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Author Topic: The structure of the scene  (Read 2273 times)

Posts: 1619

« on: October 23, 2004, 08:27:23 AM »

I went looking for information on the "try/fail sequence" mentioned in another  thread, and found the following link:


The nut in it is the following:

    * What is the purpose of scene?
        * Does scene support the theme of the story?
        * Who are the characters in this scene?
        * What is the main conflict?
        * What is the time of day?
        * What is the weather or other environmental conditions?
        * What will the end of this scene make the character do next?
        * What has change in the story from the beginning to the end of the scene?

"In our game the other night, Joshua's character came in as an improvised thing, but he was crap so he only contributed a d4!"
                                     --Vincent Baker

Posts: 466

« Reply #1 on: October 23, 2004, 04:42:23 PM »

What did you want to discuss?  Whether your summary seems correct?

Jasper McChesney
Primeval Games Press

Posts: 69

« Reply #2 on: October 23, 2004, 06:56:28 PM »

Well, since we're right into planning scenes, and there's no discussion in sight, I'm going to start one.

How much planning should actually go into a scene? I mean, most of the time, I end up winging it, based on "What would be most interesting," and never bother planning anything ahead of time. Somehow, whenever I get involved with plans or structure of any kind, I get so bogged down trying to remember everything, I turn into one of those horrible GMs that sits there reading out Gray Box Text.

And yet nearly every role-playing game I've ever read involves some huge description of how to plan for a campaign, plan for an act, plan for a scene, blah blah blah, and I've yet to meet someone who actually does it. Are we completely off the mark here?

I think, more importantly than writing How to Plan a Game notes, we should be more focused on reactive Game Mastery. How to Improvise Effectively. What to Do When Things Get Nuts. Shot-gun Game Mastery.

I don't know if I'm beating a dead horse or not; seems to me someone would have discussed the possibilities of focusing on reactive, rather than pro-active Game Mastery. If I am, tell me to shut up and which book I should be reading.

"Shut up, Kris. You're making an ass of yourself."
M. J. Young

Posts: 2198

« Reply #3 on: October 24, 2004, 07:45:30 PM »

Well, Kris, I don't know how much planning should go into a scene, but I don't think it's a stupid question.

In a recent Game Ideas Unlimited article about Architecture, I noted that I've got a pretty thorough understanding of the functions of different kinds of roofs on buildings--why Middle Eastern roofs were flat and Scandinavian roofs severely sloped, for example. Yet in my game cities, the buildings all had generic "roofs" and only if the players asked. I had never really given any thought to how the architecture varied from place to place in my game worlds. Similarly, all castles had much the same grey stone with crenelated battlements and towers look to them in my mind, even though we once had a calendar with pictures of real castles, not one of which really looked like that. Why isn't there more detail of the architecture in my cities, distinguishing one from another and making the scenes more alive?

One reason is that I'm already putting a lot of work into areas of the game world which might or even probably will get very little attention in play. In my D&D games, my players visit cities mostly to trade the valuables they've gathered for cash and goods; how the city looks isn't terribly relevant to that.

Yet there's another reason. That relates to the degree to which I want to detail the world. I could probably layer on many details, to the point that the players grow accustomed to the idea that everything is richly detailed. That's a lot of work for me, and while it might be appreciated by some players, others would find it boring. On the other hand, I could just give some hints and let them fill in the rest with what works for them.

One problem with the second technique is that if I mention a detail they're not accustomed to hearing, they're going to jump on it. Why did I tell them that this building was different, or this part of town was better or worse or older or newer? What does that mean, and what should they be watching at this point? Even if the details I toss are meaningless, they'll look for meaning.

If I use the first technique, though, they'll be so overwhelmed with detail that they'll never notice the oddities. The casual mention of something that's different is unlikely to feel out of place, because it's all too much. It's kind of like that lawyer's technique of answering a discovery motion with more boxes of documents than the other side can ever sort through, in the hope that the one critical document somewhere in the bottom of box three hundred forty-six will never be seen, or having been seen will be overlooked as unimportant.

Generally, if you're putting details in the scene, there's a degree to which you have to have a reason for having these details, and not something different. That reason can be nothing more than that you don't want some detail mentioned later to stick out too much; it may be that you're trying to get them acclimated to the world the way their characters would be. For example, if the only tapestry you ever mention is the one concealing the secret door, they'll find it; but in most castles tapestries cover all the walls, because it's the only way to keep the place warm. Mentioning that there are tapestries on the walls regularly will cause the players to take the same attitude toward these as their characters would--more tapestries, of course.

So the amount of detail you give is going to impact the dynamics in the game. Is it better to overwhelm with description, or is it better to give a sketch and then answer specific questions if they're asked? Does it matter what shape the roofs have, and if so do you mention it or wait for the question?

It's tough.

--M. J. Young

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