At a recent con I playtested a storytelling game by an ingenious game writer. I might still be NDA’d though so I won’t give names.
Storytelling has never been my thing, but for the first time I encountered Scenes. That’s where each person at table takes turns defining a situation, and in each, everyone takes a role and makes things happen. So touchy-feely, right? OK, it can be, but also!
* Every player gets fair ups
* The precious resource of time at table is managed in discrete chunks
Much of our time at table with more traditional RPGs is taken up struggling with how individuals will extract satisfaction from what the group is doing. Me, I love tactics. I like to make elaborate plans that turn the expectations of enemies upside down, strike at the head, avoid predictable confrontations, fight on ground that I control… You get the idea. But while I’m drawing up plans, there are three or four other people trying to do something different with our very limited number of minutes together at that table. One guy maybe just wants the satisfaction of killing as many things as possible. Another may have definite goals for his character that involve, say, selling loot to buy a coveted item in town. One might enjoy playing a conniving scoundrel, or an idiot who tends to screw up. And many players at various tables just want to hang out with their friends.
Everyone ends up waiting sometimes, unable to pursue his or her own agenda. The killer champs at the bit while the roleplayer enjoys bantering with the innkeep. The tactician gets bored and stirs up trouble just for the fun of dealing with it. The social player suffers humiliation when the power gamers min/max the rules and draws challenges that a casually defined character can’t handle. And there’s a good chance of each being frustrated when time runs out and people have to go home.
None of this even mentions the poor referee and his scenario and ideas of plot. Those are just carrion on which we feast, anyway.
Dividing things up by scenes acknowledges the different things gaming can do and the scarcity of time in which to do them. It can be frustrating not to get the scene you want, or have it come out the way you like. Various mechanisms let you weight the importance of different possible outcomes. But the point is, the scene mechanic attempts to organize the limited time instead of throwing everyone into a four-hour soup to sink or swim.