Managing a Living World with Flexible Reaction Rolls

Eric Koch
The title, and indeed, most of this post, are based on John Bell's excellent post, Managing a Living World Using Rumor Tables. Below, I present an idea to combine the thoughts in that post with my recent post on Flexible Reaction Rolls to get a dynamic way to manage things offscreen that the PCs may interact with.

I hate to be a cliche, but this idea literally came to me in the shower, though only in the form of "how might I smash together Flexible Reaction Rolls and John's method of using reaction rolls to change rumors?" I then went back to current draft of how to handle jobs the PCs have been offered but passed up and saw a note to consider treating them like Usage Dice. I then had to noodle a bit on what each die would represent, and the below is what I came up with. All this might be way too fiddly, as I haven't had a chance to try it out in play yet.

Status of Unattended Jobs or Rumors

When to Check
As with all rolls, this is at the GM's discretion, but some options include:
  • Every week for especially big/important jobs or rumors, or those of PC's home district
  • Whenever a new rumor is picked up by the PCs, update the others
  • When specifically asked by the PCs ("Hey, what's up with that job the fence offered us?")
  • When you need ideas for adventure hooks or complications
What to Roll
Each rumor or job will have a "source die" and a "world die". The source die represents whatever started the rumor or the person offering the job. The world die is for how it's interacting with everyone else. In the case of a job, it will likely reflect those trying to complete it, whereas with a rumor it will most often represent the scope and fervor with which it is spread. 

The default for each die is a d6, but it may be any die along the usual die chain for reaction rolls (d4, d6, d8, d10, d12). Whichever dice are selected, note them separately next to the rumor (Such as "d4, d6" to indicate a rumor with a d4 source and a d6 world die).

Checking Status
For any rumor which you are checking, take out dice matching your source and world dice. If the same size, use two different colors and note which is which. Roll the dice and interpret using the same framework as a reaction roll, with lower pointing towards failure, falsehood, or complications, and higher pointing to success, resolution, or more truth. You can use the below table as a guide, but use your judgment based on the particular rumor or job. Change the rumor in your notes appropriately.

RollRumorJob
2 Resolved negatively Failed, unavailable
3-5 More false/negative information Setbacks on job
6-8 No change No change
9-11 More positive information Progress on job
12+ Resolved positively Completed successfully 

Die Size Changes
If either die comes up a maximum result, step it up to the next die size for future rolls. If either die comes up a "1" step it down one size for future rolls. Update the dice in your notes for the rumor.

Losing a Die
If either die comes up a "1" on a d4, that die is removed. This will require some interpretation, and you should use the total of the roll to color that interpretation, but in the case of a source die, it will likely mean that either the true thing that inspired the rumor is resolved or that the rumor has been found to be totally false. For a job, the source die disappearing likely means that the person or group offering the job is no longer able or willing to pay for it.

For the world die, in the case of rumors, a lost die might mean that no one is talking about it anymore, or that the exaggeration around the core of truth has been discovered. For jobs, it likely means something has happened to someone or some group that tried to accomplish the job, but it might also mean that the situation has changed to make the job no longer workable (a time window has passed, better guards have been put in, and so forth). 

Use your judgment on whether the rumor or job should persist in some new form or be replaced in this case - again, use the total result of the roll to get some idea.

Eric Koch

Examples

Rumor
"Crabman Great House Mud, known for its great artistic sensitivity and wisdom, has slipped over the line into depravity and madness."

Source Die Represents: The intensity of the nugget of truth at the core of the rumor. In this case, one spawning has indeed come out off, but the rest of the house is trying to keep its members contained (some truth, but not as big a deal as the rumor says - d6)
World Die Represents: How much does the public care about this rumor (juicy enough to spread, not immediate enough to really grab you - d6)

2: A full spawning of insane crabmen murdered several of their family members and escaped, hiding somewhere in the city, preying on their neighbors
3-5: House Mud is buying an unusually high number of thralls, at an alarming rate. What are they doing with them?
6-8: Nothing changes
9-11: House Mud has been quietly locking up some of their members for unnatural tastes
12+: The head spawning of House Mud completely wiped out the most recent spawning and has been quietly paying weregild to local families

Job
Biblook, a passionate crabman Sage of Soul Economics, is hilariously out of fashion on account of his insistence of affecting the look, mannerisms, and worldview of the Witch Kings of old, wants the humiliation of his mother, whom he accuses of plagiarism, and will in return grant whoever does so safe haven secured through his considerable wealth.
Source Die Represents: Biblook's wealth, power, influence, and general ability to motivate something to get done (quite a lot, he's a well paid consultant by Soul Banks and Witch Kings - d8)
World Die Represents: How much anyone else cares about his petty family/academic squabble and helping to resolve it (not much - d4)

2: Biblook's mother conclusively proves that her son's work is entirely derivative of hers, major blow to prestige and livelihood
3-5: All of Biblook's charges have brought extra scrutiny on his own materials, other sages are beginning to question their theoretical validity
6-8: Nothing changes
9-11: Biblook's mother starts a smear campaign of her own, but it's received as obviously desperate and in poor taste
12+: Biblook's mother issues a public apology for her false claims, theories discredited, retires in disgrace

Design Notes & Considerations

So, as I mentioned above, this might be far too fiddly. The good news is that I think it ought to "fail gracefully" like Apocalypse World - if you ditch the usage dice, you lose out on the dynamic of things happening to the actors involved, but you still have different chances for success or failure. If you skip the different die sizes, you miss out on differentiating between rumors/jobs chances to resolve, but you still have a way to make living modifications. And if you don't do any of it, you still have rumors to supply flavor and adventure hooks.

There are a lot of judgment calls to make here, but I hope that the rolls provide enough structure to the improvisation to keep things interesting.