Running the game
In this chapter, I'll present orientations on how a group of players would go about running a Push-powered game. It's up to you how much of it you want to include in your game, but I'd suggest at least a bullet point list of the main steps detailed below.
As a GMless system, it's my belief that it benefits from a structured gameplay loop. Since there's no single authority figure to answer what happens next, the group can simply follow the steps in order and move the story forward by themselves. Here's how it works.
1. Roll on the matrix
After players are familiarized with the game pitch and the quest mission (and have their characters ready), they start to play by selecting a player to roll 2d6 on the Matrix for a random prompt. They read it aloud and the group together discuss what they think it means, painting the scene with a broad brush.
Everyone is ready to play our first session of Relics of Danoria, so I roll on the Matrix and read "The depths of the Pearl Valley". We talk a little and determine that our adventure starts en route as we learned of a possible location of the King's daughter, which requires traversing the Pearl Valley. We've been on the road for a while, so it's probably the first hours of the evening when we arrive at said location.
2. Establish a challenge
Every scene needs a challenge to be overcome, no matter how intimate or epic it is. You may be helping a friend fight their inner demons, or you may be fighting an actual demon. Sometimes a prompt instantly sparks an idea for a challenge, sometimes players have to talk it out. The best way to approach it is by answering the following questions:
- What do we want here? - What's standing in our way?
If players are stuck at finding a challenge, they can pick one (or roll 2d6) on the table below:
Table 05 - Challenge Type
|1. BARRIER||1. CONTEST|
|2. TASK||2. MYSTERY|
|3. FIGHT||3. NEGOTIATION|
|4. TRAP||4. ENDURANCE|
|5. CHASE||5. THREAT|
|6. DEBATE||6. PUZZLE|
Players can mix and match challenges (solving a puzzle during a fight is a personal favorite) and work out how they look together. It might be a good idea to review the agenda for this quest and see if they can frame a challenge that offers the opportunity to achieve one of those goals.
We quickly decide this will be an endurance challenge. The Pearl Valley reflects the full moon on all surfaces, and such magic brightness makes it impossible for travelers to sleep here, so we have to soldier on throughout the night. Now if we want to answer the two questions:
What do we want here?
Cross the Pearl Valley safely
What's standing in our way?
The disorienting glow of the pearly walls
3. Frame the scene
Now it's time to bring this scene to life. Players can pick one element (or roll 2d6 ) from the table below to add to the scene's description.
Table 06 - Descriptions
|1. Smells and sounds||1. Materials and texture|
|2. Colors and sights||2. Impression or opinion|
|3. People and creatures||3. Posture and attitude|
|4. Weather and nature||4. Light and time|
|5. Mood and atmosphere||5. Camera angles|
|6. Ornaments and details||6. Actions and movement|
Anything from two to four descriptions should suffice for a scene. Make sure different players get to contribute with the details.
We decide to roll for our descriptions. One player gets "weather and nature" so they say it's a cold, windy night, and there's no sign of vegetation, just the shiny rocks above and around us. A second player gets "camera angles" so they describe the scene as seen first from above, like a drone shot, showing how small our party looks while they push against the wind in this gleaming desert valley.
4. Perform your actions
This is the core step of the loop. It starts with the group asking themselves, "Ok, what should we do?" Each player then, one by one, describes how their character helps them overcome the challenge. Not all actions need to be directly geared towards the challenge, though—players are also invited to aid their allies and perform secondary actions at will.
Players must make sure everyone gets a chance to be in the spotlight, inviting each other to the action by asking, "What do you do?" They are encouraged to roleplay other people they might encounter as they keep adding to the description of the scene, and interpreting how the world around them reacts to their actions.
When choosing what to do, players can look at their character traits for inspiration. Traits are a roleplaying guide to inform (but not limit) what characters could/would/should do in any given circumstance. It's also a good idea to keep the agenda in mind and look for opportunities to incorporate them into the scene. If a player is not sure their character is able to do something, they can ask the group or the Oracle.
This is the step in which dice rolls are made. Remember it is a player decision first, a group decision second, and an Oracle decision last whether an action requires a roll or not.
From the characters' actions, complications and threads to follow will stem. The story will unfold naturally from here. Players can keep performing their actions as long as they're invested in the scene, taking turns being the protagonist when they're in the spotlight, and offering support when the others are.
