Procedural elements of scene framing

edited April 2014 in Story Games
I'm working on some procedural rules for GM-full scene framing, trying to break down and understand the various components.
Here's the rough structure of what I want to include. These rules assume the scene as the basic structure of play (a game made of a series of sequential scenes) with scene-framing authority passing to a new player after each scene.

1. Describe the setting.
The framing player describes the time, place, and mood of the scene.

2. Establish motivations.
Each player, starting with the framing player, describes their character’s motivation and what they’re doing at the start of the scene. Any player may opt out of any scene for any reason.

3. Establish an endpoint.
All players negotiate an appropriate endpoint for the scene.

4. Establish facts.
Each player, starting with the GM, declares any significant happenings since the last scene, or any other facts that may affect the upcoming scene.

5. Populate the scene.
The GM adds story characters, props and other details to the scene.

6. Open the scene.
The GM synthesizes the information from steps 1-5 into an opening line of narration, and the scene begins.

7. Act out the scene.
During the scene, players act in character, ask questions, resolve conflicts, etc.

8. Close the scene.
The scene ends when the endpoint is accomplished or made impossible.


Right now it feels like there's overlap between the various steps that is making it difficult to order them correctly.
Like, what if the Endpoint someone wants to establish is contingent upon an "Established Fact"? Or vice versa? Any thoughts on how to loosen, tighten or streamline this process into something that supports without bogging down?

Is an ordered list procedure even a right/viable approach? Good or bad examples from other games also appreciated.

Comments

  • This is really difficult to answer without a wider design context. For most of the gaming space I move in, that procedure would be too detailed and inflexible - as you say, it attempts to regulate much of the naturally occurring discourse in a way that is procedure for its own sake, rather than procedure for the sake of clarity. Furthermore, I would not personally desire to design a game with this much advance storyboarding; when you get to step 7 you're really just "acting" the scene instead of "playing" it, and that is an undesirable outcome for me. I play drama-oriented games almost exclusively for that rush of realization when events come together without detailed prior planning, and if I had scenes with the start, the end and the middle already planned out, I would feel no motivation whatsoever for actually acting out the form of it.

    But all that might be irrelevant to your design goals. No way to know without going deeper into what you're attempting to accomplish creatively.
  • I feel as though there's only a few key components to a scene, in terms of what you need.

    "What's there?": we need some idea of the setting. It doesn't have to be detailed, because sometimes it really isn't important or it'll get fleshed out. But we, the players, need some sort of concrete anchor and common ground. At bare minimum, we should probably know when the scene is, relative to the rest of the scenes.

    "Who's there?": we need to know who the actors are, when the scene kicks off. Characters can enter and leave the scene, but these characters will give us a focus for the scene and let us know where to start. (Depending on the level of focus you want, you can be more or less restrictive on the ability of characters to enter or exit the scene. Maybe the ability to enter a scene or leave it when you want is a right...or maybe it's a privilege.)

    "What's the deal?": we need to know why the scene is happening to begin with. This reason can certainly change, but this helps us to keep scenes focused and limited. You set the stakes, provide a topic of conversation, or give everyone a prod. This is going to be the meat of the scene. How specific it gets is up to you. (See what Fate Core has to say about a scene's "dramatic question".)
  • This is really difficult to answer without a wider design context.
    The design goal is to extract the dramatic moments of unstructured GM'd play from the banality of things that are only done because dictated by a running clock. I want players to have an inalienable tool to direct the game toward what interests them. The structure within each scene is a basic roleplaying conversation, no turn order, random "move-based" resolution with explicit fictional consequences.

    The specific thematic context doesn't feel particularly relevant, but it's a game about street cats in the city having adventures while trying to walk the line between feral-ness and domestication.
    that procedure would be too detailed and inflexible - as you say, it attempts to regulate much of the naturally occurring discourse in a way that is procedure for its own sake, rather than procedure for the sake of clarity. Furthermore, I would not personally desire to design a game with this much advance storyboarding;
    I totally agree, this current list is way too fussy. I guess my goal at this stage is to describe the procedures I've observed in high detail, and then pare it down from there into useful prescriptive instructions. How well do these procedures describe your natural process of scene framing? How do you create a scene with a clear goal without prescribing an endpoint?


  • I feel as though there's only a few key components to a scene, in terms of what you need.

    "What's there?": we need some idea of the setting. It doesn't have to be detailed, because sometimes it really isn't important or it'll get fleshed out. But we, the players, need some sort of concrete anchor and common ground. At bare minimum, we should probably know when the scene is, relative to the rest of the scenes.

    "Who's there?": we need to know who the actors are, when the scene kicks off. Characters can enter and leave the scene, but these characters will give us a focus for the scene and let us know where to start. (Depending on the level of focus you want, you can be more or less restrictive on the ability of characters to enter or exit the scene. Maybe the ability to enter a scene or leave it when you want is a right...or maybe it's a privilege.)

    "What's the deal?": we need to know why the scene is happening to begin with. This reason can certainly change, but this helps us to keep scenes focused and limited. You set the stakes, provide a topic of conversation, or give everyone a prod. This is going to be the meat of the scene. How specific it gets is up to you. (See what Fate Core has to say about a scene's "dramatic question".)
    So a procedure like "To frame a scene, answer the following three questions:" would basically suffice for most situations, but I'm not sure how to delegate authority in a way that doesn't rely on cultural assumptions of gameplay.

