Monday, May 7, 2012

Index Card Situation

This is not technically part of Index Card Tactics, though it's related, in that another part of ICT is that it uses situation generators like Two Guys With Swords. This is another such tool (and don't worry, I'll be getting onto classes and equipment and so on).

This trick works best for a group of 4 or 5 who either have some sense of their character or who are willing to make things up enthusiastically.

  1. Hand each player an index card. Have them write the name of one NPC who is very important to their character, with perhaps a single sentence description of who they are and why they matter. Broad strokes.  
  2. Pass the card to the player on your left (not the GM).
  3. On the card they have received, the player now writes down something bad that might happen to the person named. This should not have a lot of details outside of the character, so "Stripped of their title"  is good but "Stripped of their title by the Cardinal" is not.
  4. Pass the card to the player on your left (not the GM).
  5. On the card received, the player now writes down a good outcome, flavored by the bad one.  It should not merely be "The bad thing doesn't happen" but rather an outcome that might be hoped for over and above mere nullification. To continue the example of stripped of title, "Be honored by the king" would work well.
  6. Pass the card to the player on your left (not the GM).
  7. On the card received, the player now writes down who wants the bad outcome to happen.
  8. Pass cards back to the first player.
  9. Player looks at the situation as presented and - privately - writes their rating on the card, representing their interest in seeing this in play. Ratings are from 0 (I actively hate this, and never want it to see the light of day) to 5 (This is AWESOME, I totally want this) .
  10. Cards are handed over to the GM.
  11. GM looks through the cards and, based on interest level, puts them in motion.

Notes and Variations
  • Step one assumes a friendly NPC.  It's possible to allow it to be a hated NPC, in which case that should be noted on the card, and the logic of step 7 inverts to "Who wants the good outcome for this character?"
  • It is possible for Step 1 to be something other than a character, such as a town or organization.  For certain games (conspiracy oriented one, frex) that might be apt, but go easy on it.
  • Step 7 is fre-form as presented, but if you're using a game with an existing cast of characters "in play" (like a Dresden Files City, a tech Noir playset, or even something like Apocalypse World's fronts) then the character selected should be drawn from that list, or tied to that element.
  • In step 11, Player rating is important to determining plot relevance but it's also a useful yardstick for difficulty. That is, a low-interest situation should also be one that is reasonably easy to resolve. 
  • In step 11, one challenge to the GM is how to tie things together when player interest is high.  This is, to my mind, one of the fun things about bing a GM.
  • In Step 11, If interest is across the board low, then that may be a reason to check your table.  Is it that your players have radically different tastes and they're spilling on each other? Are they looking for more of a monster smash this evening? Do the NPCs really not grab them?  Only you can really know your table, but take it as a cue to think about it. 


  1. The only way a pre-planned tale like this interests me is if there is a very particular outcome for everyone that we all know is coming and the game is about the interactions of the players leading up to it. Sort of like, "What was the real story behind this historical event in this world?" And that's a very particular mode of play that I rarely see employed.

    Otherwise, I'd much, much rather discover this stuff during play, which means writing down past/current connections and current goals/motivations rather than what are basically fortunes.

    This sort of ties into the "GM skill" topic in that a good GM probably doesn't want a list of foregone conclusions, and players whose experiences are elevated by a good GM probably don't want that, either. In my experience, a crucial skill for a good GM is the ability to creatively push and pull the desires of the people at the table to create an emergent experience that you couldn't have planned. You cannot push and pull something that is decided. There is less of an opportunity for anyone to shine, particularly the GM.

    I might be on board if these were more conceptual guides which could change mid-stream. And players were rewarded in some ways for working for or against these outcomes, which still may or may not happen. Perhaps the numerical rating could be positive or negative and actually determines how well you are rewarded for working towards or against that end. However, it also represents how powerfully you can be compelled in that direction. A player who wants a very free character will write down all small numbers, or even zeroes. He won't be rewarded, but he cannot be compelled.

  2. Hmm. Likely my fault for being unclear - it would not have occurred to me to treat them a concrete certainties.

    These are threats, not pre-destination. They are conflicts with a driver - nothing demands that turn out that way, merely that this is the way the ball is rolling at the outset.

  3. This looks really interesting, and adds to the player buy-in for the plot.

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