10 March, 2009

Game Mechani(sm) of the Week #11: Sharing the Spotlight

This mechanism ensures that no single player dominates all of the action.

Players are given tokens that may be used to purchase scenes; the more tokens a player chooses to spend on a scene, the more focus is placed on their character. Some players may choose to save up their tokens for dramatic scenes at the end of a game, others could evenly distribute their tokens throughout the game, and other players might choose to have a dramatic impact at the beginning of the game. There is no right way to spend these tokens; they are merely used as a device to balance the focus of the story over the course of the session.

Spending a single token might allow the character to perform some kind of cursory action, or engage in a support role for another character.

Spending two tokens might allow a bit more of the spotlight to shine on the character, highlighting one of their special bonuses or weaknesses, or maybe exploring their personality a bit deeper.

Spending three tokens might give a character a significant chance to affect a storyline through a series of skills and an intricate scene that utilizes the character’s potential in depth.

Spending four tokens might really focus in on a character, it is the type of scene where a character’s life or livelihood is put on the line; the chance to really shine (or crash and burn).

Some players might like to assert their character’s presence with big point expenditure early, but most games will see a player saving up the points to make as much impact as possible as the climax draws near.

There are two ways that this could be presented,

The first method is to gradually hand out tokens over the course of the game. Initially hand out four tokens, enough for all players to make a dramatic impact at the start of the game (if that’s what they so choose). At the conclusion of each act, each player could be given two tokens. In this way, a player can gradually stockpile tokens by performing in minor scenes as the climax is a long distance off, then spend a rush of tokens at the end. Or they can consistently spend tokens over the course of the game. The only method of play this doesn’t allow is a rush of intensive scenes for a single character at the start of play.

The second method of token distribution would be to hand out all tokens to the players at the start of the session. For example, you know that the session is going to last long enough for all players to get 10 scenes (a complete set of scenes one per player will be called an act for the rest of this discussion). Averaging the costs of the scene types you get 2.5; so this is multiplied by the number of acts (in the example provided, 25 tokens). If a player chooses to perform 6 scenes with the maximum dramatic impact (6 x 4pts), they’d only have a single point to spread over the remaining four acts. They’d probably have to perform as a sidekick in a certain scene, and they’d have to completely sit out on three acts. Another player could choose to do some subtle actions initially, or might not even perform at all in the first couple of acts, only to make a dramatic impact at the end of the game (a GM could even use this technique to describe the actions of a significant plot character).

But what would happen to the leftover tokens?

If you decide that leftover tokens are simply ignored at the end of game, then players will think according to a certain set of strategic parameters. But what happens to the player who sat out on the first couple of scenes in the hope of making a big impact at the end of the game, only to find that they miscalculated and have a couple of tokens to spare while everyone else had had a bigger impact in the story?

To combat this idea, you could allow tokens remaining at the climax to be used for re-contesting critical tasks. This could be justified by saying that the character has been saving up their energy for one huge action at the end. Which then leads to a completely different type of player appearing, the one who lets everyone do the dirty work leading up to the climax, while they take the fame and glory when the victory occurs. This could be a deliberate part of the game and tied in with the theme.

These ideas can also arise if the tokens are distributed over the course of the acts, but I’d consider them less of a potential issue in that structure. My reasoning behind this is that tokens are gradually built up each turn and players are more aware of their token count at the end of each act when they are distributed over the course of the story. Most people prefer to count small numbers, rather than sifting through a large pile.
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