    I have a more basic issue when thinking about this stuff, where I feel like anything that isn't prescribed becomes very vulnerable to misunderstanding or misuse. I come from a home group that has been playing games for years and has some extraordinarily bad habits, which makes me fundamentally fearful about leaving anything ambiguous.
  • I agree that fundamentally those 3 things are all you need, and this vastly simplifies thinking about framing. But this is just one (good) "structuralist" breakdown, viewed from a sole and prescient author's intentional perspective. We still don't actually know the kind of playstyle or mechanical "feeling" @Dirk is looking for.

    To propose a more "functionalist" or "object-oriented" approach (like Eero is proposing, perhaps), that third question can be broken down into "What's HER deal?" for each individual NPC present, and then "played to find out" by jumping from head to head. I.e. Just as there is no predetermined "endpoint" for the entire scene, there is also no predetermined "deal". Instead, one is allowed to emerge. In such a model, NPCs would be handled same as PCs in @Dirk 's step 2 and 7, and step 3 would be not there.
  • edited April 2014
    I'm with Eero: while it may seem like thematic concerns and the basic frame of the type of fiction we're trying to create shouldn't affect scene framing in some imaginary Platonic state, in fact they are crucial concerns when it comes to actually doing this thing. Good Scene Framing in a competitive game of D&D is going to be very different from good Scene Framing in a game which challenges small children to share their largest insecurities with their best friends.

    Having said that, here's a thread you might find really interesting:

    Basic Formula for Story\

    Now this here, I find pretty vital:

    The specific thematic context doesn't feel particularly relevant, but it's a game about street cats in the city having adventures while trying to walk the line between feral-ness and domestication.
    For example, if walking the line between "feral-ness and domestication" is a strong focus in this game, this may be the focal - or even only - real important element in scene framing, with other bits brainstormed as-you-go-along, rolled on random tables, or provided in some other format by the game.

    Personally, I find the most fascinating aspect of scene framing design is trying to figure out what can be *left out* - which vital elements can be delayed until later, and established in play?

    One obvious one which is generally desirable in gaming is: "How will all this end?" In most game designs, we find it key to leave the resolution of the scene in doubt, so we can play to find out. In some games, however, it might be just as important for us to know ahead of time how things will end, due to a different agenda in play, cycling the scenes in reverse order a la Memento, or some other formula.
  • A key question: are you familiar with Primetime Adventures? I ask because it seems to me like PTA is pretty much the thesis on this specific matter you're wondering here. If you haven't read (and preferably played) it, my best advice is really to do so. It has an explicit scene-framing procedure similar to yours, and it does skirt upon difficulties in some regards for it - very instructive to consider both its brilliance and flaws. Your treatment reminds me strongly of something that might turn into PTA with enough polish :D

    Regarding end-points of scenes: in many (all?) excellent games you frame a scene and specifically leave its ending open. This is accomplished by determining the agenda of the scene, why you wish that scene to be played. For example, in Primetime Adventures or TSoY (two games that utilize this type of scene framing for dramatic purposes) you might frame a scene so as to give two characters an opportunity to discuss their relationship. You wouldn't pre-determine that "this scene ends when my character swears off your character forever"; rather the opposite, the very motivation for why you want to play that scene in the first place is because you don't yet know what will happen when the two characters have a chance to talk.

    Besides, what possible reason would one have for predetermining when a scene ends? The only reason I can imagine is so that you'd know when to end the scene, but surely that can be dealt with in other ways. For example, give some player the responsibility for deciding that we've seen enough (as in Zombie Cinema), or limit and pace the extent of a single scene mechanically (e.g. Dust Devils, My Life with Master, the aforementioned PTA...).
  • edited April 2014
    @Paul_T, thanks for the thread link, great thoughts. The Mamet letter is gold.

    In what ways do existing scene-framing rules reinforce their games' themes? I agree for sure that this is a great ideal, but I'm drawing a blank in how to execute it. Maybe distinct types of scenes for interacting with humans or running wild, for example?
    I find the most fascinating aspect of scene framing design is trying to figure out what can be *left out*
    Totally--this is kind of the essence of most design, IMO--Trying to find out what can be left out, though, seems to start with identifying the pieces, and accurately describing what happens in an un-designed environment.


    @Eero_Tuovinen, I have read through PTA, but to my detriment have never played it. Can you or anyone elaborate on the difficulties that arise from the scene framing in that game?

    I think I miscommunicated a bit about endpoint setting, because I agree with everything you're saying--My intention wasn't to say that the specific ending is predetermined. Rather, "Endpoint setting" is about asking a question. "Can I get out of this alive?" "Does my wife still love me?"

    We play the scene to explore the question and it ends when we get the answer. The question is our map for getting through the scene and lets us know when we've arrived.
  • There are lots of games where the framing rules specifically address the thematic machinery of the game as a whole. The most obvious are the ones that have a limited set of specific scene types, like My Life with Master - pretty hard to dispute the game's subject matter when you're not even allowed to consider scenes that aren't about that.

    A subtler approach is when the framing capabilities distributed to various players reinforce and support their role in the game. Old school D&D, for example, has an interesting system in this regard: because the character players are the ones who mostly suffer the consequences of framed scenes, balanced sandbox D&D splits scene framing up: players generally initiate all scenes, with the GM only mandatíng disruptions (random encounters, that is). So the scene initiation rights are divided into active (PC initiative causes this scene) and passive (this happens despite PC initiative, or in the lack of it) and given to the different players.

