Odds <-> Stakes and Dramatic regulation

I was thinking about dice and cloud, and weak / strong moves, and how they don’t satisfy me.
Dice represent mechanics and numerical values, the board game elements of RPG. Cloud represent fiction. The most important thing about the Dice and Cloud model is that it makes visible the flow from one to the other. I sometimes need the dice to bypass player knowledge (I don’t care about the particulars, only the result of the action), or I can lean on player knowledge and make the Dice follow. That’s how I use Dice anyway.

Weak / strong moves in Belonging outside Belonging are very much like the simplest Dice mechanic ever. You push the odds of character success up or down, only with a time delay between debt and payment. Otherkind Dice (then Devil’s bargain) do the same, only you begin with debt to “prime the pump”. Gain Dice lose some Cloud. Harm rules are the opposite : lose some Dice to shrug Cloud off. Of course, the machine has finer retroactions, but the idea is there. Otherkind dice are genius in that they make circulation between Dice and Cloud a very practical thing. I can “increase odds” (+1 die) at the cost of “increasing (narrative) stakes” (+1 fiction trouble).

When you know this, as players, you want to lose first, increase the stakes, then gather the Dice you gained to increase your odds and “win” in some way. That’s how many tables play, and it works, as the roller coaster it is. Status is earned in the process because high odds and high stakes allow players to mimic competence. The idea of a circulation between odds and stakes is genius. But.

What I lack here is something that is overall left to the players choice : dramatic regulation. It’s simply left to each table to decide when to introduce new material, when to increase/decrease the stakes. It’s like games are pushing for highs, and asking for measure at the same. They mostly are about character spotlight, very little about storyteller spotlight. I don’t see many games regulating that part. Or, rather, games structure this with static measures, like turns, scenes, or GM judgement (clocks, and announcing future badness).

On the other hand, I see the pacing in Lovecraftesque, Star crossed, For the Queen, or Fall of magic. What tools are out there for Dramatic regulation ? What have they got in common ?
What would a token based dramatic regulation look like ? What would it entail ? What problems would it face ?

Good thinking here. I think a good design finds ways to regulate both, and that’s what makes for a successful game. Not an obvious design challenge, in many places! (We were discussing “As the Worm Turns…” elsewhere, and, as I think you know, that game is lacking the latter, although the non-randomness of the finger choices does make up for that somewhat.)

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While I can’t say I have fully formed thoughts on the subject, I would recommend checking out Burning Empires and My Life With Master. Both are games that have a meta-narrative tracker (BE with each “side” in the conflict having abstract XP, and MLWM having very specific encounters that happen in order), which regulate the narrative by giving it much stronger stage direction than most RPGs.

BE might be of particular interest in how it accomplishes this. Part of session 0 is establishing important figures in the world, rolling them up as NPCs with the same rules as PCs, and then in each session one is forced to be a main actor that makes a roll which effects the narrative hp.

It can feel more board-gamey at time because it strictly controls what kind of scenes play out but it makes you tell a specific story that ratchets up for the players even if spying and subterfuge means the characters aren’t aware of it.

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Yes ! MLWM links “gauges” (RPG Patterns) into a "ball clock " to trigger certain scenes. That’s very cool.

A palette of types of scenes. A map / algorithm with various narrative paths. Conditions to unlock certain scenes (MLWM) or make them desirable (Bliss stage).

You might also look at games like Dead of Night, which regulate this quite deliberately and intentionally.

There is also a game - I can’t think of the title just now - which regulates combats dramatically. The way it works is that each character has a list of moves or powers, but you must use the lower level ones before you can use the higher level ones. This means that, as the fight continues, the opponents start pulling out their “big guns”.

What fascinates me, though, is the way we can harness unconscious human story instincts to do the same thing. For instance, in some of storytelling game designs, I found no need at all for mechanics or procedures which produce escalating conflict and climax… sometimes the structure of the game can create that simply by inviting the players to do it, which they will do naturally. That can be very satisfying.

In the case of “As the Worm Turns…”, my hope is that the oracle mechanic would take care of a lot of this, for example, with climactic moments generally turning into dramatic success or utter failure, instead of middle-of-the-road results.

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I see Tension points in Dead of night are a bit like the DEFCON ladder in Twilight struggle, or the zombie advance in Zombie Cinema. What if Push dice in Technoir did ring a bell every time they changed side ? In a way, they do, but codifying that gives you a neat way of transforming advice into rules. Cool !
If I take the “ball clock” analogy, we’ve got tracks, tug-of-war ladders, narrative fishtanks, and weighing scales.

I am not after large scale dramatic regulation, though. I am looking for a way to micro manage that. Like :
A - And this thing (ding)
B - which is violet (ding)
C - and smells of honey (ding)
D - roars and starts running to get you (ring-a-ding)
And I want to pace the ratio of ring to dings both per player and per table.

But the tools are there, it’s just about making them utlra light, like blue / red chips or flipped cards, or moving a pawn on a circuit.

I haven’t played or read it myself, but there is a game which does exactly what you’re describing, and that’s Universalis.