Montages in RPGs

Arilyn

Adventurer
I first encountered montages in 13th Age, although, the idea was floating around games before then.

A montage is a technique which can be used when the characters are travelling or in a section of a dungeon. The GM asks a player to describe a challenge, such as a raging river, a troll demanding a toll at a bridge, etc. and the next player describes how their character overcomes it. Further challenges occur as play continues around the table.

I find it wakes up the table by getting creative juices flowing and allows for player input in a cool way. It's a good way to engage self conscious players because nothing can go disastrously wrong, and kids love it, since they come to the table already trying to alter story elements. Little Indie brats! 😊

Do you use this technique? Do you like it?
 

Morrus

Well, that was fun
Staff member
I have used it, and I do like it! It's especially useful for journeys; they let you skip through them while makng them interesting.
 

cmad1977

Adventurer
The last montage(ish) thing I used was at the end of Rise of Tiamat. I used a brief montage of events around the battlefield to call back to the various things the heroes had done to thwart Tiamat up to that point. It works.
 

Blue

Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
I use it frequently. For lots of things. Come across a combat that makes sense for the world but is trivial to defeat? 2 minute montage going around the table on how everyone was cool instead of breaking out dice and spending time.
 

RobShanti

Explorer
I used an opening-credits montage in a 1970s street-level everyman-hero Game that I ran with the d20 modern system...I called it the "D20 Mod" game. It was told in the style of a 70s cop t.v. show, using as many of the conventions of that genre and medium as I could think of, including evil drug lords, informant pimps, car chases, a Christmas episode, a 70s music soundtrack and -- the most important part -- an opening montage-credit-roll to open each session! It was, by far, one of the most fun games I ever ran.

After much searching, I found the perfect opening theme song, Billy Preston's instrumental "Outta Space", which I played before each session. My three players and I had a session of character generation and all worked together at coming up with 70s-esque heroes.

1. Scott played Leroy "The Hawk" Hawkins, the "black private d*ck who won't let the Man put him down," who we imagined as being played by Jim Kelly, the man who merged martial arts with blaxploitation films.

2. Matt played Crane Digado, the "bleach-blonde disco DJ, bicycle messenger with a canine sidekick," who we imagined as being played by 70s actor Marc Singer (from "Beastmaster" -- the film -- fame).

3. Mike played Father Francis Crow, "a tough ex-con professional- wrestler-turned-priest who runs a shelter in L.A.'s Skid Row district," who we imagined as being played by Ed Asner.

Because any 70s action hero t.v. show has got to open with an opening montage as the opening credits roll, this was a convention I wanted very much to recreate. And I'm glad I did, because it really got the players in the spirit of the genre at the beginning of each session. Plus, they got jazzed about playing their character, AND we had lots of laughs and fun to boot. Here's how we did it.

Each session, I'd pop in Billy Preston's funky instrumental "Outta Space," which sounds like it was written for a 70s cop show t.v. series. Then, at the point in the music where you'd imagine the title of the show flashing across the t.v. screen in huge letters, I'd narrate:

"THEY FIGHT CRIME!"

"STARRING"

"JIM KELLY"

I'd then point to Scott and Scott would say something like, "Hawk's running like hell across a tenement rooftop and LEAPS from the edge of the building, his arms flailing, body soaring ten stories high over an alleyway in mid-run, his 3/4-length leather jacket flapping behind him...and boom!...his ankle-high, leather platform shoes come down on the rooftop of the neighboring building...he doesn't even break stride!"

Everybody would cheer over the driving beat and wakka-wakka guitar riffs of the Billy Preston song, and then I'd point to Matt and say:

"MARC SINGER"

And Matt would say something like, "Yeah...yeah...Crane's, like...riding his Schwinn down an LA street as fast as he can on his messenger route when an 18-wheeler suddenly crosses his path at the last minute in the intersection ahead of him. He kicks down on the breaks with all his strength, and his back bike tire starts to fishtail out as he skids toward the big rig! He LEANS DOWN and skids UNDER the trailer, coming up on the other side unscathed!"

