WoE is a game made up of scenes. This essay proposes that those scenes can be arranged in a manner that leads to the creation of different “episodes” of your game.
Embrace the Cartoon
The biggest inspiration for WoE is He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, a toy-line and cartoon from the early 1980s. Episodic play, as contemplated herein, embraces this inspiration and asks the Players to view their play sessions in the form of episodes of an ongoing television show. By embracing the cartoon foundations of the game, we are able to provide structure to a free-form game of world-building and adventure.
This does not mean that each session of play should be one episode of your “show.” Instead, episodes should be dictated by the plot points introduced and resolved by your players at the table. Some groups may finish two or more episodes during a session, while others will complete only one episode at a session.
The Four-Scene Episode
An episode of play will typically consist of four scenes: 1. The Opening Scene, 2. The Exploration Scene, 3. The Reveal, and 4. The Conclusion. Each of the four scenes is discussed below. Additionally, each episode should have an Epilogue wherein the episode is recapped, the next thing is teased, and each of the PCs receives a Bond Point for starring in the episode.
The Opening Scene
The opening scene sets the Players up for adventure. Often it will recap what has occurred in prior episodes, but it does not have to. What is important in an opening scene is that time, place, and characters are established for the episode and that there is some call-to-action that gets the characters moving away from comfort zones and toward trouble and adventure.
A good opening scene gives the Players room to give their characters some personality, or to explore some of the downtime activities in which the characters invest their time when they are not adventuring. Once this is established and all of the Players have had their fill chewing on the scenery, a good opening scene will present a strong call-to-action. Some disaster should befall an ally or some mystery should present itself. A villain can make themself known to the Characters or a Maguffin could be requested by a quest giver.
In any event, it is important that the conclusion of the opening scene sees our characters leaving their present space in order to go accomplish something in the greater world.
The Exploration Scene
The exploration scene grants the Players the power to establish working theories about the causes and ramifications of the call-to-action. Some exploration scenes will involve investigation. Some exploration scenes will have the characters traveling great distances to confront the causes of the call-to-action.
A good exploration scene will provide the Players ample opportunity to describe the world and its inhabitants. A ton of world-building can be accomplished during the exploration scene. As a GM, don’t be afraid to say “yes” to the other Players’ thoughts and ideas as they try to make sense of the mysteries they encounter. More specifically, don’t be afraid to say yes to ideas that seem to contradict with one another. The truth is not meant to be revealed in the exploration scene. Instead, the exploration scene provides the Players with the information necessary to act in the forthcoming scenes.
Sometimes combat occurs in an exploration scene. This combat often takes the form of random travel encounters or clashes with a villain’s scouts or goons on patrol. Combat should not be the focus of the exploration scene, but can be a method through which the characters are clued in on what is really happening in the world around them.
The reveal is a pay-off to the exploration scene. In the reveal, the Players and their characters learn something new that progresses the story forward in a major way. Sometimes the reveal can actually be a red-herring, although GMs are cautioned not to rely on this old trick too often. The reveal will show the Players which theories are correct and what information can be trusted. Often, the reveal includes a maniacal monologue from whatever villainous personality was behind the original call-to-action.
The reveal will often involve combat. The characters are powerful heroes with fantastic resources at their disposal. Putting their powers to work to stop the villain’s plan should be a focus of the reveal. Of course, if the characters can find non-violent solutions to the issues presented, then all the better.
The goal is to work toward the reveal in both the opening scene and the exploration scene. The reveal should make sense to all of the Players who have paid attention to what happened previously in the narrative. There are many different ways to achieve an internal consistency between scenes, but the main thing to remember is to listen to the Players and then cater the reveal to the fiction that has been established at the table.
The final scene is the conclusion. The conclusion resolves the actions of the reveal and leads our characters to learn something new about ongoing plots, characters, locations, technologies, magics, items, or anything else that makes its way into this fantasy world.
The conclusion is a great opportunity for the Players to do some character development. They can discuss the strategies employed, what worked and what didn’t work, or how their teamwork saved the day. Be on the look out for class prompts and other less-utilized prompts during the conclusion.
The conclusion doesn’t necessarily wrap everything up. In fact, it probably shouldn’t. A good conclusion resolves the pending concerns and issues that were made manifest in the previous scenes while preserving some new or greater mystery for the next episode. Sometimes a conclusion can be a cliff-hanger, though you’ll want to save your cliff-hangers for big events and season finales.
At the conclusion of a He-Man cartoon, the audience would be treated to a brief lesson to be learned from the episode. Similarly, in the Marvel Cinematic Universe the audience is treated to a quick scene after all of the credits have rolled. These epilogues should be used as inspiration for your gaming table.
Include an epilogue at the conclusion of your episode. Highlight the play of your Players and recap what they learned. Alternatively, tease the next big thing in the campaign. The epilogue should be almost entirely controlled by the GM. Keep it short and make it snappy.
Importantly, award the entire table of PCs a Bond point for starring in the episode. The epilogue is a fun way to keep some of you administrative tasks in-world and on-brand.