294 Applying Pressure/Tension

I’m assuming not the same artist or Company?

Played Dragonlance for year when it came out. That was a long campaign. Played each module as it came out.

This was my answer to Sean saying that Against the Darkmaster is more accurately a retroclone of Rolemaster rather than MERP. It truly is splitting hairs (since, as Brett said in the same episode, MERP itself is a derivative of RM), but I decided to use images as my “well, actually” :nerd_face:, rather than pointing to the tables, stats, character generation… well, I’ll stop here.

Yes, Against the Darkmaster is in production with Open-Ended Games, a company newly formed and funded following their successful Kickstarter. The final image will be the wraparound cover of the complete book. Yes, it clearly is a direct homage to…

MERP, Sean!



And now about the episode itself:

I’m beginning to think that the 2d20 system might synthesize the majority of rpg innovations and styles currently out there in the rpg jungle.

In Conan, the GM has a meta-resource called Doom. The GM uses this Doom to raise the tension and generally make things difficult for the PCs.

I know what Brett is thinking, and he is not wrong. You can raise the tension in any game, without a meta-currency. Some, even, may call this overall best GM practice.

But Doom in Conan is in a dynamic relationship with the players. Instead of using the PC resources of Momentum and Fortune—or when they no longer are available to them—players can “pay” the GM Doom for an immediate, though temporary, benefit, knowing full well that this assistance now is going to raise itself as a complication or obstacle later.

It’s gorgeous. Another reason why Doom is awesome is because it’s part of the game! Its use in D&D might appear arbitrary, petty, or adversarial in a bad way. Here it’s used to emulate the crises, twists and setbacks of pulp fiction.

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Listening to Part 2!

Here’s some more love for Conan 2d20.

Conan recommends dealing with analysis paralysis by paying yourself, the GM, 1 point of Doom, incrementally, as the players deliberate.

One time, I had to say, “Okay, guys, I’m about to give myself a Doom.”

They resolved their conversation immediately.

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I think you mentioned such things, at least in the next episode, but Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 3rd edition (of all things) has a tension tracker that I’m thinking about using in my 1e game. Even if nothing is said about mounting tension, watching the tracker tick up and not necessarily knowing why can cause a little anxiety.

A good link on how to use trackers: https://www.fantasyflightgames.com/en/news/2009/9/18/tale-telling-tools/

Keep in mind you could use anything as simple as a d10. As long as the players see it, see you rolling it up or down in accordance with their actions or the amount of time they take to do something, and see something big happen when you reach either end of the count.

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Ah yes, the old temperature gauge is going up and up and you don’t know what it’s going to amount to.

Last night I ramped up the pressure in my Mothership campaign. Threw the kitchen sink at them as they battled transgenic reptilian humanoids, and crazed androids devoted to their A.I. computer god which had locked them into the derelict colony ship they’re exploring for salvage. And that’s not even the half of it.

Everyone is stressed right out, they’re hitting stim packs trying to bring themselves down. One of the players experienced a panic check and failed. Lead to a psychotic episode where they attacked another PC with the vibechete. Things are spiraling out of control for the group.

The best part is the tension created by the game mechanics is causing them to make hasty choices in game that will lead to further consequences down the road.

It is glorious. I haven’t had this much fun running an rpg in a long time and the best part is the players are loving every minute of it. The level of excitement they express after every session is awesome.

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Oh man, that is some good stuff there. Glad to hear that it’s going well(?) LOL.

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I think I need to get on this Mothership train. I at least have to read these rules!


And at least it won’t cost you an arm and a pseudopod!


After last nights Mothership session, one of the players commented how the game plays to my horror narrative strengths, unlike dnd, where I was using madness in Out of the Abyss to little effect.
I think some of that has to do with how Mothership uses saving throws and stress to add tension to the game. Any fantasy rpgs do that well? I saw someone mention Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay which I’m not familiar with.

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@Roger does WHRGP facilitate this?

The third edition published adventures really support the tension track. They give suggestions of how long to build it and at what points to set what events along the track. For an easy example, during an investigation, set up a app slot track. Whenever they get a clue, move the tracker up. When they have enough clues, the endgame can start…whether the party is prepared or not. That means it’s also good to help remind everyone that stuff happens in the fantasy world whether the PCs take an active part in it or not.

Does that make sense, or am I merging too many ideas in one topic? :slight_smile:

I had fully planned on using it when I ran my next game, but since it turns out I’m running via Zoom instead of at the table, I don’t know how to set it up so the players can watch me advance it in reaction to what they do.


White House: thr role playing game?

Yeah, that makes sense. Thanks!

Catching up on some older episodes and the anecdote Brett mentioned where vampires are compelled to count things made this guy make a lot more sense (how did I miss this?)CountvonCount_Web_1024


Hello all, osrry it took so long to chime in on this one.

A nice way to quietly but visibly apply the pressure is with visible timekeeping.

I found the concept here at the AngryGM (It Cannot Be Seen, Cannot Be Smelt: Hacking Time in D&D | The Angry GM).

Scroll down to the “Time Pool” is you want the original article.
I find the “persona” in which he writes his articles a bit much (YMMV) - but I liked this idea.

Summary of how i use it: put a container out on the table.

  • Tell you players you’re going to check for an encounter 1/hour.
  • Anytime the characters do anything (search the room, check for secret doors, waste time debating choices in the middle of enemy territory, pick a lock) you add a die to the pool
  • Each die denotes that 10 minutes have passed (you hand wave this and assume some things take a few more minutes, some less)
  • Anytime you have 6 dice in the pool (representing an hour) - you pull them ALL out, roll them, and if a one comes up on any die - encounter/event/complication - whatever fits for the story or from your encounter table.
  • The generic system uses d6s for the pool - but if they are successfully sneaking about, add a d8 or a d10, if they are ransacking rooms and talking loudly as they wander about add a d4. Having a mix works.

There is more detail at the AngryGm site - I like its as it is a simple way to show that “time wasting” activities in the adventure can lead to complications.

You could use the same idea if you need pressure on a day by day basis. If the party is using downtime, and can’t decide what to do - use the time pool & set it to 1 dice per hour, or 1 per day - at a preset period roll the dice - a one comes up and their lives get complicated (maybe the penanggalan attack…)

I know we can just choose to decide when to goose the players, but having the visible mechanic puts the outcome in the hands of the dice gods and the players are less likely to whine that you are being a evil rat bastard GM.

(Which you are, or you would not be applying pressure - but they don’t need to know that do they…)



I realized the post below also applied to this thread…


Holy Crap @Rumble! I’ve never thought about that either. Man, I’m dense.