Scenes divide the story into moments of significance and allow characters to interact with the game world.
Tabletop role-playing games involve the interplay between the concept of narrative time, and real time.
Narrative Time: Narrative time represents the fictional passage of time in the game world, governing the story's pace and progression of events. Narrative time is commonly measured a variety of ways including story arcs, campaigns, adventures and encounters.
Real Time: Real time are the periods where party members are playing the game and interacting with the game world. Real time may be sessions where the entire group meets and plays together live or online or play-by-post where players contribute to the narrative using written messages.
The intersection between narrative time and real time is managed through the use of scenes.
A scene presents a moment of significance within the story, and the opportunity for player characters to interact with the game world. Each scene provides a distinct situation, allowing players to make decisions and perform character actions towards overcoming the challenges created by the director.
To help provide structure and coordinate interactions during a scene, game play is divided into Rounds and Turns.
Rounds and Turns
Rounds provided a structured approach that governs the interaction between players and the director, allowing the director to coordinate and control scene elements and narrate the situation, and players to coordinate and control their character's actions.
To keep the game fast and fluid, the game system uses a freeform initiative method where the director determines the specific turn order for each round based on the current situation and what supports the best storytelling experience.
Groups should discuss Initiative Methods during Session Zero to explore alternative methods for coordinating player interactions or determining the turn order for characters during scenes.
Each round is performed using the following steps:
Lights: At the beginning of each round, the director illuminates the current situation for the players. This includes describing details of the environment such as the layout of objects, terrain, weather, time of day or other important narrative elements, and the current state of the challenges facing the characters. It is particularly important that the director highlights aspects of the situation that are most likely to influence player decisions during their turn. During the phase, the director may also introduce new elements into the current scene.
Camera: During the camera phase, each character is given a focus, and each player has an opportunity to ask the director questions related to the scene and current situation, and briefly discuss strategy with the other players to coordinate their character's actions. The phase ends with each player describing the intended action of their character, and what they hope to accomplish. Mechanical details related to a character's intentions such as specific skills or boosts are not required until the action phase when the intended action occurs.
Action: During the action phase, the director will call on each player to perform a standard turn. The player will narrate their character's activity and perform any action rolls requested by the director. The phase ends when each player in the turn order has completed their turn. The director completes the action phase by narrating the consequences.
The Standard Turn is a modular rule that defines the scope of what a character can do during a single turn. Groups are encouraged to discuss and tweak standard actions to fit the story and player preferences during Session Zero.
Holding an Action
A player may want to make their intended action conditional on a specific event or change in the situation. To hold an action, players should describe the condition as part of stating their intentions. During the action phase of the round, if the condition is triggered, the director will direct the focus to the character to complete the action as intended.
When all the steps of a round are complete, a new round starts, and the steps are repeated. Additional rounds continue until the situation is resolved.
Passage of Time
The period of time represented by each round and turn is abstract and dynamic. During periods of exploration, they might represent hours. During social interactions, they may represent a few minutes. During combat, each turn will represent just a few seconds. It is the director's job to communicate and guide the pace of play appropriately for the current situation.
Rounds are important to many game mechanics like Counters, Complex Tasks and Group Tasks which depend on rounds to track and measure the passage of time. At the completion of each round, a segment on a counter or clock may advance helping build tension and adding excitement within the scene.