Mechanic for Player-introduced Twists. Has this been done?

Neurotrash's picture

So I have a fantasy PbtA hack that, for the most part, follows the usual move structure. However, one of the moves I created for the Thief playbook is the following:

Check off each one the first time you need access to it. You automatically have it.

  • A safehouse where they won't find you
  • Free passage on a pirate vessel
  • A secret way in past the guards
  • The secret password
  • Knowledge of a secret passage
  • A favor owed by a local gang
  • An old flame who has what you need
  • You paid one of them off beforehand

(There are boxes next to each to check off)

It’s inspired by the way Blades in the Dark handles flashbacks and load and such, but I think it simplifies and compresses that idea down in a unique way.

I’m considering basing a game around this idea – that characters’ “powers” are entirely meta-fictional - things you check off as you play that allow you to introduce twists and aspects into the shared imaginary space. This might not be the entirety of the game - I’m considering having various other mechanical aspects of the character, traditional or otherwise, to interact with a dice-based task resolution system. This would be a major part of a play, though.

Different classes/playbooks would have different lists of “twists” to choose from. There would also be ways of “clearing” checks and maybe gaining new “twists” as a character advanced.

Has anyone done this already? Any inherent problems/road bumps to avoid with this idea?

(Obviously, this is going to be a very “no-myth”, improv-based, director-stance kind of story game, so any criticisms of immersion-breaking and such need not be raised.)

Aik's picture

Trollbabe has something similar - if you fail a roll, you can reroll by ticking off a box. The options are a carried object, a found item, a sudden ally, a remembered spell, and a geographic feature - and then narrate how that thing allows you to reroll.

For pitfalls - sometimes there's that uncomfortable moment where players really stretch the thing to try and fit when the situation doesn't make sense for what they're trying to achieve, and there can generally be a 'well, I want to reroll - how can I contort a geographic feature into helping me here?' moment that breaks the flow of things. Generally it's a neat mechanic though.

Jeff's picture one of my working versions of House of Spiders, if I’m understanding what you mean correctly. It isn’t the main engine by any stretch; it’s only part of an ancillary sub-system. I think a few games do things somewhat similar, but I think you should give it a shot and see if what you come up with works and is interesting.

The HoS mechanics don’t work anything like the Trollbabe mechanics that Aik discribed. Mine are much more about producing narrative outcomes that shape the story in ways that mirror aspects of the characters’ archetypes.

Paul T.'s picture and when you want this mechanic to be brought into play.

In what situations would it be *great* if a player used it? In what situations might it be unwelcome?

If you have a meaningful answer, try to formulate the "move" in a way which gives you that effect.

Do you want it to be when the character's in deep trouble? Or, inversely, after they achieved a strong victory? Or, perhaps, it can only be used when confiding in a loved one?

Neurotrash's picture

I'm no longer looking at this as a "move" in the Pbta sense, but a generalized mechanic for any situation (there would still be a dice mechanic of some kind, but this would compliment/supersede that.) I don't think the game will even be Pbta, as I've been digging the Forged in the Dark paradigm lately...

So, yeah, I'm looking at them as one of the primary ways of dealing with obstacles...basically replacing "class abilities".

@Jeff, where can I find House of Spiders? I just googled "House of Spiders RPG" and didn't find anything.

komradebob's picture

I like the general concept. I've seen similar things in some LARP designs and even some demi-RPG miniatures games.

I guess the big thing questions I'd have are: when do those refresh, do you start with all of them, and can you have more than one of the same category?

Jeff's picture

...but I’ve thought about and created similar mechanics to these in some of my design iterations of it, so if you want to discuss approaches to doing so and how they could work in your game I can give you some ideas.

You could also look at games like Dream Askew, Dream Apart, & Girl Underground. These games aren’t doing the same thing that you are doing, or using precisly the same design tech, but their designs might give you ideas because they have similar aspects and their approach might be useful.

Neurotrash's picture

...of where my idea currently is.

I checked out Dream Askew/Dream Apart and there are some pretty cool ideas in there. I really like the give and take of performing "negative" moves to pay for future "positive" moves. I can see eventually incorporating that into this design in some way...or maybe something more like TSoY Key mechanics...right now, I'm just thinking a PbtA "uncheck a box when you roll a miss" kind of thing. Or a combination.

