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Situation Mechanics and Interactivity

September 13, 2021

Quite a few games have mechanics to randomly introduce events or elements into a situation; that could be a chart you roll for weather, or the classic random encounter chart. More modern games move into stuff like immediate conflict/situation shaping elements; (“Roll this chart – Oh, Aunt May has been kidnapped!”).

It’s a good way to broadly emulate genre expectations, however, depending on the group’s preferences, this could either be awesome and low-crunch ways to make play flow, or it could be undermining a key point of what they’re interested as the focal point of play.

To be clear, I’m also not talking about the issues of random tables producing inappropriate or ridiculous outcomes, nor that they might be outside of a group’s comfort zones, etc. based on their own personal lines/veils or genre expectations, rather, I’m talking about interactivity.

The nature of most of the random event generator style mechanics is that players don’t have an interaction before the point of effect; they don’t really have any way to modify or mitigate it, or, that it only happens behind the scenes and they’re not really aware of how/what they’re doing modifies those odds.

You could say that a key point to any focus of play (in old school Forge terms, the Creative Agenda), is that there’s interactivity with it.

Consider the classic Gamist vs. Narrativist split – “The story is just nice fluff to get me to the fights where I can make some tactical decisions” vs. “Fights are cool but the buildup and fallout of what happens with my character is where I make the important choices”. The part that isn’t a focus of play can often fall by the wayside with non-interactive elements that simply skim over it, and the part that is critical people want to have choices and options about.

I think this is one of the reasons the Apocalypse World style countdown clock has become a popular mechanic; the events are telegraphed, repeatedly, and players have opportunities to interact and stop problems (or, to realize, often too late, that they took too long in dealing with them and now they’ve blown up into a bigger crisis).

I’m going to have to come up with a stronger classification for these, but I think it is something very useful to nail down in terms of which games people prefer or don’t care for based in mechanics and systems. There’s a million and one dungeon crawl games, but even people who are into the genre might only like a narrow subset based on WHERE they want interactivity vs. WHERE they don’t.

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