NormalVision (part 2), When Should I Use It?
Once the genie is out of the bottle, it may seem like almost any situation is an opportunity for a NormalVision scene. After all, they're fun, right?
Take a deep breath. Now stop and consider that for the NormalVision scene (and, er, any scene) to have a point, it has to have a point. Here are some guides for deciding when to use NormalVision:
1) If there's no information to impart, skip it. A NormalVision scene let's the players see things their characters would not normally witness by letting them temporarily play other characters. That definition alone tells you that there has to be something to see or learn. If it's just an action sequence but with different characters, it may be a fun change of pace but it isn't serving the same purpose as NormalVision. Know what the scene is supposed to reveal.
2) Consider whether there really is a dramatic advantage to having the players participate “first hand.” NormalVision scenes take game time to set up and run, so if learning the information through conventional means like third-person reports or background narrative is just as good, stick with that. Do the players really need to play citizens fleeing from the giant monster stomping through town, or can they just see it on the news?
3) There must be time for the players to actually “get” their roles before the inevitable conclusion. A NormalVision scene where the police officers are just attacked by the monster is not good enough. The players need time to play their new characters, even if it's just to talk about how much they are looking forward to their retirement (“only two more weeks and I'll be sailing around the world in my new boat…”) before being eaten by giant ants. The characters should be given time to interact. The shorter the NormalVision scene is, the more likely it will be pointless.
4) The characters should get to participate instead of merely witness events. Otherwise it would just be NarratorVision – no good. The characters might not change the outcome (in fact they probably won't) but they should be part of it. They should experience what happens even if that experience is just interacting with each other while something vast in scope happens around them, a small human drama played out against a grand backdrop. Two teenager sweethearts clutching each other in terror as Mecha Leviathan crushes the city are not physically interacting with the menace, but their role-playing is a reaction to the situation. In some ways this relies on the players to play into the scene, not merely observe mutely. Parameters you set on the scene can influence this (as discussed next time).
What's the worst that happens when you misuse or overuse NormalVision? It won't necessarily be a disaster, but players will probably have less fun. The scene may seem pointless and the NormalVision characters forgettable. Players like their main characters, so taking them away from those characters is always a gamble. The stakes are game time and player interest.