After three more traditional games where each in game morning would start with a “what do you do now?” I decided I would borrow from Dramasystem and Fiasco and create a way for players to move action through scene calling.
Each session each player would take turns to set a scene, describing where, when, and who was in each scene. Session would be broken into about two scenes for each player and they had full control over who would be in that scene or what was happening there.
I was particularly inspired to use this after two other campaigns I played in and the GM predetermined how all of the characters would be introduced. I had a clear idea how I wanted to make first impressions on the party but that was cut off at the ankles straight away. Instead in my game I wanted the players to be able to control what the action was and where it happened.
It kept action fast paced and continual. One player declared they wanted a scene of their character exploring a cemetery and getting into trouble. It naturally turned into a classic horror scene as the grey statues disappeared behind him to suddenly appear as a horrible ghoul. He barely escaped with his life and loved every minute.
Scene calling let players draw on the action they wanted, dealing with conflicts when they wanted, skipping the boring bits of library research or the city gritty of getting to locations.
The biggest hurdle seemed to be that the traditional style was so ingrained in the players they couldn’t shake it. “What’s your scene?” just changed back into “what do you do next?” While some players would be moving forwards the others would feel they were falling behind and didn’t have time to do what they wanted because they thought each scene had to be immediately after the last.
Instead of focusing on setting a scene where the thing they wanted happened they got caught up on the build up, waiting for me to create the pay off I didn’t know they wanted. While a reactive character might have worked well if the player was creating scenes for their Investigator to react to often they would call scenes with nothing happening and then get frustrated that they weren’t changing anything.
I think practice makes perfect in this case. With more experience players should be able to use this sort of gameplay to rip into the plots and scenes they want, something I sorely miss in others games.
However I think I tried too much at once with The Flames Engulf. Playing both NPCs and having a scene calling mechanic meant players had too much to think about and struggled. It became a juggling act of trying to predict player actions to brief the players on what their NPCs might be doing, while they were making their own decisions.
I may use scene calling with my GUMSHOE driven game Goliard as an experiment. Goliard is a heist game set in 13th century France. The GUMSHOE system fits this better, with Ability Spends acting as reasons for scenes as they prepare their plans. Then when the heist happens it can act as a more traditional stream of scenes.