Catching up on some neglected listening material over the long weekend, I took in a Pelgrane Press seminar from Dragonmeet 2011, courtesy of Yog-Sothoth.com. Featuring Robin Laws, Kenneth Hite and Simon Rogers, the conversation centers on the many endeavors of Pelgrane Press and related topics. One digression in particular caught my interest: what the spending of points — GUMSHOE points in the context of the conversation, but easily widened to any mechanic where a player spends points to effect a change — signifies to the GM.
Robin suggests thinking of a player spending points as analogous to the improv game Should’ve Said. In the game, the audience or the referee or whomever can demand the players change a statement, usually to humorous effect. So in the course of a role-playing game with a drama point-like mechanic, when a player spends a point, they’re really saying, “Change up what you’re saying.”
With drama points, that change-up is probably to do with the player not being happy with what the GM’s saying: “Your character takes a blow to the head” or “You don’t find anything of interest in the warlock’s study.” If they’re spending points, they’re not happy about something. Outside of the immediate redress of “Oh, it was a glancing wound,” I think it’s a good mindset to take those spends as an opportunity to ramp up engagement by giving them exceptional carrots.
In retrospect, I find it easy to fall into a habit of being stingy with handing out exceptionally nice carrots. When I was running Scions of Time last year, I think part of the reason the players didn’t take advantage of the drama point mechanic, aside from the frequent lack of need for the mechanical benefits, was the gain was rarely terribly interesting. I was too afraid of action going way off the pathways I was prepared to follow.
In fact, I think Should’ve Said would offer a fun two-way exchange. Players spend points to get the GM to change what he’s saying. The GM hands out points to get the players to change what they’re saying. It’s a little like the Fate point economy with aspects and refreshes, I think, but Should’ve Said includes the ability to keep pushing. The player can spend another point, or more, and the GM can keep handing them out until they hear something they like.