Threats and Escalating Tension

Threats and Escalating Tension #

This subsystem is about plans, schemes, and events laid by major or minor characters and groups.

Scale and Impact #

The events in question being tracked are called Threats. When including this system, consider the scale of the threat in question, as well as how big an impact it has on the targets.

Small Scale, Small Impact #

This kind of threat is usually a fairly small situation, probably with impact on the PCs in particular.


Examples #

Liminal Void #

The PCs’ current ship was formerly an emergency shuttle from a mining colony that got destroyed in a horrible accident, assuming the company would have written off everything already. Unbeknownst to them, the company had instead put out an all-points bulletin to have the colony’s shuttles returned or reimbursed. They’ll have to either get the serials changed, pay off the ship via debt, or fence it to get another.

Small Scale, Large Impact #

This kind of threat impacts one or a few people in particular, but in a very major way.


Examples #

Liminal Void #

A friend of someone on the crew is wanted by one of the major corporations for crimes they may or may not have committed. Their face is all over various security bulletins, and any automatic facial scanners in more corporate ports will likely flag them for arrest and detainment if they’re seen in public…but unless they help, they’ll have to risk it to survive.

Large Scale, Small Impact #

This kind of threat impacts a lot of people in a small way. (This could escalate to a larger impact later, however.)


Examples #

Valiant Horizon #

Under the new Emperor, the Empire is expanding greatly, and is making plans to capture and hoard crystals at a significant rate to fuel their machines. At first, this just means that surrounding villages will have their devices start to fail, making things harder for them day-to-day. This could have a heavier impact as time goes on: monsters will venture closer to villages as they run low on the means to keep them at bay.

Large Scale, Large Impact #

This kind of threat impacts a lot of people in a major way.


Examples #

Machinations of Court and Frame #

House Montrant is aiming to entirely betray their current allies, turning the tide of a major conflict and possibly threatening certain other Houses’ existence.

Components of a Threat #

A Threat needs an Outcome and Conditions.

Outcome and Threshold #

The Outcome is what kind of event happens when the threat manifests. This is where the scale and impact are decided.

  • Smaller Impact Threats have Outcomes that are easily reversible, are minor setbacks, or aren’t that big a deal right now but could be later.
  • Larger Impact Threats have Outcomes that are deadly, hard to reverse, or are major setbacks.

You should also set the Threshold when you determine the Outcome. This indicates the length of approximate narrative time or actions before the threat manifests.

  • Smaller Scale/Impact Threats typically have Threshold 10-15. (~3-5 average instances of Tension increase.)
  • Larger Scale/Impact Threats typically have Threshold 15-20. (~5-7 average instances of Tension increase.)

Conditions and Tension #

Conditions are the kinds of activities or events that advance the threat, the kinds of activities that mitigate the threat, and possibly the kinds of things that can be done to cancel it before it becomes a problem. This is a good time to decide whether the Outcome and Conditions are public or secret - you should keep the Tension and Threshold public, however. This is a tool for creating tension, not surprise. (You can switch from secret to public as well for either of those as more information is revealed.)

When an event happens, it adds Tension. It’s expected that Tension typically goes up by Mid Die on an average narrative increment, but based on those Conditions, that can go up or down. When that Tension is greater than the Threshold, the Outcome happens.

  • Smaller Scale/Impact Threats usually just have a concept of what triggers a Tension increase, possibly with conditions for either Low Die for less Tension or High Die for more Tension than usual, as well as simple actions that would prevent the outcome altogether.
  • Larger Scale/Impact Threats have all of the above. It’s typically harder to prevent them entirely, and sometimes hard to even see exactly what’s transpiring until it happens.

Examples #

Liminal Void #

In the case of the crew’s shuttle being flagged:

  • The Outcome is that their ship gets impounded or prevented from leaving port until it’s cleared. Threshold 10 seems appropriate, as this is a fairly reversible setback.
  • Conditions for advancement include docking in well-traveled ports or being in areas with a lot of cameras or scanners. It can be mitigated through obscuring methods like drive signature modification and repainting or canceled by finding ways to change the ship’s serial number, fencing it, or paying the company back for it.
  • If the shuttle is still reachable by corporate communications, the crew might have received a message informing them of the situation. Otherwise, it might be secret: they might only find out in character when they dock in the wrong place.

In the case of the crew’s friend being on the run from the law:

  • The Outcome is that their friend could be imprisoned or killed. Threshold 20 is good for this: right now they’re hiding out, but it won’t last forever if they have to exit hiding to go about their business, and the penalty could be massive.
  • Conditions for advancement are based on time, as well as the amount of unfinished business that the friend will try to attend to. Tension rolls can be mitigated by doing their business for them: gathering food, paying their bills, doing their dirty work. However, if the crew does it poorly (like being obvious about who they’re doing business for or making a big scene in general) it could make the Tension roll worse instead (High Die instead of Low). It can be canceled by either pinning the crimes on someone else or finding some other way to exonerate them.
  • This one is obviously not secret if the crew knows about it enough to act on it.

Valiant Horizon #

In the case of the imperial crystal acquisition:

  • The Outcome is that villages on the periphery will suffer outages. However, this could easily lead to a second Threat being established as noted above. Given the outcome is relatively small and mostly leads to a second step, Threshold 15 seems right.
  • The condition for advancement is simply time; every interval passed causes another roll. Finding/raiding sources and distributing them to others can mitigate this, and causing a bottleneck in the process can mitigate it for a long period of time. If the Empire were to put expansion plans on hold, it would be canceled entirely.
  • This one isn’t intended to be a secret, it’s pretty out in the open.

Machinations of Court and Frame #

In the case of House Montrant’s betrayal:

  • The Outcome is that in the next big conflict, there will be a massive reversal to the House’s allies: their plans will be completely revealed and their supply lines will be cut short, and they will suffer a heavy defeat. This is something that would require a lot of setup: Threshold 20, or maybe even 25, sounds right.
  • The conditions for advancement here are based on the number of things that House Montrant is dipping their toes into. Every time they are responsible for helping their allies do something, it should advance. The more helpful and essential the House is for that task, the higher the die used for Tension. This means PCs who are trying to counteract it will have to find ways to minimize Montrant’s importance: establish other supply lines, create new alliances, cut off Montrant’s influence, etc. They won’t be able to cancel the betrayal without tangible proof of it, but if PCs isolate Montrant enough prior, the GM should rule that the betrayal isn’t as damaging or is basically mitigated.
  • This one starts secret, but can become revealed if PCs probe into coincidences, oddities, etc. or if someone who finds out tells them.