Reading the Signs

One of my favorite things about really mastering a system is discovering the signals that a well-designed game sends. Examples:

* My most recent discovery: in The One Ring, I’m pretty sure folks who start using their Traits for automatic ordinary successes in lieu of gambling against the possibility of having to spend Hope are ready for the Adventure Phase to be over. 

* If a Burning Wheel player is building up too much artha, that can either mean your consequences are too soft or you’re not running enough scripted conflicts.

* In Circle of Hands, when someone reaches for a character over and over again (as often as the system allows, ie every other session), they’re not really interested in how “someone else” might interpret that character.

* In Urban Shadows, players who chase Corruption as hard as they can have no intention or expectation of playing past about 5 sessions. (Which breaks the Debt economy, but that’s another subject.)

It’s just so interesting to identify these … I don’t know what to call them. Second-order market signals, maybe. They remind me of the economists who look at orders for, say, cardboard boxes this quarter as a signal that sales are going to increase next quarter. 

What hidden signals have you identified in your favorite game?

0 thoughts on “Reading the Signs”

  1. As with you in Urban Shadows. Save that it can mean “for this character.” I’m getting used to it being a “I want this character to be the big bad next cycle.”

  2. If someone consistently chooses to resolve in Fiasco that’s a signal to pay more attention to them on the player level – it could be simple preference, but it could also be anything from a status dynamic to imposter syndrome to old skool turtling at play.

  3. Dammit. Brand Robins now is making me impatient to play Urban Shadows, since if that’s what it means, I look forward to my players racing for that honor.

  4. There’s a cluster of BW belief related ones that I think of as ‘parallel play’. PCs with no shared belief, players not hitting beliefs, not trying to drive/shape the story, no OOC chatter about how they think their beliefs will interact.

  5. A related pattern happens in The Quiet Year when people are doing very little with one another’s contributions, mostly iterating on their own. Unwillingness to riff, but I’m not sure if it’s a kind of nash equilibrium of ‘don’t touch my stuff’.

  6. In FAE or Leverage, if a player is consistently rolling only their highest values, then the GM has not given them confidence in the rest of the system.

  7. Michael Prescott oh hell yes. Again with the Urban Shadows, there’s a similar thing if you notice players not taking each other’s characters as their debts/debt holders. If all debts are outward focused, you need to realign that shit and fast.

  8. Oh, one of the more obvious ones: in PbtA games, if your characters aren’t advancing, then chances are that the players haven’t quite grokked something about how moves generate XP; OR that your failure cascades are too aggressive and players are choosing not to advance in order to avoid risk.

  9. Adam D oh yeah that’s a good one. I’ve definitely seen that, and it’s what first clued me in that my one-shot PbtA instincts are not healthy for multi session PbtA play.

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