A Beginner’s Guide to Making Scenes
(This is an excerpt from Kingdom, but it’s a good recipe for making scenes in just about any story game.)
The secret to making a good scene isn’t coming up with an amazing or surprising idea. The secret is painting a clear picture so players know exactly what is going on. Being able to visualize the situation clearly–where you are, why you are there–enables you to play your character like a real person.
That’s the cardinal rule. It doesn’t have to be exciting; it has to be clear. Exciting things may emerge as the scene plays out, but it is much harder for that to happen if the players aren’t sure what’s going on. Playing your character in the moment, even when nothing dramatic is happening, is the foundation for good role-playing.
With that in mind, if you don’t have a good idea for a scene, you just need to answer three questions clearly: who, where, what.
First, pick a character you think it would be interesting to have your character talk with about the Crossroad. It does not have to be someone your character wants to talk to–this is an interaction you want to see, not necessarily a situation your character wants to be in. Talking to or even arguing with someone you disagree with is a great way to see what the characters really think. When in doubt, pick someone who has a relationship with your character that you understand well, whether that’s friendship or enmity. You’ll find it easiest to talk to them.
Second, look at the locations on your character sheet and theirs. Pick one that you can picture and describe well. It should also be some place you can explain being.
Finally, ask yourself: what are you both doing here? Are you meeting each other intentionally? Why? Who invited who? Or is there something else that brought you to the same place at the same time, something related to the location?
This last ingredient–what are you doing here–is critical and often overlooked. If you don’t know why your character thinks they are there, you don’t know where to start. The answer can be trivial (“we’re picking up the weekly shipment of grain”), but it should be crystal clear.
Congratulations! You’ve just framed a scene!