The CMC-model

Long time since last post. This is becoming a bad habit… Sorry about that.

This will be a bit theoretical, but it is about a model for improvising sessions that I have been thinking about for the last two to three days. But first some background!

After a great one-shot of Dungeon World, the first ever to actually be a proper one-shot, concluding in a single session, I was thinking about how I actually managed to keep this game to a single session.

The game started as usual, we spent a little less than an hour making characters and asking questions about them, thus rounding them out and creating an interesting, yet totally improvised setting. As a GM, I made up an initial situation, one that gave them a clear goal and demanded action. After that, the game had three dramatic situation, or dramatic scenes, whatever, which could roughly be laid out as the following

  • Initial encounter with enemy.
  • Bargaining situation with pseudo-enemy to get means to complete quest.
  • Final situation that completes the quest.

This led me to think about if there was some sort of structure to it, something really basic that gave a good outline for running totally improvised one-shot sessions.

The result was the CMC-model.

This will need some explanation…

OK, the basic assumptions for the CMC-model are as follows:

  • Character creation will be done in the beginning of the session.
  • Making characters, introducing them and building a short but sufficient background for them and the setting will take roughly 1 hour.
  • A scene important to the story, henceforth Dramatic Scene or DS, takes 1 hour to complete, counting the game-time needed to “get to it”.

This might sound like some pretty wild assumptions for some games, but they fit pretty well with Dungeon World, at least in my experience.

Gotcha, so what is the CMC-model?

So far, it’s only theoretical, and it needs some serious feedback, but here’s the deal. Assuming that the average play session is roughly four hours long, we have a time for 3 Dramatic Scenes plus character and world creation, by assumption.

CMC is an abbreviation for Clue-Means-Conclusion. The GM starts the game by describing a situation that demands immediate action, while also giving the players a straight forward goal. For example, as I did, the GM tells the players they are standing at a ruined temple, seeking the Eye of Ogden, a fabled ruby the size of an ogre’s fist. From then the GM works to do the following:

  • Clue DS: Present a DS that gives the player a clue about how they can achieve their goals.
  • Means DS: The Clue DS should lead them directly to a new DS that, if they overcome the challenges, gives them a means to actually complete their goal.
  • Conclusion DS: Now we have a way of resolving our quest, which leads to this third, conclusive DS. This is where the adventure will end.

So basically, there are four steps to the CMC-model:
1. Set the players off on an adventure.
2. Lead them to a situation where they can find the means to complete the adventure.
3. Give them a way to obtain the means to complete the adventure.
4. Let them use these means to complete the adventure.

Obviously, more than one clue in step 2 is preferable, as it’ll give the players a choice about which kinds of situations they might wish to deal with. Or it might just give them alternatives when they fail to pursue one option.

This yields a pretty satisfying story-line structure:
“We have problem X,” which leads to “we find clues about how to handle X,” which leads to “we find a means to handle X”, which leads to “we use this to handle X.”

This is somewhat similar to The Three-Act Structure of plays (which can be found here), and maybe this is not a total coincidence.

In conclusion…

These a just some thoughts on how you can run an improvised one-shot. It gives the GM some clear goals, something to think about, which will eventually lead to a conclusion. Basically it tells the GM which kind of situations he should present to the players next, at every moment in the game.

It might seem very structured, but I don’t think it’s much different from what most people already do: Present situation, react to the players’ actions, present new situation, react, etc. The thing is, this is a method of thought, a way of consciously recognizing what makes the story interesting, and what gives the player both incentive to press on, as well as a direction.

I’m going to work a bit with this, figuring out how to make this method work properly. Currently, it’s a bit up in the air and very theoretical, but I think there’s some value to be found in this.

I’d greatly value some feedback on it, what other people think, as I’ve only tried it for about two sessions, one where it was used almost only subconsciously.

I’ll probably write some more about this, once I’ve tried it out a few times.

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About Undreren

I'm a university student from Denmark, currently taking my candidate degree in Mathematical-Economics. I have played pen & paper RPG's since 2004, but my interest for the phenomenon sparked about 3 years prior to that. I'm an amateur programmer and knows Java and Haskell as well as some rudimentary HTML, CSS, PHP and Javascript.

4 responses to “The CMC-model”

  1. chindividual says :

    Well, it sounds like a simple, to-the-point structure. It’s not new, but does it have to be? It’s a good tool to structure short and simple adventures, and I feel like that is all it wants to be…right?

  2. Huston Todd (@HustonTheTodd) says :

    After running a DW one-shot, a fellow english teacher players mentioned using the 5 story beats (exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, resolution) to structure games in the future. Seems really similar to what you’re talking about.

    • Undreren says :

      Yeah, someone mentioned exactly that on google+, that it was similar to the “five story beats” method. I’m not sure what to make of that πŸ™‚

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