    Regarding Primetime Adventures, this used to be a hot topic of discussion around it: the way the game is written, it can encourage "storyboarding", a type of play where the players don't actually discover story, but rather dictate it. This (unintended) behaviour emerges due to the game having a very similar procedural approach to parsing the process of play as you do here: players taking turns declaring scene locations, subject matters, participants - it's apparently very easy to read all that and end up with a blatantly storyboarded game where the actual "free roleplaying" is a pro forma ritual at the end of a debate.

    That misunderstanding aside, though, what do you think of the scene framing model in PTA, and how do you think it could be improved upon for your purposes? I'm asking because most of the things that seem excessive to me in your procedure in the first post are lacking in the PTA procedure, and most of the things that are good are in there - so it's sort of a pretty good model to consider, is what I'm saying.
  • edited April 2014

    Regarding Primetime Adventures, this used to be a hot topic of discussion around it: the way the game is written, it can encourage "storyboarding", a type of play where the players don't actually discover story, but rather dictate it. This (unintended) behaviour emerges due to the game having a very similar procedural approach to parsing the process of play as you do here: players taking turns declaring scene locations, subject matters, participants - it's apparently very easy to read all that and end up with a blatantly storyboarded game where the actual "free roleplaying" is a pro forma ritual at the end of a debate.
    Wait, that's not how to play PTA? D:
    Loved the scene framing but I genuinely thought storyboarding was the implied methodology of the whole game. Boy, is my face red.
  • edited April 2014
    I'll give you 3 examples of oriented Framing (all GM-Less).

    In The Name of God each turn a player is the Seeker while the others are Eyes, and the procedure states:

    Seeker, you are in a place of urban decay on the borders of society: describe it.
    Now the Eyes say: what mortals are present, what is slightly bizarre, what is dangerous here and now.
    In Infotech Team : Beyond Rage & Betrayal the scenes are much more structured and rigid as the point is not so much to play an open ended story, as to portray humorous sketch scenes. Every turn a player is YOU while all the others act as ASS ... one of the three possible scene types is:

    If you are On The Clock GET 1 Bore then say where you are in the corporate building and what menial job you are trying to perform. Some ASS will tell you why you are having problems with it. Describe how you honestly try to fix the problem, then listen to some ASS explain why you are failing. Now say how you give up and try to cut corners, cheat your way out of the problem or otherwise act unprofessionally, take a test:
    Dreamwake is instead a more traditional adventure game where players are meant to strictrly play as their Character, in "actor stance" so to speak, as much as possible... so for example no one at the table can ever describe something that is outside the immediate perception here and now of one of the PCs. Within this net anyone can add details to a scene and move NPCs and of course play her own PC. And the scene framing goes like this:

    [...] Scenes can only be in chronological order (aka: no flashbacks) [...] Follow these instructions strictly and to the letter; don’t rant, don’t explain, don’t wander off, be brief and clear.
    Step 1 - roll Nemesis dice, if present
    Step 2 - say where the scene takes place (Location)
    Step 3 - say when the scene takes place (Time)
    Step 4 - say which PCs are present in addition to yours (Cast)
    Step 5 - say which NPCs are present, if any at all (Extras)
    Step 6 - when the Scene ends pass this card to your left
    Also, the text immediately gives a bit of advise/explanation to the reader:
    Don’t add cool and flavourful descriptions to the framing, don’t explain what characters are doing, don’t justify how and why they came to be in this scene. Just don’t! This stuff you can do only after the framing ends, when you actually play the scene.
    Since descriptions can have mechanical value, and since pre-narrations has to be avoided at all costs, Dreamwake uses this framing to set PCs in a clear environment, leaving all the rest for the actual moment of active play where points fly around and things happen and explanations are discovered, to everyone's surprise.

    Also, all 3 games clearly state when a Scene starts and ends.
    The Name of God makes it start with the Seeker declaration, and ends after a problematic choice is presented to the Seeker (and resolved).
    IT:BRB makes it start when YOU select the type of scene to play, and ends after a test has been performed.
    Dreamwake starts when the next player receives the Frame Card and ends either if the Cast or Location change substancially, or after a Challenge has been resolved.
  • edited April 2014
    Something I see happening in this hobby from time to time is that certain areas of gaming tends to get into molds, and when someone new arrives they are corrected and led into this mold. While I can see the good in this, we also loose some of the ideas and perspectives that new people can bring. So even if I think @Paul_T's link is really good, and I bookmarked it myself, I will try to use what you wrote as a base to build from.
    1. Describe the setting.
    The framing player describes the time, place, and mood of the scene.
    All this is often something that is brushed over all too easily. What does it mean to set the mood? In [a cyberpunk game that I can't remember it's name], you always tell the exact time when you frame the scene. "02.34, in one of the many alleys.", and this creates a certain atmosphere for that game. I've been experimenting with using (5-10) keywords for a whole session that are constantly repeated. You can set the mood by having a structure where you describe with love in your mind or adding something that has to do with love. That creates a certain feeling as well.

