Recycling Paths into Scene Stake-setting

Whenever one game is nearly finished, I double back and pick up other projects that I put into “cold storage” for a while. In this case, now that Corona‘s getting nearly ready to release, I’m revisiting Project Atlantis, and finding that the idea of Paths I had previously discussed for Daisho might be a better fit here.

Because I want to encourage a dramatic structure – particularly echoing classical tragedy – I want scenes to be logically structured together. They should build deterministically, where the results of prior scenes have a hard mechanical influence on what follows, which I had previously wanted to implement through investing dice ahead in time toward the final outcome of the plot.

I have since introduced a second currency into the game system – elemental tokens – that can be used to charge traits just like dice, with the differentiation that dice count as mundane applications of concentration and skill when used to charge traits, whereas using a token is overtly magical.

But that’s neither here nor there! What’s important is that I now have a viable method of letting players both contribute to and steer the course of events. Five Paths (one per element) contain different rewards for following them. You follow a Path by behaving in line with its elemental affiliation: go into a scene with high emotions and lots of energy, for instance, and you’re said to be walking on the Fire Path. If the scene resolves in a way commensurate with Fire’s ideals, then you get a reward for having a hand in that. You also then nudge the final scene closer to a Fire-based resolution. (I’ll explain more on how that works mechanically later, but the general principle is that scenes’ “dispositions” are based on elemental tokens that have been banked in the scene ahead of time.)

I’m still working on how to balance an ever-increasing dominant element against the others in order to prevent one or two early scenes from “steamrolling” everyone into having to walk one specific Path if they want any rewards at all, but the fundamental idea seems sound. I have the inkling that rotating the power of narrator through the players, and allowing them to populate scenes before they start with tokens that can be acquired, used, or saved might help mitigate an overpowering reward spiral for those who get early scenes to go in their favor. There will also be counterweight to using tokens for long-term benefit by making them really useful in the moment to affect scenes as they play out. I’m hoping to actually test out a brief three-act structure sometime in the near future and see if it actually holds up.