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Author Topic: Narrating a scene vs. describing details  (Read 529 times)

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Online Cassandra LeMayTopic starter

Narrating a scene vs. describing details
« on: November 07, 2014, 03:23:27 AM »
I hope this is the right place to ask, as I am - right now - only trying to put together a game, so I am not exactly a GM yet, but perhaps it is something we can turn into a topic for general advice.

What I am trying to put together is a diceless system game where how good a character is at something has a large impact, but how players describe their character's actions also can have a large influence.

But to base the description of their character's actions on, players need information.

And that is where my problem starts.

I consider myself mostly a storyteller, someone who describes scenes in broad strokes, but perhaps not in minute details.

So when do I switch from "there is a dark corridor ahead that seems to stretch out forever. Shadows seem to move in the distance" to "the corridor is at least a hundred meters long. You spot some shadows that look like the orks you have been hunting some 50 meters ahead"?

Players need information to base their actions on, but I feel that switching from "narrative voice" to "detail voice" could bring the storytelling to a screeching halt and hit everyone over the head with information they might not even be looking for, even if they should be given that information because the characters would be aware of it.

How do I square that circle without slowing the game down to "perception rolls" every post till the scene is established?

In other words I suppose this is the question of when to switch to second-person perspective, the moment when "you see..." may be required.

I would very much appreciate any and all advise from someone who has run a forum game before.

Offline Sain

Re: Narrating a scene vs. describing details
« Reply #1 on: November 08, 2014, 05:43:53 AM »
I suppose this question is mostly about spotting and noticing details? Many game systems are smart enough to have included some sort of passive spot check in them now days and I see no reason why you couldn't even for more free form games fix some simplistic spot system for nonsocial and social encounters. If everyone is actively looking for something though it should be easily enough to tie those details into the storytelling, since isn't spotting that detail then just a part of the suspense?

Anyway how you do it to keep the scene running when you want to reveal a plethora of details that the PC:es weren't specifically searching for could be by just narrating the main story in the general chat/thread and then whispering/pm:ing the details that might elude most people to the most perceptive participants in that scene (character background and their last emote should probably be taken into account here) or if you like you could add some paragraphs inside a spoiler in the end of the post and make a separate story of spotting that detail. There is no real reason why you as the GM would have to describe all that happens in a single chronologically ordered bulk if it would break your groove :P Just split the scene apart and separate those peskiest shards from the main storyline to be handled separately.

An example of this I remember from an old RP site from a server far far away a GM used to write these hilariously lengthy replies that included the scene from each PC:es point of view. Even a heavy amount of details becomes rather easy to include when it's 1 on 1 (here GM on 1 player), but then that puts some strain on the GM's back, but that is also an option.

Online Cassandra LeMayTopic starter

Re: Narrating a scene vs. describing details
« Reply #2 on: November 08, 2014, 07:04:22 AM »
Anyway how you do it to keep the scene running when you want to reveal a plethora of details that the PC:es weren't specifically searching for could be by just narrating the main story in the general chat/thread and then whispering/pm:ing the details that might elude most people to the most perceptive participants in that scene (character background and their last emote should probably be taken into account here) or if you like you could add some paragraphs inside a spoiler in the end of the post and make a separate story of spotting that detail.
I suspect there will be more than enough PMing already, given that the game I am trying to put together is based on Roger Zelazny's "Amber" series, which has backstabbing and intrigue written all over it. That will require some "whispering" to begin with and I don't want to go overboard there and create a game that is run more by PM than forum posts.

But I am warming up to the idea of putting some things in spoilers. If I were running this as a tabletop game I would probably have to rely at least a little on players keeping player knowledge and character knowledge separate. Maybe trying the same and just trusting players would work for a forum game.

Have you tried it yourself, Sain? If so what are your experiences with putting a little character-specific information in spoilers?

