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Learning From the Battlestar Galactica Series Bible

I discovered that the Battlestar Galactica Series Bible is available on the net (after reading about it in

If you’re a fan of the re-imagined series, you’ll find it interesting. It contains a lot of insight into the show, how they approached the characterizations and shot it.

RPG Related

Specifically for the RPG-minded, the series bible provides a little insight into how the pros create a world, structure story lines and develop characters.

Multiple Story Arcs

Starting on Page 30 is the chapter on storylines. According to the text, they used a modified version of the three-tiered story structure used in Hill Street Blues:

  1. Series Arcs
  2. Multi-Episodic Arcs
  3. Stand Alone Arcs.

This may look a bit familiar to those of you who’ve developed store lines for campaigns. When designing campaigns, we generally have a campaign-spanning story arc (the party will eventually discover that the demon lord Orcus is behind the terrible troubles the world is suffering, and they’ll have to go find him and stop him).

Personally, I’ve also employed multi-episodic story arcs as well. There might be a mysterious cult that’s opening demon gates. The party tracks them down and disrupts their efforts. But why were they doing it in the first place? This speaks to the campaign-spanning story arc.

I’m not sure the three-tiered story arc approach has a lot of applicability to the average RPG group. It’s sometimes difficult for a party to keep one story arc straight — especially if you aren’t playing regularly. Trying to keep three story arcs (the current session’s arc, the short-term arc and the campaign arc) straight might be too much to ask.

One might argue that this would be a lot for the average TV viewer to keep straight. I think the show’s producers knew this, which is why there was always a “previously on Battlestar Galactica” sequence at the beginning of every show.

This technique can also work for an RPG group. Many of us will often try to recap the previous session. But if you watched the series, you may remember that their “previously on Battlestar Galactica” sequences would sometimes reach back several episodes (or seasons) to refresh the viewers memories of important plot points.

While this can give away what might happen in the coming session, it could prove helpful. If the party met a particular mage several sessions before, and he’s going to make another appearance, the gm might say, “and several months ago, you met Glagnar, the fire mage, a fierce battle ensued, and he was forced to flee.”

Yes, the party will be waiting for Glagnar to make his entrance, but this might also create some tension amongst the players. Just when is Glagnar going to show up? Is he more powerful than last time? Is he bringing friends? Did he learn from our last encounter, so that he’s going to be harder to beat?

Character Biographies

The other valuable section of the series bible starts on Page 12 — the Character Biographies. This offers two valuable insights.

The first is that you get to see how the pros write character backgrounds. They are not detailed, but they hit on important moments in the characters’ lives and how those moments created the characters. This approach gives the actors (ie, players) a frame of reference for how their characters will react to situations in the here-and-now.

Spoiler Alert!!!

Seriously, if you haven’t seen the series, stop reading, or you get pissed at me for revealing some big plot twists.

Okay, I’ll assume they’re all gone.

The other very valuable insight into the creative process can be found in Colonel Tigh’s and Chief Tyrol’s back stories. If you watched the entire series, you’ll know that they are both Cylons — along with Tigh’s wife, who is mentioned in his biography.

We all like to think that the writers and producers of a series like Battlestar Galactica had the whole storyline in their collective heads when they started the series.

But I don’t think this is true. If you compare their biographies to Boomer’s (who is know to be a Cylon very early on), you can see that the planning that took place in Boomer’s biography differs greatly from Tigh’s and Tyrol’s.

I contend that they didn’t know these characters would turn out to be Cylons when the series started — rather, they determined which character’s would be the final four as the series developed.

This is a very heartening revelation to me. I’ve often come up with plot twists on-the-fly, by making the determination as to how the twist will work and remain consistent with the story that’s already happened.

I always thought I was kind of cheating by doing this, but if the writers for BSG can do it, then so can I!

Anyway, check out the series bible — it’s a good read.

Written by

Stu Venable is the producer of Happy Jacks RPG Podcast and writer and editor of He is founder and director of the Poxy Boggards and a member of Celtic Squall. He holds a degree in Journalism and Public Relations from California State University, Long Beach. He is a husband and a father. He hates puppies.

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