Hacking Entanglements

What have you done to mess around with Entanglements?

I’ve been messing around with them in tandem with the greater Faction Module(s) in my game. They seem like one of the most powerful tools for keeping the conversation and play going, but I really don’t know as I’ve only had a couple of fragmented one-off, two-off, three-off, etc. sessions.

How well do they work in your experience?

What do you think makes a good entanglement rule?

I’m wondering what exactly you can get away with and still have a powerful prompt strong enough to thrust narrative and play forward simultaneously. Here’s my attempt at writing a couple for the SOVEREIGN CHARTER, which is a faction playstyle wherein the goal is to rise up the ranks of an organization (trying to write the rules setting agnostic, but think airships):

Capture

COMPLICATIONS

SKIRMISH - An enemy of your organization is making a move and your superiors want your crew to take care of it. Stop them first or tick some clocks as a consequence.

OLD THREADS - An old rival or ally asks a favor. It could be a trap.

PALACE INTRIGUE - A power struggle in the organization has allowed for an opportunity. Two of your allies ask for help but you can only choose one.

FRENEMY - A rival within your organization asks you for aide.

REVELATION - New information on an old thread rears it head. Address it or let it go.

SHOW OF FORCE - Your organization has decided it is time to strike at one of their enemies. Answer the call or face the consequences .

NEW LEAD - A new lead from an acquaintance presents itself. It may be beneficial to your organization. Or it could be a trap.

LOST ASSETS - Precious assets have fallen into the wrong hands. Get them back or deal with the fallout.

EXCOMMUNICADO- Someone in the organization has gone rogue. Hunt them down or find out why.

OPEN SECRETS - Someone with sensitive information is threatening to go public. Find some way to shut them up.

SIDE-HUSTLE- Everyone has side hustles, even this outfit. One of them is about to bear fruit.

WHAT A TWIST - An ally or rival defects from their side.

SUDDEN DEATH - one of the leaders of the organization has died. There is much to discuss regarding succession.

ENDGAME - Two enemies make an uneasy alliance. Deal with it or be a part of it.

FALLING APART - Your rivals or enemies succeed at a major move. Deal with the fallout or show your cards.

No sure how to balance the table or if it’ll work, but I want to give players a sort of natural progression point for their campaigns that hopefully along with a simple faction sheet tracker will be powerful enough to help shape campaign structure without being too limiting or derivative. Would love your thoughts on if it’ll work or not!

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This is a strong start, Ray! I find Entanglements to be one of the most powerful tools in the FITD framework when it comes to communicating setting and you’ve got some pretty clear tone in these possibilities. I wouldn’t worry too much about creating a “balanced” table. Instead, I’d worry about creating interesting hooks for the fiction.

Here’s what I’ve done with Errant Deeds so far. As you can tell, the biggest change is that it’s not random!

  • Ancestral Omen: Someone’s ancestor arrives with a dire omen. If you
    have positive goodwill, a shrine warden helped you address the omen. If
    you have negative goodwill, you had to deal with it yourself.
  • Elf Trouble: An elf offered a twisted bargain. Tell us what you did:
    accept, hide until it lost interest (-2 notoriety), or something else.
  • Falling Out: Disgusted by your actions, one of your companions broke
    your Fellowship. They swore rivalry and joined another Faction.
  • Harsh Taxation: The people of your Claims suffered under their noble
    court. Take -1 goodwill and -1 notoriety, steal the taxes back (-1 status
    with nobility), or pay the villagers back from your own coffers (-3 xp).
  • Insult: One of your rivals publicly challenged the worthiness of your
    Deeds. Duel them or lose notoriety equal to the rival’s Rank.
  • Kin Shame: One of your companions acted out. Lose notoriety equal
    to your Rank or take -1 goodwill to repair the relationship.
  • New Rivals: A neutral faction wronged your Fellowship. Forfeit 1
    notoriety per Rank of the rival, or resist and lose 1 status with them.
  • Oath of Fellowship: One of your rivals sought to recant your rivalry.
    You accepted them as a companion, or you rejected them and gained
    notoriety equal to your Rank. Rejection lead to true enmity.
  • Reprisals: An enemy Faction took action against you or an ally. Ignore
    their affront and take -1 notoriety, or drive them back with a Deed.
  • Show of Force: A Faction with negative status made a play against one
    of your Claims. Give them the Claim or go to war (drop to -3 status).
  • Solidarity: A +3 status faction asked you for a favor. Agree to do it, or
    face a choice: forfeit notoriety equal to the faction’s Rank, or take -1
    status with the Faction. Ignore this if you didn’t have a +3 status faction.
  • Thicket: An elf lures one of the Errants into the wilds. Gain a folly
    from the encounter, or reject the elf’s lure and be cursed in return (level
    3 harm). You can seek providence for either of these consequences.