    So don't just say "mood"; create a structure for it! Make it a step of it's own. You can do things with time as well, just like the already mentioned cyberpunk game, or to only tell how many days/months/years that passed since the last scene. You can do so much with this to create more elements that adds to the atmosphere of the game.
    2. Establish motivations.
    Each player, starting with the framing player, describes their character’s motivation and what they’re doing at the start of the scene. Any player may opt out of any scene for any reason.
    This is interesting, and I wonder how it would turn out in play. Honestly, I'm more interested in reading any playtest and take in any changes or thoughts that you had about your own structure. I would suggest to play for 30 minutes to try it out. That will teach you a lot, and also let you understand where you want to go with this game. If something doesn't "feel right", it's probably because you had a design goal in your mind but never said it out loud.
    4. Establish facts.Each player, starting with the GM, declares any significant happenings since the last scene, or any other facts that may affect the upcoming scene.
    This is pretty cool. I dunno what the terms are called in English, but there are two theater terms called Sow and Harvest. It's basically establish something that will turn out important later. You sow a fact and then you harvest it by making it important. The movie The Long Kiss Good Night does this a lot, where the audience can see a sign that says "Warning: thin ice" several scenes before they jump out a window and through the ice. Where the audience can spot a pair of skates, only to be used much later.

    I can see how tiny things, like eating a banana or looking at a photo, can become relevant later in your game by doing this step.
    5. Populate the scene.
    The GM adds story characters, props and other details to the scene.
    I was a little surprised to read that your game had a game master.
    6. Open the scene.
    The GM synthesizes the information from steps 1-5 into an opening line of narration, and the scene begins.
    I wonder if this is really necessary, because you have already done all that in the previous steps. Let instead the framing player open the scene with doing something or saying something.
    3. Establish an endpoint.
    All players negotiate an appropriate endpoint for the scene.

    /.../

    7. Act out the scene.
    During the scene, players act in character, ask questions, resolve conflicts, etc.
    And I share the others worries in this thread. Much like step 6 where the game master mostly repeats what's already said, step 3 can put a stop to step 7. If you have "Tim shoots Sue in her head", what hinders us from frame a scene and just state the fact during play that Tim shoots Sue and with those words end the (really short) scene?

    Something I think is better is to make the "scene framer" tell the purpose of the scene. Instead of things that are bound to happen (or fail), treat the purpose of scene framing more like a play of thoughts of what could happen. Like "What would happen if Sue confronts Tim?", "What would happen if Sue and Tim meets after the wedding?" or "What if zombies arrived?". Then everybody knows what to react on, and try to play out to find out, instead of play out to a goal.

    I've been doing a lot of collaborative storytelling and something I noticed is that you need three things.

    The first is a goal so everyone has something to strive for. Each character can have a goal of it's own. The goal doesn't have to be fulfilled but it creates a movement. Sometimes the goals comes together with a catalyst - an event that turns things upside down - but it's not necessary. You got goals in step 2 with the motivations, and I'm curious how that will turn out in play, because what I mean with "goals" are something that stretch over the whole session. I feel like you assume that everybody have this and creates motivations from that, but if you don't then it can be hard to come up with motivations for the scenes. The players can feel lost.

    The second is that you first need to establish things. Sow and harvest, remember? When playing collaborative storytelling, I noticed that the first scenes must be establishing scenes so everybody got something to work on later. The first scene(s) should present the character and also show everyone that character's motivation, and possibly even why/how that character got that motivation. The already mentioned cyberpunk game and also Dogs in the Vineyard does this.

    The third is making shit happen. Pull out those what-if-questions to be answered during the scene. The questions should be based on everything that's been established in previous scenes or during prep. See how important it is to have establishing scenes? Establishment scenes are also slower, and here is a trouble I have with Forge games, because they focus too much on conflicts in every scene. I talked about this in the thread that Paul_T linked to. You need to have slower scenes too to make the game become more versatile.

    So I wonder if there can be one structure for all kinds of scenes during all states of the game, or if it should differ depending on how far you progressed in the game.
  • This is pretty cool. I dunno what the terms are called in English, but there are two theater terms called Sow and Harvest. It's basically establish something that will turn out important later. You sow a fact and then you harvest it by making it important. The movie The Long Kiss Good Night does this a lot, where the audience can see a sign that says "Warning: thin ice" several scenes before they jump out a window and through the ice. Where the audience can spot a pair of skates, only to be used much later.

    I can see how tiny things, like eating a banana or looking at a photo, can become relevant later in your game by doing this step.
    I'm not familiar with theater much, but as a writer, I see the terms "setup" and "payoff" used in regards to this, especially in screenwriting.
  • Isn't "negotiating an endpoint" what play is actually about? Except in certain categories of game--jeepform in particular--establishing the endpoint before playing the scene is "playing before we play." Now, it can help to know what you're playing toward, but usually you want that to emerge from the characters striving to get what they want. So maybe that "negotiate an endpoint" is actually "establish character objectives"; in other words, given the mise en scene and the character's motivations, each player determines what his or her character wants out of the scene.
  • I like that idea; you start the scene by figuring out what its vectors are; when the vectors collide, you find out what happens when the dust settles.
  • edited April 2014
    Precisely. Setting a scene is like "pausing" a billiards table at a moment when some of the balls are motion. You can see where they're going, but they haven't yet struck anything. Playing the scene out is releasing the pause button and seeing what happens.
  • Precisely. Setting a scene is like "pausing" a billiards table at a moment when some of the balls are motion. You can see where they're going, but they haven't yet struck anything. Playing the scene out is releasing the pause button and seeing what happens.
    That's the best metaphor I've ever heard! And the billiards balls have trajectories that players can alter as the scene plays out, but they can't always change the way things go.
  • Oh yes. They are smart balls. :-)
  • @Eero_Tuovinen, Did some re-reading of PTA, and it seems like where most of the pre-determinism comes in is during "Conflict resolution" and in designing episode and series plot arcs. The actual "Scene request" rules are fairly non-prescriptive and resemble something that could work in my context. ("To request a scene, address the following: Focus, Agenda, and Location." Who's there, and other details are included in the Agenda.)


