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275647 Posts in 27717 Topics by 4285 Members Latest Member: - Jason DAngelo Most online today: 75 - most online ever: 565 (October 17, 2020, 02:08:06 PM)
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Author Topic: Scene Framing  (Read 12259 times)

Posts: 1351

« on: July 27, 2001, 02:02:00 PM »

You know, I often get torn between posting in the RPG Theory Forum and the Actual Play Forum.  If I want to discuss, say a GMing technique, is that Actual Play because it's an actual tool that will be used in game or is it RPG Theory because I'm talking about the potential aspects and refinements of that tool?

Anyway, somewhere around here in another thread the subject of Scene Framing came up.  It was mentioned that some kind of document should be drawn up on the technique and then it was sort of dropped.  I'd like to explore this technique so I'm going to take a stab at 'defining and illustrating' my understanding of what Scene Framing is and then you all can take it from there.

Now, I understand that Scene Framing is primarily a Narrativistic technique and put in its simplest form it is simply the GM stating what action begins and ends a scene.  However, I'm also under the impression that you use Scene Framing to frame the scene FOR some specific type of action or drama.

For example, consider the following ways I could open a game for a specific character:

"You awaken to the sound of someone knocking on your door."

This doesn't really frame the scene for anything.  It's more the simulationist's, this is the first sensory stimulus you can react to, technique.

"You awaken to discover a man sitting beside your bed smiling down at you."

This has a little more "framing power" because it frames the scene for mystery.  Who is this man?  How did he get in my room?  And why is he smiling at me?

"You awaken to discover your old nemesis, Darek The Black, sitting beside your bed and smiling down at you."

This opening frames the scene for some kind of conflict since it tells you that the man is your nemesis and it adds a sense of drama to his smile.  However, it doesn't tell you the nature of the conflict in the scene.  For all the player knows his nemesis my try to kill him or blackmail him.

"You awaken to discover your old nemesis Darek The Black, sitting beside your bed and smiling down at you.  He promptly grabs you and says, 'Goodbye' in a sort of sing-song voice before throwing you through your second-story window.  You land with a hard thud and a shower of broken glass rains down on you."

Now, I've framed the scene for physical conflict.  It is clear that the player's nemesis has come to rough him up a bit if not kill him.

In each example the specific kind of drama in the scene is made clearer and clearer but I also notice that more and more power is taken away from the player.  So my questions are 1) Is this a good explination of scene framing? and 2) Do you consider the last example to be railroading since it does not give the player time to react until after something bad has already happend to him?


Paul Czege
Acts of Evil Playtesters

Posts: 2341

« Reply #1 on: July 29, 2001, 06:58:00 PM »

Hey Jesse,

1) Is this a good explination of scene framing? and 2) Do you consider the last example to be railroading since it does not give the player time to react until after something bad has already happend to him?

Your examples are great, but it's hard for me to give a definitive answer as to whether each of them is railroading outside the context of the specific theme the player in question is working up with his character. Did you see my post to Scott's "My First Sorcerer Session" thread in Actual Play? It's the fifth one on the thread, although all my nice beige quoted text is nearly invisible against Clinton's new grey background. Select across the text and you'll be able to read it:


Does that make sense? It's not whether or not the GM has done something bad to the character that makes it railroading. It's whether the GM has started to force protagonism onto the character along a theme the GM has determined.



My Life with Master knows codependence.
And if you're doing anything with your Acts of Evil ashcan license, of course I'm curious and would love to hear about your plans
Ron Edwards
Global Moderator
Posts: 16490

« Reply #2 on: July 29, 2001, 08:16:00 PM »

Hi Jack, everyone,

I agree with Paul entirely, but I've always found that explanation a little abstract. I'll try to get it into specific actions.

I think of railroading as the GM making character decisions, of any kind, without consulting the players. It comes in several nasty forms.

Using the GM's privileged Director power to give them a "deal they can't refuse." You're surrounded by hundreds of carnivorous baboons, so sure, you'll go look for the stupid gem that the wizard who rescues you wants. You're framed, tossed in the cell, and a guy comes with an offer to free you if you'll bodyguard him when he goes into the scary dungeon.

This version, I think, is hard to identify as railroading from the outside. It grades very subtly into the GM's plain old role of "presentation," without which, bluntly, there isn't much going to happen.

I think that the key issues include:
- WHEN such a "closed" situation occurs in a session, or series of sessions - some instances of what we used to call "shut up and get in the death-trap" are actually a source of fun for everyone; others are outrageously intrusive.
- What OTHER things are going on - if there's something that the players would rather do, but now they have to go on this damn quest, that's annoying.
- What ISSUES are being offered in addition to Situation - if the players don't see any premise-oriented point to the quest, they will rightly see it as pointless. (So in this caes, Jesse's observation a while ago that Premise is fractal is correct.)

