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timing is everything

Started by joshua neff, June 17, 2001, 09:20:00 AM

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joshua neff

last night i ran my first game session in a while. it went well. good, but not great. but one thing i definitely need to work on is pacing.
i'm good with beginning a scene, setting it up, getting it going. but it's cutting away from that scene to the next one that i'm not great at. i worry "what if a player has one more thing they want to say?", or "this scene is starting to drag & lose a lot of its strength, but the players are still talking (setting up plans for when the characters will meet next)".
so, i'd like some advice & some anecdotes. when do you end a scene? how dictatorial are you at ending a scene & then starting a new one?

"You can't ignore a rain of toads!"--Mike Holmes


I know this is stealing thunder and such, as I am basically repeating Ron's own words to you that were given to me.  But what the hell, I am saving him from typing the reply :wink:

I used to have a similar problem, especially with forcing characters to actually find means to travel to the next scene (do you have a car?  no?  cab or bus, your choice.)  Who cares about transportation methods of the public system?  

Then Ron tells me that he has this style wherein he has a small checklist (mental or physical) of things to accomplish (either broadly in the evening of roleplaying, or specifically in the scene).  Once that checklist is met for the scene, he *may* give characters a few more moments to wrap-up conversation, or ask some things he might not have counted upon, but then he will actually say, "Cut!"  And we are off to the next scene.  We know we have at least hit upon some of the key points, or come to a closure with that scene in terms of relevant information.

Anyway, I am just saying that you could try something like this (Ron, to be honest, used this in the beginning, then, as he got used to the group of us, eased into more elaborate edits (morphs, fades, wipes, and the like), but it *is* a good starting point).

My .02 (on loan from Ron)



I almost never have all the same characters in the same place, so when I feel a scene is over, I just jump to another group, without so much as a word. It always seems to take players longer to figure out a scene is over than it does the GM; that way, the group of players involved in that scene can continue to talk about it while I'm dealing with the other group, and by the time I get back to them, -they- have usually decided the scene is over, as well.

I think that the reason scene endings drag is because players always spend a while talking about what they want to do next. It's fine with me if the players have better plans than their characters would have had time to come up with, so I don't feel required to make them do it "in game"

Also, flashback mechanisms should work well here, too. If a player decides that, really, there was something else he needed to accomplish in that scene, he may feel free to have a flashback to the 'real' ending to the scene.

[ This Message was edited by: james_west on 2001-06-17 12:38 ]

joshua neff

thanks dav & james (& by extension, ron). i also reread the gm chapter of feng shui, specifically the part about gliding over nonessential scenes & getting to the action. i'm already thinking about how i'm going to run the next session.

"You can't ignore a rain of toads!"--Mike Holmes


On 2001-06-17 11:30, Dav wrote:

[snipped: Ron saying "Cut!" when his checklist is complete]

Ron, to be honest, used this in the beginning, then, as he got used to the group of us, eased into more elaborate edits (morphs, fades, wipes, and the like), but it *is* a good starting point).

Dav (or Ron!),

could you elaborate on this transition technique?

is the aim to deliberately interpret the action in the game in movie-like terms (ie, do you go to the extent of describing things *as though it were a movie*)

or are you simply using well-known conventions as transitions, without really elaborating?  ("okay, we'll fade out on that conversation now... meanwhile, what are you guys doing?")

I could see deliberate-movie-like descriptions working in certain games/campaigns (games with last of fast physical action, games with purely descriptive cut scenes) but not necc. all games (1890s Cthulhu, for example, seems more literary than cinematic to me...)

going off on a complete tangent, what movie "effects" do ppl feel enhance a gaming session?  what would detract?
what can roleplaying do that movies *can't*?


[ This Message was edited by: kwill on 2001-06-17 17:07 ]

Ron Edwards

Hey David,

If I ever get myself back onto GO, I could cull a really nice thread about this, which included input from a lot of other people. Given current time constraints, I apologize for not reconstructing it from memory.

The best references would be found in the Story Engine rules and the Theatrix rules, as well as a semi-harsh version in Feng Shui.

I'll return to this thread to spend more time on it later (a few days). Scene-cutting and scene-presenting are perhaps the most important job of my GMing, and making sure that they are NOT a form of railroading is the top priority.

One point within that topic is this: "what I want" from a scene is FLEXIBLE - contributions of any kind from a player may suddenly beef that scene into a far more important one that I had previously thought ("planned" is no longer applicable). In that case, halfway through the scene, I would abandon the "cut" I was just about to impose, in favor of developing my NEW "what I want" from this scene.

This is important because although it LOOKS like "massive GM power" to cut out of the scene, I'm actually using player contributions to determine what the scene is FOR, to a large degree, during play.


[ This Message was edited by: Ron Edwards on 2001-06-18 10:48 ]


Transitions are tough.

Somewhere about halfway through the game I ran last year, I came up with a style I've been using ever since; if at all possible I have some ideas for scenes already made up and listed. These aren't exactly linear or railroaded, but theyre sorta set pieces: many of them are cut scenes and 'behind the scenes' scenes that are taking place whether the players are there or not (I let the players see all the scenes with the villians, for example, unless it's important that they not see them). If I've got several factions or subgroups or even party splits active I'll try and skip from one group to the other quickly with the most emphasis on the players. The players are there to play, so you have to settle down and let them go at it. This is also a public demo game for RPG newbies.