    @Hasimir, three great examples that I've never heard of! Helpful in understanding how framing procedure can enforce theme.
    Don’t add cool and flavourful descriptions to the framing, don’t explain what characters are doing, don’t justify how and why they came to be in this scene. Just don’t! This stuff you can do only after the framing ends, when you actually play the scene.
    Can anyone tell me about a play experience following this rule? How does the scene's purpose emerge during play? Does the framing player typically have an agenda in mind as the scene opens or is it truly collaboratively discovered?

    @Bill_White, re: Endpoints--
    How can we make a scene feel complete without understanding at the outset what we want out of it? In my experience, a satisfying cut-point sometimes emerges naturally, but more often things just slowly dwindle. Does anyone have thoughts on endpoint setting as "asking the question you want the scene to answer"?

    @Rickard,
    Instead of things that are bound to happen (or fail), treat the purpose of scene framing more like a play of thoughts of what could happen. Like "What would happen if Sue confronts Tim?", "What would happen if Sue and Tim meets after the wedding?" or "What if zombies arrived?". Then everybody knows what to react on, and try to play out to find out, instead of play out to a goal.
    Yes, this is what I want. Is it wrong to say that, once we know the answer to "What if zombies arrived?" then that should be end of the scene? That's what I want to accomplish with endpoint setting. To know the question you're trying to answer, so the scene doesn't outlast it's narrative purpose.

    I want to avoid scenes where:
    1. zombies arrive
    2. protagonists despatch all the zombies
    3. 15 minutes of trying to escape through the woods, even though nobody is really interested in this part of the story

    Now, in some situations, players will be interested in the woods escape, and in that case, they'll frame a scene about it--but I want to give the option of saying, "We survived that zombie attack, now the next scene happens back at home after we escape through the woods."

  • @Rickard,
    Instead of things that are bound to happen (or fail), treat the purpose of scene framing more like a play of thoughts of what could happen. Like "What would happen if Sue confronts Tim?", "What would happen if Sue and Tim meets after the wedding?" or "What if zombies arrived?". Then everybody knows what to react on, and try to play out to find out, instead of play out to a goal.
    Yes, this is what I want. Is it wrong to say that, once we know the answer to "What if zombies arrived?" then that should be end of the scene? That's what I want to accomplish with endpoint setting. To know the question you're trying to answer, so the scene doesn't outlast it's narrative purpose.

    I want to avoid scenes where:
    1. zombies arrive
    2. protagonists despatch all the zombies
    3. 15 minutes of trying to escape through the woods, even though nobody is really interested in this part of the story

    Now, in some situations, players will be interested in the woods escape, and in that case, they'll frame a scene about it--but I want to give the option of saying, "We survived that zombie attack, now the next scene happens back at home after we escape through the woods."
    I definitely sympathize. The problem is, what do you do when you start a scene with "What if zombies arrived?", but then another, more fundamentally interesting question emerges, such as "Does Amy actually care about the survival of the others?" It's less than optimal to cut the scene before you can answer the second question, but you have to cut the scene sometimes.
  • edited April 2014
    In that situation, What's stopping you from framing a second scene, picking up right after the first, in which the new question is addressed?

    In fact, I would say that this is the ideal. During each scene, we discover a new question to ask in the next.
  • Are we trying to establish general "best practices" for creating scenes or are we trying to address this in the context of a particular game or campaign?
  • In that situation, What's stopping you from framing a second scene, picking up right after the first, in which the new question is addressed?

    In fact, I would say that this is the ideal. During each scene, we discover a new question to ask in the next.
    Nothing's stopping you, but it can get awkward, especially if the focus of a scene shifts. It winds up a lot less fulfilling.
  • edited April 2014
    Yes, this is what I want. Is it wrong to say that, once we know the answer to "What if zombies arrived?" then that should be end of the scene?

    /.../


    In that situation, What's stopping you from framing a second scene, picking up right after the first, in which the new question is addressed?

    In fact, I would say that this is the ideal. During each scene, we discover a new question to ask in the next.
    I wonder. The question about the zeds is so open that it's probably hard to know when there is a finite answer. The ideal would probably to have new questions to be created dynamically through play. If there are no questions to be asked, then play an establishment scene to give fuel to more questions. But typically, a new scene is created when there is a change in time or place. I do have, however, played games where sometimes one participant has ended a scene and a new participant brings more fuel to the scene by asking more what-if-questions. So you could be on to something here.

    I think all this is kinda hard to answer without knowing how you play roleplaying games, or at least play this game. Do the game master have anything prepared? Do the players play a party, separate characters in separate stories or are they competing/intriguing against each other? What are the focuses of your game, i.e. what is your game about, what do the characters do and what kind of feelings should the players perceive while playing? Answering this wont help anything about this particular discussion but at least I can try to give answers that suits your purpose.
  • @Bill_White, re: Endpoints--
    How can we make a scene feel complete without understanding at the outset what we want out of it? In my experience, a satisfying cut-point sometimes emerges naturally, but more often things just slowly dwindle. Does anyone have thoughts on endpoint setting as "asking the question you want the scene to answer"?
    I'd argue that if we know what each character wants in the given context, we know to end the scene when each character has either succeeded or failed in getting it.

