MoonHunter Sayeth 20170828


Game Guru-Thread Shepherd
RPGnet Member
Validated User
Scenes The MoonHunter Way

A) Fundamental - Scene
1) Definition of a Scene (for a game)
2) Terms for Scenes (for a game)
3) Purpose of a scene
4) Parts of a scene

1) Definition of a Scene (for a game)
The word ‘scene’ has multiple literary definitions. When we talk of a scene as a unit of story structure, a scene is ‘A sequence of continuous action in a play, film, opera, or book’ (Oxford English Dictionary). It’s also ‘A representation of an incident, or the incident itself.’ (OED). Other definitions of scene include such phrases as “followed activity in one location or continuous tight sets of locations”, “protagonist doing things in a place”, and “a moment of action that begins and ends in the same location”.

These coalesce and combine into a working definition that I like. Scenes, individual story units smaller than chapters (but somewhat self-contained), show us sequences of actions and incidents that reveal a place and time, and a characters’ actions, reactions or dilemmas. This definition holds for all entertainments, plays, films, books, etc. Part of that etc is roleplaying games. Not a surprise, rpgs are good entertainments.

The definition of the scene for a game, is not very different. Scenes are individual units of story, with their own small beginnings and endings, showing a sequence of actions, reactions, and incidents, that are a characters’ or characters’ actions, reactions, or dilemmas, and revealing things about the setting, protagonist characters, other non protagonist characters, and events.

That definition is very literary, but includes every element. The world of video has a different direction. Since games are like video, as stories over time, many will find this more functional definition more useful.

A scene is a unit of dramatic action or exposition that stands alone in a general location and time. When the action changes or the location changes or notable time passes, the scene changes. Think of it as a "time on stage" or "time on camera".

No matter how we precisely define a scene, they are the building blocks that make up a story or game.

2) Terms for Scenes (for a game)

Scenes have different “uses” in the building process. To help you use them in a game, I propose two sets of labels.

The first set is: Drama and Transition

Dramatic: When something happens, usually something of importance. Think of them as an action scene or a tense dramatic speaking scene or when there is a big reveal. This is when die rolls and rules often come into play, or they could be entirely social/ roleplaying.

Transition: Logical bits to get you from one dramatic scene to another. These could be traveling, equipping, researching, and so on. These things tend to happen automatically (or fairly automatically) in the transition (if they were tough or complicated, the scene would be dramatic.) Transitions are often narrated through, but they might have a second purpose, like giving information about the setting, connecting people, and so on.

Ideally, things bounce back and forth between dramatic scenes and transitions, in beats.

Beats, something we have not yet talked about. It is the pattern or rhythm established by the scenes or actions in a story. For gamers, turns establish the basic beat of a game. Yet the game scenes help determine the greater rhyme of the game.

Like Beats there are other words that are used in relationship to scenes. They have to do with the use of scenes, how you define stories with scenes.

Story Line: This is a linear set of scenes from an introduction to the storyline to the conclusion of the storyline. It tells a complete story of some degree of depth. In a game, a storyline is often a story path.

Story Path I: It starts as a storyline. This is a storyline that has “possible branches” of little related storylines. The characters might go down one or more of other related storylines, only to be part of the greater story path. Remember, in a game, there is more than one way to get to the same goal.

Story Arc: Take a core or main storyline. You spread it out over an arc, marking the first 25% (end of Act I), 50% (dividing Act II) and 75% (end of Act II, beginning of Act III). Which part of the arc determines the kind of scenes that should be there… even if they are on supporting storylines. There can be many layers of story lines “braided” into an arc.

Story Braid: The combining of several story lines / paths together to make enough drama/ activity/ development to make a satisfying story. These are normally weaved along arc, but it can be done for lesser story lines.

Story Path II/ Story Web: A list of story scene that could occur during a given game session. These scenes are story braided and various options/ paths on which order they will be encountered. Story web is a non-standard term. Most people consider these session flowcharts story paths.

