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MoonHunter Sayeth 20180307


Game Guru-Thread Shepherd
RPGnet Member
Validated User
Small Scenes and why they are the most important things

Not everyone creates a chronicle The MoonHunter Way (though you all should). However, almost everyone plans The Big Story Arc... the general "thing" your chronicle will revolve around.

Whenever people start planning a new chronicle, everyone is filled to the brim with the “big scenes”. You know the ones: the big battles, the clever traps, the declarations of love, the sudden but inevitable betrayals, and the moments of failure or success or terror. They’re what is sometimes call “the dramatic movie scenes” (DMS!): the scenes that have big action, excitement, and plot resolution. You can tell they are because you will hear the most incredible, dramatic music score in your head when you think about them. These seem to be the easiest scenes to set up.

But then, eventually, you realize that your chronicle is composed entirely of “dramatic movie scenes”. So much big action! DMS! are the highlights of some chronicles. Such a chronicle would be exciting, but your players would never get a chance to breathe or find anything out. It makes your game like a video game side scroller, where maybe a few cut scenes exist where things are explained, big explosive scenes, and a few small big scenes (usually incidental combat) in between. Your players might get a ticket for this chronicle railroad.

Yet you don't want to use cut scenes (or maybe you do... YMMV). But it is hard to give certain clues, information about minor characters or the setting, or even foreshadowing coming events if you have nothing but Big Scenes.

You need little scenes.

And those just aren’t as exciting to plan or set up as Big Scenes.

These small scenes are incredibly important to your chronicle's story. They provide information on the setting or characters, give chances for roleplay, get players from point a to point b, and tie up all those loose ends that need to be tied up so you can get back to those Big Scenes.

Essentially, these small scenes are your chronicle’s glue, holding it all together.

They connect the Big Scenes together and provide context. Without the small scenes, your Big Scenes won’t make much sense or form much of a story. Those small scenes mean the difference between a chronicle that trips along at light-speed or a chronicle that pulls your players in and takes them along the journey.

The small scenes allow your players to get to know the characters better. They allow them to immerse themselves in your setting and your plot. In short, while the Big Scenes are fun and exciting, it is the small scenes that suck your players into the chronicle and engage them.

Let us explore these small scenes and how you can make them work for you. (And the reason why you need to plan for them.)
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Those Little Scenes
  1. Transitions.
    Note: Travel scenes can be combined with other scenes.
  2. Setting Descriptions/ Info Dumps
  3. Character Development - Minor elements and minor characters
  4. Minor plots/ side plots/ B-Plots
  5. Storytelling tricks: Flashbacks, Dream sequences, cut scenes.

In the simplest term, it is the scene or scenes that get them from Point A (and the big event there) and Point B (and the big event there). Really, they are the scenes that get you between any important scenes (Big or little). There may be one scene, there could be a dozen. They comprise "all the things in between". Mostly they are traveling scenes... fairly short... easy to do. Sometimes there are things that happen logically (or at least make sense) along the way while traveling.

Transitions have a special power. They have the ability to provide other small scenes in their context. So you are riding the ferry, and the boatman provides local information to you. You are traveling via horse for three days and have an NPC with you... so you can learn more about them and roleplay with them along the way. While you are on your way to the Place of Danger, you spend a couple of days chasing a thief who stole the magic McGuffin you are escorting, then on your way to the Place of Danger.

Some of this is just carrying dialogue. If your characters are journeying…say on an airplane, on horseback, in a car, etc, you can use the travel time to include dialogue that enlightens the players on the plots, minor plots, the world at large, or anything else you might want to disclose. (note giving players sticky notes or 3x5 cards with bits of information their character should drop in the scene is a great way for the players to do your narration for you.)

Remember, these scenes can be short (see the red line drawn on the map) and practically narrated through or long and compound (It will take three sessions and a minimum of three scenes to travel that month it will take to you to The Place of Danger).

