How do you, as a player and as a GM, know when a scene in an RPG is over and it’s time to move to the next one? I ask because I’m going to be running an Anima Prime game soon, and while it isn’t the only game where players get benefits at the ends of scenes, I want to make sure the players in my game get enough character scene benefits.
Hey Brady, thanks for writing in!
Deciding when to end a scene is one of the GM’s most important jobs, even in systems that don’t have mechanical benefits riding on it. You’re right that in a game like Anima Prime, it’s doubly important to manage scenes properly, since you want to make sure your PCs get the right number of mechanical rewards per session.
My instinctual response was that you need to “feel it out,” but that’s not very helpful, so let’s try to be more scientific with it. First, I would say that in order to count as a scene, there needs to be some kind of conflict. It doesn’t have to be action-heavy conflict, but someone must want something. This could be a character looking for their lost cat, or asking for help on how to dress for prom, or studying hard for a test, so long as something is at stake.
If one PC wants to tell another how cool their sword looks, that’s just a bit of in-character banter and doesn’t count as a scene in my book. This helps keep the game moving, but it’s also a useful policy to prevent clever players from abusing the scene-ending mechanics found in games like Anima Prime. This way there’s no temptation for PCs to fabricate scenes where they just exchange high fives in order to heal wounds or recharge their action points.
From there, a few things can signal it’s time to end the scene:
- The conflict is resolved. The PC finds their cat, decides what they’re going to wear, or finishes their practice test.
- You may want to give the PCs a few lines of dialogue to resolve any leftover feelings, but unless the scene was really long, you can keep this to one or two exchanges.
- The characters change locations. If the characters leave one place and go somewhere else, that’s usually a sign that the scene is over, unless the traveling itself is an important part of the conflict.
- If possible, you don’t want to change locations until the conflict of the scene is resolved in some way, whether that be positive or negative, but RPGs happen in real time, so sometimes you just gotta roll with it.
- A lot of time passes. Even if the characters don’t move, if several days pass, that’s probably a new scene.
- Again, it’s best not to end a scene this way without resolving the conflict, but sometimes it’s just what happens.
In games like Anima Prime, it’s also important to think of how many scenes you’ll have per session, since not having enough can deprive your PCs of much-needed recovery points. For this, I can only advise some trial and error. You’ll want whatever scenes are needed to make the story work, plus any the players want to have, but you may need to add more if the PCs are badly beat up. For that, I usually keep a few NPCs in reserve so I can spring someone with a relevant motivation on the party. “While you’re waiting for the evil boss to show their face again, your long-lost cat-sitter appears to tell you that they have a kitten in need of a home. What do you do?”
Hope that answers your question!