Friday, June 24, 2016

RPG and Story Scenes: The foundation of action within a story.

For the last series on  Character & Society see those posts.

RPG and Story Scene Series
RPG and Story Scenes: RPG scenes
RPG and Story Scenes: Writing and RPG methods
RPG vs Story Sequel: Reaction

I want to start the beginning of another possible topic for another possible series. I don't know how far I will go into this one at this time. I have at least ideas for five posts, but my last series about character and society went up to 12 or so posts. This is the topic of the 'scene'. Whether for stories or role playing games (RPGs), all of the real action happens in the scenes.

Scenes in Stories and RPGs

Foundation of a Scene

But like all of my posts, I must begin with a foundation laying stuff. Putting down some basics of what I know so that I can then build off of this common language and common body of ideas and concepts.

Gaming can learn a little bit of structure from story writing structures. Story writing teaches well how to structure scenes. It does however miss the mark on actually teaching about conflict.

Story writing can learn a little bit of conflict from gaming. Gaming has great mechanisms, structures, and resolution methods to measure and create conflict within a story or game.

All scenes and action are based on laws and logic of cause and effect.

But first, what is a scene?

What is a scene?

A scene is the place where a sequence of continuous action occurs to a cast of characters.

In both a story and a RPG the scenes are where actions take place. It will include movement, observations, decisions, effort, dialogue, skills, and risk.

How are scenes created?

Creating Scenes

Scenes are created in a number of ways. It may be planned ahead of time in some form. It may be in an outline, on a scene list, might be a rough description, summary of action, or it may naturally be the result of story flow while writing or an open sandbox game. As long as there is a goal of the scene related to the overall story, a description of major features of the location, and some sort of conflict - it's a scene.

Another type of scene sometimes is called a sequel or reaction scene.

What is the structure of scenes?

Scene Structure

In writing, normally the viewpoint character enters into a scene and begins to attempt to perform a goal, in the middle meeting with repeated failures or successes and end with resolution, a twists, or unexpected setbacks. The scene may or may not lead to a sequel. Scenes and sequels have beginnings, middles, and ends. What is in those structure differs between scenes and sequels.

Where are scenes?

Setting and Perspective of the Scene

The scene takes place in a single location and single point in time, with a single purpose. In writing, the scene focuses the point of view (POV) of one single character's experience. In RPGs, the story will focus on all of the present player characters.

How long are scenes?

Scene Length of Time

The length of the scene depends on the purpose of the scene. Less important scenes should be very brief. Important scenes may be longer. The importance and purpose of the content of the scene should determine the length of scene. Don't make unimportant scenes long. And don't make important scenes short.

With the basic definitions and concepts of a scene, lets look at the two types of scene in greater detail.

Two Types of Scenes

There are two types of scenes: action scene (proactive); and sequel or reaction (reactive) scene.

In the proactive action scene the viewpoint characters will have a goal, conflict, and resolution such as a setback. In a reactive reaction sequel the characters will react to something, show emotion, face a choice or choices - a dilemma - and reach a decision based on the character's personality, motivation, emotion, needs, lies, and ethics.

Begin by Establishing the Scene

Begin each scene or sequel by describing what is happening, what is around the characters in view, or what has changed if the location has been used before.

Describe the setting of the scene focusing on the three most important details that characters would notice.

Have the characters enter the scene - noting where they are in the scene in relationship to the space and other objects. Only describe things that they can see, limited to the view of the setting. They may describe the scene based on their own character voice.

Proactive Action Scene

Scene Goal and Purpose

The goal or purpose of the scene is based on the main character's decision based on personality type, motivation, emotion, needs, lies, and ethics. Without a goal, the scene will not have any meaning in the story or game. It cannot advance the story.

The goal itself should be something simple, real, valuable, possible, and challenging. Scenes with suspense might postpone the knowing goal until it is revealed as a surprise or shock. This is the only time when the goal shouldn't be obvious and presented up front.

Much of the scene should be full of subtext - unspoken character intentions, emotions, and reactions only implied. The most powerful strings being less likely to be recognized.

Scene Conflict

In a proactive action scene most of the scene should be conflict. Conflict is a struggle between two goals - what the characters want and what the opposition wants.

RPG gaming can teach story writers many things about conflict. Story writing sources for writing normally don't go into details about conflict as much as gaming. Story writing in my opinion excels at character development and story structure. Gaming excels at presenting conflict structures and mechanisms. In a future post I hope to present gaming techniques to examine different kinds of conflict.

Scenes should vary in intensity throughout the story and game. Intensity can depend on the stakes of the goal of the scene, the odds of the challenge, the movement within the scene, the arrival of new characters, and the environment of the scene. It may also depend on uncertainty, doubt, and something to worry about.

The scene should have at least two obstacles. The first should be apparent. The second might appear anytime and will increase the tension causing the characters to reconsider their actions. A third or more obstacles might be used in more important scenes such as the climax of the story arc. A scene with just one obstacle might be used as a transitional scene where the character just checks in on one thing.

Scene Ending

Except during the final confrontation - and even sometimes then - the scene should end or resolve with a disaster, twist, or surprise.

Reactive Reaction Sequel

Emotional Reaction

The first part of the reaction sequel is an emotional reaction to something that occurred, is learned, or comes to surface. The characters have instinctual physiological descriptions and knee jerk reactions. Emotions may be described. What does this mean to the characters. As awareness kicks in, the characters must analyse and think up options.

Analysis of Dilemma

The next part of the reaction sequel is for the characters to come up with possible actions and figure out what to do. They may use different methods of evaluation based on their character personality, motivation, emotion, needs, lies, and ethics.

There is the problem and then the possible solutions. Most of the solutions should be bad if the conflict is strong enough. The character(s) probably will choose the least bad solution.


This choice should be the next scene goal. The goal itself should be something simple, real, valuable, possible, and challenging. The reaction scene will then transition into a proactive action scene.

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