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MoonHunter Sayeth 20180404


Game Guru-Thread Shepherd
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Techniques: Cut Scenes
Much ado about lulling. :)

The most basic of the good GM techniques is The Cut Scene. Once you master this one, it makes implementing many other good techniques easier.

Now we borrow this story telling device from the video world, movies and TV shows. (In novels it tends to happen with a chapter break, but some times they cut into a normal chapter.) It is when the story cuts away from one or more character in a stage, to another character(s) on another stage. It is a "change of narration", a change of focus, for the story. This cut scene provide information to the audience as to what else is happening. These other scenes can "bring you up to date" with what is happening with other characters. These other scenes might drop clues for later or build tension as we know something is coming.

There are two basic kinds of Cut Scenes in an RPG: PC and NPC.

Cut Scenes - PC
In all but the most tactical of situations, player/ protagonist characters may be dispersed through out the setting doing different things. The simple GM solution would be follow character one, finish their task, and go to character two. I defined this in another blog post. By using cut scenes, you can keep player interest up by rotating the spotlight, doing a part of each player's stage/scene, then cutting to the next stage. (Sometimes you will do the simultaneous resolution as defined in the blog post, but sometimes the size of the group, the anticipated use of mechanics, or the importance of some scenes makes.) So if the group is dispersed, you can cut back and forth between the players on the various stages. You can also break these up with NPC Cut Scenes.

Cut Scene - NPC
Your players are not the only characters that are important to the chronicle. To borrow the TV or Book concept, you can see the villains plotting. You can see important people directing their groups. You can explain bits about setting (and put a face on things) . These things expand a player's understanding of things and can lightly guide their in character choices. Note: Blatant use of things the player knows that the character does not is "bad form". However, careful and subtle choices made with that knowledge can be good game play.

The GM can play out these scenes by themselves or use other players running the non protagonist character. Their use needs to be careful with what is revealed in a cut scene. One wants to reveal some but not too much information with the cut scene. Never explain everything about the villains plan from the beginning of the evil planning mission to the end... just show them the bits at the end, so the players can have anticipation.

Planning cut scenes is easy. Putting them in play and making it work is another.

For an author, it is easy. There is a quiet beat, the writer changes the scene, and then they continue on. New Chapter.

For a video writer, it is much the same. They set up the finish of a scene and cut to another one.

In a game, an unscripted narrative that the GM does not control, the GM has to learn when it is time to apply a cut scene.

In gaming, it is about timing.

Two things influence the timing. First is "when is it in the story". Is it appropriate to see something/ somewhere else? Does this other information need to be passed on to the players/ audience? The Second is the current scene is over (or effectively is over) or at a stalled point. It is The Lull.

A lull should never happen or should never happen for very long.

As the GM, you are waiting for a pause, that quiet moment for a quick breath, in the action. At that point, the GM should gets his players attention and announce "the change of scene". Some people use the same term each time, "So now we see...." or "Another scene opens" or the very obvious "we have a cut scene". This acts as an attention getting trigger.

The scene needs to be carefully described. The time and place, as much as possible. What the new stage looks like. Who is there. What is going on. (Assigning players to roles could be done.)

Continue on until either the new scene ends or there is a new lull. Then "cut scene" back to the players or another stage/ scene.

Note: You don't have to wait for a lull to announce a new cut scene, but it will improve your player's acceptance of them (and not disrupt players not used to them).

The skill of this "waiting for the lull" or quiet beat to launch a new scene is an art... a skill the GM has to develop. If the GM (or the players) have watched enough television or movies, they will actually have enough "story intuition" or "story empathy" to know when (if this was a movie/ tv show/ book) there would be a new cut scene/ new chapter. It is "just a feeling" about the timing that most media saturated gamers will have.

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For some people, this is much ado about nothing. For them, it is intuitive. They have the story empathy/intuition to know how to use it. Yet for many GM, especially new GMs, who stick to a linear story flow, this is a new concept, or at least one they don't implement in their gaming.

Some people never become conscious of what they are doing with cutscene or how it works... they just go with their intuition... the feel of the story. If you become aware of the lulls and the cuts and the flow of the various story lines... you can take your story intuition and make it so much more affective in game.

Some people say they don't have story intuition or story empathy. You do. You all do. If you are part of the modern world, you do. You have watched enough TV or seen enough movies or read a few dozen books. If you think about it, you will realize you know when it will change to the B Plot or when the commercial break is, or when the next big climatic moment will be. That is the intuition/ empathy - the internalization of story and story structure - in action. So yes you have it. Just listen to it.

There is much ado about this something. Learning when and how to change the scene/ cut scene becomes the basic building block of so many good GMing techniques. You become aware of the story empathy/ intuition for the pauses and it extends into other techniques like knowing when to throw a reversal or how to set up a flashback. So get to it. Learn. Expand. Grow. Become a better GM. Follow MoonHunter's Law

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If you really want to actively work on it, start reading books on screen plays and cinematography. Articles are fine to. They will teach you into thinking visually and hone your awareness of timing in a story (because gaming is a story over time). They will also show you when to enter and exit scenes, and when to utilize the lulls. You should read Story, but I have a number of books to recommend on the subject.
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