In-game time continuity vs scene cuts

In traditional RPGs, in-game time is often continuous - except maybe breaks for sleep and some downtime between adventures.
Then again in indie/story games, you find (hard) scene framing that starts with the action (in medias res) and ends the scene when it makes sense. The next scene happens at a different point in time, with no continuity in-between.

Personally, I also like to play games with traditional RPG tropes with hard scene framing like in some story games. However when I do that, some players are shocked as if I'd killed their puppy. They feel player agency is too restricted by moving their characters into a different time & space.

My question specifically:
What are practical ways to deal with this?
How can I create the right expactancy before play?
What concepts should I be clear about (player agency, fictional positioning...)?

Comments

  • Here's how I handle this as GM:

    "Alright, we're going to skip ahead now to when you guys arrive in town. First, is there anything you wanted to get done before then? Second, feel free to share anything you want to share about how you handle the journey."

    Well, okay, I don't literally say those words, but that's the stuff I make sure to cover without actually playing through it.

    I find that this maintains the players' sense of continuity, agency, immersion, etc. As long as they are able to connect the dots between scene 1 and scene 2, they're usually fine. Just give them that opportunity.

    As for how to introduce this approach, I usually say something like, "We only have 3 hours to play, we've got awesome stuff to do in town, let's not spend too much of tonight's session on travel. We all know it sucks when we just get to town and start doing exciting stuff and then Dan has to go home." I have never encountered any disagreement with that, at least in principle. :)
  • To facilitate ongoing communication about such things, you could also use my Pacing Dial.

    If you want to maintain GM control over hard scene framing, though, then this probably isn't what you want.
  • edited December 2018
    I agree with Dave.

    In my experience, all "continuous" trad game-style play also gets "framed". There's not much of a difference. The difference is just that the players make the effort to "connect the dots".

    For instance:

    Hard framing

    "Ok, it's morning! She walks over to you and puts her hand on your leg..."

    Traditional framing

    "The night passes uneventfully. You toss and turn a little in your sleep, then have the last of your food, cold, as the sun rises. As you're finishing, she walks over to you and puts her hand on your leg..."

    The only time there is a more significant difference is if you're interested in skipping more substantial material, like events which actually change plot outcomes. The classic example being, "ok, you're tied to a chair and the enforcer has just stopped beating your face in. She leans in close..."

    How did we get here?

    That's a more challenging position to put the player in, particularly if trust is lacking or they feel that the game is about "doing well" as the character (in which case getting captured and beaten is a loss, and having that foisted on you isn't fair play).
  • edited December 2018
    I really like the "connect the dots" approach, David, and also your Pace Dial!

    To makes things more difficult, I should mention the following additional restraints:
    1. I play GMless with rotating scene framing.
    2. There is no player-character monogamy.

    One thing I'm experimenting with at the moment is to have dialogue "scenes" between the real scenes. This allows players to reflect/expand what happened in-character, establish more details in the story world and possibly anticipate what could come next.
    I can also imagine offering additional flashback scenes to re-visit things we may have skipped before, don't know it this helps.

    Personally, I actually like skipping substantial material, as you've suggested Paul.
    I even like "leaving the dots unconnected" for more dramatic effect and openness for further development.
    I need to try out how connecting the dots works for me.
  • Ten Candles has a very cool scene framing device. Number of candles left = number of sentences leading to the new scene. The pace gets faster and faster until the inevitable doom!
  • I'm not sure what the advantage of "connecting the dots" is in GMless play. Is that something people are asking for?

    Generally, stronger and looser scene framing would give more tools and freedom in that context, it seems to me. Why does it even make sense to make the effort to maintain a continuous narrative if there is no consistent viewpoint character?
  • edited December 2018
    BeePeeGee said:

    1. I play GMless with rotating scene framing.
    2. There is no player-character monogamy.

    Are you sure the source of the problem is "moving their characters into a different time & space"?

    Or do you think it might be a larger problem of disorientation, and players are requesting that we keep the characters in the same time and place just because that's one concrete way to help orient oneself?