    Example: We've decided that we have three characters are running through the woods away from zombies; the characters are Archer, Blaze, and Charlie. Let's give each player a chance to ask a different question about the scene. or to make a different statement about what they want out of the scene. However, the question can't be about the group as a whole; it has to be about a single character, or the relationship between one character and another.

    o Archer: "Do I get away?" ("I want to get away.")
    o Blaze: "Does Charlie come to see Blaze as her protector?"
    o Charlie: "Does Charlie realize that she has to rely on herself?"

    Then let's say we give each player a chance to make a move to get toward his or her goal. Let's pretend that we play this game solely with dialogue, and that no one can directly refuse an "offer" from another player.

    o Archer: "This way! There's an opening through those trees!" [moving toward escape]
    o Blaze: "Careful, Charlie! Give me your hand!" [moving toward Charlie's protector]
    o Charlie: "Behind you, Blaze! Watch out for that zombie!" [introducing trouble to avoid saying no]

    Charlie's player introduces a zombie to menace Blaze because she couldn't just refuse to take his hand, of course. Another round:

    o Archer: "Follow me, you two!" [continuing to move toward escape]
    o Blaze: "But there's more of them! We're cut off!" [hoping that Charlie will cling to him]
    o Charlie: "Now there's one after me! Take that, you creep!" [but she goes a different route]

    We already have a pretty good sense of how this scene is heading; Blaze is definitely not getting what he wants, Charlie definitely is, and Archer has a choice to make: get away clean, or help his friends.

    o Archer: "There's too many! Meet me at the old farmhouse!" [making good his escape--now we know more about Archer]
    o Blaze: "Help me, Charlie!" [basically conceding]
    o Charlie: "C'mon, Blaze! Archer went that way!' [accepting the concession]

    At the end of this round, everyone has either clearly succeeded or clearly failed to get what they wanted, so we can call the scene. If we were handing out metagame resources or currency, we'd do that now, and then proceed to the next scene, probably at the old farmhouse.



  • edited April 2014
    Dreamwake/.../
    Don’t add cool and flavourful descriptions to the framing, don’t explain what characters are doing, don’t justify how and why they came to be in this scene. Just don’t! This stuff you can do only after the framing ends, when you actually play the scene.
    Based on my experiences from collaborative storytelling, I think this says more about Dreamwake in particular than scene framing in general.

    One advice I can give is to leave the characters or place to the very end of the scene framing. That will make people listen to what you say. This is an advice that can be used in all kinds of roleplaying games and styles. One thing that I find works really well is to start with the place, start describing what your character is doing to start off the scene and then drag along the other characters into your description, or letting the other participants join in. Or do the other way around. Tell which characters are there, start describing details and then finish off with where they are. They can't (re)act before they know that they are there or where they are.
  • Rickard is right, in literature, movies and other media, the scene isn't described procedurally in order. You can start from an action, show who is involved and then zoom back into the whole frame. You can start with timelines and explaining what took the characters there to jump into the action after that. You can start with a symbolic object and tell the story of the people around it. I'd say, limit things to three questions: What's the mood? What's there? Who's there?
    I've been experimenting with using (5-10) keywords for a whole session that are constantly repeated.
    This had me thinking on a simple procedure where the player that describes the scene can only choose three words to describe it, from a list of words that define the general different moods of the setting you're playing into (three colums of six words each sould be plenty, so the player can roll 3d6 when totally uninspired). This limit is meant to put players on the same page. perhaps another player can try to change the mood later through some effort from her character, but right after the mood is defined, the first dialogue, action or description has to take place following this cue. Think of this like, when you're watching a movie and you are hearing the ambient music before seeing the whole scene, preparing you for the mood of that scene.

    Then, if any player has any idea on how to go from there, she's free to frame an action, explain the motivation of her character, or describe one thing from that place. If more than one player has an idea at the same time, they roll to see who takes precedence and the latter has to build on whatever the other player put first.

    If no one has any idea yet, next player in order chooses to answer one of the remaining questions, like "who's there?", describing how a single character enters the scene. I'd say, let any player take control of that character (or roll to take control of it if more than one likes/has an idea on what should be doing) Then players get to move to the last question if no one has any ideas yet, or right to the action if they are already inspired.

    They way I see it, players would be rolling mostly to introduce their input when there's more than one or to take control of a particular element for the sake of protecting it a bit, possibly through more dice rolling against other player's input later in the game.
  • Rickard is right, in literature, movies and other media, the scene isn't described procedurally in order. You can start from an action, show who is involved and then zoom back into the whole frame. You can start with timelines and explaining what took the characters there to jump into the action after that. You can start with a symbolic object and tell the story of the people around it.
    I love this point, and I wonder if it could work to present a variety of options or prompts for scene-framing, like:

    A noise startles you awake; describe it. Who's the first person you see when you wake?

    You walk with purpose into an unfamiliar place; describe it. What are you afraid of?

    You're searching for something you need. What is it? Who's helping you?

    You overhear familiar voices conversing. Whose are they? What is the tone of conversation?

    A pressing danger surrounds you; describe it. Who else is in danger? What's your first instinct?