Neurotrash's picture

When you declare that your character attempts to do something, explain exactly how you plan on doing it and either:

Mark an applicable TWIST and explain how that turns out.
The GM will give you zero to five of the following conditions:
• It will take time.
• You’ll need __________.
• Before you can do it, ___________.
• You’ll have to give up your ____________.
• The best you can do is ____________.
• You’ll risk ___________.

When you risk ___________, roll a ten-sided die. Before you roll, you can add an extra die for every applicable TRAIT BOX you check. If at least one die comes up seven or higher, you avoid ____________. If all the dice come up six or lower, you can unmark a TRAIT BOX or a TWIST.

Obviously, it's based on the RITUAL move in DW (although I believe there's something like that in original AW, but I don't feel like digging around for it) but I don't know if I've seen that used as the basis for a general resolution mechanic.

There's a built in assumption that the action will (eventually) succeed, but "You will risk __________________" could easily be filled in with "shot full of arrows before reaching your target" or "not making it to the other side of the pit and falling to your doom".

Probably needs some GM advice on exactly how to use it, but it sort of negates the need for MC least at first glance. I'm still thinking out the ramifications and drawbacks.

Neurotrash's picture

GM Twists - These would be on a sheet the GM has to check off when this happens. They can't be unchecked. Once this happens once in a campaign, it never happens again. A way to avoid over-use of cliches and player de-protagonization.

GM TWISTS (To be used only once each)

  • The Characters are betrayed by someone they trust
  • The characters are actually working for the villain
  • A Character is supernaturally forced to do something
  • This creature can’t be harmed by any means the Characters currently have access to
  • The villain has access to an unexpected escape route/plan.
  • A character’s loved one/friend/pet/etc. is kidnapped offscreen
  • The information the PCs are acting on is completely false
  • The villain the characters are trying to stop is actually on their side
  • It was all a dream/you’re hallucinating/it’s a magical illusion
  • The characters wake up in strange surroundings without knowing how they got here


One might argue that some or all of these shouldn't be used even once in a campaign, but...that's a discussion.

(And obviously waking up without memory or being forced to do something, or anything else triggering would be X-cardable...characters don't have to consent to what is happening, but players should always be able to say "No".)

komradebob's picture

I think it would be an interesting exercise to simply brainstorm as many as you can think up for the style of a given campaign. Could that be a part of campaign prep? Create or choose say, 25 GM Twists to create list?

How long would a campaign be assumed to last? Could that create problems in outstripping the Gm twists if it's a super long/never ending type deal?

Neurotrash's picture

I really like the idea of making a list as a form of campaign prep...that could also answer your second question. Choosing a number of GM Twists is based on the intended length of the campaign...

One-shot? 3-5 Twists?
Year Long, Weekly Game? 10-20 Twists?

Maybe as a rule of thumb (needs to be play-tested first) you have 3+ the number of intended sessions?

Or I just brainstorm a bigger list (25? 50?) and add a rule of "only one GM Twist per session".

Q: What if you play more than 50 sessions?

A: Finish up and play a different game, I guess? Use your Twists more judiciously? Erase all your marks and start over?

Paul T.'s picture

The Ritual move is derived directly from the "workspace" rules in Apocalypse World.

Some people consider the "workspace" rules to be the most fundamental "move" in AW.

(#The more you know!)

Neurotrash's picture

(Sorry for the delay, I've been distracted)

Yes! Thanks Paul. I knew it was originally from AW, but I'm not super familiar with AW. I have it, but I've never played it. All my PBTA actual play experience is with Dungeon World.

I am fully aware this is a handicap. :)

I was digging around looking for the original but couldn't find it (I didn't remember what it was called, and I didn't try particularly hard). Damn there's a lot of playbooks in AW...So thanks!

But yeah, that move (and the moves in other games that evolved from it), when simplified, pretty much encapsulates what is basically going on between GMs and Players during play, on a really fundamental level. I did a brief dissection of the original move, and yeah, all the conditions in the original move map to the three general conditions in my design.


You mention some people consider it to be the fundamental move (I tend to agree, or at least it's ground-breaking piece of design hidden away in the corner of a single playbook.) Do you have any links to where this has been discussed? The more perspectives I can get on what I'm working with, the better.


