Engaging the Whole Scene

  • Of the PRPs I've been in the last few months, some have been great while others have left me feeling like I wasted my time.

    And there's definitely one thing that stands out as to 'why.'

    In the ones I enjoyed, the ST made an effort to engage everyone. No one or two PCs stood out above the rest for the duration of the scene. In the ones I enjoyed the least, there was usually one or two PCs dominating the whole thing: jumping up to make every roll, rushing forward to the point of ignoring others who might have input or skill that'd be of benefit, etc.

    I absolutely blame the latter on the ST. Not in a malicious way, but, as an ST you should be able to tell when people are steamrolling and do something to get things more in hand. Be it paging them quietly or taking a firmer grip on the reins as you guide the scene.

    Now, it's easier (as an ST / IMO) to take the reins when you can see peoples' sheets. Instead of 'Whoever can, roll Medicine to...' you can page Bob, the medic, directly and ask him to make a roll.

    Some STs ask for feedback after a scene and when it's been one of those where people are steamrolling, I find myself a little... unsure how to approach that feedback. In part because I want to be able to provide some constructive advice. Instead of just 'Well, unfortunately, I felt unnecessary because other people were always too quick on the draw to roll or volunteer without consideration for sharing the spotlight' I want to be able to provide advice.

    So, STs:
    How do you make sure to engage an entire group and provide interaction for everyone*? What advice would you give for someone just learning?

    *Before the usual naysayers jump in, I don't mean the players who don't bother to engage in return. I mean the situations where players who want to engage are constantly left out because someone else is quicker to hit enter. Those times where you get a page from someone going 'So I want to try X, what do I need to- oh, never mind, I see Jane already did it.' These people clearly want to engage, but are being left behind because they're not as quick on the draw.

    I'll mull over my own methods and write up another post in reply, but I'd love to see what others find works for them.

  • Pitcrew

    When I have access to people's sheets, I usually try to take a look before I run a scene for them and see if there's anything that they seem to enjoy. Especially if they haven't had a chance to use it in a while that I can remember. If I can't access sheets, then I usually at least go to wiki pages and try to pick out from their wiki pages something that might play to a character's strengths and engage their player for each character. Then I try to build that in, and if possible, try to tie the opportunity directly into a character's background rather than just skills. So when it comes up, it's less, "Roll X" and more, "You're the only cop in the scene, so you know this guy - he's so-and-so and here's how he's been involved in law enforcement in the past."

  • I think the main thing I'd suggest is not being afraid to tell Bob McDoesAlltheThings to slow his roll(s).

    Similarly, don't be afraid to tell someone to repose if they charge on ahead and do something that would/should require a roll (which is typically also done in pursuit of 'does all the things' or other forms of spotlight hogging).

    If there are consequences to the 'charged ahead' issue above, there's always the option of 'mention potential consequences, offer to allow them to repose'; sometimes this can drive the point home a little better when you're dealing with a glory hound.

  • On SGM, Paradox and I took a stance of forcing a 'share the spotlight' mentality. We both have slightly different approaches to it, but we actively ST with an eye out for who has and hasn't had their moment in the light.

    If one PC 'dominates' (either by their own actions or because it's necessary; such as in translator scenarios) a scene, we would structure the next to give them a smaller role (or even ask if they'd be willing to sit out so another PC that can perform the duties could attend). It may hurt someone's feelings short-term to be sidelined, but my hope was that people would see that we were paying attention enough to make sure that it came back around to them.

    That's easier when you're running 1-2 scenes a week.

    When you ST less often, a few things I find help:

    • Looking at sheets, RP hooks, and BGs (on games where these are visible).
      • This allows me to get a picture of who the person is, what they like, and maybe pick out more obscure skills or even find something from their BG that could be of benefit in the scene (much like @Pyrephox does).
    • Asking people beforehand for some details as to what they're good at and/or interested in (best for games without open sheets).
      • This way, I know what THEY want out of the scene and I can look for places to fit it in.
    • Asking specific PCs for specific rolls and allowing others to roll 'assists.' This means everyone gets their chance to do something cool and there's no need for awkward conversations of 'Hey can you scale back a bit please?'
    • Remind people, frequently, that they can reach out to me directly if they want to do something that isn't specifically outlined.

    On SGM, the only roll that would frequently be 'everyone roll this' would be Alertness. Which leads me into something else I do (and love when other STs do the same!):
    Custom responses. If everyone rolls a Great Success (in FS3 terms) on Alertness and you page them all the same info, it comes down to whoever hits enter fastest. It also assumes that, IC, everyone is looking in the same direction and has the same 'kind' of Alertness.

