I was looking for a way to create surprises in a low prep alternating GM game. Specifically, trying to simulate this :
A protagonist walks an ancient city in the jungle. They pick a strange phenomenon, say, a skeleton with a golden priestly outfit on. This part, I've got covered. But what about the discovery ? Is it loot ? A curse waiting to happen ? Home to a virus ? or simply to an inoffensive snake ? And what if the snake IS a ghost ?
It can't be decided in advance. There are a lot of possibilities, they don't fit all in a table. Not all possibilities are equally interesting.
I can align all the answers with a resource system (get 1 loot, take 1 condition, lose 1 ration) but I lose the grain I am after. It's no longer a riddle with a snake as an interrogation mark. It's a +1/-1 waiting to fall on the table.
I need player input for the richness of its grain. So I share the burden of reveal on each of them. To prevent certainty I make the players pick a benefit/risk alternative.
I need a randomizer : it will be heads or tails, or a fudge die with a third option : add colour only. Or a yes and no but die. The equal distribution of chances regulates the questions. The protagonist makes sure the questions are within an acceptable win/loss range.
How can I improve this ? I'd like to make it seem like all the details were there since before the protagonist witnesses them. A no prep 2097 mirror of sorts.
There are ways of hiding the randomization step. Like : if the question has an even number of words, yes; else, no. Or answer no to the first question then what you would have answered to the previous question). All this is nice but keeping such keys secret from the other players is impractical.
Having players write their solutions on cards and let the protagonist player pick them (playing the players), or shuffle and pick : adds "perceived choice" and a sense of the answer preexisting the reveal. This could do the trick.
I feel I have the general idea, I need a trick to lock the devil in the box so that it triggers and springs out when the players open the box.