessons for GMs looking to run a mystery-themed campaign. Here are a few of them:
- The GM PC: Gravity Falls has an AMAZING GM NPC in Grunkle Stan in that the series only uses him when it’s important. In the early seasons, he’s almost a minor character in how much he contributes to the plot, but once the status quo has been established and the big reveal had in Season 1, the writers start to indicate that there’s more to Grunkle Stan then initially thought, and the mystery surrounding the character becomes the main focus of the first half of season 2, which naturally results in him joining the main cast for the action bits more often.
- A Sprinkling of Clues: One of the important ideas in Gravity Fall’s writing is that clues to the story’s mystery don’t come in predictable ways. You don’t see clues at the end of every episode, and when an episode gives a clue it’s not always right at the end. Sometimes our protagonists don’t realize they’ve found a clue, and that’s okay. Our protagonists don’t really realize what sort of mystery they’re in for throughout most of the series, and even when all of the mysteries seem lost and the heroes are placed in the climatic battle railroad, questions still arise regularly.
- Strong Supporting Cast: One of the big problems that mysteries often fall into is that they don’t have a strong supporting cast of characters who are friendly—it’s usually a very us-or-them mentality in that most of the supporting characters are suspects (see Scooby Doo for a perfect example on this: every character, even the nice ones, are effectively suspects on the show). Having a strong supporting cast of friendly characters allows Gravity Falls to really up the stakes of a number of its episodes, and it allows the protagonists to have something to fight for throughout the series.
- Multiple Villains: The series has a LOT of villains, but as the series goes on and explores them it starts to reveal which ones are evil by choice and which are evil by circumstance. It makes for an incredibly satisfying sequence as people that are initially presented as “bad guys” get explained and broadened as the show goes on. By the end of the series, several villains even have satisfying, series-long redemption arcs. This is a little harder to pull off in an RPG where the mentality is KILL EVERYONE, but if done well its very satisfying.
- Prophecy Awry: There’s this major prophecy in Gravity Falls that’s hidden in sight in the shadows for most of the series, one that you might literally miss if you’re not paying attention. The circumstances set by the prophecy come to pass, but when the heroes go to try and make use of the prophecy to save the day—IT FAILS. It leaves the main characters scrambling about for a solution to solve the problem and defeat the villain, and it’s so satisfying because it completely flips the trope and all of its expectations on its head. You think you’re at the conclusion, but NOPE IT’S JUST GETTING STARTED.
There are plenty more reasons to love Gravity Falls as a GM, but I need to spend some time packing up for GenCon 2018, so I’m cutting it short here. If you’re not going to the show, why not pick up Gravity Falls and check it out? It’s a fun adventure with strong mystery elements that will keep you guessing even when everything’s seemingly in the open. I won’t have an article out next week, but when I return fresh from GenCon, I’ll be going over my experience as a Tier I GM running nearly endless sessions of Pathfinder 2E! Looking forward to it! But until then, take care!
Alexander “Alex” Augunas has been playing roleplaying games since 2007, which isn’t nearly as long as 90% of his colleagues. Alexander is an active freelancer for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game and is best known as the author of the Pact Magic Unbound series by Radiance House. Alex is the owner of Everyman Gaming, LLC and is often stylized as the Everyman Gamer in honor of Guidance’s original home. Alex also cohosts the Private Sanctuary Podcast, along with fellow blogger Anthony Li, and you can follow their exploits on Facebook in the 3.5 Private Sanctuary Group, or on Alex’s Twitter, @AlJAug.