[RPG] Am I allowed to cut away from the player characters to show things happening elsewhere


Instead of focusing solely on the protagonists (aka the players), would it be permissible to cut away from what they're doing to show (out of character) what else is going on in the world, specifically what an enemy is doing, something like a video game cut scene? What are the pros and cons of using this technique?

The cut scene would be such that no plot points would be shown, but more as a point of showing why the antagonist is such a badass. Think of stuff like Vader Force choking one of his Lieutenants.

Best Answer

I've used this technique sparingly in the past. Sparingly, because

  • There's only so much uninterrupted GM Storytelling Time™ that a table of your friends want to sit through.
  • More than a few brief sentences rarely has the desired impact, and impact is mostly the point of such a cut-away narration.
  • It's not very often that deliberately handing the group meta-knowledge is desirable.
  • Not every type of game benefits from this. If I'm running a game where I want the players to be able to stay immersed in the eye-level views from their own PCs, I won't break their immersion by doing this. (This is analoguous to how, if a novel is written in first-person limited point of view, it would be perilous to the quality of the storytelling to have inconsistent writing POV by adding a sudden third-person omniscient scene.)

When I do use this cut-away technique, I typically stick to verbally painting a single visual “shot”, or describing one brief exchange between NPCs (like, a sentence/action or two each). I will sometimes give away new information like this, but only if I want the players to metagame with it. I will more often use this to emphasise something the PCs or players already know or will know shortly, or to skip time while also giving them info that they would have gotten if we hadn't skipped ahead.

For example, I used this once to describe an aerial view of a city during a riot, at the very end of a session. The PCs and players already knew of the chaos, but this let me show them fires breaking out and confirming their suspicions about how widespread the activity was. I could have done this by devoting a lot of PC eye-level time to moving around the city and showing them, or by having NPCs come to tell them about the extent of the riot, but with two sentences I could take a short-cut and we moved the action forward more quickly, handwaved how they actually learned this information, skipped a bit of time, and set up a clear understanding of the situation to begin the next session with.

Like most ways of breaking the “rules” of storytelling, it's far more powerful and effective when done rarely and judiciously. I can probably count on one hand the number of times I've used this technique in games that aren't frequently narrated in this way already.

So yes, you're certainly allowed, but my advice would be to either 1) do it very rarely, saving it for when it will have the most impact and feel the most “right” to your audience, the player group; or 2) do it often, using it to change the “style” of the storytelling and metagaming standards of the campaign.