We start crossing the valley, so one player declares they're casting a spell to create a shade over their eyes. They want to roll for it and end up getting a complication. The group decides the spell is successful, but it attracts the attention of some creatures that reveal their heads through the cracks in the walls. Great! We have a new threat to deal with. I look at my character sheet and remember I have a "Snow Hawk" as my Charm. I also check the agenda and read "Make a new ally" and I think this might be a good opportunity. So instead of attacking the creatures, I'll send my Snow Hawk as our ambassador to try and get the creatures to our side.
5. Check the Oracle
Every time they need to ask a question regarding the world, the situation, their powers, or anything else, they may follow the procedures to check the Oracle and get a Yes or No answer.
If they feel the scene is over and the challenge is overcome (or no longer relevant), they can decide so and move on. If they're not sure if it's resolved yet, they should ask the Oracle.
When a scene is done, players cross that prompt out from the Matrix.
We are not sure if my Snow Hawk can communicate with other creatures, so we ask the Oracle and we get a Yes! Cool, I invite some other players to describe what the hawk sees when it flies up to the creatures. The scene continues with other characters taking their actions and interacting with the world around us. After a while, we believe the scene has nothing more to give, so we decide the challenge is overcome and the scene is over. Now we have a few mountain salamanders following us along the journey. We cross "The depths of the Pearl Valley" out from the Matrix.
6. Start over
Now the loop starts over. If the previous scene offered a clear path on what they should do next, players can even skip the roll on the Matrix (or perhaps just use it for additional flavor). If not, they can go back to step 1 and roll for a new prompt (or pick one that catches their eyes).
We have no idea what to do next, so we go back to step 1, and we are about to roll on the table again. But one player is willing to interact with other people, so they suggest we pick the "Brothers on the run" prompt instead of rolling. We agree, so we are ready to start framing our next scene.
Players repeat this loop until they feel it's time to finish the story. The last scene may be their final confrontation to reach their mission's goal, their journey back home, their first step towards a new adventure, or something else completely that no one expected when they first started playing.
Whatever it is, it should come from a collective agreement that they're already satisfied with what the story has provided. The quest matrix offers 36 potential scenes, but it's up to the group to decide how many of them they use for a mission. An adventure may last a single session or span over multiple days.
Rewards and advancement
After the mission is complete, players earn their rewards. Since characters have no stats, rewards (and therefore advancement) are done through new traits.
The idea is simple: characters should get a number of new traits based on how much of the agenda the group fulfilled. The exact amount is up to you., the game designer, but here's a general idea.
If your agenda has 6 goals, each player is rewarded:
- 1 new trait if the group achieves 1-2 goals
- 2 new traits if the group achieves 3-4 goals
- 3 new traits if the group achieves 5-6 goals
Adjust this number to your taste, or leave it up entirely to the players—they can make a judgment call based on their performance. Remember: traits don't have mechanical effects, so it's not like they will break the game.
New traits feel more relevant if they derive from the adventure they just finished. What skills did they learn? What artifacts did they find? What new beliefs do they have? The group should take some time updating their character sheets and talking about their new traits. It's also an opportunity to rewrite or tweak any old traits they feel need adjustments.
alternative: UPGRADING traits
If you prefer, you can offer an alternative reward. Instead of creating new traits, a player can choose to spend their advancement upgrading an existing trait. They come up with an improved version of a trait and share with the group what it is now capable of. They can rewrite the upgraded trait to show its new ability, or draw a little star next to it if that makes them feel good.
One of the players had a "Crystal Spear" as a trait and chose to upgrade it during advancement, saying "After I got hit by that lightning bolt, now my spear is capable of electrocuting foes. Behold the 'Crystal Electrospear!'"
What happens after they finish their first mission? They may decide that's it, and want to play something else (or even make their own game, perhaps?). If they want to embark on a new quest, here are some alternatives.
- Continue from where they stopped. It is likely that a single mission won't go over all prompts from a Matrix. If they are still invested in some of those unused prompts, they can recycle the Matrix and start a new mission using it. You, as the designer, may offer a mission generator and some extra prompts if you want to.
- A new quest entirely. Players might feel they want to explore something completely different. In that case, you could provide more quests within your game for them to play, or a template with some guidance on how they'd go about creating a quest of their own.
Whatever the case, players are free to use the same characters or come up with new ones. If they choose the latter, they are allowed to use their rewards from the previous adventure for the new character instead.
A note on character death
Since Push-powered games do not have trackable resources such as hit points, stress, or conditions, there's no mechanical way to tell when a character should die. In fact, character death should be an option only if the player is invested in this specific storyline. In other words, your character only dies if you say "I think my character should die now".