Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Avatar World: "Karma" and Tag-Triggering

Merry Christmas! I've been enjoying this song, both in and out of the Christmas season, for years now. I just don't get tired of it!

So, I've had a bit of a brainstorm while reading another game by a guy named Alex from Story Games. He shared the game, previously not publicly released (which is why I won't directly link it, but search Story Games for an [Avatar World] thread and it should be in there), in my Avatar World thread, and while it's technically an Apocalypse World hack, it's pretty radically different. For one, it uses a draw system of stones instead of dice. Aside from being gloriously tactile (I would back a kickstarter for that if it got me a pretty stone set, that's for sure), it has one bit that is really beautiful: refreshes. While I can't find where he explicitly calls out what exactly Refreshing a stone does, what matters is what triggers it and that it's a good thing. First, know that the stones you can draw are each based on the four elements. So check this out:
"When you aid someone in need, you may refresh an Air stone."
"When you avoid trouble and pursue luxury and pleasure, you may refresh an Earth stone."
"When you put your friends or family first, you may refresh a Water stone."
"When you leap into danger without hedging your bets, you may refresh a Fire stone."
+ More!
Yeah. That's rad. It locks the narrative hooks that exemplify the personality trends of the elements in the show directly into the game mechanics in a way that requires very little MC interpretation (which I think indicates positive things about an AW hack - AW itself requires an MC for sure, but the fact that things have very clear triggers that prescribe specific things is a good quality).
So, why do I bring this up? Well, aside from showcasing someone's awesome mechanic, I intend to steal a modified form of it!

I titled this "Karma." The quotes aren't optional - Karma won't be a final name for sure, because honestly it doesn't actually indicate anything near the right thing for what I'm using it to represent. Think back to the list at the end of the Playbook Moves post, about triggering Tags. Let's paraphrase the relevant part for today:
"When you fail a roll, you get a point of 'Karma'. Spend a point of 'Karma' to trigger a Tag."
Essentially, I've been looking for a way to actually use all of these Tags that are getting tossed onto things by Move With Intention and the Waterbender and the like. The obvious option was one I actually didn't want to use:
"When it makes narrative sense to trigger the Tag, it is triggered."
I'm not looking down on that one, but I think it doesn't do all it could for me. For the record, what happens when a Tag is actually triggered is ALSO in flux (likely a +1 Forward, but maybe something else instead, idk). What this does is puts everything into the group's hands. It provides the most flexibility, but I'm thinking I can get something a little more helpful to my ends out of it.
The above creation of mine from before helped you when you failed a roll (which I guess looks more like Pity than "Karma"), and that was actually inspired by Dungeon World's XP I guess. However, that still didn't jive with me completely. Some issues included, first and foremost, that I don't think it actually provides enough "Karma" to use. No, I wanted more, something that clicked with me. Thanks Alex - you found it for me.
"Each playbook has a number [!] of "Karma Keys" [!!]. During character creation, you select a smaller number [!!!] of these. Whenever you fulfil the condition of one of them, you gain 1 "Karma.""
[!] I'm thinking 4-5 usually.
[!!] Keys is, of course, a reference to Shadow of Yesterday and Lady Blackbird's Keys, since that's pretty close to how these work. That's just for now though - it's in those quotes too, I likely won't call 'em Keys in the end.
[!!!] I'm thinking 2 usually.
While I don't have them specifically written, each of the "Karma Keys" is gonna be damn close to the sort of thing Alex uses for Refreshes, but specifically written to the playbooks. This is, from where I'm standing, a good way to encourage the characters to act in the sort of way that falls in line with the general expected behavior of the playbook.
But what if they intentionally don't want to be like that?
Well, that's why you pick a few from a list. You have some flexibility in how exactly you play in that regard. Additionally, I have two provisions set up in my mind. First, continued from above:
"...When you fulfil the condition on one of them, you gain 1 "Karma." Additionally, you gain 1 "Karma" whenever you fail a roll."
So, even if you don't play that way, you still will get Karma, just less, and I don't think that makes you unusable, it just alters the dynamic, especially if you have a Waterbender or other tag-focused character. Now, let's look at that other:
"From the Improvement List: __ Select an additional "Karma Key" from the list, or write your own."
That's the other piece I've got. This'll be present on everyone's list of improvement options. I'm taking a pretty big chance by letting you potentially write your own, but I'm hoping that either the ones I have there are compelling enough or people won't just write ones that follow the exact same path they already do. I know I wrote a lot before on Keys and incentivising narrative action with game mechanic points like XP, but I think that "Karma" is desirable, but not on the same level as XP, and you'll have more than just the one you write to trigger. Now, let's write something that I haven't thought through very hard.
"When you have at least 5[!] 'Karma', you may trade 5[!] 'Karma' for 1 XP."
[!] I'm also considering making it easier to 3, but I'll have to actually write some "Karma Keys" to know.

So, that's some fun stuff! It covers two of my trouble spots at once, the process of triggering tags and a way to urge players to play their characters in ways that are true to tones and tendencies of the show (while allowing escape paths if you'd really rather play a little different). Inspiring action like the show was a tough point for me, and I think this is a nice clean fix.
Enjoy it, and like usual, I'd love any feedback you have about it.
End Recording,

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