Friday, November 20, 2009

Wrap It Up

In improv theater, knowing when and how to end a scene often poses a problem. Often, a show has an emcee who solves this problem by simply deciding when a scene ends. In traditional RPGs, GM's control all aspects of pacing: they frame every scene and determine when every scene ends. Collaborative storytelling means liberating players from GM's and GM's from their obligations—and that means exploring other ways of figuring out when a scene ends.

This came up in playtesting. We had some scenes that had a hard time finding their focus, and as a result, would ramble on for far too long. We need some way to signal when to wrap it up.

In literature, every scene has a specific purpose, and the scene ends when it has fulfilled that purpose. In a story game, though, we may not know a scene's purpose until we've finished playing it, so how can we know when it has fulfilled that purpose? More importantly, how can we know in that moment, that a scene has finished, with all the other things we have to keep in mind in play?

I've decided to take a page from a Norwegian game called "Until We Sink," which itself seems to follow the model of most plays. In "Until We Sink," a scene ends when two characters have left. This means that one character can't arbitrarily end the scene prematurely, but by the same token, one character can't keep the scene going, either. When the first person leaves, it probably signals to the others that this scene should end soon, sending that "wrap it up" message to everyone playing. As with so many other parts of the game, I'll have a ritual phrase to indicate this, which should help to give it some additional weight.

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