For transitions between scenes I do this: make a V-closing motion with  one arm coming down into your other hand like a directors cutting board. Add a sound effect. then say something like "okay, next scene..the sun rises over the village, there's a sound of morning birds chirping. It's breakfast time.. who is eating breakfast?..."

(The one sound effect I usually use is supposed to sound like a door slam, but I do it with my voice so it sounds just sorta like a mimicked gunshot.)

Here's a real world example of a session outline from my current game: This may or not be of use to anyone, but this is the "Actual Play" section. =) You may wish to skip the rest.  

Scene list:

Opening (cut scene): Kobolds find Sepoto's magic coin. (Sepoto is a PC, the magic coin is a long running mystery from earlier).

Player scene: Sunrise and breakfast scene in Village of Dragon Falls. Introduce any new PCs, and village healer (major NPC).

Cut scene: Player scene: Just outside of town, miners find an ancient, buried stone box in village mine.  

Players scene: pure roleplaying. The healer engages in conversation with players about villagers, politics, origins and travels. I'm setting the healer up as a sort of mentor/foil for the newbies in my campaign.  

Cut scene (quick): miners open the box...

Players scene: continue conversation as above but get to adventure hooks: needed potion supplies, kobold raids and an omen in the temple.  

Players scene: Administrative, optional: players get a free hour or so to individually (or in groups) do whatever they want. Hint/suggest that Toki (another PC) may want to investigate his own magic coin, and Sepoto can reconsider why he threw his away. Or they can hang out and meet NPCs, go shopping or whatever else they want. Also address new PCs wants and needs.

Scene: Demons released from the miners box (who have by this time killed a bunch of miners) suddenly attack the village, somewhere in the vicinity of (at least two) of the players. (big, exciting fight scene).

Denoument Players scene: players may wish to investigate where the demons came from, follow up on the existing mystery of the magic coins or follow up on the healers lead to gather potion supplies or the omen.. Or something else.

Ending cut scene: kobolds deliver Sepoto's coin to Dagrah their boss, who now knows the name of one of the PCs. End scene with Dagrah trying to activate the coin and finding out it needs it's twin (which is now with the PCs.) He vows to track down the PCs!

Administrate the awards for the evening.

Get feedback from players.

Doc Fortune/Peter

Peter Seckler
Campaign starting in Columbia, MD, email for details.


This may sound nuts, but it's true and it always works for me. I simply tell the players this at the beginning of each session (with me as GM):
    I'm not here.
    From now on, you are your characters.
    Whatever you say, -you say;
    whatever you do, you do.
And that's it, we're off and adventuring.

The main thing is, I let the players know that their characters may try anything they want and go anywhere they want. And it is that knowledge, that great big vista of possibilities, that somehow makes them want to discover what's going on with the adventure at hand.  It's like by having the freedom to deviate from the plot, they know the opportunity is always there so they never feel the need to do so.

Really, I've had to nudge characters in a specific direction maybe once in my entire life of gaming.  I have never resorted to 'power of the gods' or lightning from the sky to push a party (or errant member thereof) back on the road to the haunted ruins, or whatever.    

The party wants to split up? Fine.
A character wants to cavort at the local whorehouse? Okay.
So what? I'm the GM, I'm not actually there.
Characters can do what they want.

Besides, characters often times create stories that are quite fantastic and interesting!  Oh here's something; did you know that I have not used a module in over ten years of gaming? Not even as source material.

Never underestimate the character.

Jeff Diamond
<>6-0 Games



I thought I'd just jump in here and say that I have this problem as well but I have an added complexity.  As I've stated else where I often run either mystery type adventures or adventures in which I'm trying to trick the players into doing some work FOR the villain.

This means that often characters in my stories are LYING.  When the players sit there and question the NPC I don't want to just cut them off because latter when they find out they've been lied to they'll go, 'Oh, but you cut us off in that scene.  If we'd had more time we would have asked a few more questions and figured that out.'

On the other hand I hate it when the questioning of every NPC turns out to be this long drawn out: Player, 'Tell me X'.  NPC, 'That's private and personal and none of your business.'  Player: 'Then we won't do Y, like you asked.'  NPC: 'Why?'  Player: 'Because you won't tell us X.' around and around and around and around and around and around.  Sigh.

Oh well.



Geez. Suspicious players!

However, I might be able to help: players usually only act like this as a metagame tactic when they see the GM as an adversary (or they've been hoodwinked one too many times, and they won't get over seeing the Gm as an adversary, even when he isn't one).

Address that first.

Peter Seckler
Campaign starting in Columbia, MD, email for details.

Ron Edwards


Hear, hear. Full agreement.



While I agree with Peter that having the players willing to work with you is the best approach, you can avoid long, drawn-out conversations by having an in-game reason for cutting them short. Have the NPC villian be called away to a meeting or get on a plane or something, or give the PCs a reason to move away.


This is, after all, what people do in reality when you start trying to grill them ....


Hey, Ron, FYI:

You should have access to GO until July 18 for free, if you want to go and grab stuff off the fora or whatever.  Everyone who used to have an account had a month added, so that they could "test the waters."

joshua neff

thanks to everyone who gave me advice. we had our second session yesterday & it went much much better. story engine was a tremendous help, too. i even had players saying "don't cut to me, i'll inject myself into the next scene i want to be in", which was brilliant.

"You can't ignore a rain of toads!"--Mike Holmes