I’m operating on two core principles for “what makes a good entanglements rule.”

  1. Does this push the story in interesting directions?
  2. Do players have a choice in the direction the story is pushed?

And as you’ll note, sometimes the players don’t have a choice in my mechanic! My intention is that as players learn the game, they’ll consider what outcomes they want from their Deeds and they’ll adjust their conduct accordingly.

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For Neon Black, my game about freelancers in a cyberpunk setting, entanglements are determined by the crew’s tier and wanted levels:

entanglement%20roll

The crew advances in tier when all the characters have filled rows of stash equal to or higher than the crew’s next tier. If the characters have more money, their tier increases. Wanted levels add dice to the pool, so if they’ve pissed off the corporations they are more likely to get noticed and have to deal with the fallout rather than worry about paying bills or hackers.

Almost half the potential results of entanglements are Bills. Your daily expenses or the needs of your community and friends have begun to accumulate and the characters make a roll to see how much money they need to spend. This is the most likely result for a low tier crew without wanted levels. In a world of late capitalism with no steady job, you are most likely to just keep losing money. I did this specifically to recreate what it feels like to be a struggling freelancer, to make the players think about money, and also to encourage the players to take riskier and better paying jobs.

’Net Problems can mean a few things, at the GM’s discretion. A virus or hacker might have found their way into the crew’s upgrades and temporarily disabled them, and the crew will need to hire a hacker or deal with the problem themselves. This reinforces the theme of the 'Net being connected to everything and how that is both a potential advantage and a consistent threat.

This entanglement can also mean that one of the city’s artificial intelligences has taken an interest in the crew. AI’s in Neon Black are powerful and strange, inspired by Neuromancer and Destiny. This could be a potential job, ally, or powerful enemy, and lets the GM and players explore that part of the game if they so desire. It’s a good way of suddenly upping the stakes or introducing a new story.

Rivals specifically calls out the enemies the crew has made, starting with the negative relationships the characters have in their playbooks. I’ve found in my experience with FitD games that the contacts can easily be lost among all the other things happening in the game. This entanglement helps to push those player decisions out in the open and lets the group explore those relationships, what they mean, and how they complicate the character’s lives.

Reprisals is simply an unfriendly faction sending thugs or operatives after the crew to harm them or someone in their community. They could be bought off or bribed with enough creds, but once you start completing jobs in Neon Black you’ll make enemies, and this is an easy way to bring that payback into the fiction.

Burned is one of my favourites. This was inspired by the Wanted Level 4 entanglement from Scum & Villainy. When a faction burns the crew they annihilate one of the crew’s assets (equivalent to a claim in BitD). In Neon Black the majority of factions are corporate, and the game pretty consistently tells you that they are run by the immoral, rich, and petty, with very little oversight. In cyberpunk fiction when you mess with megacorps long enough eventually they’ll just burn your entire life to the ground. This entanglement is also most likely with a high tier crew with multiple wanted levels, and thus would make sense in the fiction.

