Dungeons & Dragons Online

Using PhD’s for DnD, the Scene, Connect, Check system to explain new concepts at the table.

What I’m going to share today offers a way to quickly and reliably share new ideas. It's like a short script for the communication of radically new concepts, it’s really useful when explaining a complex new monster or magical effect.

It’s so easy that the text above is a simple example of it. In a nutshell, use a subjective beginning to set the scene, a comparison to something they understand to help them connect with the idea, and finally provide the context of it in use so they can check they’ve understood.


This is the Scene, Connect, Check (SCC) system and is based on my PhD thesis which looked to communicate radical innovations to those who were novices. In the simplest form, it follows the bellow pattern so you can share new ideas with players. This content is aimed at being the first thing you say when they actually encounter the concept (whether that be a monster, trap or insane magical effect) I’ve provided examples of this process by imagining I’m sharing info about a new type of monster.

Scene – Set the scene using subjective terms, this gets people focused on what is most important.

This towering humanoid’s skin oozes with glossy, sticky liquid, constantly dragging stuck matter up to its wounds to heal them.

Connect – Connect with their existing knowledge by comparing it to things they already know, making sure to clarify important differences.

The creature is like some warped troll, its skin transformed into a binding glue, however it’s eye’s glitter with intelligence that at least matches your own.

Check – Put the concept in context, what should it be good/bad at, giving them this idea helps them check that what they’ve understood already is correct.

It's sticky coating looks primed to bind the weapons and bodies of those who pummel it, feeding and healing it so it can close on those who stay out of its reach.

As you can see it’s easy to tailor this to non-metagaming language that fits the narrative, while this a longer example shorter ones work just as well. Each section is important in it’s own way.

I’ve gone into more detail below about why this is important and what you can get from it but the core reason it is helpful is that people tend to pick up on whatever we say first. We then often ignore conflicting information or move ahead investing resources that might be completely misapplied before realising our mistake. On your tables how often does the line ‘Well if I’d known that I’d have done something different come up’?

As you now have us all three different parts. Some final parting advice, the goal here really should be to keep it one paragraph, if you make this long you’re just gonna have the same problem we discussed earlier with people tuning out. This isn’t meant to replace your own methods of communication but augment it.

Happy to field questions. And you can read my more rambling explanation below.

Detailed explanation

I actually created this process because I did something similar for my PhD I was really interested in understanding how we can communicate radically new innovations to people who don't have the technical knowledge to understand everything being said. I focused on materials, particularly really complicated new materials, but in doing so, I found a system that I think really works for many other applications.

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So quickly, why do you need this, well, people get things wrong at the table, it's unavoidable, when you are trying to introduce hundreds of new concepts all while your game is constantly itself changing, the world around them is changing, their characters are even changing. There's a lot going on for a player, but when things are important to us or we feel should be important to them we can explain things in loads of detail. But something that I found through my research and probably doesn't come as that much of a surprise to anyone is we are all kind of lazy and tuned out. It's actually a very human trick we use to conserve energy as humans don't really like to think, in the grand scheme of things, if we can avoid it.

Now, that manifests in a way where you if you start explaining something, and players feel they've understood it after let's say two or three sentences. If you then explain for another couple minutes, they might have already tuned out, they've not necessarily been ignoring you, but their brain has decided they understand the concept. Because they feel they understand what you're trying to explain to them, they're not actually challenging this picture that they built up in the very opening part of your communication.

That's really troubling because that then builds up problems. In my study, I found that when people communicate materials and I collected materials from all over the world with some really great media and explanations, clearly very thought out. What I found was that even after reviewing these materials with designers, half the time, they still failed to be able to use these materials in a practical way. Often making critical mistakes, most often they didn't understand limitations of capacity of the material, all of which was covered and explained in the content shared with them. The variation of the SCC method I used in my PhD actually got that up to an about 85% (Up from 48%) success rate in being able to use these materials accurately.

So, what are the benefits? Well when you explain things accurately, you are going to make your lives so much easier going to avoid having to retcon actions because players have got what I didn't think that was how that worked, I didn't realise what was going on. You're making things faster, you know, people are able to hear these short sentences, it's less than a paragraph to explain even really quite complicated things. That overall leads to better play because players actually get what you're aiming for the first time, they are able to understand, act on and appreciate what you're telling them. I think that is the core, the thing that drives me to share this piece of information because it's something I've noticed in my own tables since doing it.

How does it work?

