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Author Topic: Framing & Bangs  (Read 2630 times)
Reithan
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« on: January 21, 2008, 01:57:02 PM »

Ok, I'm trying to better understand the full concept of Framing and Bangs, past just the glossary definitions, into how, when why and for what they can be used.

To that end, I'm posting situations where I think they would come into play, based on the game I'm currently running - Mage: The Awakening.

Currently, a good example of something I think would be a 'Bang' would be Raven's visions. One of the player characters, Raven (no connection to the children's show character who I just realize shares a parallel here, oh god...), has the precognition merit from Second Sight (I bent the rules a little to allow mages some psionics that I thought fit well with the setting). This means she, at random intervals has uncontrolled 'visions' of the future.

Ever game session or two, I'll take Raven aside and give her a little narration sequence outlining something that is either happening at that time, or some time in the near future. Sometime I hedge this in symbolism, sometimes not, just to keep her guessing.

I would consider this an example of a Bang, because after a vision the group has to decide what they will do with the new information or even if they will act on it.

For Framing, I would point to this past game session where another character had gone out to the docks to investigate one of Raven's visions. After this was announced and we determined she would arrive their by taxi, I explained the weather, the goings ons of the dock workers, the atmosphere and emotional resonance of the area. I described a few of the buildings.

So - am I using these terms correctly? If not, how am I supposed to be using them and what techniques can these uncover for me to use to further enhance my games?
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #1 on: January 21, 2008, 03:01:25 PM »

Hiya,

Double almost! Meaning, not "wrong, ha," but rather, excellent, because I can now explain the slightly more specific meanings of the terms relative to your experiences of play.

Scene framing

This one is a little bit easier, so I'll do it first. What you've described is indeed framing in the sense that you have started a scene. By "start a scene," I mean that everyone at the table is now aware that the action and events of play are now here, at this place, rather than wherever they were before.

That's the important thing about scene framing: the transition, especially in terms of everyone at the table knowing about it, and communicating it back to you in some way. The whole group has "jumped" to this new visual and verbal experience of location and/or specific time in the fictional 'space.'

How much transition of this kind are you accustomed to in your group? In film terms, how drastically do you guys "cut"? Have you ever skipped across an ocean? Skipped over several months of time? Have you hopped right into action? There's no single right answer for how to do it, or how much. The point is that role-playing permits far more latitude in this technique than is explicitly supported in most of the medium's most widely-read texts.

Now, you also talked about describing the scene in detail, and sure, some kind of description is always necessary even if it's as brief as "downtown" or "deeper in the forest."  But the depth and detail of the description doesn't have anything to do with the framing itself - that's pretty much after you've framed it, and fills in color and detail and perhaps opportunities for the players. It might help confirm the transition into the new scene, but the transition itself has occurred and framing, per se, is now done.

Finally, there's an aspect of scene framing which received a lot of attention here at the Forge for a while, and it greatly informed the design of Ralph Mazza's Universalis, Paul Czege's My Life With Master, and my game Trollbabe - all of which then turned out to be a big influence on a lot of games in this very feature. That aspect is that the group can work together on scene framing. It is often very useful for, say, the GM to say, "I'd like to skip to halfway through the sea voyage," and if no one pipes up about wanting to do something before that point, the group just goes with it. That's just one way to handle it, too - the point is that as long as no one is riding roughshod over what someone else might have wanted to consider doing, and as long as it's clear which person has real and final authority over any such decision, then scene framing ends up being extremely painless. In Trollbabe, for instance, any player can request or suggest a scene, but only the GM decides upon scene framing. In Universalis, a turn is defined by framing a new scene, and turns move around the table as in a card game. MLWM is a bit more complex so I won't explain it, but it represents another angle on the same principles.

Once a group hits upon a functional language and set of trust about scene framing, its gaming changes drastically - no more acrimony about where the characters are and whether they could have got there or would have done something before being there, ever again.

Bangs

I should start by explaining that although scene framing is fundamental to the medium of role-playing (just as it is to other narrative art forms, like theater, film, and literature), Bangs are not. They are far more specialized and associated with a pretty specific set of game designs. I introduced the term and the pretty-specialized concept with my game Sorcerer.

What you described may or may not be a Bang, but my inkling is "not quite." One reason why not, is that the group might ignore it. A Bang can't be ignored; at its least subtle, a steaming slavering demon appears in the midst of the room and demands (ummm ...) a bride. Now! Somewhat more subtly: in a Sorcerer game a while ago, one character was a homeless crank who got mad at the city government when his disability check stopped coming; my first act as GM, when the character confronted the new mayor, was to have the mayor give this totally skanky semi-mad guy a job - specifically, the job of making sure all such functions operated smoothly. They cleaned him up, sat him behind a desk, and installed a friendly secretary. The player was both flabbergasted and excited, because all of a sudden his character concept had been turned upside down - not violated, mind you, but rather facing all the same conflicts but from a different perspective. Plus, there was the mystery of who this mayor guy was and what he was about.

