Joseph Erwin – Freelance Dungeon Master

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Where I Draw the Line on Game Edits

For some groups that I run these days, I utilize a hack of the Cortex Classic “Plot Points” system. It runs very similarly to FATE Core’s Fate Point system, where points (which are earned through roleplaying and having things not go well for the character) can be spent on “plot edits” or re-rolls.

Lots of systems make use of this element, and generally I don’t mind it! I like to let the dice fall where they may, but sometimes there is a need for greater interactivity and manipulation of the story direction.

But, how much should they affect? One of the greatest things to recall about RPGs is that the rules don’t really need to be there. However without the rules, you can expect that some people will not have a good idea of exactly how powerful or capable their characters are. The rules exist to provide context, and to create a consistent tone for the story. How much should a Plot Point change that?

Well, I’ve had some great ones, and I’ve had some silly ones. But there have been many times when I have had to refuse a plot point spend, and the reasons are usually one of two: 1) It would be power-gaming for no effort, or 2) It would so thoroughly derail the tone that there could be no recovery.

The first is fairly easy to understand (“Can I spend a plot point to be able to see through walls?” “No.”), but the second is harder to articulate. It really depends on what your personal limits are on your campaign, but here is my general rule of thumb:

If a story alteration suggestion would alter the story in a way which thoroughly violates the tone so that the goals and struggles of the characters are cast in a new light which makes them seem pointless, or which invites questions into the fundamental concepts of the world of play which undermine the essentials of the plot, then the story edit should be vetoed.

“Wasn’t this a gritty noir campaign, GM?”

Breaking it down, let’s say the party is part of a gritty sci-fi adventure. Then, say a point comes up which would sidetrack the story into a light baking-show drama. This could be fine depending on your table, but the fact that the pre-established elements still are implied to exist, all the while the story plays out without even seeming to acknowledge them, is what creates the problem.

Note: In this example, if the baking-show drama played out in a way which tied back into the main drama (say, suns going out for some unexplained reason), and which allowed itself to be influenced by the main story, then you could always make this work. If the baking drama had the weight of fear or “end of all things” hanging over it, all while trying to keep the shop afloat, it would create a more poignant story which ties in to the narrative, while also giving the actions of the players some weight and drama (beyond who misplaced the egg whisk).

Suggestions can be silly, as they can always play back into the story in some way. Designer shoe brands based on puns, strange NPCs who are the heads of major companies, and unusual cultural practices can always be re-incorporated into the narrative. They often end up as all the more interesting because they were something which arose within the framework of a cooperative storytelling experience!

But I draw the line at things which undermine the fundamental aspects of the world or story. Trying to change what the giant creatures who have been attacking the city into something else, or altering the way which magic is seen or practiced can have massive ramifications for world-building. Often this can make magic or science-fiction tech more versatile and accessible than planned, which results in the ultimate dreaded question: “Why don’t we just ‘magic’ the problem away?”

Published by Joe Erwin

I am an independent creator and GM with a deep love of storytelling and adventure! I desire most to share these things with others, and I hope to do that through my work and my writing.

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