MoonHunter Sayeth 20180418


Game Guru-Thread Shepherd
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Techniques: Flashbacks

This is one of the Good GMing techniques that should be in every GM's bag of (story telling) tricks. It requires the proper use of the cut scene. The various types of Flashback Scenes are "cut scenes into The Past".

So what can they be used for?

Well I want you to think about various TV shows and some movies where someone's mind wanders or the scene cuts away to some time in the past (though some times it takes a moment for you to realize it). These moments in the past explain something about the character, the situation, or fill in some blanks for the audience.

Do you see their uses in The Media?

Those same uses (and more) can be used in RPG.

So let us hit the highlights.

We "flashback" to something that happened in the past (and probably this session), with an emphasis on "the thing to notice" i.e. The Clue. Players might ask, I am going to sit here and think... and review all the possible clues... and we have a cut scene to see those scenes and the things to notice.

Now this works for immediate mysteries. If the clue was seen multiple sessions ago, it might be good to do it as a flashback, so it is fresh in their mind.​

Montage: These are normally comprised of one or more scenes mushed together is quick cuts. Mechanically they can provide bonuses to events.
Training Montage: We have seen this in any number of movies, where the character develops their skills in the montage.
Training Flashback: Related to the training montage, is the training flashback. It is when the character learns some special technique/ move to counter up coming problem (thus getting a bonus against it).
Planning Montage: Mostly a standard of the Heist genre. In gaming, the characters advance on seemingly without a plan (which is standard for the course), but then they flashback to the planning and voice over what they should be doing.)
Equipment Montage: Much like a training montage, but for the gun and blade bunnies. It could be a flash back that we keep revisiting it... every time the character shows a new weapon or attack system.

Protagonist Character Backstory: This will show things that have happened in the character's personal past. The character may never discuss this, but it lets the audience (i.e. the rest of the game group) know this element of their life. (Sometimes it will let the player learn something about an element of the character.)
Relationship to a character: This will establish a character's relationship with another. This could be a character that was already part of their backstory or a new character written in to their history.
Relationship to Organization: This shows the character interacting with the organization or its minions. Again, this could be playing out an existing part of the backstory or adding something new to it.
Encounter some element of the World: There might be a quirk of law or social situation that is unique to the setting. It could be an unsavory issue. This scene should show the character encountering the unique element and their response to it.
Show some element of the character's personality: This is a scene or event that shows why the character is the way it is.
Shows how I changed over time. : This is a combination of several flashbacks which will occur over the course of the session. Each one shows the character and expresses what is going on and why.
Life changing moment. : This is one of those moments in a person's life that changes them (and usually what leads up to it and follows too).
Adventure in the Past: You had an adventure when you were younger (other characters might be involved. You can opt to play out this adventure to get a feel for the past. Soon after this is finished, the events and the characters of the past should "pop up in the present".

Non-Protagonist Flashback: This is not common, but it could happen for the right characters at the right time.
More of the same All those protagonist character options.
That deal I made a little while ago. The fateful decision that will impact the players.

Character Creation: These are divided between prelude and practice. Either way, these usually happen "session 0 or session 1" or just early on in the chronicle.
Practice scenes. Characters are a lot like clothes, you have to try them on and wear them for a bit before you really get to know them. See what is important when playing the character. These can be every day events or scenes where the character are in situations they normally would not be. The advantage of practice scenes is that you can often opt to "do over" and redo the same scene until it feels right.
Preludes: Where did you start, Places you have seen, People you have met: You play out one scene where the character shows this element of the character. Certain scenes might even be good practice scenes.
Prelude: When you meet this other character: This is usually for protagonist characters, but it could be for any major character in the chronicle. Those first moments and first impressions color the character's relationship with the character forever.
Prelude: Most important moment: This is often a practice scene, but what was the most important moment of that characters life. Play it out and get a good feel for the character.

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We have discussed how to set a cut scene/flashback and what kinds of flashbacks there are (generally). Now, we will cover how to play them out.

Set up: Flashbacks are most often set up by the GM. Sometimes players make them up ahead of time and present them to the GM for insertion into the Chronicle. Sometimes the GM will just throw it to a player and see what they come up with.

