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Mutants in the Night, a hack of Blades in the Dark, does something very interesting in this regard. The rulebook talks about the Facilitator using terms like zooming in and wide shots to paint a picture of each scene. 

For example when the crew is getting ready to execute a score, the Facilitator can use a wide shot to frame the building, the guards, the time of day, and then zoom in to show the characters approaching int he shadows. Then the Facilitator can hand off the camera to the players to let them know they are in control of what's happening next.

It's such a simple thing but I think it gives a familiar language to who is in control of the narrative and what is possible when you hand off and hold the camera. More and more, as I run games, I imagine them as television shows, something Blades in the Dark actively suggests you do as well. I use establishing shots and crane shots to look over the city to get a sense of what the mood is, to see current events play out. Also this sort of cinematic language gets people thinking about how scenes look between their characters, and what the NPCs look like. Are the character's listening to music? Can you hear crickets? Does this bad ass cyber ninja who is hunting you have their own musical theme that takes over the soundtrack?

Specifically calling out that there is a camera and a lens through which we view the events of the game is a great narrative mechanic, I find.

"Primetime Adventures" - JDCorley, a poster on itch dot i o


Here's a thing that the folks of the Feelings First podcast did when setting up for their Under Hollow Hills campaign that I absolutely loved: They talked about medium-specific metaphors for structuring gameplay, like how it has become commonplace for groups and games to borrow the vocabulary of film editing as a way to frame their engagement with the game. Because Under Hollow Hills is a deeply theatrical game, they made the deliberate decision to use a theatrical vocabulary to structure and inform their play, instead of a cinematic one. Spotlights, scenery changes, soliloquies, exit stage right (pursued by bear)...

Lots of games have attempted to formally or mechanically emulate the distinctive features another narrative medium. But I was excited by the possibility of instead approaching the way players talk about the game in play with a lighter hand, as a set of principles or vocabulary to lean on in the moment.

The value of this is the same as any shared language or vocabulary - it lets us communicate more effectively to each other what we are trying to do. What vocabulary you give your players is also part of game design!


Thank you very much for the kind words! I was really pleased with how that conversation went and how our attempts to shift the aesthetic vocabulary of play have been playing out. Stoked to hear it's been interesting and thought-provoking to the audience as well.


It's very, very good! Looking forward to future episodes. I very much hope you end up doing a whole tour.

Here's the thing, expressed differently: thinking carefully about aesthetic vocabulary suggests an approach to game design that aims to imbue play with a theatrical quality (or cinematic, or literary, or...) without necessarily attempting to emulate the structure of a different medium in its entirety.

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Ahhh, that's great. I need to get back to doing what I have done in previous games. I used to frame just about every game I ran as old timey radio dramas, with an opening monologue and theme music.

I'd like to hear more about this lingo that was used (without needing to wade through actually listening to the podcast) - do you have any specific examples?