As I mentioned in my last post, Backstory Cards are a great tool for helping generate connections between the PCs and the setting. Each player takes turns drawing cards and answering the prompts on them. A setting grid with four groups – individuals, groups, places, and events – provides elements that can be connected to when answering the prompts. The groups align pretty well to the elements that an out-of-the-box Cortex relationship map would have. This makes adapting the setting grid to a map pretty easy, and using the card draws to not only generate the connections but maybe set ratings for relationships or resources.
To test this out I came up with the setting elements for Enemy of My Enemy (the introductory scenario in the Weaver’s Screen and Assistant). The elements are pulled from or inspired by the scenario. I did three rounds with five PCs (the same pregens I’ve been using for my games), using the cards as written. Through luck of the draw only four elements weren’t used (but that doesn’t mean they couldn’t be used once play begins). Overall I was really pleased with how it resulted in a cohesive backstory for the PCs that also meshed with the themes and overall direction of the scenario.
The first thing that becomes evident is there’s a lot going on between two PCs (the Herite, Cara, and Raleigh the Jacker) and two GMCs (Joanite Watch Captain Jen Luther’on and Tera Sheban Judge Ariel Dan’on). At some point in the past Cara and Jen were allied against Raleigh, which makes sense because they were both Joanites and Raleigh was a Dahlian. As a result, Raleigh doesn’t trust Cara – but at the same time something happened between Jen and Cara. Then there was a fire in Hom – with four out of five PCs connected to it in some way, it looks like a pivotal moment. So much so that Raleigh confided in Cara despite his distrust of her, and Cara helped him confront Ariel Dan’on about suspected involvement with the fire. There are also tangential connections to the fire between Lourie and Windsong.
Next, there’s a side narrative going on with the Outlands. This one seems to involve Windsong, Triesh, Lourie and Cara (again) – who is fortunately not the focus. That’s reserved for Triesh, who not only had a vision of some kind involving a GMC named Sacha and the Outlands, but also thinks he encountered a Joshuan on a scavenging expedition. Meanwhile, some dream Cara had has convinced her that Triesh is in some kind of danger, and Lourie apparently told Sacha about Triesh’s Joshuan encounter. It’s not as much up front stands; instead, it’s a mysterious. In top of that, we have a tangent going on between Cara, Lourie, Triesh and the Watch.
I’m not sure if the connection distribution is good or bad, especially compared to the standard Cortex method. The cards can have anywhere from one to three additional elements, meaning a player could go two or three rounds drawing cards with single connections to or from elements and PCs (like Lourie) while others wind up getting a fairly complex network (like Cara). I’m not sure doing four rounds versus three would have helped, because then PCs like Cara would just get more connections. I suppose if it’s decided that a PC’s connections aren’t that great compared to others, it might be mitigated by having only that player do one or two more draws. I also wonder how it would work for players to have hands of cards. Each turn they would play the cards they choose from the hand.
The variations in number of connections might make Cortexifying them not a straightforward process. Backstory Cards already qualify the strength of connections or relationships based on how many connections there are between elements. In the absence of a full Pathways system, it could be how dice are allocated. Raleigh and Cara are a great example – there’s three connections there, so that’s three step ups. If Raleigh’s player wants, they could take a d10 relationship with Cara (since beginning relationships cap at d10 and they would already have one at d6). Similarly, Laurie’s player could take a d8 relationship with Windsong and maybe a d6 with Sacha (or take Sacha as a 2d6 Extra for the group’s shared Resources). Another way to do it might be each player has a set number of dice they can assign, and the group goes through the connections and elements afterwards to assign dice. I’ll have to try both methods and see which works best.
When not using Backstory Cards, the same general pattern could be used instead of Pathways The GM creates the sets of elements, then rach player takes a turn pulling in an element and making a connection. The dice are either established at time, or at the end the players allocate a set number of dice among the connections and elements. It could go a set number of turns, or until every element is connected, but I like the idea that not every element has to be used.
Finally, the Cycle map has a few things missing. Each of the elements would have a brief description to help in answering prompts. I didn’t include those here, partly for spoiler reasons but mostly because I didn’t write them down. There are also some details from the cards had I didn’t write down for the sake of brevity. Lastly, this doesn’t really integrate plot milestones (yet). The vague idea I have is that after generating the Cycle map, the GM would take it and create a few things off of it – which likely would include a plot milestone or two. The strength and number of connections might even determine the dice that any milestone pools start with.