Ten Favorite Mechanics #5 – Franchise Dice & Stress from InSpectres


#5 – Franchise Dice & Stress from InSpectres

In 2002, InSpectres made tasty hamburger from a lot of sacred cows. Along with a whole new way of creating mysteries, and encouraging player interest and investment in each others’ characters through the use of the confessional, InSpectres also threw everything we thought we knew about advancement out the window.

InSpectres characters never get better. If they’re lucky, they might score some Cool dice, but those can vanish just as easily. Instead of each player being invested in the relentless upgrade of their character’s scores, InSpectres invests the players’ hopes for greater capability in the game in exactly the same place that the characters have invested their hopes, dreams, and 401(k)s: The Franchise.

Did you score a big payoff? The franchise gets more dice and you get to describe how things around the office improve. Maybe a new coat of paint, maybe a refurbished ectoplasmic containment unit. Did the mission go south and you spent more dice than you earned? The franchise loses dice and you describe what the downward slide looks like. Maybe the cool ghost hunting van gets repossessed, maybe a pink slip for the quirky secretary.

On this level alone, it’s a brilliant way of writing teamwork directly into the system. Everyone is part of the franchise, so they all want it to succeed. And since success comes from the individual efforts of the PCs (both mechanically and fictionally), everyone needs to pitch in to make that happen. If this were the only function of the franchise, it’d be good, solid, innovative design.

But InSpectres adds a twist that puts it over the top. Franchise dice aren’t used only to buy cool stuff for the office and do well during missions. They are the only things that heal the debilitating stress the PCs accrue from their missions. Want to heal that sprained ankle or free yourself from the Curse of Nyuckhotep? All you need to do is take dice out of the franchise to do it.

This sets up a tension between group goals and individual goals that really makes the game hum. Bigger missions mean bigger payoffs for the franchise, but also more chances for characters to get hurt. Games where players both want and don’t want something can sometimes lead to analysis paralysis or creative disengagement if it becomes an internal tug-of-war. InSpectres has two further wrinkles that keeps it from these fates:

  1. Stress is fairly random, but self-reinforcing. Exactly who ends up taking stress penalties and who becomes nearly immune from them is usually determined by the first or second stress die roll. As the game progresses, those who did poorly on the early stress roll usually continue to soak up penalties. Those penalties also limit their ability to earn franchise dice for the mission. This usually sets up a dynamic where many of the players are in need of franchise dice to heal their stress, and a few are stress-free. This puts some players on one side of the tug-of-war, and other players on the other.
  2. The CEO decides. It is up to whomever plays the CEO character to hand out franchise dice to reduce stress. This short-circuits the possibility of endless arguments between players about the best way to distribute resources. Instead, that conflict is driven down to the characters, who can snipe at one another for being freeloaders, or sell-outs, or what-have-you, in a way that drives the story forward.

Up next: Worth a thousand worlds … er, words.


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