    I am trying to think of an example of when I've seen player-character non-monogamy work well. The only example that comes to mind is The Final Girl, and that is a very structured game with a really concrete orientation and simple agenda for what the players should be doing. I am skeptical of player-character non-monogamy in other sorts of contexts.
  • Presumably it works the same way as it works when a GM does it, no?
  • It's probably a disconnect with Stance and each player's personal Technical Agenda. Lemme know if anyone wants me to unpack that jargon.
  • Ten Candles, Final Girl... these are exactly games I enjoy most...

    It would REALLY help me to diagnose the root of the problem that my players have.
    Adam: I am not so clear on stance and Technical Agenda.

    As David suggested, the real problem may be related to disorientation.
  • Stance is sort of how you approach your character, and what distance between you and your character you'll tolerate.

    Actor Stance: You play as if you're in the character's head, using only knowledge they have.

    Author Stance: You play the character like it's a character in a book you're writing, with all of your player's agendas and knowledge.

    Director Stance: You play the character like it's a character in a movie you're directing, with a higher-level agenda than Author Stance, even influencing the environment around the character to suit your purposes. Sometimes you might even direct another player's character, and they go with it.

    Technical Agenda is a set of priorities about the mechanics you like to use in play.

    So what I meant was that in a typical D&D game, players are often in Actor Stance. Skipping time is more of an Author Stance thing. Imagine you're in your character's head ("method acting") and the GM skips from Tuesday to Saturday. In your head, you want to know what's happened in the last three days, especially if you had some kind of conflict hanging over your head. If you're playing in Author mode, you have more cognitive distance from your character, so such jumps are not that disturbing to you.

    It's the cognitive distance (or proximity, really) that can create this disorientation.

    Does this make sense?
  • Yes it makes sense.
    So, my game does demand a strong Director Stance, I guess, even when roleplaying in character.

    Interestingly 0% of non-RPG-players have a problem with this. I just tellt them how I'd like to play and they go along with it naturally.
    +50% of experienced RPG players are irrritated or confused.

    How do I establish a directors stance with RPG layers?
    Or how do I communicate expectations so troubled players don't end up playing to begin with?
  • They may not enjoy that kind of play. When people talk about "immersion," they often mean stuff like they want to use Actor Stance.

    You can probably bridge to their preferred Stance with the techniques described above. Don't hard-cut over large periods of time, but instead use a "montage" description of the time that passes. Maybe even ask them for one sentence of input about how they spent their "downtime." Or as David suggests, ask people if you can skip ahead and get them to buy in first.
  • Yes, I may need to be prepared with some techniques to ease in the immersive players - or just identify them before and say "this is not for you".
  • edited December 2018
    In my game I hand the players a remote control, Like David_Berg does.
    I was working on this just yesterday. I decided to :
    1) only allow rolls and other decisive moves during "play" reading speed.
    2) maybe some day make an expansion with cards for various "sequence types" (rush action, calm before the storm, investigation, etc.) and on each card put symbols indicating what cards can come before and what cards can be played after. An informed-random narrative pace decision helper. (That was a mouthful and unimportant. The real good idea is #1 ^^)
  • edited December 2018
    BeePeeGee said:

    So, my game does demand a strong Director Stance, I guess, even when roleplaying in character.

    If you can figure out how to communicate how that's fun, I think you'll be in good shape!
    BeePeeGee said:

    Interestingly 0% of non-RPG-players have a problem with this. I just tellt them how I'd like to play and they go along with it naturally.
    +50% of experienced RPG players are irritated or confused.

    Sometimes when I pitch unfamiliar playstyles to people, I over-emphasize the differences. Like, "At any given moment you may be playing a character, but that doesn't matter; here's what matters..." That's probably not the most accurate intro, but it will alert them to abandon their assumptions and approach the thing you're offering on its own terms.

    And then the "here's what matters" part also needs to be compelling. :)
  • Best advice I've found has been:
    "Play your characters as if they were NPCs"

    Sometimes I think that if it does *not* feel too close to traditional roleplaying, then it may be easier to let your guard down (i.e. Sea Dracula).
  • BeePeeGee said:

    Best advice I've found has been:
    "Play your characters as if they were NPCs"

    That's awesome advice...if your people have had significant time behind the GM Screen.

    And that may be your single biggest problem right there.

    FWIW, I ran into something like that recently with two different gamer buddies I talk about stuff with IRL.

