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On The Next Episode…

If any of you know my reputation among gaming circles, or have even played in one of my games, you’ll probably know that I have some trouble in coming up with ideas for the dreaded Next Session. While I have some fairly solid ideas for the overall campaign arc, I always seem to get stuck on that simple question: What Do I (as a gamemaster) Do Next? It’s resulted in the premature deaths of at least two campaigns of mine.

Often, I find myself going to my players. Unfortunately, though, asking them open-ended questions like “What do you want to do next?” tend to elicit open-ended answers like, “More of what you’re doing, it’s great!” Which is reassuring, but at times not quite helpful, especially when “But I don’t know what I’m doing!” doesn’t do much to inspire your players.

To be fair, the players are usually kept in the dark with regard to the GM’s plans for the campaign, and more often than not, it’s the GM who’s immersed him or herself in the campaign world, while the players have probably read the core book and a supplement or two (probably with no interest in reading further). They may also feel like the GM is really asking them, “Can you write next session’s adventure for me?” (Which probably wouldn’t be far off…)

Just recently, though, I hit upon an idea that might engage the creativity of both players and GM in coming up with the next session. The idea is to put some structure around that wonderful question “What do you want to do next?”, to narrow the focus a bit, and to cut down on the size of the expected answer.

Now, we’ve all got our favourite prime-time TV show, right? You know that at the end of every episode, you can expect a thirty second teaser for the next one: short bursts of action and dialogue culled from the next episode (typically the most exciting, funny or dramatic) with dramatic-sounding voice-over from the channel’s voice-over staff. You get hints as to what your favourite characters are up to, what else is going on in the world that relates to them (“You crossed the line, Richards; now you’re on your own.”) and what’s going to happen to them. (And one of them – won’t be coming back…) Because the clips are often shown out of order and context, the viewers’ idea of the next episode can quite often differ from the hour of television presented to them next week. (Also, the actors’ lines tend to sound rather stock.)

I propose taking the concept of the “On Next Week’s Episode” teaser and transposing it to a roleplaying game.

Here’s how I see the idea working. Before each session, the GM asks each player to come up with two “clips” and write them down/print them out (the GM should probably come up with a couple as well). Each clip should be:

  • A snippet of either character dialogue or voice-over. (Note: the dialogue shouldn’t be assigned to anyone specifically, even if it sounds like something a particular character would say.)
  • A short line describing a visual from the “show”, used to describe setting or action (i.e. “Exploding car” or “Las Vegas, Night” or “Hovertank flying straight towards camera, firing main gun at POV.”).
  • Both, provided the visual described isn’t of a character speaking that line (i.e. “Meet your new political officer: Colonel Makarov.”).

This gets tricky when it comes to world knowledge, especially when it comes to pre-established settings. As mentioned above, it’s not always reasonable to expect that the players will have the sort of encyclopaedic world knowledge that the average GM/product line collector has. Still, it shouldn’t be too hard to keep dialogue both non-specific and within genre; fitting it to the setting will then be relatively easy.

So, when the regular session’s finished, the GM and players have a ten-minute mini-game where they try and assemble their disparate pieces into a teaser. This is where having each person come up with two clips each works out; it makes sure everyone gets at least one idea in while still giving enough leeway to drop ideas that just don’t quite fit together (they can always be re-used later). The GM has power of veto over any clip on grounds of genre and/or campaign appropriateness.

The clips are shuffled around and assembled – remember, internal continuity and coherency aren’t important – and the result is read out loud. This can be done in any manner the group feels comfortable with. For reasons of coherency, I suggest one player be “the voice-over person”; only make two if you can get a man and a woman reading the voices (which is the only time they use more than one voice on TV). The GM should add sound effects to visuals where appropriate – not pre-recorded SFX noises, but pantomime (e.g. Exploding Car: “BOOM! Clatter clatter!” Hovertank firing: “Schweeeeeeee- Fwap! Fwap!”).

What the GM should have, by the end of the exercise, is a small collection of ideas and kickers that he or she can use to populate a whole session with interesting stuff; not only that, but the players have been involved in the making of the session, which will give them an even bigger hook into it.

Of course, there’s no guarantee that the GM can or will use all of the stuff that gets written into the teaser; after all, this is an RPG, not a TV show. But some of the items – especially the bits of dialogue – could be turned into a sort of group exercise. Essentially, if a player can get their character to perform one of the actions or speak one of the lines of dialogue from the teaser – in character and situation-appropriate (or in an entertaining manner) – they get an XP award. This kind of thing might work well with pre-prepared cards that the players can pick up and play.

While the idea could potentially work with any game, I think it’d operate best with something freewheeling and zany, like octaNe – you could probably even improvise a teaser from the ground up at the end of a session instead of preparing for it beforehand!

Old Comments

You know, reading over this again, I'm reminded of the Confessional rules for InSpectres; it's just more of a pre-session thing than a during-session thing. I didn't have InSpectres in mind when I came up with this idea, but I'm more than willing to credit it with subconscious inspiration. Ta, Jared!

Posted by: IMAGinES at June 4, 2004 06:47 PM
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