Lack of Focus
Have you ever played a game where characters run around trying to find a common thread to cling onto? Or a game where the players struggle with creating engaging motivations that matter over time? Or have you gamemastered a group with a very unevenly spread narration experience – or knowledge? If so, you know how much time and energy you could spend to align and get everyone going in the same direction.
In Forged Facets, this natural but quite tedious issue is addressed by introducing arcs and hooks. An arc or hook is a descriptive narration cue attached to a character, the storyline, and the world around them, obvious for everyone around the table to go for, which creates a clear goal or aim for everyone to roleplay towards. Arcs are tied to characters, while hooks are tied to the world and fiction around them.
Before the beginning of gameplay, the collaborative world-building process invites everyone to think big about upcoming problems and challenges the characters will face. From this, the players can either use the suggested arcs in their playbooks, but everyone is free to create their own, making their character unique. The Gamemaster, on the other hand, funnels down a few ideas from that into a handful of hooks. Most should be known to the players, but some aren’t. However, through play, they can all be discovered – or remain hidden.
These arcs and hooks should be formatted like a suggestion, like ‘Find and retrieve X,’ ‘Change Y’s mind,’ or ‘Stop Z at any cost,’ so everyone understands what must be done.
Why You Should Use Arcs and Hooks
The purpose is to formalize a description of the character, an object, a task, or the world that players can understand, integrate into their thinking, and align their narration around. Without forcing the players on a railroading journey, arcs make it fun to create characters and explore their motivations, and to have them interact with the surroundings during play. But what also makes them super-useful is that they are tied to the character improvement cycle, which makes them so much more than just a suggestion; they align with character experience, insights, and learning.
Characters have three, to begin with; an ambition that describes the character’s dreams and wants, an obligation that represents a debt or a must, and finally an optional burden, which is a potent negative drive, that affects or controls a large part of the character’s life. They are created during character creation by the player and can be formatted as an ending to I want to / I need to / I have to / I must. But as the game focus on collaborative world-building, it is highly recommended to open up for discussions, even though the player has the final say over what the character ends up with. During development and testing, I’ve come to realize they come to life when players synchronize and integrate them.
During play, the Gamemaster adds context to the arcs and hooks when players interact with them. Do they fulfill their obligation to other more powerful NPCs, even when they learn about their corruption? Do they strive to accomplish their ambitions, even though others may suffer? All these things will be discovered through play and will affect the story you build and how your character evolves. Let a discussion about arcs and hooks flow openly, so they become an integral part of the conversation and the narrative.
Experience Through Realizing Goals
Besides being powerful cues for how a character can interact with the world, the arcs and hooks mechanics are also tightly integrated with the experience system and long-term character development. Once per arc and hook per session, the player narrates the character’s actions, and the attempt is centered on an arc or hook (regardless of failure or success), the player marks one of six experience slots. Once all six are marked, the character earns an insight. With insights, the character advances and develops over time.
Anna plays the grim human mystic Ciurwen the Pale, who she imagines has lost everything she holds dear. Not yet a necromancer, but a dabbler in the dark, forbidden arts, Anna wants Ciurwen to aspire for hidden arcane secrets to save her lost loved ones. So for her arcs, she writes down;
- I Must Master the Secrets of Resurrection (ambition)
- I Have to Adhere to the Laws of the Crone (obligation)
- I Am Known as a Sorceress (burden)
All her arcs tell Anna something about what is important to Ciurwen, besides the adventure that gameplay offer. Whenever she acts in a way that puts her arcs in the center of the narrative, she may mark experience.
Lars is Gamemaster for Anna and her friends and prepares for a few sessions of a sandbox adventure, based on a play-to-find-out approach (a thing in running a game of Forged Facets). For the world-building phase, which is a collaborative thing, they detail a bit more around the big issues, looming threats, and dire consequences. They have come out with the following; the setting revolves around the wild marches north of the Granite Kingdoms, a frosty swamp region of great mystery. The prince asks the characters to help him find the lost Scepter of the Hero King Merron, to unite the unruly dukes and sorcerer-barons of the kingdom; otherwise, they will all plunge into an age of darkness. Lars prepares a few hooks from that to work from. He writes down;
- Locate the Trade Post
- Find the Ancient Troll Temple
- Explore the Death Barrows
- Return the Merron’s Scepter to the King
He also adds three hidden ones that can be discovered by exploring the known hooks;
- Find the Fey Queen’s Lost Mirror
- Do Not Disturb the Dead Tribes
- Explore the Labyrinthine Burial Mound of Lor-Gor
After the world-building, Anna and the other players start to discuss Lars’s outlines for the adventure. They look at the hooks (all, except the hidden ones which Lars will reveal in the game when it suits the narrative and context of play) and can see what they will be tasked with. Each time Ciurwen put any of the hooks Lars has described, she may mark experience, just as she does when addressing her arcs.
Would you find this a useful tool?