Modes are what I call it when you have different layers of rules to deal with different kinds of situations. This is not a new concept. Early D&D had an exploration mode as well as a combat mode. Champions broke it down into simply Non-Combat Time (a narration mode) and Combat Time (a combat mode). Savage Worlds did some really cool stuff here with a chase mode and a downtime mode that got you bennies for telling campfire stories. And I can’t help but consider Skill Challenges from D&D 4ed a failed attempt at adding a framework for other modes to that game.
Modes can be tricky. If they get too different from the rest of the game you end up with something confusing, impenetrable, and ultimately unplayable. If they are too similar then you end up with strange artifacts (I got knocked unconscious in a debate?) or a mediocre samey-ness where a chase doesn’t feel very fast or frenetic because it’s just a combat with a bit more movement.
What I’ve tried to do in Adventure Frameworks is break down the kinds of things you want to do into broad modes, and then make them compatible enough that you don’t get a headache trying to mix them. And some really, really cool stuff came out of that. So for example one of my modes I call a “Slip”, basically trying to slip past enemies without being seen. Really common in adventure stories, but also really hard to do in an RPG. Taking the lesson of meaningful decisions from before, my approach was to have hidden characters convert to 2 decoys like some boardgames and wargames do. Sneaking became fun because you had something to do, maneuvering through visibility zones, drawing guards away so less skilled intruders could get past, and so on. And the really cool part was once all that existed it mapped onto the other modes pretty well too. Sneaky types could hide and become decoys in combat, only decoys could launch sneak attacks, and so on.
Here are the modes I am working on for Adventure Frameworks. I am a little nervous I have too many, but most of them end up being pretty streamlined, and only come up when you invoke them. Still, just knowing the option is there has heavily affected how my players approach things.
- Pretty much the default ‘just say what you are doing’ mode.
- Combat encounters. Yes, this used to be the only other mode for a long time. I come from 80’s gaming, so what can you do.
- Designed to be light and fast. Still tweaking chases. They function, but just aren’t fast and elegant in Adventure Frameworks yet.
- A very specific role-playing mode based around a single hard choice. Yes, I really think this deserves a mode of its own.
- Settling a conflict with various types of persuasion. Think when the Sheriff has to talk down a mob of angry townspeople before they attack and lynch a prisoner. This ended up getting adapted to some really odd and fun situations, like making an appropriate splash at an important party or dismantling a treacherous advisor’s influence.
- This mode exists because I and everyone I’ve ever played with sucked at doing mysteries. Once I formalized some things here I not only got better, but could pretty quickly see why some mysteries worked in published adventures and some didn’t. The key for me was setting it up in a way where knowing the solution didn’t wreck it. In AF it’s based on a proof, which requires a certain number of clues. So a player can guess right off the bat that the butler did it, but you’ve still got to produce at least 3 clues that support that before you can get credit for it. Game on.
- Soap! Like the infilturatin, romances are a huge part of stories but for various reasons they just don’t show up in most games. This mode is an attempt to entice players in. Still in the early development stages but I am pretty excited to test it out. I blame a growing obsession with Telenovelas.
- Capers, sneaking around, and evading enemies. I talked about this a bit above.
The sad thing is I am sure there are obvious modes I am missing, but it’s already feeling a bit over-stuffed. I also figure other games are going to do specific modes better: like I bet Gumshoe will be better for investigations, Houses of the Blooded better for romances, and so on. But I think taken together and with the ability to mix and slip between the modes easily Adventure Frameworks will still have something to offer.