    When I'm preparing for an Alertness roll, I type out a few options to hand out based on result. And then I issue them out. So if I have the following rolls:

    • Bob - Success
    • Jane - Success
    • Mike - Good Success
    • Henry - Great Success
    • Sally - Failure

    I know who is gonna receive what. I wrote custom responses for each scale of success, so I can hand those right out to Henry and Mike (while coming up with something for Sally's failure that she can play off of). Then I take my custom for the Success and give part to Bob (maybe he was a forward scout so he'd see more while Jane hears more!) and part to Jane (maybe Jane was staring at some sort of data collection device, so she can get pertinent details off of it).

    Along this vein, I find when an ST poses and includes the results in their pose it almost always leads to PCs that aren't named reacting.

    Example: As the party approaches the mouth of the cave, Bob sees signs of a bear's passage in the form of a big print in the mud just outside the yawning hole in the rock face. At the back of the party, Jane sees a bit of bear fur on a tree.

    Mike, your super quick poser, then comes in with: Mike raises the alert as he sees sign of bear, calling for everyone to halt.

    So: give people their own private thing to react to and make sure they get to pose it out.

    I'll post more as I think of it.

  • I've yet to lead a scene in a MUSH but I have nearly 40 years of game mastering experience from other places -- and my take is, you make sure to ask everyone what they do. Yes, some players talk and type fast -- and you let them, and then you wait for the other guys to get their words in, and if the fast guys can't cope with that, then frankly, that's their problem. If people want to do scenes where only they matter, they can do their own. When I game master, I want input from everyone.

  • @L-B-Heuschkel said in Engaging the Whole Scene:

    and you let them, and then you wait for the other guys to get their words in,

    So the reason this doesn't work on a MU, often, is that if Mr. Mike Speedyfingers rushes out his action (be it in a pose or OOCly declared), someone else may change their mind on what they're doing because 'oh, he got there first.'

    It'd require such a change in mentality across the spectrum for people to be willing to voice their plans even if they match or override someone else's. I've seen it on every type of game I've been on: FS3, D&D, nWoD, statted superhero games, Arx, Star Wars, Star Trek.....

    Some people might say 'hey can Mike and I both do that,' but in my experience: most people, in the interests of sharing the fun, will step back and change their mind. An initial plan to bumrush the thug because it fits their PC becomes 'I hold my turn' because Mike Speedyfingers said he was gonna shoot a taser at the thug and they don't want to get in his way, even if he's been front and center the whole time (either out of shyness, a true desire to share, or just not wanting to cause a headache/conflict for the ST: all are valid reasons why someone might not).

    That's why it's so much on the ST to control things.

  • It is not all the 'Speedy McSpeedy' person but sometimes the GM. I've joined PrPs and staff plots where all I am doing is adding fluff because everything happening is not something that I can get involved with because of one reason or another. For example if I am playing a social with no sneaky how exactly am I suppose to pose being all sneaky and skilled at it? I've even posed being loud and lagging behind. The GM of the scene basically ignored it. It made a not enjoyable scene because nothing I did affected what was 'already written.'

  • @Auspice You are unfortunately quite right. It's one of the reasons I have yet to dip into MUSH GM'ing because I'm not quite sure how to handle that. Probably calling for rolls through pages, asking people to page me their intentions before posing, something.

    Or, well.

    Telling people to respect each other's poses, keep to the pose order, and make room for everyone. Because really, they should be doing that anyway.

  • Pitcrew

    Honestly I think both public and private acknowledgement by the ST can go a long way. When I think of STed scenes in the last few years that have left me feeling kind of down it's usually been because what I wrote or even rolls made as requested were completely ignored/unacknowledged.

    OTOH once a scene gets to be larger than a certain tipping point it is deceptively easy to do that. Sometimes even before if you are dealing with a very page-y person or demanding player and miss what others are doing. I have been fortunate that people have felt comfortable pinging me when I have messed that up as a ST without fearing i would either rage at them or dissolve into falling on my sword (the two reasons i think primarily of when i think of when I do and do not speak up).

    I think that having communication and turn taking ground rules helps a lot. Some people do that naturally, others do better with some external organization.

  • Pitcrew

    Smaller scenes are, I think, very important when it comes to really engaging everyone. Even the best GM and players can struggle with giving everyone something meaningful when there are 10 PCs, and several of them overlap specialties.

  • @Pyrephox said in Engaging the Whole Scene:

    Smaller scenes are, I think, very important when it comes to really engaging everyone. Even the best GM and players can struggle with giving everyone something meaningful when there are 10 PCs, and several of them overlap specialties.

    The only place I'll run scenes with more than 6 people are FS3 combat. And I make it clear from the outset that it's a combat scene. Because the combat code helps give people those shining moments. Maybe they treat someone mid-fight, maybe they throw the grenade that turns the tide...

    But that's exception to the rule. Smaller groups means being better able to focus on everyone.

