Making the Transition

I love the idea of scenes as having mechanical meaning (for establishing duration, recharge and so on), but I am constantly frustrated by attempts to systemize scene framing. Don’t get me wrong, aggressive scene framing is a great technique, and one I love to use, but I consider it something highly organic, driven by the shape and speed of the table. Attempts to mechanize it produce something which, to me, feels incredibly inorganic and often disrespectful of players and fiction. Doubly so if there are some rules about types of scenes and when they must occur.

I find I am much, much happier with inversions of the solution, with mechanical rules for the spaces which aren’t scenes. I love rules for long actions and pauses that roll things up into an easily handled abstraction. in fact, one of my favorite ideas in 4e was the long and short rests. From a purely practical perspective, they are easy to communicate, easy to hang mechanics off of and super easy to integrate into the fiction.

What’s more, they provide easy knobs to turn to reflect tension. If we are being chased, then we can’t take a short rest. If we’re someplace dangerous, we can’t take a long rest. if those have mechanical meanings, then the fiction gets teeth in a nice, indirect way.

Now, yes, these ideas become a problem when you start getting anal retentive about them and counting minutes. If you define a short rest as 5 minutes, then you should just say 5 minutes (ditto long rest and some number of hours of sleep). But as a concept, a short rest is “you have enough time to catch your breath, check your gear, make sure everyone’s ok, watch, wallet, spectacles, testicles and move on.” That’s not just a function of time, but also of situation.

Obviously, I’m utterly happy bringing this terminology into Dungeon World, but that’s neither here nor there.

But the key here is that once you invert your thinking about scenes and start thinking about mechanizing the space between scenes (rather than the scenes themselves) then a lot of other things fall into this pattern. Dangerous journey’s, certainly, but also many rolls (like stealth and research) which implicitly contain multiple actions. Really, any roll which could be reflected as a montage might be viewed as a non-scene (or connective) action.

This becomes interesting in the context of moves, because if you embrace this idea, then you can embrace the logic in the move. While some moves are all about what you do in a scene, you can now write moves that are all about transitions. Consider something simple like a Breaking and Entering move:

When you break into a guarded place to steal something, roll +dex

  • On a 10+, the scene starts with your quarry in reach
  • on a 7–9, the next scene starts with one major obstacle between you and your quarry

It’s a bit ham fisted. but it conveys the idea – you’ll never make this move in the middle of a scene, where there’s any other interaction, but rather, you’d make it in the downtime between scenes, when planing and discussion are afoot.

Mind you, I’m nto yet sure what I’m going to do with it, but I feel like there’s a lot of mojo in more explicitly putting some framing in transition moves.

7 thoughts on “Making the Transition

  1. Greg Sanders

    Do you recommend any systems/books/sources for people that want to dip their toes in scene framing but that are also turned off by systematic tools of the traditional start? Self-promotion and stuff that costs money is totally cool.

    I’m still a neophyte I learned from Prime Time Adventures, Hill Folk, and the like but I think they’re still more on the systematic end. I’m trying to find resources for a friend that I’m in a character driven, MC-light, immersionist game with and while I’ve done some googling and looked up the relevant Narrative Control podcast, but beyond that I’m not sure where the best place is to start.

    1. Rob Donoghue Post author

      The GM advice in Spirit of the Century has some stuff on this, but I have generally found the best advice exists outside of gaming, especially in the arena of Screenwriting. John August’s blog and Alex Epstein’s books’ (Crafty TV Writing and Craft Screenwriting) taught me a lot about what makes a good scene on screen, and a lot of that translates into how to frame a scene at the table.

      That said, that’s a really good question, and it bugs me that I can’t think of more good answers. So I may have to provide some. 🙂

      1. Greg Sanders

        Thanks, that’s a great starting point and I’ll be excited to read anything more you write on the subject. I’ll pull up my copy of Spirit of the Century tonight and see if those books are in the library.

  2. Arashinomoui

    I like the idea of giving some structure to how to frame the upcoming scene. I know I’m less than ideal at scene framing, and I love the idea of a planning roll of using an “So it was going so well, until…”, versus what I generally use it for which is

    How does DW handle group actions? Or perhaps some sort of heist movie set-up, where the heist occurs as they discuss it, until things go wrong, or they get the goods then move into a more action by action scene?

  3. Jim Dagg

    Talking about scene framing and transitions in the context of a *World game makes me wonder — by chance, have you taken a look at the latest version of Paul Riddle and John Harper’s The Regiment? If so, what do you think of the Engage move? Seems to be designed to do the same kind of thing you were getting at with “Breaking and Entering”.

    1. Rob Donoghue Post author

      Definitely similar! It’s also been pointed out that there’s some overlap with Love Letters to the GM in Apocalypse World.

  4. Josh W

    There’s another way to phrase that as well;

    “the next time we see you, your quarry is in reach”. This is a fastforward button for your character, but also explicitly shows the flaw of it; you might be taken out of the action until the event you have determined completes itself. In order for this to work, the game needs to emphasise this kind of behaviour for multiple characters, so that all of you are skipping ahead in various ways.

    Vast and starlit does this with dramatic scene transitions, Apocalypse world suggests but doesn’t mechanise it (eliding the action etc.) and AW:Dark Age has a general move to change the season, and Chuubo’s … makes characters fade into supporting characters on a certain rhythm.

    I think in general the gap these moves imply needs to be roughly synchronised, and players should not be locked out of the game by committing to actions that will take too long (although an interesting built in hard choice is having players guaranteed to succeed if nothing happens in the meantime, but also be able to give up guaranteed success to deal with other problems).

    I also have a feeling this would work well with play by post.


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