    These are spitballed and obviously not fine-tuned, but the idea is to play with the amount and type of information you have at the start of the scene, and also to control the narrative focus. A lot of these give broad narrative authority to the framing player--which isn't what I'm going for--but I think that can be toggled by addressing certain question to the GM or other players.
  • I love this point, and I wonder if it could work to present a variety of options or prompts for scene-framing, like:

    A noise startles you awake; describe it. Who's the first person you see when you wake?

    You walk with purpose into an unfamiliar place; describe it. What are you afraid of?

    You're searching for something you need. What is it? Who's helping you?

    You overhear familiar voices conversing. Whose are they? What is the tone of conversation?

    /.../

    These are spitballed and obviously not fine-tuned,
    I like this, if "you" means the person who frames the scene, but I want to throw out a warning about the last example. If the familiar voices are later played by the others, it can put them in an awkward position where they don't know where to go. I've been in those situations myself, and even if I'm excellent at making up shit on the spot, it can still come as a shock to me and make me pause for 2-3 seconds before I can contribute with anything of my own, and even then I got this uncertain feeling that if what I do is the right thing.

    I dunno if this has anything to do with scene framing per se, and can therefor be off topic, but I thought lately about how to hand off to other people in a way that feels natural. How do we do it in a normal discussion?
  • edited April 2014
    That's why the first thing to do is always set the mood. Humans actually reason everything from our emotional point of view, that's why we get a blank page syndrome when we go into a situation with our emotions undefined, and also the same reason why people who can't read the mood of a group have so many problems to fit and cope with certain situations. Let´s check back the same examples:

    The mood is romantic -A noise startles you awake; describe it. Who's the first person you see when you wake?

    The mood goes about danger from natural sources - You walk with purpose into an unfamiliar place; describe it. What are you afraid of?

    The mood is technological but claustrophobic - You're searching for something you need. What is it? Who's helping you?

    The mood/genre is supernatural horror - You overhear familiar voices conversing. Whose are they? What is the tone of conversation?

    The mood/place is peaceful, but - A pressing danger surrounds you; describe it. Who else is in danger? What's your first instinct?


    Now I can make out clear answers from those questions, when before I actually drew a blank on most of them. Going back to the music comparision: It's the same when you see an horror flick with no sound, or change it for a funny tune, it just doesn't work the same and the whole meaning of the scene can change completely.
  • Ah, I get that, totally.

    The next place my head goes from there is to use the language of the prompt to evoke mood without the expository directive. The example from The Name of God seems to do this effectively:

    Seeker, you are in a place of urban decay on the borders of society: describe it.
    Now the Eyes say: what mortals are present, what is slightly bizarre, what is dangerous here and now.
    But there are also elements of mood and theme that are communicated by other parts of the game rules.
  • edited April 2014
    I can't tell if we're getting off topic or if the topic is evolving, but the current direction brings a technique to mind and I thought I'd share it. Sometimes it's difficult getting a new character or a newbie player started on the act of describing things. What I often do is describe a movie opening to them in third-person, and then transition with a question in second-person. It's about setting the mood in the context of a movie trope, and it usually works. For example:

    "The title credits roll over images of devastated landscapes, ruined buildings, broken freeways and the rusted detritus of civilization. The music is slow and ominous, with random sound effects and echoes. As the credits end, the camera fades in on a pair of closed human eyes. It's early morning, just dawn. Outside we can hear the sounds of the cultists' muffled conversations and the sputtering of meat cooking on the spit. The camera pulls back slowly to reveal the face. It's Squaids, he's sleeping. A shaft of dim light falls across his face and dust motes eddy in the air. Slowly the eyes flutter and open. The camera continues pulling back to reveal his neck and chest, then his whole body, as he sits upright in bed and blinks, his eyes focusing. As he stands up, the camera continues zooming back to a wide shot of the room. Scratching himself and yawning, he looks around."

    I then address the character directly. "Squaids: What does the room look like?"
  • The opening sequence really does the trick, however I'm not sure about the imposition. What if the player doesn't want to be Squaids or if more than one player wants to be Squaids and give their input from that point of view, or develope the character on one way or another? I understand that this can be transitory and the same player that is addressed as Squaids may play Squaid's best friend on the next scene or before, yet some players may resist to this.

    That's why I suggested leaving it open to any player to take the place of Squaids, let them treat him as an NPC if nobody wants to be in his place (and go to the next question if you've got no idea of how to go from there) or let players roll for agency if more than one wants to be Squaids and describe what he sees differently.
  • (in my example the player had already committed to be Squaids.)
  • (ah, ok then :D )
  • edited April 2014
    Lots of great points in this thread. I'm not sure why certain ideas are necessarily automatically excluded from the running, however. There's a way "scene framing" is traditionally done in many RPG designs, but there are also good designs which subvert those conventions, and many that haven't been tried.

    For instance, I think there's a lot of interesting design space around establishing "closing moments". Imagine playing that same thing with Squaids waking up, when we've establishing one of the following:

    The scene ends when:
    * Squaids spots his long-lost love.
    * Squaids is shot through the head by an old rival.
    * Squaids begins to eat his last ever meal.

    Now we're playing for emotional resonance and context. We know how the scene will end, but we don't know why. From the point of view of the story, this is a useful device. Writers do this all the time:
    "The sun rose over the devastated lands. Squaids opened his eyes. This was the last dawn Squaids would ever see...

    [Some action follows.]

    [...]

    "Squaids sat down to eat his last ever meal."

    CUT
    The foreknowledge that the main character in the scene won't make it through the scene alive (or whatever) gives a completely different context to the scene.