  • Pitcrew

    When I am running a plot, I try to ensure that there is a variety of ways to contribute, specifically those who are less combat focused. Granted I tend towards a very 'I'll come up with it when it's happening' style of late, but it has been fairly effective in ensuring people don't get left out. If I see in the rolls that someone hasn't had a lot of success, I will often throw in a trap or a puzzle that allows them to contribute to the action in a noticeable way, to let them shine too. My style of STing has grown increasingly fast and loose, to the point that I really just come up with a general idea of what they are going to be doing and then let the players direct the action. This is really hard to do in scenes with 8 or more people, and it can end up meandering if I am not careful, but I find that people seem to be having a lot of fun, or are feeling like they are being effective. And really, as long as people are having fun? I did my job.

  • Pitcrew

    @Pyrephox yep. I try to cut large scenes and also scenes with newbie players that need a lot of help code wise or one or two notoriously needy/particular players a lot of slack when it comes to GMs trying to storytell.

    And I think everyone has bad days too. If however there are a few times where I feel like I have been passed over consistently I just do not sign up for stuff with that person anymore. Either they are annoyed by my playstyle but do not feel they can decline my participation, or there are issues with attentiveness/being scattered that just do not work for me, or I know at that point I will just worry about it being the first thing so I wont enjoy future interactions because if that worry--does not matter and I do not hold it against them. Sometimes the fit just isn't great, and it does not mean bad or incompetent intent.

  • @AeriaNyx said in Engaging the Whole Scene:

    and it can end up meandering if I am not careful,

    This is a different issue, but it's one that I think is vital for people wanting to ST to learn.

    Start in media res for example. Spending an hour or two just posing preparation! planning! walking to the place! is tedious and largely unfun. I'm sure there's people who enjoy it, but in my experience: most people mentally check out if it drags on. Put players into the thick of things ("After a day's travel, the PCs find themselves...") and if any rolls are needed to decide how things in that day go, have people roll them beforehand and fold the results into the set.

    But where this has overlap is in that 'taking the reins' concept. If people are kicking their heels in one spot too long, force them to continue on. Tell them they get one more round of poses/actions before moving on.

  • Pitcrew

    It's a big concern and I think every single TT or MU has had this where one player hogs the spotlight while the rest get sidelined.

    In a TT, it's a bit easier for the DM because you can see physically that Player A is dominating and you can read the face/body of the other players to see their discomfort or frustration. I adopt a rotation basis for first actions (not dependent on initiative), no matter if the character is proficient or not. Once the player has had their turn being the first action, the token is passed to their player on the left and it keeps going that way everyone can see who is next up and it doesn't get lost. The goal is that everyone has an opportunity to lead, and it gives them more experience to lead in other situations and adventures. It also pulls the reins on those who just constantly want to do everything (whether out of a conscious or unconscious desire).

    For MUs, I try to do the same thing with my 5DR methodology in making sure I've built situations to focus on each player to shine and I'll pose directly to those players first. Those usually go into my notes specifically calling out a player on my plot map so I can quickly see that I've made sure to give each player a spotlight session. I also put that in my general guidelines/house rules at the beginning of the session so folks know that if I pose without a player's name first, then they're free to pose order as they want but if I pose a name, then that one gets to go first.

  • I'm going to quickly point a spotlight at something else that ruins a scene for me, whether as GM or player -- that guy who takes 40 minutes to pose that he basically does nothing. Or says 'skip me' after those 40 minutes.

    That guy needs to go.

  • Pitcrew

    A method I use is to put groups into situations that require everyone to do something and be so busy doing something that they can't do the other somethings that have to be done. For instance, sailing a ship in the midst of battle. A couple of people have to be fighting off those boarding the ship, one has to be steering the ship and issuing commands to the guys handling the sails, someone else has to be firing arrows at the other ship to down as many of the opposing crew as possible, so on and so forth.

  • Admin

    I've had people explicitly take themselves out of plotlines because they couldn't be the stars in it.

    As in, even though each individual PrP in the plot had an upper limit of... I forget, 4 or 5 players, I was paged and told that overall there were more than 10 characters engaged, so they'd take their PC out of it.

    Sometimes you won't win these things.

  • @Arkandel said in Engaging the Whole Scene:

    I've had people explicitly take themselves out of plotlines because they couldn't be the stars in it.

    At that point, it's probably for the best that they do.

    We all want to be stars. It's human nature. Even the shy people- perhaps especially the shy people since it's easier to bear the attention online than IRL.

    The point is to learn to share. You can't be the star all the time, but if you're willing to share and support other peoples' moments of stardom, you'll often find that you get it in return.

  • A player who refuses to share the stage if they cannot be at the centre of it is honestly a player you'll be better off without. Good players understand that sometimes, you're on centre stage, and sometimes you're support cast. Inside scheduled events, and outside of them. While it's true that we are all the star of our own life, that's not how collaborative story telling works.

    I personally quite enjoy scenes in which my character takes a sort of narrative, story driving role -- setting the scene, letting the other player(s) respond, organically developing the story as a response to their actions. My own character may be present in a minor capacity or not at all -- he mostly serves as a vehicle for me to get to make stuff happen to others.

    I also enjoy being the star. But certainly not all the time, or even most of the time.

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