In response to comments on a recent gaming hut post, I promised to provide an example of a directed scene. For the original description of this technique, check out Fear Itself.
For the session described earlier, I wanted to focus two of the PCs, choosing a pair that hadn’t yet had any significant defining moments or scenes. I had a starting question for each, but that was the extent of my advance prep.
First up was Alex’s (nottheterritory) human warlord. My goal here was simply to flesh him out. I asked Alex to describe the moment where he first decided he was a warlord. In describing this moment, Alex added detail to the setting, as players are empowered to do in this particular 4E game. He placed his character, Heller, as an early teen at an elite school. Heller demanded the right to run the school war games, sure that his extensive book knowledge of tactics would win the day. I assigned Jesse (jscoble11) the role of the older, tougher student from whom he was demanding control, giving him the goal of pushing back against Heller’s wishes. To balance the scene, I gave Justin (thebitterguy) the role of Heller’s buddy, giving him the goal of keeping Heller out of trouble. The three players jumped into the scene, developing the conflict. As Alex argued Heller’s case, we got to see his character in his youth, and understand a bit about him. Jesse, playing the older boy, challenged Heller to a circle combat, which would decide who was in charge. Since this was a flashback illuminating a character’s backstory, I didn’t use the rules to resolve the one-sided fight: I told Alex that the result of the fight was up to him. He decided to follow the scene’s logic, and have Heller soundly trounced. This then, he explained, taught Heller the valuable lesson that he had to learn to back up his tactical knowledge with real fighting capability. So with a few minutes of dialogue and description, Heller went from being a playing piece to a fictional person, one we’d been through a pivotal moment with.
Next up was Jesse’s elven cleric. This directed scene I wanted to tie into the likely theme for coming session—hard choices. So I asked Jesse to describe the time when his character, Xerxes, faced his toughest choice. He decided that this would be the time when he decided to follow an outlander god. I asked Rob (chryx) to play a countervailing character, and Chris (madmanofprague) to take on the role of a supportive character. Rob chose to be Xerxes’ father; Chris, his sister. Chris wound up being able to hang back and lob a few lines into the scene. It played as a strong conflict between the calm and sensible father, and the firebrand son who wanted to follow his calling now. Xerxes was tired of meditating on things for decades before taking action. (Because it suited the improvised scene and heightened the contrast, Rob decided to treat the elves as very long lived. Although this setting detail was more from old school D&D than the current version, it is now true in our game. The dramatic needs of the moment so dictated.) Sometimes during a directed scene I’ll step in to advance the drama. Here, for example, Rob and Jesse had begun to repeat their arguments. So I asked Rob to escalate the stakes in some manner. He did this by saying, in his oh-so-subtle elven father way, that Xerxes would be unwelcome in his community if he ran off and pledged himself to the Raven Queen. So once again the flashback sequence made Xerxes more of a character to us.