Do you have any links

Paul T.'s picture

I think that most of that discussion happened on G+, which means it's not accessible anymore.

But do consider that you can effectively construct the workspace move from the MC moves!

That makes it fairly "basic", I think, in the architecture of the game.

Neurotrash's picture

I don't think there's anything in Workshop that isn't present in the rest of the game,'s basically a matter of presentation.

I like how Workshop formalizes the language around the exchange between MC and player. It also assumes success, assuming the player meets the requirements. It normalizes (and makes explicit) the idea that the conversation is about, "what are you willing to do, and what are you willing to risk?" rather than, "Can you make this roll?"

Tod's picture

I like the idea a lot. I'd just say that, given the amount of narrative muscle I see in such a list, I immediately start thinking of it as either a GM prep tool, a chargen tool, or a core mechanic of the task resolution system. In other words, I think it produces such a strong state-space as to be regarded on the level of core mechanics, which of course reifies the narrative form into a sort of meta-game.

Question: In the "current resolution mechanic" post there's mention of a "TWIST." Is there a general list of twists, or is there a "Twist List" particular to each character class, or...?

Neurotrash's picture

exactly what list you're referring to in the last post. Not that you're being hard to follow, it's just that I've just posted three different ideas in this thread and they all contained lists, so it's hard to identify which one you're referring to.

If it's the original post, that's evolved into my "TWISTS" mechanic. Yes, there is a specific list for each playbook, but there are a couple of twists that everyone has access to.

If it's the last thing I posted about the GM twists, that's pretty much been discarded (or at least put on the back-burner).

The middle thing (the resolution mechanic) is the core mechanic. I've altered it a bit (you'll see) but yeah, those two things:

1. The Resolution Mechanic (based on Workshop, generalized to cover anything)

2. The Twist Mechanic - A list things the player is allowed to "impose" on the story by just checking the box

...are currently the whole game. I think there might be some confusion (I'm not specifically talking about you, I'm currently discussing this here, at the Gauntlet, and at that this is a PbtA game because I'm basing the Twists on a move from my Dungeon World hack, but this is not PbtA. There are no moves. Obviously, there's a lot of inspiration from PbtA (and BitD, and Fate, and Dream Askew) but it's definitely not PbtA.

I posted a link to the current skeleton of the rules and a few of the (partially finished) playbooks a few posts up, or you can just click


But yeah, "reifying the narrative form into a meta-game" is exactly what I'm going for!

Neurotrash's picture

I also wanted to ask how you saw it being used as a chargen or GM prep tool.

I hadn't thought of it in those terms, and I'd be interested in how you saw it being utilized in those ways.

Tod's picture

Oh, I don't have any specific ideas. My impression was based on the scope I inferred from your descriptions. Sorta like knowing just by looking at it that a backhoe is for digging swimming pools and trenches, not planting flowers.

Neurotrash's picture

I made a lot of changes today.

The link above still works, or you can click HERE.

I changed the overall economy that covers Twists, made some major alterations to the central resolution mechanic. Some other tweaks.

Still needs to be play-tested. I'll post more as I do that.

Edit (6-21): Play-tested. Most of the changes yesterday didn't hold up. Made some more changes. (see link above)

DeReel's picture

As a player I am afraid the cost the GM might ask can make the power of twists vary too much. I'd rather be sure of a fixed (narrative) cost than give my card number like this. Co-GMing is not only something you give the players, it's something the GM has got to let go. Okay, the GM has principles to follow. But I experience that "shoulds" are weak in practice.

(Feedback on the editing : I like the simple and clear layout. You can add direction by altering it slightly : dent it to indicate grittiness, add a vegetal motive for elf land theme, etc. The advantage / disadvantage lines are too high. For "other stuff" I like a map with a list of contacts, so the character is symbolucally put in relation to the world.)

Neurotrash's picture

No matter how much I try to discard traditionalist inclinations and embrace player agency, I always find myself trying to insert some kind of GM authority safety-net. It's a bad habit I keep falling into.

I'm gonna get rid of the GM caveats. If the players are already spending points, there doesn't need to be an additional cost. Or I might make the costs binary, and have the player able to put in a caveat for the cheaper price...I'll play around with that.

Good idea on the character map idea, too!