If you’re not familiar with the Aesop fable The Crow and the Pitcher, a thirsty crow finds a pitcher with water in it. It can’t reach the water in it with its beak, and it can’t tip over the pitcher. So it drops stones into the pitcher to raise the water level until it can reach it. Interesting random fact: this is actually a proven behavior among corvids and other birds. They’ve even been observed choosing sizes of stones, and planning ahead so as to not put in too many.
It occurred to me that instead of the Circle Theory-based analogy I made in my last post, that there might be something to looking at metaplot milestones through the lens of The Crow and the Pitcher. The milestone is like the pitcher, while the stones used to raise and lower the pitcher’s water level are dice dropped into it. I’m a firm believer in representing as much as possible in Cortex using dice, so this approach feels right because of crisis pools in Cortex Prime. A crisis pool is kind of a mini doom pool representing a problem or threat. A wildfire that firefighters have to put out is a great example. The fire’s pool is used for opposition against the players. When players roll spoilers the crisis pool can be grown in lieu of the doom pool, or the GM can transfer dice to it from the doom pool (if in either case the doom pool is getting used). To put the fire out, the players have to do things that will remove the pool’s dice.
Metaplot milestones map well to a crisis pool-like structure. Players and the GM can contribute dice to the pool or remove them through spoilers, opportunities, transfers from the doom pool, SFX, etc. There are no proscribed or static things that have to be done to add or remove dice – that flows out of the narrative and what the table agrees on (which is a big improvement over what I was considering with having static lists of events). The pool would also have a handful of other SFX refining how dice can be added or removed. The milestone pool itself would be defined with a distinction-like trait that describes the change to the setting at any particular rating. This rating would have SFX attached to it that refine how it can be stepped up or stepped down (likely through dice spends from the milestone pool itself). Once a milestone is completed – in other words, all of its dice have been removed either through player action or the GM spending them – the rating would serve as the strength of the milestone’s effect on the setting. The milestone pool itself would be used to roll opposition when the players try to do something against or for the milestone, pretty much just like a crisis pool.
Milestones can be set by either the GM or the players. In some ways, this resembles a long-term project mechanic from the player side – the players decide that they want to make some larger-scale change (“Build a settlement” or “Wipe out the ruling council”). From there, the milestone trait is defined with what each die rating means (maybe something like from d4 “Clear the forest” to d12 “Thriving settlement”). These examples are complete spitballs, but the completion SFX might be something like “Once milestone pool reaches 2d12, spend both to complete the settlement at its current rating. Convert remaining dice in the pool to a Location resource”, and the SFX to step up the milestone trait similar to “Spend 1 PP to spend a x dice from the milestone pool to step up milestone trait”. From the GM side, because Cortex enables the players to move the needle of the narrative – and in order to do that they have to know the size of the milestone pools, the complications in play, and the results of die rolls – there has to be some way of handling GM-facing (or “secret”) milestones. One way would be for the players to know that there is a GM milestone pool in play and the size of the pool, but not the milestone trait or SFX. They could then do things to discover or reveal those traits. Any spends the GM makes out of the milestone pool on complications, assets, scene distinctions. etc. would be known to the players (unless there’s a provision for “unknown” complications, but I’m not sure I like that option except maybe as a specific SFX).
It’ll take a little more work to turn this idea into something usable, but overall I’m liking the direction its going in. Next time I’ll hopefully have a working example of how it all fits together.