So imagine we're making a new monster, it is vaguely human in shape, it's about 10 feet tall, it's got high strength scores and attacks using its fist, but it's also covered in this goo that helps it regenerate and has the ability to stick people to itself, holding them there and burning them with necrotic energy, which also seems to further fuel its regeneration, and to top it off it’s really intelligent.

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Technically we've explained the monster and that is actually everything you need as a player to understand the monster. But it's a very meta explanation, and it's something that could frustrate people if they get it wrong, you don’t want to run up hit it and realise that the gooey skin doesn’t mean it’s an ooze you can just dance around.

Now, we could try and make it a bit easier to explain and the first thing we'll probably do is try and say what is it like? We could say it’s like a troll, you know trolls, they're big, they're humanoid they regenerate. It's also smart, and that's very not troll-like, plus it has these extra powers, and that can bring confusion to players because they go right, I understand it's a troll and I’m going to fight it like a troll. And that's a problem. Going back to that point at the beginning, the second they get their idea in their head that they understand what you're telling them you can potentially lose the ability for them to pay any more attention to what you're saying.

What can be worse is when we feel like we have communicated well, we've been doing battle for a couple of rounds it all seems sorted, and then you see the Wizard run up and punch in the back, and you go, ‘you sure you want to do that?’ Wizard nods and a second later ‘Oh, I didn't realise I would be stuck to it’ and suddenly we're in a difficult position where you have to then go ‘Wait, what, what did you understand what did you not get?’ It just ruins the flow.

So this is where the SCC tool comes in to help explain ourselves more effectively.

S: We've got subjective which sets the scene and highlights the most important aspects of what you’re trying to communicate.

C: We've got the comparison, which connects people's knowledge to these new concepts. This really helps leverage other people's existing knowledge to better understand and also really closely engages with people, everyone likes feeling people like they’re able to use their knowledge and apply it, this makes them feel that bit more connected to the communication.

C: And finally, we end with context, we're going to put it in the context where it works well. By doing this we give players the ability to check they understand.

Scene: We begin with the subjective, we say ‘this towering humanoid skin oozes with as a glossy sticky liquid constantly dragging matter that sticks to it, dragging it up to its wounds, so it can heal them.’We've already set the tone, we now know players get like this thing is big, it's sticky. It heals. These are the three most important things now obviously I did mention this things smart, I'm going to get to that, but you don't necessarily need to include absolutely everything at this moment, you just need to include what you feel is the most important, and with this weird monster, I've decided that those are the most important things to me.

Connect: Next we go with a comparison, ‘this creature seems like some sort of warped troll its skin transformed into a binding glue but its eyes glitter with intelligence that at least matches your own’ r

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Now we’ve compared this new monster to the troll they can use their knowledge of its size and perhaps its weapons as well. This comparison is helpful as a knowledgeable player might know that a troll hits people with its claws, our monster uses its fists, close enough. They also hear that the skin is ‘a binding glue’ so now it's not just some tacky surface but a glue that could threaten them. Finally, we've also established the contradiction, glittering intelligent eye, so they know you've got intelligence in there.

Now, a couple of points here, you do not need to compare every detail, you don't need to clarify every detail unless it's critical to the concept being explained. For instance, in this example, we've said this thing attacks with its fists, doing bludgeoning damage compared to a troll attacking with its claws doing slashing and piercing damage. Do we need to clarify this? That's kind of up to you. I personally don't feel it's important enough to include here but maybe one of your characters is all about having protection from slashing damage but not bludgeoning damage, and that might be something you need to add to this. The system really is meant to flex around your table.

Finally, pick your comparisons carefully. I've used the word troll, I presume that everyone at my table knows what a troll is I played with a lot of people who have been playing Dungeons Dragons for a really long time, and occasionally I'm actually still surprised when they don't know a certain thing or they haven't heard of something that I thought was basic d&d knowledge. The best thing is to always use the simplest possible comparison that still works.

Check: Finally, we have context, ‘its sticky coating is primed to bind weapons and bodies of those who strike it, all the while closing distance on and healing the wounds caused by those who stay out of reach.’

In this context, we've really clearly set up what the monster is good at and what it would be really effective at doing. This allows players to check what they’ve understood against what you’ve said. If those two don’t line up they now have an opportunity to clarify or at least identify that misunderstanding in their head. When writing up a context it’s important to make is

You now have us all three different parts. Some final parting advice, the goal here really should be to keep it one paragraph, if you make this long it’s just gonna have the same problem we discussed earlier with people tuning out. This isn’t meant to replace your own methods of communication but augment them.


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