The other reason is that a lot of the time, techniques like what you're describing are not given and received as open-ended, but rather are treated by the group as if they were highly specific cues for highly specific actions, either now or later. I'm not saying you're doing that, and it kind of sounds like you're not, but you may be familiar with GMs and groups who primarily function only with such things. If the magic frog tells them something arcane in the first twenty minutes of the session, they instantly go into "figure out what it meant" mode, or at least stay tuned to how anything it said might be suddenly relevant in some crucial scene later. The assumption within such a group is that these are like bread-crumbs for the group to find its way through the GM's story and enact it as he sees it should be enacted, i.e, the "fun" way. When conducted in this fashion, such input on the GM's part is emphatically not a Bang.

So it's key that a Bang is open-ended. The GM literally has no idea how the characters might respond. Do they seize one of their own number and offer her to the demon against her wishes? Do they dress up the buff warrior in a gown and offer him to it as a ruse, concealing his demon-slaying sword? Does one of them seduce the demon and turn it against its master? Do they decide to attack it all together on a count of three? Playing in this fashion means the GM must fully abandon "control" over the events of play in the sense of anticipating the outcomes of scenes and the nature of the conflicts within them. There is nothing they're "supposed" to do. It's fun, but if you're not used to it and are used to the "GM's story" type of play, it sounds like horrible scary madness.

Let me know: is your use of the visions more like the magic frog, or more like the demon? 'Cause although it might be a mild version of either one, it absolutely cannot be both, or a blend.

Best, Ron
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Reithan
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« Reply #2 on: January 21, 2008, 04:36:42 PM »

That aspect is that the group can work together on scene framing. It is often very useful for, say, the GM to say, "I'd like to skip to halfway through the sea voyage," and if no one pipes up about wanting to do something before that point, the group just goes with it.
I do things eactly like this example often. Mine is usually more along the lines of "unless anyone has anything else to do here...", or "unless someone has something else planned for the evening..." but I think it's the same idea.

Also, I usually let the players have some say in the scene framing in terms of "Hey, we wanna go to a rave, can we find one?" In which case it usually comes down to a roll of Intelligence+Streetwise or whatever the specific example calls for. Those are more explicit, though sometimes I' change my framing on the fly based on player input, too. Such as: "Is there a bar on the docks?" "You looking for one?" "Yeah" "Yeah, there's one over there."

I'm not sure my players realize that they have this power, but they do.

Let me know: is your use of the visions more like the magic frog, or more like the demon? 'Cause although it might be a mild version of either one, it absolutely cannot be both, or a blend.
It's not both. It's either.

Let me explain. Over your description of what a bang is, I realize I have been using them - but not exactly as described. I do use them as described sometimes, I think you'd be hard-pressed to find a game that never included one, but I also use what I'm going to call for the time being "Long Bangs." What I mean is I used Bangs, but the Bangs themselves are Stories.

Most of my gameplay is 'open' like you suggested. An event happens and I sit back and see how the players react to it.
However, sometimes I'll throw in a more 'scripted' event, just to give the players an easy ride every so often when I feel like they're loosing steam.
At the end of each of those stories though - that story becomes a Bang! The resolution of the story usually ends with something unusual, dangerous or frightening happen that I haven't thought out an outcome to and the players are free to react to however they want, thus putting the game back into 'open' mode.

I've used the visions in all 3 capacities.

Does this make sense?
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #3 on: January 21, 2008, 05:59:13 PM »

Cool! You are already a Bang and Framing man. Whether the terms as such are helpful or interesting to you, I don't know, but I hope at least the latter. I've found that they are quite handy as shared vocabulary during play, especially if a particular game or interest of mine means I have to be specific about what I'd like other people at the table to be doing.

Best, Ron
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Reithan
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« Reply #4 on: January 21, 2008, 06:52:52 PM »

Thanks for the discussion, it does help me organize it in my mind a little better. :)
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John Adams
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« Reply #5 on: January 23, 2008, 09:20:17 AM »

Ron: "a Bang and Framing man" sounds like something from film Noir ...
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Reithan
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« Reply #6 on: January 31, 2008, 06:46:58 AM »

For scene framing, I hadn't thought of this, but how important is it that all scene framing take place up front?
Is it usually desirable to get most, if not all, of the scene framing out of the way before "playing through" a scene, or should the scene be open for additions and modifications while playing through?

What are the pros &/or cons of either approach?
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oliof
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« Reply #7 on: January 31, 2008, 07:04:51 AM »

in my experience, having a scene open to additions and permutations is fine as long as you don't turn things upside down in the middle of one.
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WildElf
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« Reply #8 on: February 01, 2008, 03:35:40 PM »

For scene framing, I hadn't thought of this, but how important is it that all scene framing take place up front?
Is it usually desirable to get most, if not all, of the scene framing out of the way before "playing through" a scene, or should the scene be open for additions and modifications while playing through?

