Challenges & Stones
No mortal weapon can slay the dragon, or so the tales tell. But at the edge of the world, a spear lies waiting, forged by the gods for wars unfought. With its keen tip we may take the beast's life…
Games are the most fun (I think) when there's tension between things we know are going to happen and things we can't predict – things that are only decided during play. One compliments the other.
In Follow, we know our goal from the start: slay the dragon, bring back the outlaw, cure the disease. So we strap on our swords (or six-guns, or clipboards) to go a-questing, but we don't know yet what steps we'll have to take to get the job done.
That's where challenges come in. Each challenge is a vital step on our path. If we succeed, it advances the quest and improve our odds of reaching our goal. If we fail or ignore the challenge, it makes the quest harder.
Players take turns picking challenges. You set aside your character for a moment, put on your author hat, and chose from the list of challenges that comes with each quest. Picking the challenge makes it true in the fiction. If we're playing the Rebellion and a player picks "purge traitors from our ranks" as the next challenge, then guess what? We've got traitors in our midst and we better deal with it…
Player vs Character
We play scenes to see how our characters deal with the challenge. Do we have a plan? Do we agree? How do we feel about the quest? How do we feel about each other? We can do whatever we want with our scenes, but after we've gone around the table it's time to see the consequences of our actions (or inactions). We assemble stones and then draw to find out if we succeeded or failed at the challenge.
What determines the odds? The outcome is weighted by what the characters want but also by what the players think should happen. That can be two very different things. Your character might be totally committed to finding the ideal spot for the new colony, but as a player you might look at everything the fellowship did – including your own character's actions – and conclude "nope, that wouldn't work, we're doomed". Each contributes separately to the pool of stones we'll draw from.
One of the benefits of distinguishing between what the characters think and what the players think is that it reminds us that we aren't our characters. We might be rooting for them… but we might not. We're also authors who can embrace our characters totally failing if that interests us more.
The draw decides if we win or lose the challenge, but it also impacts the fellowship. We might lose someone… or even worse, one of us could betray the fellowship.
Next up: Who's your Boromir?