At the Patreon, I began a deeper discussion of my breakdown of “setting” into three more useful terms: backdrop, situation, and scene(s). I presented it first in Circle of Hands and referenced it a lot since then.
At first glance, these terms appear to be nested, in order from biggest to smallest, so that situation is a subset of backdrop, and scenes are a subset of situation. . They may also look as if causality mainly flows in that sequence as well, from biggest to smallest, with a faint hope or reassurance that events in scenes can travel back outwards, “changing the world” as it were.
That’s the orange part of this discussion: backdrop is the most solid, the most real in fictional terms; situations occur as local, closer-in pieces of it, and scenes are the ephemeral, momentary experiences of situations from characters’ point of view. “Setting” appears to be a unified concept, collective for everything that’s not a character. Fictionally, this is perfectly coherent.
However. We are not orange, we are black. I am now talking abut play itself, happening, as an activity conducted by humans listening to one another. Procedurally, I think that the only solid one of the three is situation.
One of the commenters at the Patreon used the term primal, and I like that.
- Situations make the backdrop; any description of a piece of backdrop without a representative situation in play is merely a promise or hopeful fib. Backdrop becomes real when we’ve seen it from inside a situation.
- Situations make scenes; without situational context for objects or characters, they have no properties and are not playable. Scenes are experienced as real insofar as they occur inside a situation.
Therefore, at the times we switch perspective to consider either backdrop or scenes as having changed or as about to become more clear, we have to look at how situations have changed, or at how they are necessarily about to change.
Too abstract? Fine. Get real, then. Right now, Noah is 100% correct to identify my comment as central to several different simultaneous discussions at Adept Play (see his summary here. The concrete question concerns finishing a conflict inside a scene, or finishing a scene, and knowing what happens next.
More precisely, for whoever has the job of saying what happens next (meaning “now”), what do they use to formulate what to say? What are their tools and raw materials for doing so? Specifically and most painfully:
- Without being trapped in the past, i.e., any prepared presumption of what will happen during play
- Without being trapped in the future, i.e., asking stupid questions like “what will be the most interesting” and developing something to play toward
In practice, you (single or plural, whoever has this job) simply have to say what happens. But without falling into those familiar and oh-so-comfortable traps, how, how, how, how? For any “next now,” at any scale, the situation is the key. One must reference how the situation has or is about to be affected. The answer might be “a lot,” which is great. It might be “not much,” which is still good and useful because your “next now” doesn’t have to be drastic, i.e., it may remain confined to immediate concerns for the characters.
I ended the Patreon post with a plea for any & all responses, resulting in many strong discussions. Manu gave his permission for me to include our dialogue here, which is attached. I think it is very powerful and very important, and I offer my plea here for you to read it in addition to this post and to provide any & all responses.
Erik, James, Noah, Grégory, Gordon, Lorenzo, and Sean: I’d like to include your points and dialogues as attachments as well. Please send me a direct message via Discord to let me know whether you give permission to do that.