One of the my favorite new game mechanics in Perilous/Freebooters is DURATION.

One of the my favorite new game mechanics in Perilous/Freebooters is DURATION.

One of the my favorite new game mechanics in Perilous/Freebooters is DURATION. As a reminder, duration is a “resource” that defines how long an effect or condition lasts. A Cleric’s blessing might have a duration of 1. A Magic-user’s spell might have a duration of 2. Duration is elapsed one “unit” at a time as a GM move. This is analogous to the orthodox Dungeon World move: “Use up their resources.” I place glass beads of a particular color into the central dice tray for duration effects and then remove them one by one until the effect ends.

I have a question about how other GMs might handle the moment of expiration for duration effects. I’ll set up an example first:

Jessoc the Figher uses Mettle to inflict the condition of “Stunned” with duration of 1+INT (=1 in this case) on her opponent, a Brigand. Another of the Brigands, enraged by Jessoc’s success, charges in with blood in his eyes. Jessoc turns, swinging her sabre to foil the oncomer, but… oops… rolls a 4. The GM takes this opportunity to “expire” the duration 1 “Stunned” effect and the first Brigand snaps out of his daze.

Jessoc sighs with relief. She has only a few HP left and the damage from that attack might have been fatal.

Now the question.

After making GM move concludes, the GM will normally turn to the players and ask, “What do you do?” This finds the player in a favorable position. With one roll they can deal damage, make an escape, change the story. But this doesn’t feel right to me after expiring duration. The “redirection” of the failed roll to expire the effect served as a kind of unexpected “buffer”—a secondary benefit on top of the obvious primary benefit that an opponents was stunned and out of the action for some time.

Instead, I feel that it should possibly be the GMs prerogative, after expiring a duration effect during combat, to ask the player to Make a Saving Throw (aka Defy Danger). Jessoc escaped the immediate damage but must now act quickly as both charge in.

Maybe she’ll succeed and then carry on the attack. Maybe not…

What are your thoughts?

PS: Yes, my players are learning to stack up such effects, forming multi-layer “duration shields” to absorb their failures! I would probably like to discuss what happens when duration is expired by failures outside of combat as well.

23 thoughts on “One of the my favorite new game mechanics in Perilous/Freebooters is DURATION.”

  1. I love that this explicitly reminds the GM to treat things like that as a resource, though some of us remembered to do it some of the time.

    My two cents: only have those things expire on a per-move basis if they are npc conditions. Player conditions should require the DD roll to shake off.

  2. I don’t know if the effect of the stun expiration you have described is by design, but I find it perfectly satisfactory. The player took a risk to inflict the stunned condition and succeeded, they were then met by another danger which they faced and failed, but the previous stun has given them an opening (and an opening which fictionally makes sense to me). If you had them defy danger as soon as the stun wore off then they will have got practically no benefit from it (in the situation you have described anyways – you may have elided some time where there was a benefit). “You engage in combat with the brigand but are unable to land an effective blow, you glance over and see the stunned brigand shake themselves out of it and advance towards you as well. What do you do?” seems pretty congruent to me.

    In addition, you as the GM, were the one who created the opening for the stun to work that way. Instead of ticking down the duration you could have had the second brigand just deal damage, or knock the PC over, or any number of other things. If your players are creating conditions as buffers, just don’t tick down duration and make a different hard move – you are perfectly entitled to do that.

    Thirdly, even if the player has the opportunity to act, they still have to deal with the fact they are now acting in the face of two brigands, when before they would have been acting in the face of one. This is a definite disadvantage from a fictional positioning perspective, and puts them at risk of a greater amount of damage if they choose to attack, or if they fail to escape.

    If everyone at your table is happy with it working the way you would prefer then that’s cool, but it does actually mean you are making two GM moves in a row without giving the player a chance to respond. Personally I don’t like that, it cuts against the core structure of the game, but if it works at your table then that’s cool.

  3. Love the use of 1+INT to create a stun counter!

    I tend to think that marking off a duration is a sufficient move on its own, but for me that last tick usually brings with it an immediate related consequence.

    When you mark the last point of a torch, the party is plunged into darkness, which is a negative consequence of relying upon the torch; when you mark the last point of the brigand’s stun duration, you might say, “you parry the second guy’s blow, but suddenly that first brigand is on you from behind, his arm around your throat and one hand grabbing your sword hand. Looks like he recovered quickly from that blow to the head. What do you do?”

    Which is to say, when a duration grants a boon and that boon runs out, it leaves a void into which danger may immediately flow, like a bubble popping under pressure. It’s “use up their resources” and “put someone in a spot” rolled into one. I can see how this feels like two moves, though, and doesn’t jibe cleanly with the usual move sequence.

