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In recent adventures, I've often employed and supported using the meta level (i.e. thinking, joking and referencing about the game's contents with reference to our cultural context) for everyone's enjoyment. With my last group, this has worked very well - we've all had a lot of fun and a very immersive game, with tempo and game style oscillating between the two layers in 15-30 minute intervals.

With my current group, I'm having problems establishing clear and natural transitions between the two levels. While we principally agree that being immersed and being meta are both desirable, we often get out of sync and thereby disturb the rhythm, with a player joking in scenes that had very good immersion potential.

I've considered physical aids (like using a hat to indicate mode) or scene-based playing (with clear beginnings and ends of scenes as in a play) for leading the game more clearly and thereby aiding synchronization, but this seems somewhat clumsy.

Are there more elegant ways of handling immersion-meta transitions?

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4 Answers 4

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In your question, you talk about being in a certain mode, but I think it works better as a mood. This should be the best indication of what style you should employ at any give time. If your struggling, pick up the nWoD core rule book and take a look at the section on Storytelling.

The system splits it into Chapters, Stories and Chronicles. It advised to give a theme to Stories and Chronicles (their example is, "Crime corrupts even the just"). It also mentions having a mood for the story (there example is Dark and Gritty, trust nWoD!). I would suggest that you have a mood for each chapter, with variations on meta and immersion and cover 3-4 chapters in each session (if they're long enough). I wouldn't say don't jump wildly between them, but inform your choice of mood on the previous chapter and also the next chapter. A quick jump from Meta to Immersion might be just as effective and evocative as a gently transition.

By tailoring the mood of the next chapter to the previous one it can be easier to signal the change. Let them know you've changed chapter by a physical change of location, time or subject (i.e. escaping the law to bargaining with the local gate-guard), but don't do so too heavy-handedly. If they want to change mood let them do so, but only between chapters.

In summary, plan your session around you want the game to be immersive and when you want the players to be able to meta. Be ready to pick up clues from them though if they're in a different mood. Anything with heavy roleplaying is probably best for an immersive mood, anything with heavy mechanics is probably best of being meta (for instance a dungeon crawl, as lots of dice rolling can break the immersion). Anything combining the two (for instance, a D&D4E skill challenge) is safe for either, or somewhere in between.

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+1, mood is a good term here. Your answer is good and informative, but I haven't really found anything on actually switching or hinting at the mood :-(. –  thiton Dec 28 '11 at 16:01
    
@thiton I've tried to improve the answer by addressing your question better (I Hope). What do you think? –  Pureferret Dec 28 '11 at 17:35
    
Thanks. Yes, allowing and encouraging mood changes at scene changes seems sensible and workable. –  thiton Dec 28 '11 at 17:39
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In the five year long deep immersive campaign I ran, here's how we did it.

We took scheduled breaks - 10 minutes every hour. Besides those breaks, if you were sitting at the table, you were in character, period, There was seldom any reason to engage on a meta level during play - usually the only time it would come up was when they were confused by the sensory membrane between them and the game (usually me misspeaking) and then a person would make a gesture kinda like taking off a hat or patting their head and ask the OOC question. I'm not even sure where the gesture came from, one player used it and everyone else adopted it without comment. Any more extensive meta was done during break.

That's all we ever needed, pretty simple really. Plenty of joking time, etc. we'd often go to lunch etc together and get some of the random yammering out.

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+1, thanks for the answer. Good advice for deep immersive games. I try to run games a little lighter because no thing is as unfunny as a stale joke and few things are worse than players sitting on a good comment line for half an hour, but the advice is good for many games nevertheless. –  thiton Dec 28 '11 at 10:38
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It's great that your last group could work so naturally! Most groups aren't like that, it seems.

Be explicit. Come up with a term--I've used "Drama Time"--that marks a switch into storytelling mode. Discuss it with the players.

When you feel it's appropriate, announce "Drama Time," and hold your players to it. If someone starts joking, frown at him or her, and continue with the immersion.

Hope this helps!

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+1, thanks for the answer. While the explicit announcement isn't the "elegant" way I had in mind, it is time-tested and I like the explicit meta-communication. –  thiton Dec 28 '11 at 15:59
    
Fully appreciated. :-) I'm operating under the assumption that the new group won't respond to "elegant" in the sense of "fluid and unnoticeable" transitions; the players need explicit training. –  Brent Newhall Dec 28 '11 at 17:38
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If the group doesn't want to go with as formal a division between IC and OoC interaction during play as mxyplk outlines in his excellent response to your question, and you do not wish to utilize overt methods or signals to restrain the group explicitly during particularly dramatic scenes, then the option which I have found works best is to - once I have gotten a good sense of the level of immersion the group desires - is to lead from the front.

What I mean by that is to set the standard yourself and stick to it by rewarding play which enhances the scene with attention and essentially ignoring the OoC comments which would disrupt or break it. If the scene is a dramatic or tense one, and some of the players are getting into the scene (enhancing it) while one player is instead staying Out of Character and using their focus to think of witty one-liners, don't reward the joke with a laugh, and don't come off as a dictator by shooting them a dirty look, just let the comment go, don't respond to it or react to it. Focus your attention on the players who get what is going on and are working with you to create good RP (as previously defined by your group).

This takes practice and effort on your part, but is the sort of invisible social signalling that goes on in a lot of group contexts to keep core activities in motion, and allow those who are out of sync with the group to come to terms with those core activities at their own speed, with the clear realization that it is their behaviour which is out of sync.

Later, during a period of OoC, make sure you reference the amusing but inappropriately timed comment so that the player is aware it is not the humour which is out of place, it is just the timing which is a problem.

If you are going for light IC scenes, the player will not have to hold their comment very long. If you are going for deep IC scenes, they will need to restrain themselves for longer, but can subsequently develop other ways to be funny... maybe even IC.

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