    Mechanically, it's also interesting, because it gives us a way to handle the closing of the scene. A certain player (or maybe any player) has the authority to narrate the closing line/moment at any time ("And then, Squaids was shot through the head by his ex-lover"), and doing so, also has the authority to decide when the scene ends.

    I've used this in traditional RPGs, sometimes, which can be fun. Let's say that Archer has told us that he is on a plane full of explosives, and he's going to ram this plane into a building to blow everything up. Meanwhile, Blaze and Charlie are sitting beside (or maybe even inside) this building having lunch, when Blaze finds out that Charlie has been cheating on him. So they're having a heated argument.

    I tell Archer's player: "Ok, we're going to play out this scene with Blaze and Charlie. But meanwhile, Archer is approaching in the plane. You tell us exactly when the plane hits the structure."

    So now we play out the scene, but Archer's player has the authority to come in and end the scene with a fiery explosion, and none of us know when that will be. Clearly, though, the timing will change very drastically what kind of scene it is: maybe the explosion will happen just as Blaze and Charlie reconcile and forgive each other, killing them both at the moment of resolution. Or maybe they're at each others' throats, and the explosion keeps them from killing each other. Depends on how it plays out, of course.

    Fiasco does this, too, by the way, with the die choices made as well as with Tilt elements (and, to some extent, the Aftermath).

    This all goes to show, of course, why the game's design is fundamentally important to scene framing. I wouldn't want to use the above technique in a game that's about adventurers trying to survive in an ancient dungeon full of monsters, lest I become a monster myself.
  • the game's design is fundamentally important to scene framing.
    Right on. Some games are all about retroactively determining the path toward a predetermined (or mostly predetermined) endpoint. "Dead Man Talking" comes immediately to mind.

    Everything is relative. Even the degree of relativity. Ultimately the most effective scene framing for your game will vary based on your design intentions, mechanics, rhetoric, ephemera and the gaming group itself. Which is as it should be. That's why I think this thread will end up being a random cornucopia of scene framing techniques applicable to a variety of widely different situations and playstyles, rather than the neat checklist @Dirk may have originally preferred.
  • That's why I think this thread will end up being a random cornucopia of scene framing techniques applicable to a variety of widely different situations and playstyles, rather than the neat checklist @Dirk may have originally preferred.
    Keep the cornucopia flowing, this has been immeasurably helpful to me in understanding the right questions to ask when thinking about this topic.

  • Building towards a pre-determined scene outcome is a pretty common technique in jeepform and other structured freeform games. But that strikes me as the opposite of "playing to find out what happens," which is a central principle for some other sorts of games. I mean, sometimes it worth it to play towards an outcome that you've already set, but at other times that's the opposite of what you want.
  • In Spycraft: Point out cover.
    In D&D: Enumerate the monsters you can see and their approximate location.
    In Vampire: Describe their haircut
  • (+1 to JD!)
  • In Vampire: Describe their haircut
    +1 XD
    Dreamwake/.../
    Don’t add cool and flavourful descriptions to the framing, don’t explain what characters are doing, don’t justify how and why they came to be in this scene. Just don’t! This stuff you can do only after the framing ends, when you actually play the scene.
    Based on my experiences from collaborative storytelling, I think this says more about Dreamwake in particular than scene framing in general.
    Indeed :)
    One of the fundamental points of Dreamwake is to have Players be Players as much as possible, instead of being a sort of mini/diffused/turning Master. Scene Framing is one moment of play where a would-be director/storyteller could push heavily to have things go his way, or where a Player too used to traditional incoherent games could end up pre-narrating lots of stuff instead of playing it out.
    The specifics of Dreamwake Scene Framing are meant to prevent this from happening, shifting the action after the framing, where everyone can have a say and the game's mechanics are fully into gear.

    Of course it may not be an ideal setup for a different game with different aims. Paul_T comments on "framing from the end" are a perfect (and very interesting) example :)
  • Hi Hasimir
    Dreamwake sounds very interesting but I'm a bit confused when you say
    "fundamental points of Dreamwake is to have Players be Players as much as possible"
    Wouldn't the players be playing the characters? and player concerns put on hold.

    This part of roleplaying I most prefer,, (In character or playing it out) so do think this game might be of interest for me to check out.
    have you a link.
  • My bad, I should have said: fundamental points of Dreamwake is to have Participants be Players as much as possible

    What I meant was, that in most GM-Less games the participants have to somehow act in "director stance", doing what a GM would do, but in a diffused/democratic/something way. Which is very cool and integral part of the fun. I love Fiasco, Shock, Montsegur, Polaris, etc.
    But Dreamwake has a different aim. So it strives to minimize that kind of experience as much as possible, in order for participants to be able to act in "actor stance" ... immersed in their characters, with (almost) no tought or worry for the things that are usually done by a GM/Narrator/Storyteller/Keeper/whatever.
    It works peacy with 3+ participants, a bit less with just 2 (as in, the game works perfectly but the out-character contributions are a bit more evident).

    Play as a Player, not as a part-time GM. I hope this clarifies what I meant to say ^_^

    And as far as links are concerned, here you go: www.UnPlayableGames.tk :)
  • Thanks Hasimir

    understand now players being players. Thats the favoured stance with our group which were trying to maximize with Gmless games.

    Thanks for the link, Dreamwake might help us? fingers crossed its good at cutting to the chase :)
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