Sunday 20 January 2019


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Volatility :

I've been trying to come up with a formula for "volatility" in a location and location.
By volatility I mean a setup that will change in complex cascading ways  in respond to nearly any player action or inaction.
Something that can give the most potential for adventure and campaign material for the minimum of content.  

The "complex and cascading" ways don't need to be directed at the players , they just need to create change in the campaign world and be "chaotic" , i.e difficult for the d.m to foresee the future results more than 1-2 steps and with early minor factors capable of causing disproportionate results.

An example with limited Votality:
Secret Grove that if the players stumble on the Blood Druids will be freaked out and try and kill them unless placated etc.
 It's a fine encounter or hex filling but the results and potential interactions are not as rich as I want for an adventure.

An example with Volatility :

Lizard people and toad people in a landscape of swamps.
They are  evenly matched, distrust each , but have to share a rich fishing spot because neither can risk or afford the loses caused by conflict.

Especially as there's a small border town nearby that would love to clear the swamp and build a trade route through there. However they lack the martial might to do so , but can find investors to hire mercenaries if the numbers of swamp people are depleted first.

The Lizards and Toads will monitor the pcs moving through their respective territories but only resort to conflict if they pcs interrupt their fishing (as they take turns fishing and can't afford to lose their allotted time).
If the players kill enough Lizards or Toads , the other faction will attempt to drive the rest out. If they manage to kill an even amount of both they wouldn't.

Regardless, after the players leave the swamp and (assuming) they go to town , the town will ask them for (and offer to pay for ) information , as detailed as possible.

If the players refuse to give any information the town will kick them out.

They will then send scouts to confirm if the information  was legit.

The Lizards and Toads then freak out , assuming an attack is imminent , (even if the town decides not to ) , unite , and start a process of guerilla warfare , with a high chance of wiping out the town.

Potential Future consequences (  even if the players ignore everything)
-A new trade route where the swamp was makes the town grow
-Lizard and Toad refugees show up in other places
-The town being wiped out
-and depending on if there/where the survivors end up and how much influence they have , the kingdom the town is part of might send a retributive force and/or resettlement
-this might trigger escalating miltary tensions with the kingdoms neighbours

So a basic framework for "volatility" could be

Stasis between intelligent agents.
Too Expensive/risky or unable to change status quo

Must be a fulcrum /resource that players could conceivable want , the "conceive" might only exist in the minds of the intelligent agents.

Always least risky for the intelligent agents to assume any new activity involves other party.

and possible  a third factor  (can be intelligent or unintelligent) that will leak in if status quo changes?)

I've been milling over this post for a while , trying to have more to add , but I don't .
Was going include 2 other under sized posts  but I think there's enough here to chew on , so y'all get those posts sooner than 3 weeks . Huzzah


  1. So I feel like there's a connection here to Patrick's notion of Held Kinetic Energy ( But whereas that's about literal kinetic energy, what you want is Held Social Kinetic Energy.

    So that implies stasis, like you said, but ideally from more than two factions. Somewhere around four or five is great, which is what you see on Hot Springs Island. And instead of all factions competing over the same thing, which doesn't lend itself to a cascade, you want them to all have unique goals which happen to conflict with one another. So once the stasis is broken all factions exploit the disruption in different ways. And if you've set it up so that the different factions don't completely understand each other's goals, they they will be regularly making errors which make more openings to exploit, and the cascade continues.

    Maximum volatility, I think, requires confusion and partial knowledge.

  2. There is something to be said about Good Ole Chaos as well. The swamp is releasing hallucinogenic gas that has random effects (maybe depending on who inhales it), but no one knows when it's going to happen next. That kind of purely random event will make things moving even when the party is busy with something else.

    (Note that in this example, someone is definitely going to want to weaponise the swamp gas - my money's on the PCs ;)

    Random but known events can become a Pressure Cooker: people from one or more factions have been having nightmares about a swamp gas explosion that will affect everyone. Or wake up Old Mother Dragon, whatever. Whether it's true or not, signs are seen and panic is brewing. You can track the social effects with some sort of gauge or countdown, to help you decide when someone does something stupid.

  3. Factions are helpful, but part of volatility is requiring characters to get involved (otherwise its pure set dressing).

    Which boils down to unpleasant consequences that players think maybe they can solve after they take the first action, which of course solving those will have secondary consequences...

    In essence its an exercise in yak shaving when developing consequences. The theory that everything could be solved but the reality that botched rolls, existing problems, and most importantly other bored players will prevent it from collapsing like a house of cards.

    1. a good volatile situation will kick off even if the players don't get involved, causing it to start changing until hopefully causes something that interests the pcs. Or at the very least means you get to draw over the map

  4. "Stickiness" or the quality of the situation that ensures the PCs become involved, can come from a variety of different kinds of thing.

    One is meta story stuff. Previous contacts, backstories and relationships can be worked into a factoin, i.e. it's that guy you know/hate/you owe/owes you
    ( The idea of the PCs having an entirely legitimate claim on someone here is the most psychologically powerful as players hate being screwed/losing out and it can be almost impossible for them to resist getting involved).

    Once pulled in can go either eay; "I _want_ to pay you, I really do, but all my cheese is tied up in this lizard/toad thing and I _literally_ don't have the money. Unless you help me sort this out..."

    Or they get so pissed off the PCs join other side to get revenge.

    Lot of Zak's vornheim encounters were a bit like this: "it's your cousin in the cage brinb dragged past etc.

    On phone more later

  5. Hightened emotions in factions really good for this. Intense "cold war" situations w limited mutual knowledge but intense paranoia means 3rd parties like the PCs will be treated as likely enemies by both unless they declare strongly for one.

  6. Deal with HSI is everyone on island together so everything sticky geographically anyway and all consequences rebound more rapidly in closed environment.

    Bigger the environment, more spaces between agents, longer time needed for consequences to rebound.

    Golden Duck was designed this way. Evee agent has reason to be interested in the PCs. Each can offer something and each can be dangerous. No one knows each other and everyone has reason to be suspicious. Plays out in one building in a night rather than outside over days.

    Can 'nest' these situations inside each other and have different power balances at each scale for complex inter-reactions at each level.

    Kingdom level - Frog King and heron priests fighting, hedgehog Knights trapped in the middle. Frogs winning but if hedgehogs join heron priests they might win.

    This town of Frogs occupied by Herons, but things on edge as frog army approaching. Hedgehog keep is main strategic point.

    This Inn run by powerful Hedgehog, Frog drinking spot but hidden pacifist Heron ambassador needs help.

    PCs need to swear to aid frogs to cross territory, promise herons to be allies to enter town and play nice with Hedgehog innkeeper to get a room. Impossible to fulfill all loyalties if called on, but all have a reasonable moral claim. Each faction good/bad/neutral at different levels of situation. All levels interact with each other and consequences stick.

  7. I think the simplest forms of volatility are just a lever that the PCs can pull that will change the area significantly. Breaking a dam, finding the missing prince, releasing a zombie army, causing a fog that blots out the sun for a year, etc.