Impractical Applications (Mice and Montages)

I’ve spent a lot of time experimenting with montages in game, particularly as they relate to the players’ images of the characters and how to stay true to both that and to one’s plot sequence. Most of the time, I admit, I tend to avoid dealing with it; most of the scenery-jumping stuff involves things about the environment or the NPCs, things that I know I’m not going to get wrong. But there was one exception, a particularly on-a-limb experiment.

Remember back when I was talking about my adventures in attempting to run Mouse Guard? My opening scene was one big long montage, built around the idea of getting the characters to the beginning of the one adventure I had ideas for. Looking through it, you might notice that the first paragraph is about character-specific actions, and the rest assumes the group is working as a unit. This is because the first paragraph was based entirely on chance and player decisions. The group rolled me skills they themselves had chosen, two each; it was my job to take these random numbers and make a story out of them. This part was to ensure that they would have agency within the massive wall of text that was my introduction—that there was something that had been a character decision and not just GM fiat. From there, I mostly stuck to resolutions without too much risk of misinterpreting the characters, though I did take a bit of a gamble with trying to figure out how to write Erwyn’s utter lack of success on one of his social rolls, in the parenthetic remark near the end of the first paragraph.

The rest of it is detached from the characters even by my standards. While I’m paranoid about playing people’s characters wrong, I don’t generally shy away from slipping in things I do definitely know. For instance, when I was writing my way through the PCs’ attempts to learn how to function in a dreamscape in my primary dream, I slipped in a reference to the ultra-quirky crafter getting himself covered in ice cream in a semi-successful half-experiment-half-instinctive-reaction. But in this case, people didn’t know much more than what was on their sheets, and neither did I, so it was boxed text right the way until the water hit.

Then the end was back to numbers, returning the agency to the players as they had pre-rolled to see how they’d handle the water. (Well, except for my missing player; he’d gotten the wrong day, so I just needed to find a way to write him out, and then the following week I got his roll and wrote him back in in a suitably heroic manner.) I find player agency in on-screen montages to be an important element when writing the things in games; people like seeing what their characters can do, but it always works better when they have some idea that they, the original minds behind the characters, had an impact on what happened.

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