Routines and Scenes
by Tobie Abad
Originally published December 2001
Author Note: This article was written with Vampire: The Masquerade in mind. But the ideas and concepts within can be applicable for any role-playing game.
This would be one of those articles that may require an example to better explain. Assume you are with your friends and you are having a session of Vampire the Masquerade.
Here's a typical vampire game:
Storyteller: "The darkness wraps around the city like the robes of death herself. Cold winds blow against the skyscrapers, flinging newspapers and various bits of trash into the air. You feel a heaviness in your heart as you awaken and realise that this cursed state has not ended... and the dream is not a dream. You are a vampire, and the night is your home. What do you do?
Player: I guess I hunt.
<cut to next evening>
Storyteller: "Having survived the brief interlude with the Primogen and his coterie, you embrace the silence the sewer offers. The next evening begins with a startling fear. You jerk upright upon realising that the Primogen you supposedly insulted had the strange ability to paralyze you with a gaze; a power which your Mentor described to you years back as a power of the dreaded clan known as the Setites. But your wounds from the vicious supernatural claws of the anarchs ache still and you need to feed soon. What do you do?"
Player: Hmm... I hunt.
<cut to next evening>
Storyteller: "The Prince has commended you for the revelation of who had been leaking information out to the dreaded Sabbat. With a gesture of appreciation... and prestation... he had given you a new haven and had cleared your name of all crimes. You are no longer Caitiff... and it is a new experience for you. Awakening, you find yourself feeling a strange sensation of satisfaction.. being a Toreador feels good. What do you do?"
Player: New night huh?
Storyteller: Yes, I downtimed a bit.
Player: Well, better replenish my bloodpool. I hunt.
If no, then congratulations! You're players have learned the big difference of Routine and Scenes. But trust me, there are very few gaming groups that have escaped from this little constant in gaming. And its not surprise, after all, players use Routine when they focus on their characters so much, they forget they are in a game.
|Use that brain! Make every turn COUNT!|
Why Routine can be good?
It keeps your character in tip top form. And I don't mean this as a twink merit. Nor to I mean this sarcastically. If you're playing a Toreador who always waters his roses each night, then you're playing in character right? Routine allows you do play in character.
But please, must you really declare THAT as your action when your turn comes around?
Why Routine can be bad?
In my gaming circle, there tends to be four players. Strangely, a player turn tends to last for a range from twenty minutes to nearly half an hour. This is a time allotment which everyone in the group enjoys because it allows for the nice unrushed dialogue, the building of mood through music and pacing and the allowance to feel the emotional benefits of the scene.
Now, realise then that it is possibly an HOUR before one's turn begins again. Would you really waste some precious moments of REAL TIME declaring actions which the Storyteller knows you will do anyway out of habit?
Movies as an example:
Watch and movie and see how the moment a character is given a turn (meaning, he or she is the focus of a shot), the character is doing something that contributes to the story as a whole. Sure, we know that everyone gets dressed and fixes themself up before going to an important dinner. But if this scene shall not have any importance to it other than to let the Storyteller know you got dressed, then it does NOT have to be in the turn. It could be an understood action that the Storyteller does not have to play through.
After all, how many games have you had where you play each and every passing minute you wait for the Prince to finish his meeting with others? Or play in real time the trip from one building to another? We tend to downtime such moments simply because they can be taken as "having happened" without necessarily being mentioned as an action.
Storyteller: The Prince is busy. You will have to wait. Having waited for nearly half an hour, Samantha begins to sing to herself a song. She fails to realise that the song she is singing was the song that was playing in the background while the Sabbat used post-hypnotic suggestions on her.
Player: Can i make a roll to notice or feel that something is up?
In the example, the time to wait is immediately waived as an action to be declared. The Storyteller pushes forward and describes what happens. The player should realise that the Storyteller has removed the option because of the need for a scene that is beneficial to the game as a whole.
Does this mean the players should rarely talk?
No, it simply means the players should not waste time going through expected motions.
Take for instance a Dark Age game I was storytelling. The player had a Salubri who had befriended the townsfolk and had begun to be seen as a Saint. On the first night, the player mentioned to me, "I plan to visit the townsfolk each night possible. And when there is free time on my hands, I'd be speaking with the children and teaching them to read." As a storyteller,
I understood this was to be his routine and applied it as simply events that have happened and do not need to be mentioned... unless they have a reason to be. Such as when one of the children the Salubri was teaching turned out to be possessed. I begun the game session telling the player, "You are with Paolo, one of the children you teach to read." Instantly, the player realised that the scene had something of importance and approached it with interest. No time was wasted.
Again, simply think of the game in the sense as a movie.
Once the camera points at you and your part of the story is being told... do you waste that time on camera simply doing the usual everyday thing? Or do you bring up something of interest.
Make the game run smoother, but seeing the difference of Routines and Scenes.