Setting Description
This one is pretty self-explanatory and usually combined with any transition scene. As the characters are walking from point A to point B? You describe what the see, hear, and feel. You can also mention "other details" along the way, like Here is that really old cathedral from the Old Faith... that has been converted into a night club or something like that. There might be a street vendor selling something "from home". There might be a protest (so they know there is unrest). Give them snippets about the setting, preferably things that will be useful/ notable in the future.

You can even contrive for them to meet certain people who will tell them things about the setting or the setting's situation. (The purpose of the scene is that The Old Priest goes on about the upcoming lunar event and related church ceremony.) Plus you have introduced an NPC for later.

Other information can be dropped on the players as they are just standing places (or transitioning). Walk by two men playing a game and a crowd around them. (Explaining that Bonne is this settings equivalent to Chess and has elements of Backgammon. ).

Character Development
In a Big Scene or DMS! there can be so much going on that anything subtle can be lost. You can show character development and history in these scenes, especially if it is a roleplay/ social drama based scene but most of these scenes in a game are "action"/ "combat" oriented.

Small scenes are the time to let the players and characters "to breath" and "reflect" between Big Scenes. It also gives them a chance to act and talk without the ticking drama clock. Thus you can have players express opinions, thought processes, and how and why they do what they do. This allows the troupe to see more detailed characters and the reasons why they are doing what they are doing. Having fully detailed and dimensional characters not only adds to your chronicle's believability, but is also contribute to the Chronicle's story.

Minor Plots/ subplots/ b-plots
You have this Big Event Plot, yet there might need to be some "other things" which need to be tidied up before you can finish the Big Event. Minor plots are a great way to add depth to your chronicle's story and setting. Not only do these minor plots allow you to portray additional information about characters, places, history, and other information, they can often become the most entertaining parts of your chronicle. These minor plots could be a single scene in a certain situation (waiting for a transition perhaps). They could be a string of minor scenes, defining this small side story that could be almost as exciting as DMS! These small scenes can help you "give players something to do" and allow certain characters to shine (or foreshadow challenges that will be coming up)

Storytelling Tools aka cut scenes, flashbacks, dream sequences...
These are all those dramatic storytelling tools that can be used for roleplay, action, or descriptive purposes. Now sometimes these storytelling techniques are used in DMS!, but usually they are used with minor scenes. These minor scenes reveal important information about the characters, the setting, and future events (if done correctly). Cut Scenes allow players to see "events" that they are not part of. While the players should not act on the knowledge they can not know, they can follow their gut that does. Flashbacks can be used to show character history, foreshadow abilities or event, and enhance other scenes. Dream sequences are always fun and can be little side adventures on their own.
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When planning these minor scenes, just like major scenes, there are some things to keep in mind.
  • Remember that you should only plan a general plan, not detailed scenes. You do not have real control over where the characters go and what they do.
  • Every scene has a purpose. It has to have a reason to be there and do something for your chronicle. If a scene does not fulfill its purpose, that scene's purpose will need to be picked up in other minor scenes.
  • You only need to determine the details for a scene, if the small scene might come up in the upcoming session of play.
  • Unless you are really, really good at reading your players and predicting their moves, be prepared to improvise and adapt your scenes and planned scenes to the character's new reality.

Small scenes don’t have to be boring. Your chronicle doesn’t have to feel like a string of big scenes pieced together with smaller lamer scenes. Learn to utilize the small scenes, and they’ll prove their worth to you.

This post has a different and simpler way of things. The MoonHunter Way does not define Dramatic Major Scenes and Minor Scenes. Yet the concepts are still there. DMS! are usually part of the core story arcs, though some of the personal plot arcs might have them. Minor Scenes are like transitional scenes, holding the dramatic scenes together. (And some minor scenes are dramatic scenes). Still, it is useful, especially if you are only planning single arc chronicles.

You want to see the more complete MoonHunter way, see How I prep and How I set up Chronicles
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