    Both of them , within about a week period, in different conversations, expressed thinking that pretty much defined their understanding of RPGs as being deeply linked to both challenge/gamism and 1st person/actor stance, with little to no real understanding of even traditional GM end stuff beyond a sort of hazy conception ( much less any sort of dirty hippy approach).



  • BeePeeGee said:

    What concepts should I be clear about (player agency, fictional positioning...)?

    I guess your problem is this. It's mostly theory though, but might give you a clearer picture about the problem, so it can help solving it.

  • I wouldn't frame that as a problem. If your fellow players want to play their characters in this GMless, non-pc-monogamous rpg with more continuity, just let them? That's the point about a GMless game, right? (If the game mechanics require scenes, it's probably not the right pick for this group).
  • The concept may explain the problem but I don't see a direct solution there.

    Well, the game encourages jumping from one plot focus to another, like in a film where you have scene cuts, focus on different characters/plots etc.
    But I guess we could stay more coherent.
  • edited December 2018
    Sometimes in play people are tense like elastic rubber bands attached to the goals or like bow and arrows pointing at what will happen next. Like in zen archery, scene framing is not a question, then, it flows.
    As David_Berg said, if the table isn't doing it, they probably have lost direction. Maybe they just need some time to adapt, to find "what matters". Mistaking the "declared" goal" (story hook) with "what matters" is typical of experimented (meaning "twisted") players.

    A) Dramatic questions / propositions, like the ones that make "Nerve of steel" progress, are an easy tool here.

    'B) If they want to pause for no reason, then it means some players want a tea party. Decide on a time and place and tie a knot in your handkerchief.
  • Dunno if it has been mentioned before but whenever Time is seen as an important resource in any game, taking away "Time" from the players for the sake of narration will feel arbitrary for them. It's akin to having the GM take away HP from your character without giving you a chance to avoid damage, even if the GM has a good narrative excuse for it.
  • @WarriorMonk : well assuming "*my* character's time" is already a pretty specific perspective, relates to actor stance as mentioned above.
  • More like, besides character stance -I'm not saying it doesn't happen, just that actor stance players will think too of "my character's time" but also gamist players will feel that the GM taking time away from them it's arbitrary. After all, that isn't exactly in the rules as a mechanic, but as a narrative freedom the GM may impose over the players.
  • edited December 2018
    I thought of gamist play immediately, too.

    This then cause me to remember that those most gamist of gamers, wargamers, have also experimented with techniques that either compress/expand time as needed or do something very similar to scene cutting in RPGs on occasion.

    Perhaps unsurprisingly, they happen most often in war games with referees, and pretty much for the same reason as in RPGs with GMs: To fast forward through boring bits and get to the next major event point. (There are some secondary "simulationist" reasons as well, but they tend to be very low priority reasons, really more of an afterthought).


    Even wargames without GMs, especially those of a minis-using campaign skirmish sort, tend to use an indefinite amount of time between " battles", effectively jumping from one cool clash of arms to the next.

    I also know of at least a couple of wargame texts ( and these do tend to be of the Refereed, Near- or Demi-RPG sort) that suggest when a battle is obviously over for the most part, simply call the game done, wrap things up, and go on to whatever post-battle rules sequence is appropriate. No need to chase down the last of the losing side. Another form of scen jumping or cutting, IMO.

    The point is, this kind of thing isn't entirely unknown, just maybe not as well known as it could be, which might help even committedly gamist RPGers to relax a bit when those sorts of techniques are used.
  • Interesting, didn't think of it from the gamist angle, thanks.
  • Gamist: If I can do all of that inside of a ten second combat round, that means I can accomplish [completely absurd shit] in one day!

    Simulationist: No. Stop it. Just.stop.it.
  • Ah, and now I just noticed that we were really close but looks like nobody said it before: Agency is being taken away from players. It doesn't matter if you play in actor stance, simulation, gamist or even focusing in narrative, framing a scene saying "the next day, you all..." can translate for some players as "I'm taking agency away from you and your characters will do nothing until 12 hours have passed".

    We know that's never what the GM means, players know because usually things like these are expected, explained before the game or in the worst case when they happen and anybody has complaints about it. And yet some players will still feel like Agency is being taken from them.
  • The agency thing is tbh why I'm a really big believer in scene framing being exclusively a power of players who play PCs. Then they have total agency over their characters, and get to declare how the fiction moves. Everyone wins! :)
  • How do any of the other players win in that set up? At least win any more so than any other set up?

