meaning and definition

Jump to section

    What is offscreen?

    Offscreen refers to events or actions in a roleplaying game (RPG) that happen in the background and are not actively roleplayed or written about.

    This concept of offscreen events allows for the development of characters, plots, or world-building elements without requiring them to be explicitly detailed or played out during game sessions. It’s a narrative tool used to imply that the world of the game is living and evolving, even beyond the immediate focus of the players.

    The term “offscreen” originates from film and television, where it describes anything happening outside the camera’s view.

    In roleplaying, it serves a similar purpose, indicating that the story’s world extends beyond what is directly narrated or roleplayed.

    Offscreen FAQs

    How does offscreen content affect a game?

    Offscreen content can add depth to a game by suggesting a broader world and more complex narratives without bogging down the gaming session with excessive details. It allows for a richer backstory and the possibility of surprising players with outcomes of actions or events they didn’t witness directly.

    Can offscreen events be brought into the main story?

    Yes, offscreen events can be woven into the main narrative at any point. Game masters (GMs) often use this technique to introduce new plot elements, reveal character backstories, or show the consequences of the players’ actions in the broader game world.

    How do players and game masters decide what happens offscreen?

    The decision-making process for offscreen events can vary. Sometimes, game masters might dictate these events to create plot twists or background developments. Other times, players and game masters might discuss and agree upon offscreen developments together to ensure everyone’s on the same page.

    In text-based roleplaying games, players can opt to take things offscreen when they aren’t comfortable playing them out (e.g. fade to black).

    Is there a limit to what can happen offscreen?

    While offscreen events are flexible, they should remain consistent with the game’s established world and character backstories. Anything too drastic or out of character could disrupt the game’s narrative coherence. It’s also important for game masters to balance offscreen events to ensure they enhance rather than detract from the main gameplay.

    How is offscreen content communicated to players?

    Offscreen content is usually communicated through narrative exposition by the game master, players, or through discoveries made during the course of gameplay. In text games and tabletop roleplaying games (TTRPGs), offscreen events can also be shared through written summaries, emails, forums, OOC commands, or other forms of communication outside game sessions.

    Myths about offscreen RP

    One common myth is that offscreen events are less important than what happens during active gaming sessions. In reality, offscreen events can significantly influence the game’s narrative and the development of its characters.

    Another misconception is that offscreen means the game master is keeping secrets to disadvantage the players. While surprise elements can be part of the fun, the purpose of offscreen content is to enrich the gaming experience, not to hinder player progress.

    Offscreen examples

    • A character’s secret meeting with a mysterious figure, the details of which are revealed to the players through hints and consequences rather than direct roleplay.
    • The political changes in a kingdom that the players are adventuring in, which they learn about through rumors and news brought by non-player characters (NPCs).
    • A villain’s preparations for their grand scheme, only becoming apparent to the players as they uncover clues and witness the plan’s effects on the world.

    Related terms

    Related content

    Smiling blonde woman wearing glasses.
    About the author

    Andruid is a writer, roleplayer, storyteller, and nerd who tries to live by Bill and Ted wisdom, i.e. "Be excellent to each other."