On 2006-02-17, Neel wrote:
I find that the distinction between color, setting, and situation changes over time and during play, because what’s what depends on how the players are understanding and making use of the fictional detail. Here’s an example:
Suppose the players are playing in a Cthulhu-ish game, and at one point broke into the office of a professor of Greek literature to find out if he’s a cultist of the insect god. One of the players, in an effort to add verisimilitude mentions that there is a stack of copies of The Bryn Mawr Classical Review gathering dust in a corner. At this moment in time, the fact that the professor subscribes to this magazine is just a piece of color—it has no significance to how things play out.
Now, a few scenes later, the mad professor kidnaps one of the PCs at gunpoint. The player relates that the PC pushes a copy of The Bryn Mawr Classical Review onto the central position of his desk before he’s escorted away at gunpoint. The detail about the professor’s journal subscriptions has just changed status: now it’s one of the central facts of the situation, because it’s now a detail that the other players could potentially use to explain how the other PCs figure out who kidnapped the first PC, or not.
This can also be used to change the status of other details. Suppose one of the other players is playing an illiterate character, and she then describes her PC seeing the journal, but not recognizing the connection. The other PC’s illiteracy might also have been color before this moment, but now it takes on relevance—the course of the narrative is irretrievably altered because of it, and all the subsequent action is going to be suffused with terrible dramatic irony.