Offline Sain

Re: Narrating a scene vs. describing details
« Reply #3 on: November 08, 2014, 07:23:06 AM »
I've only ever run campaigns on fantasy grounds 2 (sort of pen & paper program) so never really did the spoiler thing. Whispers were the thing there, also it was easier to split sessions apart and only have certain players attend if they did something that the others did not need to know about. I'd like to imagine that spoilers could do that job just as good.

However, with system less games if the outcome of player actions is based solely on emotes, then the risk of OOC knowledge affecting actual player choices becomes quite big even if it's just subconscious decisions. There are some players who don't enjoy specifically hurting their characters especially in plot centric games, since the enjoyment/roleplay resulting from a silly misplay is not always obvious before it happens. Yes, it really depends a lot on the individuals you end up having as players, but personally I think keeping secretive details secretive both OOC and IC is the best (psst... use PMs).

Yes, there will be a lot of PM traffic in the game, and it might involve a majority of plotting/details, but just think of the main thread/threads as the pedestal or stage on which all this preparation unfolds. I can't think of why another layer of GM PM's would deter any players from a game if burying your participants in them was your main worry. For you of course it would be extra work, but it could pay off in the long run.

Offline alextaylor

Re: Narrating a scene vs. describing details
« Reply #4 on: November 13, 2014, 01:19:37 PM »
Personally, I'd just blur the perception checks together.

You got some hyper alert elven scouts on the team? Good. Just announce that the elves see a bunch of orks nearby.

It suggests that the others don't see the orcs, and can't act on the information unless it's been communicated to them by the high perception character. There's a lot of communication going on outside of posts - body language, grunts, nods, pointing. Upon spotting someone you've been hunting down, the elves' facial expression might turn to a smile. Or if the rogue senses a trap, she might suddenly perk up and stop. If a wolfman smells someone approaching, the hairs on his body might stand up and he'll start sniffing the air. Everyone knows something's up.

So you can usually pass that information throughout the party. A ground rule could be that if a skill is designed to help the party (e.g. perception, racial advantages), the party gets full information.

The exception would be if a major part of the story depends on having certain individuals communicate information to the rest of the team. Something like horror, perhaps. Or if some of the characters have reason to lie or not tell the truth.

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Re: Narrating a scene vs. describing details
« Reply #5 on: November 29, 2014, 06:38:59 AM »
  I--and a lot of other GMs--like to use spoiler text to segregate the narative from the mechanics.  I think it works really well. 

  What Alex is talking about is also quite valid.  In my understanding Amber has some PVP elements, so in that regaurds it might not work. 


Offline Chrystal

Re: Narrating a scene vs. describing details
« Reply #6 on: December 23, 2014, 07:03:56 PM »
I don't know if you're still looking for advice on this, but I thought I'd offer my approach to the issue. It may not work for most folks, but I'm sure there are some for whom it will work as well as it does for me.

Basically, my posts tend to be super-detailed regardless!

I love describing the scene, putting in all the extra little bits that bring things to life. So in the example given by the O/P, I would probably write something like this:



The party enters a long dark corridor, that could be anything up to a hundred yards long. The walls are damp and covered with slime and water drops from the ceiling. The flagstones underfoot are uneven, and as one of you takes a step forward the stone shifts slightly with a soft grating sound, that fortunately is masked by the constant drip, drip, drip from the ceiling. About half way along the corridor are some shadows, that look suspiciously like the band of orcs the party have been tailing for the last few hours.

It seems that you have them trapped in this narrow passageway, with no way of escape...



Note that rather than say that the orcs are 50 yards (or metres) away, I say they are half way along a 100 yard long passage. Same difference, but it flows better! Measurements and figures are given as estimates rather than exactly, and additional details are added to bring atmosphere, keep the narrative voice and help disguise the details - part of the fun of being a GM, in my opinion, is making the group work for the information, so wrap it up in the narrative. If they don't spot it, that's their problem... *evil cackle*

I hope that might help some people?