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Author Topic: Pag's Standard Rant - Scene Framing  (Read 7966 times)

Posts: 1049

« on: April 13, 2004, 08:47:33 AM »

It seems like we're always getting posts in the various forums about Scene Framing. What it is, how to do it. These questions are invariably met with links to old threads that, usually, contain more links to older threads. The whole thing is a giant cross-linked spiderweb of arcane speculation, personal techniques, and in-development thought processess.

The point of this rant, as with other standard rants, is to have a central reference to point people too. This is not to say that I have an overwhelming grasp of Scene Framing. In fact, I don't think I understanding that well at all; I just do it sort of intuitively.

So, everyone, please add to this thread your own techniques and ruminations.

In the first place, what is Scene Framing? I always get the feeling that people - especially newbies - think of it as some kind of arcane lore that will somehow bring incalculable drama and weight to a game. This is not true. All RPGs involve scene framing. You can't play without scene framing. When the GM says "you are gathered together at the inn," that's scene framing. When the GM says "meanwhile, back at the ranch," that's scene framing.

Scene framing is simply establishing the context in which the imagined events will take place. This can include any of the four elements Setting, Character, Situation, and Color. I don't believe it can contain System. The Lumpley Principle[*] means that by the time we get to scene framing the System layer has already been engaged to established credibility (i.e., whoever is framing the scene has the credibility).

[*] "System" is the means used to establish concensus about the imagined reality, including, but not limited to, rules.

In my experience, when people post about scene framing, they are actually talking about technique - usually specific ways to frame scenes that facilitate narrativist play.

I suggest that scene framing is equally important to all creative agendas. In S, scene framing is needed to communicate the causal relationships being explored. In G, scene framing is needed to clearly establish the resources available for Step On Up.

Scene framing is also where the GM gets the ball rolling (or punctures it) by presenting material that the players are interested in imagining (or not). This relates to the small 'p' premise in the original GNS document - the "yeah! I want to imagine *THAT*!" cool factor.

With regard to specific techniques, like I said before, I just kind of *do* it intuitively. So this would be a good place for everyone to post their favorite (and least favorite) scene framing techniques. Frex, Kickers and Bangs from Sorcerer are basically scene framing techniques. Kickers are player generated, which helps ensure that the players are engaged right off; they establish initial conflicts to be dealt with immediately, which gets the ball rolling. Bangs are more or less GM-created kickers.

My buddy Chris Edwards will probably want to post at length about scene lengths and when to cut a scene to achieve the most dramatic impact.

So, sound off. What scene framing techniques do you like? What ones do you hate?


Posts: 202

« Reply #1 on: April 13, 2004, 09:03:02 AM »

An intersting point that others have made in previous posts is that scene framing lets you skip over parts of the story that aren't interesting. In that way, scene framing is the tool that the player (usually GM) uses to establish pace, tone, and color.

I agree that framing applies to everyone. Someone has to present the challenges for Gamist play. It doesn't just happen on its own. Someone needs to establish the seeds of exploration in Simulationist play. And of course, Narrativist players need to be presented with situations in which they can address Premise.

Jay Loomis
Coxcomb Games
Check out my http://bigd12.blogspot.com">blog.

Posts: 95

« Reply #2 on: April 13, 2004, 11:19:38 AM »

Some thoughts on Scene Framing:
1. Scene Framing requires you to take Director Stance, and therefore some systems are limited as to who can do this (for example, d20  assumes that Directorial power belong to a player assigned the GM role).

2. In my experience, Scene Framing requires me to think about the purpose for the scene.  These purposes may be to present an Inciting Event, provide for a "Down-time Montage," to allow characters to conflict, or as an Action Sequence.   When the purpose (usually decided by the player with the Directorial control that started it) is completed, the Scene is over.  

It's important to realize, however, that not every scene requires a fade to black, and time to pass offstage.  Sometimes one scene can blur right into another scene.  Also, some Players are used to creating scenes themselves, and this can feel to a GM who is used to total control of the Director stance feeling upset.

Scene Changes:
How to get your players used to change of scenes?  Sometimes just saying "Scene Change!" when this occurs will help.  Of course, describing the change as if it were a film cut also helps.

Some games use scene changes as a game mechanic (White Wolf), and so players become more adept at identifying scene changes (and also at blurring the lines, so that power expenditures are cheaper).
C. Edwards

Posts: 558

savage / sublime

« Reply #3 on: April 13, 2004, 04:40:54 PM »

In case nobody noticed, Nateís primary talent (aside from playing the violin) lies in putting people on the spot. ;)

Thereís really no mystery to scene-framing. As Nate said, weíre scene-framing all the time even if we donít recognize it as such. The main difficulty lies in finding a balance of techniques that all the players involved will enjoy. If you check out the False Prophets thread youíll see me talking about how Iím trying to handle some aspects of scene-framing in an irc game. In this post Iíll address two inseparable issues; pacing and drama.

