Scene Based Play


Game Guru-Thread Shepherd
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Scene Based Play Part I

I don't really remember the first RPG I read that talked about framing adventures in terms of "scenes" instead of "encounters".

One of the issues I'm finding is that most of the scene-driven RPGs I own do a rather terrible job of explaining the difference and offering tips and tricks for maximizing this technique.
Defining The Scene

To begin, we need to define what a scene in a game is. Authors and screenwriters endlessly debate what a scene is. I have seen a good dozen definitions by writers I respect. So we will use a two part definition:

1) The Full: "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."

2) The Effective: :"A scene is a unit of dramatic action or exposition that stands alone in a general location and time." It is simple and misses some things, but it works. Simplified even further, "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".

Scenes are individual units of story, with their own definable 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.

I want to use the Scene Card format to define a scene. I have several reasons for this, but we will go into those in a bit.

Name/ Plot line: Important scenes can have cool poetic name, while lesser scenes would be a descriptive line (The way to the ambush). If the scene belongs to a plot line, its letter and number should be here.

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.

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 for a game, though not one a GM should use often. Note: The Exit(s) 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.

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, the GM has failed. There will always be options, so the story path is important.

Every scene in a game, if it is planned or is improvised, should have these five parts. When ever you think of a scene, you have to think of all these points. Once you have those in your mind, you know what to do and how to proceed.

In fact, it comes back to the main point of this article (which I am going to state in different ways):

Every Scene is there for a purpose. Make sure the scene provides what it should and it leads to useful exits.
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Chronicle Plot/ Scene Preparation

Build your Chronicle the MoonHunter Way.

This will mean you will do a lot of pre-work in the very early days of your chronicle when you are still excited about it. Sources The GM build some plot lines with your players. Build some attached to locations or organizations.

The GM Journal (or your chronicle notes) will have "The Vault of Plotlines". These are all the plot lines and story arcs that are planned for the chronicle.

These will be the foundation of what the chronicle is.

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Creating Plot lines
There should be one magnifcent blog post that puts that all together, showing how to create plot lines/ story arcs flawlessly. I have tried to write it three and a half times. So far, I have yet to find "that perfect way", expressing what I have internalized. It is coming... so follow the little dots. (*1)
*1) A reader might find the adventure construction metaphoreasier to follow.

Let me put up some points here (definitions from scenes) ....

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Session Prep

Include the whole foundation rant.

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At the Table

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Need to add aggressive scene framing. I prefer the term active scene framing

Now all scenes should do this: Starting scenes with a conflict, ending scenes once a conflict has been resolved (at least temporarily.) But this takes it more active stance, no waiting for things to get started or things to wind out for a while...
When you start off a scene by introducing an element that cannot be ignored.

Also, scene framing is as much about ending scenes as it is about starting them. If you sense that a scene is over, and that the players are uncertain about what to do next, grab the reins of the game and have a fresh scene start.

You cut to important scenes. Leave out unimportant scenes and sidetracks. The unimportant scenes chew up game time. Keep things moving and cram in as many important scenes as you can.

Always pay attention to the players' wishes. In the London example a player might interject "But I need to talk to Bob before we go to London", "Sure" you say "You're at your old friend Bob's place. He looks at you angrily and says 'Why aren't you in London yet. Aren't you supposed to prevent the apocalypse?'

Now I am very cinematic
In our recent games, the Gm tends towards the cinematic, so you get a framing intro like:

"Cut to, Interior, The Bookshop. We See: a KINDLY OLD BOOKSELLER puttering with old dusty books behind the counter. We Hear: the bell over the door ring as a customer comes in. The Shopkeeper looks up and smiles. Reverse angle: (The Audience but not the PCs see Behind the counter, he's put down the book and laid a gentle hand on the butt of a sawed-off shotgun.

(Smiles) How can I help you today, sir?

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*1) Scenes The MoonHunter Way

maybe do this later?
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