    I mean, another player cutting/time-jumping/framing aggressively can just as easily be said to leave your character in the dust, all dis-agencied, as much as a GM doing ( if one even exists in a specific game).

    The farmer's character may not have lost anything, but certainly the other characters may.


    ( Also, the phrase Some Players Might...inevitably causes my Spidey Senses to tingle, warning me of coming danger)
  • edited December 2018
    I meant in the way of that you get explicit scene framing which is useful, without having to give up agency.
    I should note though, I also wasn't thinking in the context of framing scenes for others. I was thinking in the context of framing scenes for your character that others might appear in, but that if someone else wants to cover something in a period that was skipped over, they can roll back when they frame a scene and then we can move forward again later.
    It being a player though also gives you more authority to veto than you would have with a GM, who can theoretically overrule what players say.

    I'm also not used to super explicit time-keeping though, and I could see how it could be problematic if a group places a lot of importance on very precise time-keeping and on exclusively playing scenes linearly. Like, in my group's play, we typically cover 2-3 weeks of in-game time in a session (in 1 week blocks), but we're never really explicit when in the week something happens, because with covering a week in just a few hours, we're of course not covering every single thing that occurs; we're just covering important scenes and implying the passage of time without getting into its nitty-gritty.
  • edited December 2018
    I guess I'm a bit lost still, Emma.


    If it's my turn to frame a scene for my character, but the way I frame it jumps ahead in time and involves another player's character in some way, isn't there a very real chance that the way I frame things ends up cutting off possibilities of what their character was doing between the previous scene and the present scene?

    What I mean is, what if this creates some sort of plot paradox that you can't simply roll back time for that other character's scene easily?

    That's kinda what I meant by a player (potentially) taking away another player's agency just as readily as a GM could.


    Emma: Okay, new scene: So late in the week, we all meet at the bar on Saturn...

    KBob: Woah, hold on, my character was heading off to the Neutral Zone and even at top speed, they'd never be back in time for a meeting on Saturn. And that trip to the Neutral Zone is really important to me.


    Basically, that sort of thing.

    ETA:
    Just to be clear, I personally vastly prefer scene-cutting and similar techniques.

    I'm only responding to questions of agency and how they interact with those things.
  • edited December 2018
    BeePeeGee said:


    My question specifically:
    What are practical ways to deal with this?
    How can I create the right expactancy before play?
    What concepts should I be clear about (player agency, fictional positioning...)?

    It might be really helpful to just plain practice mini-scenes if requested by players before moving on to the next major scene and also habitually asking, out of fiction, if anything else needs to be covered before the next scene starts, that can be summed up easily.

    OTOH, depending on the group of players, you might need to also discuss what constitutes abuse of those techniques depending on what playstyle your group is into.

  • You talk to your group about it, and discuss what's acceptable.
    Also, the idea of a "plot paradox" is focusing things on a much more literal level than my group and I do, a level much more focused on internal consistency. If something happens that's "inconsistent", then we discuss what that thematically means, and what we're going to do with it.
    We also play very fast and loose with matters of distance and the like, explicitly not defining those sorts of things, so that they can take as long or as short of a time as they need in the moment, and in a way where two trips can even be inconsistent.
    We also very much know where everyone's story is going, and have discussed all the stuff we need, all the scenes we're going to frame in a session, so that whole sort of stepping on toes just doesn't happen. Everyone's on the same page.
  • edited December 2018
    @komradebob Remember EmmatheExcrucian usually plays Chuubo's. The players have very clear framework and goals in it. But even in a very "unclear" game, if another player doesn't acknowledge my actions (like my character is en route to a rendez vous in another part of the Kingdom), I'd think they are not paying attention.
    TLDR : the possibility of framing your character rather than the scene is not a difference of means but one of ends.

    On the other hand, if the player had something in their head that they didn't say and that is cut by scene framing, this is nothing specific to scene framing, and is entirely a downside of playing in your head.
  • I find quite fascinating the difference between "you get to frame a scene for your character" and "someone else frames a scene for your character". The former is really helpful when you want to advance your character's agenda or portray his/her story in a particular way (as Emma's group needs/wants). The latter is much better when you want to experience the character's story from their perspective, or engage in fictional problem-solving or decision-making.

