Designing a 45 Minute Scenario

There’s a Scenario Contest at Ropecon this year. What makes this interesting for me is the 45 minute time limit. That’s new, at least for me. I hardly ever play anything under three hours. The time limit requires a totally new approach.

Since I am probably going to participate, I can’t (under the rules) discuss what exactly I’m planning to do, but I can discuss what I feel a 45 minute scenario should look like. I can’t really test these ideas, because I just came up with them, but this what I’d take into account:

Limit the Number of Players

Each player requires attention during a session. In a 45 minute session that might not be feasible, if you have many players. With five players, you would basically be able to allocate an average of nine minutes for each player. So, keep the number as low as you can. I guess three would be good in many cases, because you can make a Power Trio out of them (one is Ego, one is Superego and one is Id, like Kirk, Spock and Bones, for example).

Also, each new player doesn’t only bring him- or herself into the equation, they also bring a connection to each other player. Therefore the fourth player will basically double the connections within the group and that will require plenty more time.

(An explanation on the number of connections: first player is alone and doesn’t have any. The second player brings in one, the third player brings in two, making the total three, and the fourth player brings in three making the total six, or:

                                 x
total number of connections = ------- * (x - 1)
                                 2

where x is the number of players)

Limit the Depth of Visuals

An episode of most drama programming on TV is a little over 40 minutes in length, typically. I guess this would mean that if you can keep it tight, you should be able to get through a similar scenario in about the same time. However, when watching a TV show, you get all the visuals concurrently with the dialog. Therefore, if your GM spends time describing what you see, you are basically losing time.

So, don’t make that the emphasis of your game. Put them into a familiar environment, which doesn’t need explanation.

In Medias Res

Don’t let them plan anything in the beginning. Some players will take every opportunity to be cautious. You just can’t let them, if you are under such a strict time limit. Many people have just learned to play this way. For example, a couple of years back I was playing a game at RopeCon. I actually managed to do a pretty good epic speech to encourage us to go ahead and move on. Now, instead of actually acting on it, a couple of players followed what they had learned to do and instead of acting, they began to plan. And they used a lot of time to do it, with little to none results, because we had no idea what we were planning ahead for.

Scene, Rather than a Whole Story

You probably have to think of this as a short story instead of a novel, or something along those lines. One way to write a short story is to use a single scene from a bigger, suggested story.

Short Character Descriptions

Our instinct is to show everyone how creative we are by putting much effort into the characters. However, the players have an imagination too. They need minimal information to form their opinion of the character. If you tell them its an ex-con, they will have an idea what the person looks like and his history. It doesn’t take much. So, rather then write an actual description, a couple of tags or keywords will go a long way. Probably much further than a paragraph or two of text. That’s how the brain works.

If you want to (for some reason) have the players make their characters, use the Apocalypse World style lists, where the players just choose from short lists.

Of Course, the Rules

As little explanation as possible. You are doing something that requires minimal prep work and minimal gametime. You can’t use any complicated rules. Remember that

3 thoughts on “Designing a 45 Minute Scenario

  1. Good to see that you’ve managed to pick many things that were discussed when the competition was designed. I especially like the time breakdown. With story I agree about using scenes, but I also like short storylines that consist of multiple sharply cut scenes. Start in medias res and always cut to the interesting stuff.

  2. One thing I think might be vital is designing the characters to work for a mutual goal. I know that experienced players like to compete against themselves but this might be a seriously confusing for new players.

  3. Pingback: My Take on the RopeCon 2014 Scenario Competition | Guild Blog

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