Clock faces?

OK, so this is likely something of a slow-lane question, so if there’s some “PBtA Clocks 101” reading I should do first, please do let me know! Extra credit if it’s in the form of the available SRDs, summaries, and freebies though – I’d rather not have to buy vast swathes of books just to satisfy potentially idle curiosity. For context, I’ve played in two different PbtA games, but neither was obviously clockish, and AW doesn’t really appeal to me as a setting, so I’m kinda very behind on my reading on Great-Granma System.

First, about Countdown Clocks specifically: I get the impression these are strictly a GM-facing tool? Are there any PbtA games that use – or any off-piste GMs that run them as – player-facing? If they are just GM-facing, can you talk me through why they’re an especially useful tool, as opposed to just bookkeeping that happens ‘behind the screen’ that for all the rest of the table knows, might just be getting winged on the spot?

Second, other types of Clock. (For PC harm, etc.) Is there a unity of mechanism here, or just a reused metaphor? And is the reuse itself useful, given the different ways these get used?

I like clocks, I use clocks, and I play in games that use clocks, but I always found it weird that was one of the things that PbtA games latched onto as a “PbtA thing”. The concept is super useful, but the Apocalypse World clocks are there because of the Doomsday Clock, which is a very Apocalypse-themed thing.

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You could call them Tracks in a GMless setup, like Zombie Cinema. It’s a dramatic pacing tool, a storytelling prosthesis to materialize the oldest storytelling principle : raise the stakes.
Multiple tracks is less intuitive (ubiquity?) than multiple clocks (different series of events)
Transparency in the stakes (“player facing”) is Hitchcock’s key to suspense, so for me there’s no doubt it’s the way to go, even with a mistery tale. But maybe just reveal the next step to avoid extraneous considerations for players, unless they listen to the grapevine / gaze into the Maelstrom.


That was interesting, thanks. I had the impression (from one take on them I had a quick look at, I forget which) that they were not intended to be transparent/player facing/whatever you’d want to call that. That might have been presentational, or misunderstanding on my part, or just left in the realm of ‘whatever works for your table’.

Makes intuitive sense to me, as:-

  • It almost seemed to be Received Indie Dogma at one point to avoid information-hiding. (Never quite understood how that was supposed to work with mystery games, but then they’ve always seemed tricky to me. Players are often confused by what’s going on even when it’s not supposed to be one!)
  • Why all the effort on the presentation and the metaphor if not?

Does anyone have any sort of taxonomy of which PbtA games use them in which ways?