Scene Framing

scene framingI found a couple of interesting posts on Daniel’s Coffeestain blog entitled More on Aggressive Scene Framing and Frame My Scene Dude. Both of these link to a thread started by John Harper over at Story Games about (surprise surprise) Scene Framing.

I suppose, before going any further, I probably ought to explain what ‘scene framing’ is for the uninitiated. I’m no expert on this stuff but I’ll do my best. If anyone out there knows better please correct me.

My understanding is that scene framing is a cinematic approach to roleplay that is intended to focus the action on the nitty-gritty. It’s much like the idea in screenwriting that all scenes should have a purpose.

Thus, using this approach, a game is now comprised of a number of framed (or bounded) scenes, and each scene is a charged situation that forces the players to make decisions. Through these decisions the scene unfolds until a climax is reached and the most dramatic thing that could happen has happened. At this point the scene is finished.

One of the major guidelines for this style of play is that you jump right into the interesting stuff and see where the scene takes you. If they become important, background details, like how you got there, can be filled in retrospectively through dialogue or whatever.

Anyway back to the links…

Daniel quotes John’s good advice on framing a scene for the following example situation/player goal:

Player goal:

“I want to get the Hand of Flame back from the Count. Let’s sneak into his castle!”


“Okay, you’re over the wall on the south side, in the Count’s rose garden. You’ve timed the guard routes, and you’re about to make your next move, when a guard walks back into the rose garden. He should be over by the reflecting pool by now! And he’s carrying a torch. The Count’s guards don’t usually carry torches. He’s bent over, looking for something. That’s when you notice it. A glove. Snagged on a rose thorn not six inches from your head. You look back at the guard. Yeah, he has only one glove tucked into his belt. He’s headed right for you. What now?”


The lesson I’ve learned about scene framing: start with something that can’t be ignored. If I decide not to skip over the sneaking stuff, then there better be some sneaking stuff worth seeing. “Roll stealth to sneak in” is super lame. But with a strong scene frame, now we have a bang right in the player’s face. Sure, now we can roll stealth and stuff, but it’s about this circumstance, right now, up close and personal.

PS. There’s also a post on there about Dreamblade, Wizards of the Coasts’ collectable miniatures game. The online demo looks pretty cool


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