Fractal fronts

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Fractal fronts
« on: December 31, 2012, 02:32:18 PM »
Fronts still bug me.

I can see why they're useful, and reading through the front chapter and especially the lists of dangers is always helpful and inspirational. But they're something about how fronts work that sticks in my craw. I think it's that, for me, they hit an awkward middle ground where they're too-structured/not-structured-enough. I either want them to be wide open ('think about what might happen and list possibilities') or as structured as a character playbook ('pick one from this list'). Maybe not.

Anyway, I've been trying to keep the good stuff but make them more workable for me, and this is some thinking toward that, so people can help or steal it or whatever.

What I want fronts to do, more than anything, is to help me have something to say when I'm surprised. I need them to provide me with moves, basically, with stuff to say to show impending doom, with actions that the bad guys might take, with unwelcome truths to discover. Yet I need them to be flexible enough that I can really play to find out what happens.

My working solution for all of this is fractal fronts. I'm basically listing fronts in a kind of hierarchical outline. So instead of having anything designated as "campaign front" or "adventure front," (or the intermediate "arc front" that I toyed with for a bit), I just know how they relate to each other.

That's not clear. Think of it this way: a monster is just a specific instance of a general danger, which is just a specific grim portent of a front. See how those nest? That's what I'm thinking. Dangers are actually grim portents of a front. That front is in turn a grim portent of some larger front behind it.

Of course, all of this is in pencil, with blanks, very much subject to change. It might turn out that what I thought was the minor danger is actually a major front behind everything.

Here's a sample, based on the notes I was doing for my online game, with specifics changed 'cause some of my players come by here:

I The Banished God Awakens! (impulse: end everything / doom: destruction)
   A The Ghost Horde returns (impulse: rage! / doom: chaos)
       1 The Gray Necromancer seeks to control it (impulse: gain power/ doom: tyranny) (Will the Wizard oppose him or join him?)
            a  Undead abroad (What are they looking for?)
            b  Orcs raid to recover lost knowledge from before (What is it?)
        2 Dwarves try to prepare for it (impulse: protect our nation / doom: war-impoverishment) Will the Dwarf help them?
            a  Gather materials for the forging of a great weapon Will Silverton survive the raids?
            b  Forge the weapon
            c   ?
   B  ?

Don't nitpick on the example here--I'm just trying to make clear what I'm playing with. I also toyed with presenting it in a more cross-reference style, so the first item under the Ghost Horde just mentions the Necromancer, who's fleshed out in a separate spot. This may be a better way to do it--certainly allows more easy shifting around of what fits together with what.

Whaddya think, sirs?

*

noofy

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Re: Fractal fronts
« Reply #1 on: January 01, 2013, 04:10:01 AM »
Sounds great!
I'd either draft it all up on a relationship map, or have each danger on a postit / index card with its instinct or agenda, draw connections like crazy and antagonise the PCs as appropriate. Think Fiasco set-up (inclusive of objects and locations) and you'll be fine.

Re: Fractal fronts
« Reply #2 on: January 02, 2013, 02:33:19 AM »
Interesting thoughts.

The idea of fractal fronts reminded me of a great resource from years ago - Ryan St's Threats, Rewards, Assets and Problems (http://www.enworld.org/forum/showthread.php?192201-ry-s-Threats-Rewards-Assets-and-Problems-%28TRAPs%29)

You identified each 'thing' as falling within one of those four categories, but then a thing could itself be made up of things from those four categories.

Simple example:

The Gnolls of the Burning Land (threat)
Blah blah blah.

Could become:

Broodmother Icha (threat)
The Treacherous Dog (resource)
Collar of the Werehyena (asset)
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Re: Fractal fronts
« Reply #3 on: January 02, 2013, 06:04:06 AM »
It seems to me that you want a kind of timeline, this is not exactly the best for me, but I understand what you think, the major problem with having larger timelines is that they players might actually loose track of the entire sequence at some point. I would, for example, break that front into three different fronts, the Necromancer, the Orcs and the Dwarves. The unifying theme is the banished god, but I would not flesh him out until the players got close enough to interact with it.

In my mind I usually consider how things can and would interact, then I make some notes down near the fronts, that alone has given me the juice to make them seem coherent and yet separate.

I don't want to join things too much because I take a risk at making them run through a more encapsulated story and path, something I am trying hard to avoid.
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Re: Fractal fronts
« Reply #4 on: January 02, 2013, 09:33:41 AM »
It seems to me that you want a kind of timeline, this is not exactly the best for me, but I understand what you think, the major problem with having larger timelines is that they players might actually loose track of the entire sequence at some point. I would, for example, break that front into three different fronts, the Necromancer, the Orcs and the Dwarves. The unifying theme is the banished god, but I would not flesh him out until the players got close enough to interact with it.

In my mind I usually consider how things can and would interact, then I make some notes down near the fronts, that alone has given me the juice to make them seem coherent and yet separate.

I don't want to join things too much because I take a risk at making them run through a more encapsulated story and path, something I am trying hard to avoid.

I get your point, though I also am trying very much to be open and responsive. This example is a "names changed to protect the secrecy" version of something from a game that's been going a while. And my whole basis for this approach to fronts is that they are very much "in pencil." The necromancer could become the biggest bad, and the dwarves could just disappear from the plot entirely, depending on what the players do.

Re: Fractal fronts
« Reply #5 on: January 03, 2013, 11:03:46 PM »
After running two one-shot DW games over the New Year's break, one with a (very small) Front and one without, I see what they bring to the table. As you said azrianni and as the book says, Fronts provide the GM with an answer to the "Now what happens?" question.

During the game I ran that I'd made a Front for (OK, it was really just a single Danger) I was rarely caught flatfooted when I needed to make a move. If there was nothing in the immediate vicinity of the PCs that could cause them trouble on a miss, I just crossed off one of the Grim Portents and found some way to make the characters fictionally aware that things had changed. The game world had a sense of life, as the Danger was actively pursuing it's own agenda.

In the game that didn't have any Fronts or Dangers (just a dungeon with a treasure to be retrieved at the end), things felt very static. The world responded to the characters' actions, but never took any actions on it's own and thus never felt "alive". Additionally, I found myself more uncertain about what moves to make on player misses when there was nothing currently threatening them.

So basically Fronts are there to give you, the GM, a logical progression to the action going on "behind the scenes". A plan for the big bad evil guy, or signs of the approaching disaster. If you find a way to organize those things other than what's described in the DW book, I don't think Saga and Adam will track you down and chastise you. :)

Personally, I refer the countdown clocks from Apocalypse World.
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