The second set of terms that you need to learn about scene determines their importance in the line/ path/ arc/ or session (adventure)

Key Scenes: These are scenes (dramatic or transition) that must happen to resolve a story line/ arc. Sometimes they are temporarily bypassed by a story path detour, but that scene or something like it must eventually be encountered. Story arcs have a minimum of 3 key scenes, others will have 9, other longer more complicated will have 3 dozen key scenes.

Minor Scenes: These are scenes that help make a key scene possible. They are not just transitions, but lesser dramatic scenes providing clues, tools, information, or edges that will make it possible for a character to succeed at a key scene. They can also foreshadow potential problems, provide little complications, and other things that make it more complicated the character's life.) Minor Scene can be added to a story path/arc. Think of them as steps up/ down the stairs/ stepping stones between the Key Scenes. Note: Minor scenes often happen on decision loops when there is a branch in a story arc... eventually helping them get back to the core story arc.

Note: Both Key scenes and minor scenes bounce to the beat between dramatic and transitions.

Padding: These are scenes, situations, or small story lines that were not part of the original plan. They are inserted into a plotline between key scenes or minor scenes. This is done for a number of reasons. The usual one is pacing, how soon do does the GM want to resolve the plot line? Sometimes there is a lull in activity in a session, so something related to a story line might provide something interesting to do right now. Padding can also be used to distract the other players so something else can happen.

3) Purpose of a scene
This is a pro tip: stop and think about the purpose of the scene. Everything you do in the scene should be towards the purpose of the scene. The setting and action should be supportive of that purpose.

If the scene has more than one purpose, usually one is the key- most important – the others are supporting.

You should stop to think about why you are adding a scene to a story line. This is a must.

You should stop to think about the purpose of the scene and does it fit the current chronicle story arc. You should stop to think about the purpose of the scene when you are determining what scenes will be used. You need to know what you are doing and why.

So, if you don’t think about the purpose of the scene since you created it, YOU MUST THINK ABOUT IT BEFORE YOU ARE ABOUT TO PLAY IT. Make sure that the scene is focused towards that purpose.

Was that too subtle? Did you get it?

4) Parts of a scene
Think about the definition mentioned above. . Scenes are individual units of story, with their own small beginnings and endings. Each scene’s story has three components - a beginning (a reason to be here), a middle (interesting stuff to do in an interesting place), and an ending (resolution of the reason, increase complication, or taking another step closer to the bigger resolution). You could get away with just these, but a bit more detail makes them vastly more effective. I use five things to define a scene.

Now all these parts can fit on a Scene Cards. Now I want you to focus on brevity. If you let yourself spend too much time or effort on a scene, or anything in a game, you are wasting prep time. However, there is the other counterpointing rule – Do what you have to do to be useful and done. So yes, you have permission to exceed the card sizes… but only when you absolutely have it.

Did I include the note card format for notes in the GM’s Journal?? I did, so follow the link.

The Five Parts of a Scene - as found in a scene card
First line - Name/ Plotline
: Important scenes can have cool poetic name, while lesser scenes would be a descriptive line. If the scene belongs to a plotline, its letter and number should be here.

Second Line - Entry: This is the conditions for this scene to be played. It is normally “after X happens” or “when you are in “location” or “after character has done X”, or some combination of elements.

Third Line – Purpose: Everything in a game should have a purpose. The goal is always to advance the character’s stories, and the purpose would be how it would do that. Note: Giving players something to do is a valid purpose, though not one a GM should use often. Note: The Exist is also part of the purpose.

Block of Text – Description: This is a description of the scene itself. This will include anything important or of note. Details that you want to ensure are mentioned are things of note. If there are any things that must be included from the GM’s notes– like a specific cards, npc, items, or such – they need to be noted. If specific rules are required for the scene, make sure to mention them or their page number for easy reference. These are the bare bones. They are just here to remind you what to do when you are at the table or you are riffing on the scene.

Last Line – Exits: This is where this scene can lead a character to. This is a list of scenes options as to where the scene will lead. This is actually part of the purpose. The GM should leave obvious clues or directions as to what should happen next. If players do not have an idea as to what to do next, you the GM have failed. There will always be options, so the story path is important.

So these are all the pieces you will need to define and describe a scene for a novel or a chronicle’s game session.
Top Bottom