This is when the GM reaches over and literally plays the character. "You turn! You're amazed! You leap to grab the torch!" And then the GM proceeds to enjoy his long-awaited confrontation between the PC and the whatever-it-is, which happens to depend on the PC holding the torch.

It includes two issues - controlling the character's literal actions, and dictating the character's feelings. The latter is an interesting topic; I think it arises from GMs being frustrated with players who are not engaged with their PCs (or not in the way the GM wants), and thus going ahead and engaging with the PC themselves.

I tend to be terribly intolerant of any such intrusion on the GM's part.

This is all about arranging characters physically in time and space. Say I'm GMing, and a whole bunch of stuff has happened on a particular day. I say, "OK, next morning, when Philip's in the shower, he hears a terrible crash and splintering from outside the bathroom."

Whoa. Did the player SAY Philip was taking a shower? Did we establish that he just went to bed and slept the night through? Did we establish that he woke up? What kind of railroading is this?

It certainly could be railroading. But I claim that it doesn't have to be. Philip is not unreasonably taking a shower at the time. I've chosen a fun moment for the door to get crunched in, giving us all a chance to imagine him soaking out the aches from yesterday, and then this happens.

How to KEEP it from being railroading? Many suspicious players, used to the abuses of types 1 and 2 above, might well balk at any kind of "direction" on the GM's part. They might see even a reasonable version as being the thin end of the wedge.

So my solution is to adopt a questioning, cooperative approach. "Mario, I want to start off the scene with Philip in the shower. Is it reasonable for me to assume that he's taking one?"

If the player reeeeeaally had something they wanted to do - maybe they'd decided that Philip was going to sneak out at midnight or something - then OK, I back off. "Never mind, let's do that then."

Or say Mario's willing to get bushwhacked in the shower, but he wants to establish that Philip is not such a chump as to leave his apartment unguarded. He reminds me of his little demon pal, who'd certainly be reacting in some way, and also of some nasty surprises he had installed at one point. Within reason, I might even let him come up with such a surprise for the intruder retroactively.

See, the solution was to engage Mario as fellow Director. That way, my notion about what would be a good visual and crisis situation can be merged with his notions about how Philip doesn't leave himself utterly unguarded, even in a moment of relaxation.

It certainly helps if the players also know that their interaction with NPCs the previous day would probably generate some extreme reactions. So the violence of the GM's suggestion is in keeping with their expectations.


P.S. Hi Mario! Hope you didn't mind me using you as an example.

Posts: 1351

« Reply #3 on: August 01, 2001, 10:25:00 AM »

Okay, the above posts really cleared things up for me both on Scene Framing and on Railroading but I realized that this is heavily related to something else I've been having a problem with.

How do you START a game in non-railroady way?

I'm beginning to think that Sorcerer style kickers are really brilliant because it basically asks the players to write the first scene of the game, from their perspective, FOR you.  Otherwise you're stuck with the typical: "A friend comes to you and.... ", "You wake up to find a note attached....", "While traveling down the street an injured man...."

Basically the "kicker" is left up to the GM which feels sort of railroady in the following way.  If basically the first thing the player is forced to react to is provided the GM then basically the direction of the story is controled by the GM because what is the player going to do; ignore the only thing he has to react to?  Of course not.

But I do suppose that there are gradations:

"An old friend comes to you and asks you to do X"

is obviously a yes or no situation.  The obvious answer is yes since if the player says no, there's nothing else in the game world to react to.


"You wake up to find a dead body in you living room."

doesn't ask the player to react in any specific way.  It just asks the player to react which perhaps is less railroady than the first example.

Now let's say we're playing a game that has 7th Sea style backgrounds.  Backgrounds aren't exactly kickers because they don't motivate the character to immediate action but they are however representative of that character's (and player's) interests and are esencially reasons FOR motivation.

So let's say the player has taken the Nemesis background and has worked up the details of this Nemesis.  So now the GM opens the game with:

"An old friend comes and asks you to do X."

BUT the friend further explains that by doing X the player will be able to 'one-up' his Nemesis.  So, even though we're basically left with the same yes/no problem as the first example the motivation to do X is actually brought about because of a PLAYER choice rather than the GM simply not giving the player anything else to do but say 'yes' to this guy's request.  So is this in someway LESS railroady than the first example because the situation is derived from the player/character himself?

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