26 July 2012


I have been thinking about adventures as a game of tug-of-war. On one side is the goal, the thing that the adventurers are trying to accomplish. On the other side are the goals of the aggressor or what happens if the adventurers are not successful in their venture. In the middle of all this lies the adventure.

Click to enlarge.

Imagine if everything that a character did (or didn't) moved the tug of war in one direction or another. If the  heroes successfully repelled some raiding orcs that would move things one notch in favour of a positive outcome or overall success for the heroes.

Now imagine there are some zones or markers along the field. Each of these zones represents a change of overall circumstances or attitudes. As the villain gets dragged through these zones they might become more and more desperate, resulting in more dangerous and risky schemes in an attempt to drag things back in their favour. On the other hand, if the adventurers get dragged towards the Negative Outcome their own circumstances worsen. Allies die or abandon them, traitors appear, evil poisons the land, monster attacks become more frequent and so on.

You could also apply positive effects in the zones. As the heroes draw closer and closer to their ultimate goal then perhaps more and more people flock to their cause and the less control over the world the villain has.

What is the point of all this?

I came up with this idea as a way to give an overall structure to a game of Rollplay. In my playtest of the game I found that since players could create any obstacle or circumstance they wanted in each scene that this lead to a disjointed, somewhat manic and unfocused narrative. This can be fun in its own right, but isn't really the overall feel I was going for.

What I hope to accomplish with a mechanic like this adventure tug-of-war I hope to create an overarching narrative in an improvised game. By using this mechanic a win and lose condition enter the game and consequences affect the story on a macro level. Using this method I can have players define the adventure or goal at the beginning of a game, something like "prevent Sauron from conquering Middle Earth".

Other uses

While I had originally conceived this as a mechanic for the Rollplay Engine, I think it could also work very well as a way to move through an adventure module for other role playing games. I envision a non-linear adventure with a primary antagonist of some kind. Any number of zones could be placed on the adventure "line" and each could be associated with a number of different encounters. As the players move back and forth along the line the GM selects (or randomly chooses) an encounter from whatever zone they have moved into.

There is some risk of the players getting caught in a loop where they bounce back and forth and end up running out of new encounters for a specific zone. To deal with this a time mechanic might be added. A villain really only needs to slow down a group of adventurers until they can complete their plan. If the group runs out of time then the villain achieves their goal, but this may not be a complete victory if the players are far enough along the line towards a heroic success.

I suppose a GM might also use this mechanic as a way to track progress on in any RPG. It could be useful just for determining the attitudes of a villain to the player characters or keeping track of progress towards defeating a villain in an improvised game.

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