Scene

meaning and definition

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    What is a scene?

    A scene in text-based roleplaying games (RPGs) is a segment of the story where characters interact with each other or their environment. It typically has a specific setting and a clear purpose or goal, such as solving a problem or advancing the plot.

    Scenes are the building blocks of the narrative, providing structure and pacing to the overall game. Players describe their characters’ actions, dialogue, and emotions during roleplay, driving the story forward collaboratively.

    A brief history of the term

    The term originates from traditional theater and literature, where it refers to a division of an act presenting continuous action in one place.

    Over time, its use expanded into various forms of storytelling, including film and television, and eventually into roleplaying games, such as tabletop sessions. Its application in RPGs has become more nuanced, reflecting the collaborative and dynamic nature of game narratives.

    Modern usage

    Roleplaying games and gaming communities continue to use this term to describe parts of their stories. It helps players organize and progress through their adventures.

    Types of games that feature scenes include but are not limited to:

    MUD, MUSH, RPMUD, PbP, Chat RPG, Social media RPG, PvE, PvP, RPI, RPE, and their respective communities.


    Scene examples

    • A tense negotiation between the player characters and a local crime lord in a dimly lit tavern, where both sides vie for advantage without resorting to violence.
    • A high-speed chase through the crowded streets of a futuristic city, as the characters pursue a thief who has stolen a crucial data chip.
    • An emotional farewell between a character and their mentor on the eve of a dangerous mission, highlighting the personal stakes involved.
    • A complex puzzle room where the characters must work together to decipher ancient runes and unlock the gateway to a hidden vault.

    Myths about RP scenes

    One common myth is that every roleplaying session must advance the main plot. While it’s beneficial for scenes to contribute to overall story progression, they can also focus on character development, world-building, or side plots, which can enrich the game experience.

    Another misconception is that sessions need to be meticulously planned out ahead of time. While planning can help, some of the most memorable RP arises spontaneously, driven by player decisions and natural narrative development.

    Scene FAQs

    How long does a scene typically last in a roleplaying game?

    It can vary in length depending on the game’s pacing, the complexity of the situation, and the players’ engagement. Some may last just a few minutes, while others could extend over several hours or even days or weeks of gameplay.

    Shorter sessions are more common in real-time games, whereas longer sessions may be found in forum-based RP games. Even though it may take players days to complete a scene asynchronously, it may only be a few minutes to an hour according to time within the game world.

    Can a roleplaying scene occur in multiple locations?

    Typically, a roleplay segment is confined to a single location to keep the narrative focused and coherent. However, some might transition between adjacent locations or use cutscenes to briefly show events happening elsewhere.

    How do they differ from other parts of a roleplaying game?

    RP scenes focus on specific moments of interaction and storytelling within the game. Unlike broader game sessions or entire campaigns, they are more contained, focusing on particular events or encounters. They help to structure the narrative, ensuring that each moment contributes to the overall story arc.

    Are there other ways to describe a scene?

    • Session: A gameplay period that may consist of multiple roleplaying scenes.
    • Encounter: A specific interaction, often with an NPC or enemy.
    • Chapter: A broader segment of the story that includes multiple events.
    • Event: A notable occurrence within the game that involves significant player interaction.
    • Episode: A self-contained segment of the story, similar to a scene but often used for serialized play (e.g. in MUSHes).
    • Segment: A portion of the narrative, emphasizing a particular part of the game.

    How do GMs transition between RP scenes?

    GMs often transition between segments by resolving the current action, summarizing the outcomes, and then moving the narrative forward to the next setting or situation. They may use narrative hooks, cliffhangers, or direct player decisions to guide the transition.

    What role do players have in shaping a scene?

    Players shape events and encounters through their character’s actions, decisions, and dialogue. They contribute to the development of the plot and the atmosphere by interacting with each other, the environment, and non-player characters (NPCs).

    How can RP scenes be made more engaging?

    They can be made more engaging by including elements that stimulate the players’ senses, presenting challenging dilemmas, encouraging character development, and maintaining a balance between action and narrative.

    See: How to be a better game master: 10 tips for running great interactive stories.

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    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."