Purpose: All Flashbacks have a purpose. That needs to be set in stone (or similarly firm material) before they are put into play. In fact they are set up the same way key scenes are defined in play.

Stagecraft: Who ever is setting up the scene will define the stage, the situation, give some stage directions to every player involved (because they can run those other characters) .

Long or Short: This is part of the defining of the scene. This determines if this is one scene (short or long) or several scenes. If it is several scenes combined, you can actually flash back to the present... play for a bit... then continue the flashback. Call backs to the scene are a great thing.

The Role of Chance: Since flashbacks happen in the past, what happened is "defined". So there is an end goal of the scene, sometimes a very concrete one. What playing out the scene will do is explain how it happened and everyone's responses to it. It also gives the opportunity to find new twists or new options in the character's past that had not been previously considered.

Dice don't have to be rolled at all in a Flashback, they results can just be dictated by either the GM or the player playing the character. Die rolls can be used for interesting things or things not important to the goal. The insertion of the random element can make the flashback more interesting, so don't exclude doing it.

Edits: Normally, the only time you ever edit what happens in a chronicle is when something went horribly wrong. Usually it is a bad rules interpretation. Sometimes it is a gross mischaracterization. Usually, people just "move on" and try not to make the same mistake again.

Flashbacks might need to be edited. With their tighter tolerances and defined end goal, they have little margin for error. So a flashback scene might have to be edited or retconned.

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This is a Good GM Tool that can be used to show, rather than tell, things about the chronicle's characters and the setting. They are a story tool to show relationships and explore characters. They are also more fun to do than just "writing a note on the character history". And anything that makes the game more interesting for all the players is a good thing (as they are involved and can learn more about characters.)


Game Guru-Thread Shepherd
RPGnet Member
Validated User
I was looking for something I had written a few years ago and stumbled over this use of Flashback mechanics. This is written for Espionage Gaming.

Institute a Flashback Rule

Suitable for dropping clues, giving hints, or "Refreshing the memory of the players".

You are walking along the street heading towards the stakeout.

John... you see a face in the crowd.

We have a flashback..... John, you are tied up in a chair. This big Russian name Mikhail Butusov, ex KGB current SVR is standing over you. He has jumper cables in his hands. "So.. Mr. John. I think you are going to tell me what I want to know."

So John, what do you do?

I duck out of the way, as he might recognize me and hit the comlink to tell them (mimes tapping his ear) "The Russians are comming, the Russians are coming"

Geoff taps his ear. "Thank you Mr. Revere"

Sometimes, if we have had a boring period... I will have the flash back be a firefight and have a quick few rounds of combat and a moment that tells you why/how you kow something (Cairo. We do not talk about Cairo!) or a few climbing rolls as they repell down a building in Hong Kong (a subtle reminder that they have climbing skill and that is a great way to break into this office).

Sometimes players will ask for a flashback... "Is there something in my past that might help here?"

or "I need a safehouse, so I want to flashback to the last time I was here and the girl I nearly married." Sometimes a player will initiate a flashback to see if they get a resource: "Okay we need a safe house, I know a girl here. I nearly married her." (GM, Okay, I want to hear this one).

The second rule to institute is "Past Mission Rule". We would call this the Budapest Rule these days. Mentioning old missions can generate a drama point (or a positive mod) that you can pull on... if you can make a case for it. ("It is just another nuclear weapon... Just like Cairo". "WE DO NOT MENTION CAIRO! But okay... while not mentioning Cairo, I will take the drama point to help disarm this thing.") Players will often tap into and run with other missions... "I will drive like its Prague!" "Oh. God. Oh. God. Oh God. You are not going to crash into an embassy again." (Player shoots the other player a very dirty look.) "Well only if I can't help it."

It allows for a little levity. It allows for some continuity. It allows for character building - giving our agents "a past" and often a shared past. And it is a mechanism for aspects/ fate points/ drama points/ positive mods.

Keep notes by the way of Past Missions and Flashbacks... it will give you something to build upon and help you keep them straight in your mind.

Wow, there is a lot of New MacGuyver in that post.
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