10 tips for cutaways

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Since we had to take some time away from development due to some non-RPGpad related obligations, I thought this would be an excellent time for a short discussion of the cutaway — a technique used by DMs to allow PCs to explore their own plotlines.

Many campaigns center around group oriented storytelling. Whether you are a rag tag band of misfit rebels fleeing the Evil Space Empire or an elite team of tomb raiders looting ancient elven burial grounds, there is a clearly defined ‘party’ which chases down one or more plots and storylines.

During a cutaway, the story breaks up this pattern and instead lets PCs chase different goals, often in a relatively safe place like a port or city. The DM shifts attention between each player, letting them do their own thing, not unlike a TV series switching from scenes with one character to scenes with another and so on, until it all inevitably comes back together.

We’ve used cutaways in our own campaigns extensively and learned many a lesson on how to do it effectively while keeping everyone interested. So here are ten tips to use the cutaway most effectively!

As a storyteller:

  • Use cutaways only in places where it is safe to split the party and easy for PCs to find interesting people to interact with.
  • Give every player the same amount of time. 10-15 minutes is a good length.
  • It is not necessary to send players away to keep OOC knowledge separate --- it is usually sufficient to remind them if they accidentally mess it up
  • Be sure to insert some opportunities to link the story back to either the main plot or other cutaway scenes, but do not force the issue
  • Expect players to throw a wrench or two in your well laid plans and improvise!

As a player:

  • Set a concrete goal to accomplish for your character such as earning some extra credits, learning some new spells or finding someone to give you flute lessons
  • Have a plan to accomplish your goal. Maybe you want to pick pockets at the local bazaar, visit that wizard you saved three weeks back or disguise yourself as an orphan girl to get a scholarship entry into the bardic college
  • When it isn't your turn, enjoy the shenanigans others get up to and feel free to offer comments in moderation, but do not tell other players what they ought to do, unless they ask for help
  • If you really cannot think of a goal or a way to accomplish it, ask to join one of the other players with theirs. Its a great bonding experience!
  • Expect the DM to throw a wrench or two in your well laid out plans and improvise!

Do you have any tips? Be sure to let us know in the community forum!