Friday, January 18, 2019

Cut Scenes and Interrupts

One of the concepts from videogames that quickly made it into RPGs - and may have just given a name to something already there for some GMs - is the idea of cutscenes. For those that don't play videogames, a cutscene is a scene in a videogame where the player has no control of what is going on and instead watches as the game sort of plays itself.

These are often done to move the story forward. They bring quests or arcs to an end, or transition big scenarios into the next scene. It's not uncommon for big set pieces in games to break up the action with cutscenes as the situation changes.

You can use these in your games as well. A lot of games - and purchasable modules - use them for transformation sequences, but also for the intro to scenarios or when listening in. They also show up quite often as dream sequences, or other special interactions.

If you keep them relatively brief, or otherwise stage them so the players know what is going on, they can work well to help move things forward. However, you need to be careful. By their nature a cutscene removes control from the players, and that can feel unnatural. Players don't want to just sit there while the bad guy monologues, they want to take that opportunity to start the fight. For that reason, you want to be ready to handle an interrupt if a player goes to throw one.

Dream Sequences and Quick Transitions
In general most players are fine with dream sequences and quick transitions. A dream sequence is a dream. People are used to being observers in dreams, and even someone who is a lucid dreamer knows that dreams follow different rules. Quick transitions are often ok as well. If you're describing how a monster transforms, even if it takes a long time for you to say the words, it doesn't necessarily mean it takes that long for it to happen.

Monologues and Longer Sequences
However, if you are trying to use this to deliver a villain monologue before a fight, or how the PCs go through an area, be prepared for the player to fight you for control. And by be prepared to fight, I mean you should be prepared to respond to the player giving input.

If the villain is monologuing, be prepared for someone to attack. If they don't attack, they're going to want to get something ready for when the fight starts. Both of these should be fine, and if the villain has taken precautions against being attacked mid-monologue then that is on them.

Narrowed Interactions
One thing I've seen some GMs use cutscenes well to do is to not wrest control of the game away from the players for an extended period, but rather to focus and narrow the range of actions. Instead of being able to run in any direction and go explore the world, the cutscene grounded us in the immediacy of the scene and carnage going on, guiding us to the next point, and using it to help keep things cinematic. It is hard to do - it can even look hard to do - but it is amazingly effective.

Showing the Players Things Their Characters Can't See
This is something I've only dabbled with, but it can be a lot of fun. You can use cutscenes to show the players things their characters can't see. For example, you can show them a meeting of the villains, hinting at threats to come, plans the BBEG has in mind, and how the villains are responding to their actions.

For some games and groups this isn't the best idea. But if you're not worried about your characters acting on OOC knowledge, or otherwise want to try to up the suspense, you can do it. Sprinkle them here and there, and it can be real cool.

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