In my experience entanglements are a great way of highlighting side stories and characters, like the player’s contacts. They are a chance to explore parts of the setting that may not have gotten much screen time at the table. They are also a way of showing how the world “punches back” at the characters. Being at war with a faction is more than just not being able to do as many downtime activities, and entanglements let the GM introduce those complications.

I think a good entanglement rule is evocative of the setting and themes of the game, and lets the GM figure out how to implement it in the story of the game. BitD does this by giving multiple possibilities for many entanglements, letting the players figure out what works best for the story. If you just did whole thing with a bunch of ghosts, maybe you don’t want to have to deal with them anymore. Neon Black does this by giving the GM and players a few ways to interpret each entanglement, and centers the story around money, who has it, and what is does to you.

Looking over your work, your entanglements sure do feel like plot beats. Not necessarily tied to the actions of the crew, but they read as hooks the GM can use to keep the story moving forward in new and interesting ways. Very much like an episodic drama. It’s a very cool interpretation of the mechanic, and I think you’ve captured some real staple narrative devices. I initially worried there would be too much narrative whiplash as the crew bounced between palace intrigue and sudden death and back again at the whim of a dice, but giving the GM multiple beats to chose from should help keep the pacing.

I think you’ve definitely succeeded at your stated purpose. I don’t know if you’ll get a good read on where or how they all fit without just playing the game and seeing for yourself. Play and iterate, as John says.

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@Sohkrates - nice rules all around! I like the use of money as a controlling theme. I’m exploring a FREELANCE type charter myself with design goals of a hard early economy. I like how action oriented yours feels as well as the concentration down to powerful single words. It makes me feel like there’s going to be a lot of gang wars in this game both on virtual and real turf.

Your exploration of the rules are helping me understand them a little better too, but it seems today the understanding is drowning under the tidal wave of complexity…

@ZapDynamic

As you can tell, the biggest change is that it’s not random!

We’re messing with this as well. We’re doing an OR kind of denotation for the GM with an emphasis that they can choose whatever best suits the fiction. Hope that does something!

I love seeing you mess with alignment! I’m messing with that at the moment as well. So an interesting thing to me is the interaction between the words GOODWILL and NOTORIETY and their relationship with one another. Are they opposing? It seems like right now they’re both adjective markers for the crew as a whole, with both only going up. I think that directs the game towards a sort of Robin Hood esque vibe - is that what you were going for?


I’ve been messing with a cross kind of alignment thing tonight for the FREELANCE Game Charter. This is supposed to simulate a crew being out for themselves, I guess sort of like FIREFLY or the early space trucker stuff in THE EXPANSE. I think I also just want the bars to be filled up and not be subtracted or opposing one another.

…And after a night of tinkering I think I might be overthinking and I’m kind of burned out for today. Somewhere along the lines the relationship between each thing became kind of tangled and what was once simple is now complex.

Am I falling down the well?

A lot of interesting takes.

I’ve been experimenting with putting entanglements at the beginning of a score, still reflecting the outcome of the previous score (so obviously you skip the first one). I feel like it makes more thematic sense in Asphalt and Trouble, since half the battle is traveling to where you need to go. The entanglements are the encounters you have along the way.

I also have it split up in tables by wanted (threat) level. The higher the threat level, the more corporate blockades you’ll find, instead of just running into other gangs.

It’s also tied into Turf, which has a higher focus on A&T. Turf is connected by Open Road. The more Turf you have, the more Open Road, which improves your roll. To get to your score, on a high roll, you’ll be passing through more territory you control. On a low roll, you’ll be passing through rivals’ territory.

There’s no way to get more Turf or change your threat level during downtime, so the roll would be the same if done before or after downtime.

So far I’ve had limited playtesting of this. The biggest concern is mechanically interfering with the engagement roll. Before a score, now you’re rolling two different things, even if there’s a short scene between them. I’m considering switching the roll to the payoff phase, then having the actual action take place before the next score, just to split it up.

I don’t have any nicely formatted tables or anything, or is post them to show how it works.