Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Scarface is dated, but worth watching anyway

What you should probably do is go to Keith Baker's blog and answer his Question Of The Week. But, since you're here, ponder this. Legendary film director Howard Hawks is supposed to have said that a good movie was one with "three good scenes and no bad ones." He directed the original Scarface, the excellent The Big Sleep, the classic Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, the genre-defining Rio Bravo... he knew what he was talking about.

That's a good rule for a game session. If you're spending a couple hours or more together, aim for three good scenes and no bad ones. We don't have to use "scene" in the pretentious artsy way -- any encounter, any combat, any problem-solving will do. If you have three exchanges that are fun for everyone, and none that are anti-fun, you're doing it right. Maybe not the way I'd do it, but you did it right.

This is kinda how I design adventures these days (and it's one of the reasons I'm a substandard module designer). Figure out where they probably start, figure out an interesting place that they could end, and then come up with around 3 fun-sounding encounters that the PCs could have along the way. Of course, they're not locked into anything other than maybe "here's where you start." If they don't follow the leads to my encounters, I have every confidence that they'll make their own fun.

But as a GM, I do think part of my job -- part of what I enjoy about running games -- is helping set up those 3 good scenes. And trying to thwart bad ones. The goal isn't for the characters to succeed at everything; the goal is for everyone in the game to think it was an awesome way to spend their time.

Another interesting Hawks quote to consider before you go answer the QOTW: "As long as you make good scenes you have a good picture -- it doesn't matter if it isn't much of a story." I don't agree, but that's for another day.


  1. Good advice. I actually give similar advice for people who are getting their toes wet in the cooking world. Pick out 3 recipes a week and only the ingredients for them. If you try to do too much you'll end up lost with too many ingredients and no idea what to make that night. By starting out small and keeping with that structure you get into a groove of things.

    Your point about scenes not being forced on players is also great advice. It's cool to think up scenes but not to try and shoehorn the players into them. If I ever come up with something I really like I write it down and save it for when the stars finally align and the PC's find themselves descending into a near-dormant volcano into the Tyrant Dragon's lair. Well, if they ever reach high level, hah!

  2. I used to shoehorn a lot more, and my players used to put up with it a lot better. Over time I got good at improvising -- and so did they. I've never liked dungeon crawls, so dropping the PCs into a deliberately bounded space and dangling the carrot of kill-and-loot wasn't going to work. I used storytelling as my structure for a while. Now I've got enough random story-pieces in my brain that I can spit 'em out when I have to.