In an earlier thread, Luke nailed my problem GM’ing Burning Empires in our newborn Fire & Ice game as being the scene economy. I think he’s right, but I’m not sure how he’s right. Having had extensive discussions with my players, however, I think I have enough thoughts to be wrong in a useful way.
I see two extreme approaches to the whole metagame structure of Burning Empires:
You roleplay the way a “normal” group (if such exists…) “normally” roleplays: Your characters do things because they’d plausibly want to do those things and it’s interesting to see them try; you call for conflicts large or small, or “say yes” and move on, depending on everyone’s interest in the matter at hand. The GM keeps the Color-Interstitial-Builder-Conflict scene economy in his peripheral vision to make sure the group doesn’t break it. When the maneuver ends, the GM assesses what the principal player-character did to earn the right to roll a particular skill and what the other PCs did to earn the right to provide helping dice, and people roll, and then the group adjusts disposition accordingly and hands out artha.
In this approach, the whole metagame structure is there “by the way.” It’s one more thing you do in the “step back from the roleplaying and award XP” phase at the end of playing, you just do it a little more often (maybe twice a session instead of once). People guide their actions towards a good outcome in the Infection to the same degree they might steer their actions towards XP awards, but it’s not a primary focus.
The scene currency is explicit and up front. Each player knows he or she has one Color, one Interstitial, and one Builder or Conflict scene to achieve both personal and strategic goals for this Maneuver. Everyone calls for scenes by type and states their objectives: “I want a Builder to seduce the Duke so I can get my Seduction skill in there for a linked test to your Conflict and helping dice on the Infection roll.” Everyone is acutely aware that calling for a conflict now, over the current issue, means giving up being able to call for a conflict on something else later in the maneuver. Whenever someone does something in a scene that earns the right to affect the Infection roll – e.g. to provide Helping dice – it’s explicitly noted and recorded.
In this approach, the metagame structure is constantly in view. Everyone steers scenes explicitly towards character advancement, artha, and affecting the Infection roll. Roleplaying, in the sense of “let’s describe/act out what our characters are doing,” is something you dip into for a given scene and then come back up out of when that scene’s done its work, reenaging with the scene economy.
Obviously these are extremes – theoretically playable, but I doubt anyone ever actually plays perfectly in either mode.
Here’s the thing, though: Two years of playing a lot of Forge games, especially Capes, have trained me to lean hard towards the “Tight” model. I actually wrote up a cheat sheet of “what you can do in each kind of scene” and handed one out to each player. Shorn of fancy formatting, it looks like this:
Lots of dice rolls to make someone else do something they really don’t want to.
- Duel of Wits to convince someone to do what you want
- Psychic Duel to mess with their mind (Psychologists only!)
- Firefight to do some serious killin’
Feel free to invite other players to help!
One, two, or three dice rolls to do something with “hard,” game-mechanical effects in preparation for later Conflict scenes:
- roll Resources to buy weapons, ships, or other technology
- roll Circles to introduce minor characters
- roll appropriate skills to set up spy networks, ambushes, court balls, etc.
- kill or convince one person with one roll –if that roll fails, give up or go to a Conflict!
Feel free to invite other players to help!
Roleplay with one or more other players to have your characters interact:
But if they don’t want to do what you ask, either give up, go to a Build-Up scene, or go to a Conflict!
Roleplay solo to cool details to your character and the world – they have no game-mechanical effect (yet) but help prepare for Build-Up scenes later:
- describe technology you’ll roll Resources for later
- explain your evil plan to your minions
- have a flashback
- give a soliloquy
If you need to interact with someone else’s character(s), go to a Facetime scene!
This was the only handout I gave to my players for our first Maneuver – that’s how intently I was focused on the scene economy as a critical issue. I think it’s also the reason I muffed the scene economy. I kept expecting, and leading my players to expect, that each scene, and Building Scenes in particular, would produce a definite, discrete mechanical effect towards the bigger picture, and when the impact of the scenes was murkier, we got confused and frustrated.