Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Session, Act, Scene, and Player Scene.

I've come to a better understanding of Pacing, Acts, Scenes and Player Scene after analysing my problem solving techniques, Odyssey - the Complete Guide to Campaign Management, Never Unprepared and having caught up to most of my listening backlog.

Some Basics Definitions.

In learning a skill we can break it down to concepts and ideas. Some of these components can be used with a familiarity, others components are harder and less intuitive to use and would require some understanding, and some needs a minor or petty mastery of this component. 

Pacing 
Pacing in storytelling can be simplified by 3 stages. 
First is the establishment of the setting and expectations, pitch for the buy in of the Audience (Players), and the introduction of the main idea or challenge. 
Second is the rise in challenge, events that engages the audience with the challenges and elements that invest them into the story. Minor to Major Conflicts occur in this stage. In extended Stories, twists occur that go back to the First Stage and proceed to the Second Stage. 
Third is the Climax and Closure of the story. In extended stories a reletively lesser climax but the absence of closure occurs in every stage.

Pacing Informs the GM (and the Players) what they need to get done or what is the next action (or what needs to happen next). Its a broad goal that gets narrower as we go from Acts to Scenes, and to Player Scenes. 

Mastery of Pacing is the ability to recognize Story Elements and put them where they best fit in context of the Players, the PCs, and the Story as a whole. It also means the GM can generate more ideas that are better suited for each stage of Pacing. Such a master can tell if his players have been emotionaly set up for the goals of the pacing stage. Finaly a master in pacing has some clue to give closure. 

Closure.
Closure is a very difficult technique to master because it really is different per player. Closure is a very important technique because it is, to my experience, what makes the ends of my games not as satisfying even if I seem to have "closed the loops" in everyone's story. 
      What I missed is that Closure is personal to the Player and his Character. It is something we learn during the Second part of Pacing as we adapt and learn more about the PC or Player's mindset. 
My default strategy for getting closure is keeping good notes on the player's mood and RP, as well as always keep having feed back to check if any of the PC's/Players motives and expectations change. So keep good notes and keep being in touch with the players. As I'm just barely understanding Closure I'm still far from petty mastery of this.

  • What is closure for this Element of the Character?
  • What is closure for  this Player's goal? 
  • What is closure in context of the story for this character? What is the character in light of his actions in the events? What is the narrative the Player will like to cap-off or push (and enable him to do so). 
For those who are trying to avoid narrative bias and are suspicious of stories (See Tyler Cowen's TED talk) and are working towards accepting "the Mess" closure is exploiting the bias in light of the mess.


Acts are components of a Game Session which fit into each Stage of Pacing. A 3-Act, 5-Act, and 7 Act game sessions follow the Pacing Guideliness but change in scale. 
In a 3-Act Sessions there is the 3 stages of Pacing which is what a 2-4 hour session can probably accomplish.
Personal note: the 3-Act session is what I can do reliably. I can even sometimes "fudge it" to feel like I squeezed it enough lows and highs to feel like a 5-act (but those are on rare days). 

In a 5-Act session the first 3 acts follow the 3-Act staging but the 2nd and 3rd act are smaller in scale/gravity than the 4th and 5th act. The 3rd-Act can be a minor Climax that bleeds into a twist that creates a new paradigm, set of expectations, and round of buy in for the players. The 4th Act is a higher scaled rising tension and conflict. A 5-Act can be a 4-6 hour session. Its possible for a GM to improvise an additional amount of Acts if so much is getting done and the players are excited for more!
Personal note: in my older age I can't do 5-Act easily, last time I did so it took my out and I needed a nap. I had my fitbit and my BPM was about 80 and I could feel my brain fps was hitting 60. 

7, 9, or 11 Acts are pretty much the same fractal pattern of pacing. Because of Bounded rationality not a lot of GMs have the processing power to create enough material for greater number of acts without railroading. There is a lot of cooperation with the players in making more acts  per session.   

A Scene is a sub-stage of an Act. A scene can be as long as an combat or social encounter or a problem solving challenge. This is what 10-30 minutes of exchanges between Players and the GM when they are trying to push the story forward. 
This is handy concept because it lets a GM plan exchanges with the Players. I use a Scene to hit goals regarding: the PC's background, PC's chance to shine in his role, establishing key clues and events, and other such milestones the GM needs to accomplish to Build up the adventure and let the Players feel empowered to act with their characters. 
I use the Pacing Grid for this purpose* I normally plan in Acts and Scenes. In every Act I Ideate the problems/challenges/fronts***  and have a ready supply of these to use for Scenes. The way I frame a Scene is based on the Act. The PCs having Agency in the First Act is different from the other Act. Their actions, their effect on their surroundings and people, and the way the world transforms is guided by the Pacing process. 

Player Scene**
This is similar to a Sequence (filmmaking). These are the exchanges between the GM and the Players. I can't really plan to this level of detail. Al I can do is keep score to see if the Player is enjoying himself and getting the agency he needs to move his character's goals forward.

(Elevator) Pitch Speed. This is the speed of compressing an Idea and breaking it up to digestible portions for the listener to consume in their own pace and sequence. This is typically 30-90 seconds, but can be faster when there is a lot of shared understanding already, strong familiarity with both parties in their communication styles, and an established protocol when dealing with communication bottle necks. (Yes& is one of these protocols). 

Note Taking
Session (Episode) 02, Act 2/3, Scene 1/3, John's 2nd 
or for shorthand: E2, A2/3, S1/3, John2. 

Conclusion
This is an update to my understanding and finding better ways to communicate the ideas. I've also had time to digest and reflect on it considerably. Having a familiarization or almost working undersanding of this concept is helping me keep better notes and track my Player's emotions better (I have recordings of my games which allow me to revisit its pains and pleasures). 

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