It is all in the cards.
If you are GM, you have encountered this problem. You are about to have a game session. You have your main scenario you want to run. There are two or three plotlines tied to your characters that need to be resolved, with many of those plotlines excluding most of the characters in the game.Oh, and then there is the investigation that one of the players is running as well. Being a GM, you want to tell something like a story and achieve some goal every session. Yet how do you do this with this gordeon knot of plotlines.
There are dozens of ways to structure game sessions and present game stories. You can just wing it. You can count on your innate sense of drama honed by years of experiencing movies, tv shows, and books. You can copy for favorite author. These tools can work. The catch is that players expect plots and their presenation equal to that of movies, tv shows, and books. These are written by "experts". Most of us are not writers equipped expert skills. But we can use the tools of expert writers. We can use Scene Cards.
In the Begining
To use Scene Cards, we need to set up some definitions and, for some, a new way to look at story set up. The most important is this: A story is a string of related events that build upon each other. Each story has one or more of these strings of events or plot lines. These plotlines build upon each other expanding the story. (Note: This article supposes that the GM has or can generate their own plot lines. Generating Plotlines is a different article.). Each event or action in the story is contained in a scene. In theatre and literature, a scene is a self-contained episode within a larger work. In recorded visual works such as TV and movies, a scene has the same basic definition, but is typically much shorter. Basically, it refers to a part of the action in a single general location. Gaming uses the same definition as TV/Movies, in short.. all the action that occurs in a general area over a continuous period of time. There are action scenes, character development scenes, mood scenes, development scenes, transitional scenes, and a dozen other kinds of scenes. No matter what kind of scene you are talking about, the two things you must remember about a scenes is a) Things happen over a scene and b) each scene has a purpose (first and foremost to move the plot line along to its conclusion/ resolution).
And then there was three
For plot line purposes, there are three types of scenes: Key Scenes, Transition Scenes, and General Scenes.
The most important part of each plotline you develop is the key scenes, the important events that the characters must go through to get to the conclusion of the story/ plot line.
Little Red Riding Hood: Meet the Woodsman and Wolf, Go to Grandmas,
For Hamlet: Meeting with the Ghost, Investigating the King's Guilt. Hamlet to Kill King, are all the key scenes of the main plotline (there are others in the play, some spawned by the actions that occur in these key scenes). Other important scenes are generated by o
There are things between these Key Scenes.
Scenes and Transitional Scenes. At minimum, there are transitional scenes.
At maximum there are scenes, more transitional scenes, and even other key scenes for other plot lines.
Transitional scenes connect the key scenes; i.e. get the character from key scene to key scene next. In most cases, the connections are immediate (one to three scenes of travelling, minor checking, or miscalenous character development). However, the transition could be "long", with entire adventures and entire other plot lines occuring before you reach the next key scene in the given plotline.
Crooked, Branching Line
Unlike a story, the plot is not a game is not line. Players make decisions and don't know your script. Therefore there are branches and possiblities as to where they go and what they do. There are usually many ways to get to a given key scene. The more options you provide, the easier it will be on the players and the GM.
Anatomy of a Scene Card
We start at the very top of a three by five card, then work our way down the card.
1) At very top: Identity Line - Identifying the plot card
2) Entrace Requirement - What must of happened before to use the scene.
3) Purpose - What the goal of the scene is.
4) Stage Dressing - Important things to have ready for the scene
5) Flavor Text- Bits of description for the scene.
6) Scene Mechanics - Any important game mechanics that the scene might use. At minimum, the page #/ paragraph # of the rules in the book.
7) Exits- Possible plot paths.
Note: Some people use only one side of the cards and have mutliple cards for the same scene, some use both sides, others use 5x7 cards, others use full sheets of paper as their plot cards. It is all up to you, the end user, to find out what is best for you.
1) Identity line: This is where you write your reference information for the card. The format varies depending on who is telling you about scene cards. The one that has worked best for me is: Top Left: Plot line name, Top Right scene name and number.
Top Left: Plotline name
Top Right: Scene name and ID# if needed.
These are your card identifiers.
Many GM's draw a stripe of color using a highligher along the top. This way they can identify the type of card by sight.
Entrance Requirements: Includes location (specific or general), events, required characters, required NPCs
Purpose of the scene:
Stage Dressing: things that must be in place (goons, monsters, items, etc)
Flavor text: for setting or scene
Scene Mechanics: Any rule mechanics (and page numbers to find them) required for the scene.
Bottom: Exits- Plot line options