Incoherent surprises

I need tools and techniques for a specific part of aesthetic and dramatic coordination I’d call “odd balls vs staying with it”. In the context of GMful games, we want to be able to throw oddballs and “pointy questions” from time to time. But doing so works best when it’s not rushed, and we let consequences sink in.

What happens in play is that we easily mistake shiny for golden, and then there’s inflation. It’s similar to “this is silly” only not as disruptive “this is unexpected and grabbing”. Next game we try to keep inflation in check but this sobriety feels like abstinence. We miss the rush of idea. So, we throw an odd ball, etc. I am the one doing it most of the time but the others enjoy it, so I don’t (like to) think it’s about being on the same page, because we know the balance we like. I would like institutions helping us maintain this balance (to me, rules are not about inviting the unwanted, but mostly regulating exchanges at the table).

My main tool would be a “odd phase”, triggered as soon as Alice throws an oddball. She grabs (or is handed) an “odd token” and Bashir and Chan must contribute staying with it for a given amount of time. Then Alice can’t throw an oddball as long as an “odd token” is in front of her. From time to time, odd tokens are refreshed. This is a bit like BoB with oddballs instead of successes.

Any other ideas ?

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are you referring to the tendency for players to hyper fixate on some inconsequential thing or the need for the game to have, for lack of a better word, “disruptions” that wake everyone up and make a scenario more exciting?

In the former case, I believe that is classically handled with clocks (real and in game) and time sensitive goals. I know you want to spend the rest of the session befriending this random kobold that was a throwaway encounter but we’ve only got three real-world hours to explore this spooky cave and recover an ancient artifact. I know you want to spend time rebuilding this peasant’s farm but we’ve only got a week before the bandits attack, we gotta prioritize.

In the latter case, that’s the point of random tables. I think it’s been misconstrued that tables count as buckets of content but I believe they exist to make weird stuff happen. You roll on the random encounter table not because it’s “realistic” that there’s a 75% chance you encounter wolves in the forest, but because it weird and interesting when you encounter a fire elemental. Random loot is fun because after risking your life for treasure it’s funny that all you get is a dagger that poisons the user and three rugs. And now you gotta figure out how to keep running on that.

I’m interested in how the Odd Tokens tie into the mechanics of a game. From what I understand they’re functioning like a speaking totem but for random off-topic ideas? My preference is I dislike games that try to structure socialization; it feels like the game designer is a schoolteacher looking over my shoulder to make sure everyone is playing nice. I don’t think it’s the game’s job to manage social interaction, although it’s reasonable to provide pointers on how to maintain game flow.


Disruption and breaking routine is what I had in mind. Random encounters or events are a good solution to “spread the chaos”. But creating options mid-play ? I have thought about it. It’s a lot of downtime.

A we lack control in play, I am ready to invite the vicar at the table.

An oddball is not off topic, it’s something really unexpected, like a twist or a tablecloth trick.