When I refer to pacing in this post, Iím speaking solely about the speed and regularity with which I change scenes. While my pacing is tied to my own personal sense of drama, there are other factors to consider in order to play well with others.

Characterization is a factor. Many players want a scene to continue until they feel that theyíve been able to display who their character is and what he/she/it is about to a suitable degree. What is required to reach that proper degree of characterization varies greatly among players.

Accomplishment is another big factor. As with characterization, many players feel that a scene has been cut short if their character hasnít done a certain amount of stuff in the scene. They could feel shorted on dialogue or maybe they wanted to play out shooting every last giant bug in the mothership. Either way, if you consistently pull the rug out from under the other players when it comes to their sense of character accomplishment theyíre going to be upset. Theyíll probably feel like youíre playing the game for them.

Pacing is the area I usually have to pay the most attention to as a GM. If left to my own devices, I slice, dice, chop, and cut scenes without mercy. I usually donít even ask permission. This becomes an issue if Iím running a game where the other players would prefer a slower pace to the in-game action.

Iíve only discovered one good way to determine if my pacing allows for a satisfying degree of characterization and accomplishment. I ask the other players. Iíll do this after the first couple sessions in order to calibrate my pacing to better suit all the participants.

Scene-framing for maximum dramatic impact. This is a pretty... amorphous issue compared to pacing. So much depends on the individual sense of drama of each player. All you can really do is go by your own internal sense of what you find dramatic and hopefully everything will coincide. Personally, I run a game as if Iím watching a movie. I ask myself what a ďcoolĒ, ďintenseĒ, or even ďsubtleĒ scene opening/closing might be for the current situation. There are some basic considerations to keep in mind.

Overload. You generally donít want to make (even if you could) every scene open  with some massive dramatic event. You need lows in order to accentuate the highs. Throw a couple curve balls, a slider, maybe an off speed pitch, THEN hit them with your smoking fast ball.

Force. Donít try to shoehorn a dramatic event into the scene. Take advantage of whatís at hand and use it fully, but try not to force the scene into climax. The attempt will usually be completely obvious and have the opposite effect of what you intended. Not to say you canít throw a complete surprise at the players every now and then, just use that tool wisely.

Iím pretty good at handling the dramatic component of scene-framing, but itís all so internalized that I have a hard time trying to communicate what I do to others. Hopefully, as I think about it more Iíll be able to parse out just exactly how I go about scene-framing so that I can share it.

Ideally, you want to take your sense of drama and your sense of pacing and meld them together into a beautiful butterfly.. or something like that. Once you get your pacing calibrated youíll be better able to utilize your dramatic repertoire, such as Kickers and Bangs. Oh, and one of my favorites, the Cliffhanger.

Mike Holmes
Acts of Evil Playtesters

Posts: 10459

« Reply #4 on: April 14, 2004, 11:55:36 AM »

Not really a rant, is it, Nathan? I mean, although my rants tend to be non-controversial locally, they do have me spewing out an idea laden with my opinions. Still, I get what you're looking for. Maybe we need a new name for these, like Archive or something.

Anyhow, as nobody has contributed it yet, I'd like to add idea of radical framing. This is where the GM frames to some situation in media res. Instead of starting with facing the guards, and then walking up to the castle, and then searching for the count, killing him, and then getting to the real conflict, wooing the lady of the castle, instead the GM says:

"Ragnar sits on the divan across from his lady fair, stroking her hand. Behind him there are the bodies of the count and several guards strewn about, laying in pools of their own blood where Ragnar slew them on his way to her.

Using this technique you basically find the conflict you want to get to, and "resolve" everything else, even what would be contests in many other cases, by narration that sets the scene. A startling technique, it should only be used with care. But, done properly it can not only speed play, but also make the plot advance in a much quicker fashion.


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Jonathan Walton

Posts: 1309

« Reply #5 on: April 14, 2004, 12:19:08 PM »

Building on Mike's stuff, there's no reason that scenes have to occur in a linear fashion.  One of my favorite techniques is to start with something like:

"Looking at the onrushing horde of demons, you try to remember who got you into this mess in the first place..."

And then you frame some of the introductory scenes.  You can even skip back and forth between battling the demons and figuring out how you managed to FIND the demons in the first place.

Non-linear scene framing is your friend, but it can be annoying or a kind of "predestination" if done while insensative to the desires of other players.


Posts: 1049

« Reply #6 on: April 14, 2004, 06:42:03 PM »


It's sort of a rant, in that I'm expressing my displeasure with the current situation (to wit, that the current material on scene framing is a discombobulated mess), but yeah, the ideas themselves aren't really controversial. Maybe we should just call these threads "Reference Nodes" or something.

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