NormalVision (part 3), Preparing a Scene
So you've decided to include a NormalVision scene in your game. What do you need to know before you run it?
First and foremost make sure you need to use NormalVision at all. Then decide what you intend the scene to reveal. All that was covered in part 2, so go read it!
Players should not make characters until you spring the NormalVision scene on them in the middle of the game. NormalVision PCs don't need as much detail as a normal character. Skip the stats entirely, just focus on personality, name and a generic description. Ideally you'll want the players to come up with characters in 15 minutes or less (sometimes 5 minutes or less) so keep it simple. Here are some things you'll want to tell the players so they can make appropriate characters:
1) What types of characters are required to fit in the scene? It should be a simple description for the players to work from. Late night hospital staff optionally with some players as patients, people who would be on a cruise ship, people who would be at a seance. This may reveal the something about the scene to the players or it may not.
2) Is there a particular personality trait the players should think about in creating their character, a trait that is particularly pertinent to the scene? In a NormalVision scene set in a seance, a key trait would be how skeptical the character is. A character could be very skeptical or very believing, but identifying where they fall on that spectrum is critical to understanding how they will behave in this particular scene. By identifying a key trait you also provide a focus for players to quickly establish their characters' personality.
3) Is there an intended tone or genre for the scene? Are the characters supposed to be serious, or is there room for some comic relief? Given the opportunity to suddenly play a whole new “throw away” character, some players will want to veer into the eccentric to make their characters interesting. Too eccentric and suddenly the characters aren't very normal at all. Setting the tone also helps the players get on the same page quickly.
So you might tell your players “Okay, we're going to do a NormalVision scene here. All the characters are medieval pilgrims, and think of the personal reasons your character has for making this pilgrimage. This should be a serious scene, devote religious thinkers, nothing whacky.” And then you let them talk theology around the campfire for a while before hitting them with the UFO, illustrating the contents of the strange 11th Century writings the modern day protagonists just discovered in a library.
Like all character creation processes you will want the players to cooperate so their characters are compatible or have conflicts that work for the scene and don't overlap in odd ways. You can also force roles on the players when necessary, or mix free roles with forced roles. Three players start as kids sneaking into a closed amusement park (free roles, they can be any kind of kid), then a third player is introduced part way through as the guard who catches them (forced role, he can only be the guard).
You also need to decide what will signal the end of your NormalVision scene. In some cases this will be obvious (the monster eats the ship the crew is on, end of scene) other times not. Look back at what your scene is intended to reveal in the first place. Once that revelation has run its course, your NormalVision scene has probably used up its usefulness. Resist the urge to just keep following the lives of the NormalVision characters. They may live to get married and grow old, but you've got main characters to get back to so get going.
It may sound like prepping a NormalVision is complicated, but actually it's quite easy once you get the hang of it. Even if you haven't prepared at all, you might decide in the middle of a game that a quick NormalVision scene is just what you need. Take a moment and follow the steps above (do you really need NormalVision, what's the revelation, what are the character parameters) and you'll be ready to go.
Last but not least, NormalVision (part 4), taking it farther.