A new episode of our Call of Cthulhu - Horror on the Orient Express actual play podcast is now available! Join our investigators on a harrowing mission to uncover a terrible and ancient secret! Find all our episodes here: https://dungeonsdeeprpgs.simplecast.com/
EPISODE 9: A CHANGE OF ASSIGNMENT
The Investigators arrive in France with a trail of bodies left in their wake and the Gendarmerie take notice.
In Setting The Scene Part 1, we covered a couple of ways a Gamemaster could introduce a new scene to their players. Today we're going to take a look into the mid-scene change.
Changing things up mid-scene is a great way to create tension and narrative complexity to your game. In order to do this, however, first you need to have the players split up the party. This is more commonly done in investigative games where everyone is tracking down multiple leads and clues. In a more standard fantasy roleplaying game, there may be large sections where the party is all together. (We will be discussing techniques for splitting up the party in a future post)
A WORD ABOUT TIMING. As Gamemasters, we want to take advantage of
player involvement and immersion to time our mid-scene change. Do you want to change the scene just before the player announces their action or just after? After a dramatic reveal or halfway through an encounter? When the party is split up, it can be a challenge to keep the spotlight moving and keeping all of the players engaged.
One of the challenges of Gamemastering is keeping players involved when their characters are not directly involved in a scene. Some systems, like Star Trek Adventures, do this by having the players switch to support characters when the main characters are not involved in a scene. But for most other systems, you need to control the flow of the spotlight and this may mean cutting mid-scene at a time you didn't plan on!
TYPES OF MID-SCENE CHANGES
There already exists a language for changing scenes, so why not use it? We will discuss scene transitions in Part 3, but the mid-scene change is a bit more complex to pull off and doesn't use every transition technique.
Here are a couple of effective transitions that will work mid-scene. This is by no means an exhaustive list but I hope it will inspire some ideas for your own.
THE SKY WIPE. With a physical camera, a sky wipe is done by panning the
camera up to the sky and then it comes down showing a new location. One way
to do this mid-scene in a tabletop roleplaying game is to have your split party on either side of a
door or other object and you cut between both groups. You can ratchet up the tension by having different complications affecting each group. Another way could be after the party splits up and is entering a location from different vantage points. Ranged combatants will have to exercise caution so as to not get their fellow party members caught by friendly fire!
THE SOUND MARKER. This is a common transition done with physical cameras and can be very effective in tabletop roleplaying games as well: A lone party member in a darkened room lights a torch or match. As you describe the sound of the torch igniting, you then cut away to another scene. Or perhaps the party scout moves ahead of the main group and springs a trap or a wall comes down separating them from the rest of the party. As you describe the sound of the massive stone barrier grinding into place, cut away to a new scene.
As mentioned in Part 1, music is particularly effective in tabletop roleplaying games, especially if you have set themes that you use over and over. In that case, simply playing the theme will indicate to the players that the scene has changed and they will respond with joy! (Or horror!)