We'd all laugh and cheer again and then I'd point to Mike and say:

"And featuring ED ASNER as Father Francis"

And then Mike would say something like, "Father Francis strides into a cluster of young street punks, flicks the cigarette out of the mouth of one of the gangmembers, and jerks his thumb over his shoulder in the direction of the schoolhouse, to which the thugs march in tandem, crestfallen, with their shoulders slumped."

And then I'd say, "Okay, and back to Hawk..." and we'd go around two more times until the song reached a point where I could fade it out with the CD player remote.

Then I'd skip to the next song on the CD and just let the soundtrack CDs play themselves through as we began the game. The montages were GREAT fun, and a PERFECT way to get everybody into the spirit of the gritty-yet-over-the-top camp-pulp of the '70s. Sometimes, Scott would invite his wife down into the basement just so she could watch us, with great amusement, perform "the opening montage."

The opening montage was key because we did it without dice. It was just an opportunity for each player to demonstrate what his character was all about. This was beneficial for the players because they each got to start each session with the feeling that their character had done a "really cool thing" (even though, in reality, it didn't impact the storyline of the game at all). And it was beneficial for me, the GM, because I got a real sense of what each player wanted for their character, and how they imagined him.

And the rest of the game just wrote itself.
 

Celebrim

Legend
I've never used it, but it is a very different aesthetic of play than a typical traditional RPG journey, so I guess it depends on what you are going for. I can see it working for some groups in some games, and being pointless or ill received in others.
 

uzirath

Adventurer
I'm quite inspired by this idea. I've played around with variations on it before, but never as an opening sequence (like the amazing '70s TV idea from @RobShanti above) nor as a way to cover journeys. I've had characters provide vignettes about off-screen time. "What were each of you doing in town." That sort of thing.

I'm intrigued by the idea of alternating between describing a challenge and describing how your character overcomes it. I intend to try this soon.
 

uzirath

Adventurer
Come across a combat that makes sense for the world but is trivial to defeat? 2 minute montage going around the table on how everyone was cool instead of breaking out dice and spending time.
I like this idea. I've used a variation, but only at the end of an extended melee where the conclusion had become clear. Usually, though, I have just narrated it myself. I love the idea of giving the players as much narrative control as possible. Allowing PCs to narrate through entire encounters could be fun and would help mitigate the "leveled" feeling of many game worlds. ("How come we never run into kobolds anymore?")
 

Arilyn

Adventurer
Montages are fun and have great versatility. Gets the creative juices flowing, and it's easy enough to let stuck or reluctant players pass.
 

Blue

Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
I like this idea. I've used a variation, but only at the end of an extended melee where the conclusion had become clear. Usually, though, I have just narrated it myself. I love the idea of giving the players as much narrative control as possible. Allowing PCs to narrate through entire encounters could be fun and would help mitigate the "leveled" feeling of many game worlds. ("How come we never run into kobolds anymore?")
Absolutely. Plus gives each of them a second to "show off" something they think is cool about their character.

Another technique I've done is for travel montages I've had the first player introduce a complication that someone then chimes in how their character solved it and says the next complication, until finally that first player's character is solving the last complication. Gives a little bit of meat and thinking, but work out quick. I gave an example before start, so the players would know the magnitude of complication - "caught in an avalanche" is too much, but "avalanche wiped out the only bridge for miles" is fine.
 

Blue

Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
When I started my last campaign, I asked each player to come up with a montage to introduce their character. It was really awesome to see what everyone came up with. The one player even had a soundtrack to his - the Archer opening credits song.
I am unabashedly stealing this.
 

aco175

Adventurer
I sometimes do this in cities where each player can tell the group what they are doing and some freestyle before they all end up at the inn. Sometimes I just narrate a montage of travel with a few scenes where I tell the story, but I think I will let the players next time.

I'm listening to 'outer space' right bopping along with the funk.
 

Ralif Redhammer

Adventurer
Go for it! I gave my players a week or two to come up with their montages. Not that part of me wasn't tempted to spring it on them right then and there at the session, but I think the results were better with some prep time.

I am unabashedly stealing this.
 

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