    I've seen a lot of games get this distinction wrong in one way or another.
  • if another player doesn't acknowledge my actions (like my character is en route to a rendez vous in another part of the Kingdom), I'd think they are not paying attention.
    Exactly! I'd very much call that a big failing of communication, and would definitely be questioning if the other player was paying attention to the stuff I was saying, if they were paying attention when I was talking to them.
    (I should also note, I exclusively play Chuubo's. It's not just what I "usually" play. That's a minor and not terribly significant distinction though! ^_^)
    I find quite fascinating the difference between "you get to frame a scene for your character" and "someone else frames a scene for your character". The former is really helpful when you want to advance your character's agenda or portray his/her story in a particular way (as Emma's group needs/wants). The latter is much better when you want to experience the character's story from their perspective, or engage in fictional problem-solving or decision-making.
    This is definitely such an important distinction!

    tbh, I often don't think about what one would do when they want decision-making/problem-solving or experiencing a story from the character's perspective, because that's so far from my practice that it's not something I'd ever even consider doing, because my group and I wouldn't enjoy it at all, because of how essential portraying the stories of our characters the way we want is to us.

    I wonder if there's a different kind of scene framing technique that would help with the agency issues you can easily run into when someone else frames your scene but that retains stuff like experiencing the story from your character's perspective and solving problems and making decisions?
    It's not something I'd personally get usage out of, but it's something I could see being useful for other groups, since issues of agency in more traditional paradigms is something I've seen people run into difficulties with relatively often.
  • edited December 2018
    I was thinking about the implicit rules we use that make scene cut not a problem. From close to long term :
    - objecting - negotiating : PvP is a way of having a challenge. A challenge is better if the contestants agree on the terms. Unilateral curbstomp is no fun.
    - pace, number of cuts : if a player cuts before you, the main problem is you can't cut again for the scene you had in mind. Else, you create "minced" sequences. You have to find new ways of getting your ideas in there : having one character tell what happened between the scenes, for instance.

    The takeaway for the player is : unless you need to veto a cut, accept to delay satisfaction, get creative.
  • Paul_T said:

    I find quite fascinating the difference between "you get to frame a scene for your character" and "someone else frames a scene for your character". The former is really helpful when you want to advance your character's agenda or portray his/her story in a particular way (as Emma's group needs/wants). The latter is much better when you want to experience the character's story from their perspective, or engage in fictional problem-solving or decision-making.

    I've seen a lot of games get this distinction wrong in one way or another.

    I love how the text of Dog Eat Dog absolutely takes for granted that "what would my character do in this situation" is an essential question for scene framing. There, to experience things from my character's perspective and to make decisions as them is to frame scenes as much as it is to actually portray my character. So I wouldn't agree with you on the "much better". Although Sign in Stranger for example has other players "scene frame" for me to great effect as their "framing" is limited to my perception of an alien world with everything else being kind of unregulated.


    I wonder if there's a different kind of scene framing technique that would help with the agency issues you can easily run into when someone else frames your scene but that retains stuff like experiencing the story from your character's perspective and solving problems and making decisions?

    Dream Askew talks about scenes as emerging from "idle dreaming" to which the group can always return after a scene has ended. I think that's definitely one way to try and avoid agency issues by explicitly offering a non-meta space to get on the same page.

  • Yeah, those are good points and examples, @hyades.
  • edited December 2018
    I didn't have anything more to add to the current discussion. Just wanted to provide feedback:
    Recently when framing scenes, I have emphasized and communicated the connection to previous scenes. I had the impression that this helped greatly in player acceptance and approving nods.
    I guess this would also give other players the opportunity to intervene should I have skipped some important events in the timeline.
    So, I am more optimistic in handling my initial problem now.
  • To the question of losing agency: IME that's just about setting expectations. I tell players who are used to traditional play that they can always stop me if we skip something they didn't want to do. I also use leading questions to frame things.

    "Everyone okay if we skip ahead a few days here?"

    "Anyone need to do anything before we skip to the drop off?"

    "Ok so three days later at the... Oh you wanted to do something before that? Cool cool. Let's do that first"
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