Well, day 14 fell on a day that was supposed to be an easy day that turned into a heavy workload. That was fine by me, since the prompt for that day wasn’t inspiring anything in me.

Today’s prompt, however, is a good one. One of the parts of learning how to GM well is the same as any media of storytelling — framing a scene. Even for sandboxers that simply let players wander about their world looking for something to happen, framing is important. Scene framing involves spotlighting important events in a narrative, or character moments that aid the player in moving toward character growth.

For instance, players might be walking interminably to a mountain where their nemesis rules to destroy a magical McGuffin. The walking, let’s face it, is boring. The day to day mundanity of taking breaks, eating, foraging to find food, can be important for the story — say the characters are traveling through the Valley of Bones on their way to the mountain and after an attack by the adversaries they need to find food and water; that’s now an important, unusual event in their journey. They do it and survive; they don’t and fail. One of the way that RPGs have traditionally gotten around the boring travel bits is with random encounters. That’s certainly a way to go if you’ve had nothing planned for the session, but a better idea might be to do the equivalent of a fade or wipe to the next scene that had impact on the characters. This doesn’t have to be combat. It can be meeting an old friend or adventuring companion of a character that allows the player to build on their alter ego. t can be a short side quest — a traveling party was raided and their children/women/money to stake their new life was stolen forcing the characters to make the choice of staying on mission, or breaking to “do the right thing.” It can be some form of moral quandry — do they help the [your enemy here] who has been injured, is trapped in quicksand (or the equivalent trap), or something that ties tightly to a character’s flaws/goals/or moral structure.

All of the players should ideally get their own “beat”; their moment in the spotlight, but sometimes, you’ll find an event is so interesting or emotionally engaging that the players not involved are interested in the story, even if they aren’t the focus. That makes for a great session. A good example of this might be many of the ensemble Marvel movies — every character gets their moment to do their schtick or experience some milestone in their journey, even if it’s a short moment. In a game, this allows the players to be the star for a while.

Framing a scene involves creating the atmosphere you want. Perhaps you’ve beamed down to a distant outpost on a mostly barren world to find the facility empty. There’s no sign of a fight, there’s food half-eaten on the tables in the canteen — as if people had been mid meal when whatever happened happened. Eery quiet save for the ever-present sound of the air circulation system is all you here. However, there’s more than that.

Important scene will have a few factors to them. There will be an action of somesort that has to be reacted to. This can be physical, like an attack; it can be mental, the setting inspires an emotional reaction; it can be philosophical — you present them with a hard choice; it can be social — they have to convince an enemy to turn to their side. The action should have something to do with achieving their goal, whether for the party or a character. It should present them with a dilemma (it doesn’t have to be earth-shaking) that requires a response that could advance their cause, or creat a set-back but require them to “do the right thing”, or which requires some kind of change in the character.

When creating a story for your players, you can best do this by setting up what the outcome that is desired — the characters find the bad guy’s hideout and can rescue the hostages. You have several scenes that push the plot — 1) a discovery of a certain piece of evidence that 2) leads to an initial confrontation with the henchmen of the big bad, and 3) if they succeed pushes them toward the goal or should they fail requires them to regroup, perhaps do another scene requiring them to find evidence or clues, and eventually leads to the denouement. You can let the players wander and investigate the world all you want, but at some point, you drop one of these moments into the narrative, allowing them to move closer to the goal. This dispels the notion they are being railroaded, while still pushing them in the right direction.

So, simoply put, to frame a scene you 1) create the right atmosphere, 2) present a problem that requires 3) the characters to make a decision, and their reaction 4) leads to an outcome or corresponding reaction that moves the story along, or helps the character grow in some fashion.