  4. a) Mark off duration as the fiction demands. This is not a “GM move” the way inflicting harm or taking away their stuff is, unless you think of it as a golden opportunity. The PCs spent the time, they lose the duration. It’s not on you to do this only when they roll a 6 or less, or to ignore other moves in order to do this.

    b) Mark off additional duration as a GM move in response to a 6 or less.

    A torch that lasts an hour only lasts an hour, after all. And of you drop it or bang it on things, don’t expect it to last that full hour. The same can be true for everything else, even spells.

  5. My concern with making two moves is situation like this:

    The party is fighting a pack of goblins in a small chamber lit only by the PC’s torch. A PC flubs a roll and the GM says the light goes out. If the GM can narrate an additional danger (i.e make a second move), what stops the GM saying “The torch fizzles out and the chamber is plunged into darkness. The goblins can see in the dark, you each take 4 damage as the goblins attack you in the dark”?

    To me, the obvious danger that flows from the torch going out is that you are now fighting in the dark – there’s no need for the GM to make a second move.

    Jason Lutes If the GM can say “the stun wears off, and the formerly stunned brigand is now grappling you”, why can’t they say “the stun wear off and the formerly stunned brigand shivs you from behind for 3 damage?”

  6. Jason Lutes

    > but for me that last tick usually brings with

    > it an immediate related consequence.

    I’m glad to hear you agree, Jason, that this “usually” feels right. This isn’t something I thought about until NOT bringing an immediate consequence felt wrong.

  7. I’d play it the way Johnstone Metzger suggested – time flows along with normal moves. It is not an exhaustible resource but an inevitability. Tick tock tick tock. If just make sure I’d announce it.

  8. Johnstone Metzger

    a) Mark off duration as the fiction demands.

    Absolutely, this too!

    I’ll mention that I’m also likely to “hack” a 7-9 result on FIGHT or SHOOT (or other moves) as a duration decrement, rather than inflicting whatever negative consequence might have come from the split.

  9. Dave Sealy, I was trying to say in my response that when a torch goes out, the darkness itself is sufficient consequence. When the stun wears off, the brigand is back in action, but just saying “the brigand shakes it off, what do you do?” might not feel active enough to push things forward. If the last tick of duration brings with it an immediate consequence, the players should be thinking, “Shit, the bandit’s only got 1 tick of stun left, someone take him out before he snaps out of it!”

    I would say the only thing keeping you from making a hard move (“you take 3 damage”) versus a soft one (“he grabs you”) is your judgement of the situation. Sometimes the hard move will be the right one. In this case it seems to me that Jessoc earned the buffer, so I’d go with the soft move. If the brigands have been established as vicious, efficient killers, the hard move might be the right choice.

    Johnstone Metzger’s advice is spot-on as well. I should note that I abstracted duration specifically to allow each play group its own interpretation. I wanted to bring in resource management without making people feel like they needed to track time in detail. I also imagine torches and the like being variable in their usage; one torch might last half an hour, another might last an hour.

    I ask players to mark off duration just as Johnstone says — when it makes sense in terms of time spent, and when the fiction demands — but I also do it regularly as a soft move, if it makes sense to do so.

  10. That I personally avoid because I want to minimize my own bookkeeping! But I would do it if it was something of which the PCs were completely unaware. Things like the lifespan of a torch, the degree to which a foe is stunned, or the length of a Cleric’s blessing/curse seem within the realm of character awareness to me.

    On a larger scale, I often use threads for “secret countdowns,” so I’m generally in favor of behind-the-scenes doom clocks, but I don’t want to have to track too many things.

  11. An additional comment because it reflects what others have stated:

    When you mark off duration as the fiction demands, notify the players. Whether you say every time you mark a tick or not, at the very least, tell them before any kind of state change happens and give them a chance to respond. “Hey, your torches are starting to gutter out. What do you do about that?”

    Also do this if you mark off duration as the fiction demands while other stuff is happening. A consequence from a hack and slash could well be “your torches go out” and nothing else, or it could be “the goblin stabs you for 1d6 damage, and hey also you notice your torch is starting to gutter out, looks like the fight started at a bad time. What do you do?”

    Or like, maybe the dark elves can tell when your Light spell is about to expire (magic elven senses!), and they ambush you at an opportune moment. You’ve got 2 problems at once: “your spell’s about to end and these elf jerks are shooting arrows. What do you do?” And then you’ve got the proper setup, response, and either follow-through or aftermath that this style of game calls for.

    i.e. In one sense, making a move on a 6 or less, or when a 7-9 calls for it, allows you to skip the part where you notify the player that consequences are about to occur, because the dice have already stated that they have failed to respond to something. So the move you make is to skip forward to consequences, be they getting stabbed or losing your light.

  12. Last night I tried attaching a soft move to duration downtick in almost all cases. This definitely feels better, and I’m sticking with it.

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