One of the common threads in many narratives is the notion that things start small and gradually accumulate momentum until they become dramatic (and in the case of many roleplaying sessions push into gonzo territory).
There seem to be a few methods aiming toward that kind of narrative arc at the moment. Different games call them different things, but generally a common theme among new "innovations" is the concept of a clock, where elements of the story cause the clock to "tick" toward a conclusion or climax. sometimes there might be some kind of associated mechanism that causes the clock to "tick backwards" and reduce the tension, but more often than not in the examples I've seen the clock ticks in one direction only toward a story conclusion.
It's one of those things that we'e been doing in many roleplaying sessions for decades, but now we seem to be seeing more formalized ways of doing it. Or perhaps it's just that these methods are being brought to attention by the "in-crowd" of game designers, and therefore people are fawning over the concept.
I've been thinking about other ways to do this.
In FUBAR several years ago, I saw this as an inherent manifestation of the game. Characters would accumulate new merits and flaws, and those new traits would have repercussions in the system. In this way, we'd gradually see the characters build strength over the course of a session until they were ready to face the big bad. I even write about this in the "Director's Cut" of the game as something to exploit for storytelling potential. Over theyears it's been something I've had in the ack of my mind as something that needed to be refined and improved, but every time I find some way that seems to do this, it has had a side effect that I haven't liked for one reason or another.
My most recent thoughts on this for the Familiar game seem to do the job, but only from a specific narrative perspective. It basically fits what I want it to do, but there are things about it that just feel clunky.
If you've been following these posts, you'll know that the Familiar game uses a concept where the player chooses their own difficulty for the tasks they are attempting. The familiars have 4 attributes designated d6, d8, d10, and d12, and they may choose a difficulty from d4 to d12 for their action. The higher the difficulty they impose on themselves, the more spectacular the effect will be if they succeed. If their attribute die has a result a least equal to the difficulty die, a success occurs (where the level of success is purely based on that difficulty die chosen.
Since the title characters of the game, the Familiars, are otherworldly entities, it makes sense that they'd have trouble working within our world.
For this reason, I'm thinking that when a familiar first enters play and attempts a task with a specific attribute, they will need to choose a d4 difficulty. They simply don't know how to do it better and can't even attempt it. Once they succeed this type of task at this difficulty level, they may then attempt something at d6 level. One by one as they succeed in tasks associated with an attribute, they may push their potential difficulties further. A success at d6 level allows d8 actions, a success at d8 allows d10 actions, then finally d12.
This would probably only be something that comes into play during the first session of a campaign, basically the "origin story" for the characters, but it might be a nice way of allowing things to amp up as the characters find their place in the world.
More to think about.