What kind of additions and modifications are you thinking of? Scene framing is really the bare bones: where are we, what's going on. Anything not important for that (which includes hidden things that might not be obvious) are not really a part of the framing process.

Like oliof is getting at, you don't want to completely change the intention of previous actions.  So if somone lights a torch, it's not very cool to go "That's not a torch, it's the map you've been searching for! But it's all burned up now."

But anything not yet established that doesn't go against the general vibe of the group is great. Common things I like to do all the time (as a GM or player) is to ad in props, even if they are to my advantage (like a chandelier to swing on, or a glass of wine to make a toast), other characters who might be there, or even the time of day or year if that's not already established. If it doesn't make sense (like a chandelier in a run down cottage in the swamp) someone else will point it out, but usually it's fine.  These elements aren't really important to framing the scene.  There's really only pros.  The only cons if people get silly with it, but that's easy enough to correct in play. And once players get good at introducing implied elements, it really adds to the game.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #9 on: February 05, 2008, 11:44:43 AM »

Hi there,

Quote
For scene framing, I hadn't thought of this, but how important is it that all scene framing take place up front?
Is it usually desirable to get most, if not all, of the scene framing out of the way before "playing through" a scene, or should the scene be open for additions and modifications while playing through?

What are the pros &/or cons of either approach?

I posted a reply to this question on January 31, the screen went all screwy and the post was lost, and I screamed like a really pissed-off NazgŻl. You probably heard me. I finally got the time to reconstruct it.

First

The technique of Framing can be divided into two independent parts: the sceneís content and the sceneís purpose. Your question applies to each one separately.

Content means the SIS itself: where, whoís there, whatís going on at the moment when interactive play begins with this scene, what characters can see, and all that. My point is that a full range exists, from totally up-front and even fixed in place, to prepped but graduated in terms of players receiving the information, to very sketchy to start but easily and frequently filled in as play proceeds. The thing to avoid is confusion about the content and how itís added to, and its evil outcome, cacophony such that the sharing stops or never gets going (the current Mother-May-I thread is all about this).

Purpose needs a little pre-answer discussion. What that term actually means can vary a lot: in some games, itís about how the scene will end or what information must be found; in others, it only pertains to the set-up and what happens is left totally fluid. But given that range, now we can turn toward what youíre asking Ė the degree of purpose relative to the start vs. the continuance of the scene. And again, my answer is that thereís a full range: either everyone knows it to start, or the GM reveals it slowly or in the middle anyway, or it actually develops out of practically nothing through play.

All of this adds up to tremendous functional variety, and thatís just cool.

Second

An important side to this whole issue concerns the explicit rules of the game, too. Sometimes the game text doesnít say a damned thing about any of it, which is a major part of what Iím talking about with the term ďmurk.Ē So many games are written as refinements and imitations of existing games, that the authors pretty much figure that anyone buying it has already enjoyed those games anyway, so you do it like them. Of course, none of them really explained it well either, so you get a problem, or at best a coping mechanism which isnít reliable.

Sometimes the game text is clear about some of it, and lets the rest take care of itself as a flexible thing or as a necessary corollary to what is explained. That works pretty well.

Sometimes the game text is rock-solid instructional about how to do it, every single time. This works only if the rest of the game is somehow tuned to this rigidity, allowing flexibility in other things. Without that, the game takes on a clockwork quality, which is something Iím seeing a bit too much of in recent designs.

Well, thatís pretty much what got lost. Let me know if itís helpful or interesting.

Best, Ron
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Reithan
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« Reply #10 on: February 05, 2008, 12:04:37 PM »

It's very helpful actually. Once I started thinking/focusing about scene framing I was trying to get everyone to frame everything up front, and was wondering if that was a mistake, because it seemed like sometimes framing would continue later in the scene, anyway. I was wondering if this was a good thing, or some sort of problem. I think, upon reflecting, and reading these responses, that it's fine. :)
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Joel P. Shempert
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« Reply #11 on: February 05, 2008, 09:56:06 PM »

It's very helpful actually. Once I started thinking/focusing about scene framing I was trying to get everyone to frame everything up front, and was wondering if that was a mistake, because it seemed like sometimes framing would continue later in the scene, anyway. I was wondering if this was a good thing, or some sort of problem. I think, upon reflecting, and reading these responses, that it's fine. :)

That was pretty much what I went through too, Reithan. When I discovered the concept of, among other things, Scene Framing, I was like, "Oh my God! That is awesome! Must frame all scenes intentionally and up-front from now on, forever!!" At least in my head. I don't think I did anything really egregious in actual practice, but I did put a couple of players off with the new-fangled aggressive and purposeful framing, one of whom actually quit the game after what I thought was an awesome session of driving action with excellent GM-player collaboration. Now I'm coming to understand the whole spectrum of "tremendous functional variety" Ron's talking about. It's easy for a starving man to gorge, but of course a balanced diet is better for him in the long run (and earns less stares at the dinner table!).

Peace,
-Joel
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