TSoY - Fixing Refreshments

Yeah, I know why do they need to be fixed? Why not Bringing Down the Pain?
Well, I can maybe fix Refreshments, for me.
Don't get me wrong I think it's a great game, but like all games, and like all things in life, it's a mixed bag.

Do you think it'd be better if it was a petition between players? Instead of just a flavor scene? I'm cool with it acting as downtime, but I like the fact that maybe it's not a given, and I like that the possibility of it not being a given, is in the hands of another player. Sort of like the petitioning in Hillfolk/Universalis/Fate. It'd be nice if it sometimes felt insincere, and it'd be nice if the players denied it every so often. Plot often does. Like, you haven't struggled enough, or you've not reached rock bottom yet.

Refresh in any game feels like it's an attempt to fix something that's broken.
It's a pacing mechanic, that addresses power use. Maybe it's the whole characters defined as things-they-can-do versus things-they-can't-do that's the rub?

Characters in fiction, even friendly ones, can't always help.


  • The TSoY refresh scene is a bit rough in structural design terms - it doesn't interlock with other mechanics in a predictable way. My understanding is that this is because Clinton was thinking in terms of organic pacing: it's essentially the equivalent of the D&D sleep period, something that you get whenever there's time for it. Sometimes the action is too hectic to have a refresh, other times it's easy to have one between every single scene.

    My own strategy in giving the refresh some structural backbone has been two-fold:

    1) Refresh as a plot station

    Under this theory the refresh is player-controlled pacing device for determining when the SG should introduce a new scenario or complication: when you refresh, the SG brings a new quest, subquest, side quest, foreshadowed future scenario or an abrupt end to the on-going scenario, whatever pleases him.

    2) Refresh as a scenario break

    Under this theory you simply don't refresh unless you're ready to have the story shift under you: during the refresh the SG brushes off the currently on-going Key Elements and introduces new ones. If you refresh during an on-going scenario, you lose the initiative and the scenario might change out from under you.


    Those two conceptions are similar, but they make sense in somewhat different campaigns: the first is sandbox thinking, essentially, while the latter is more scenario-based. In the first model the refresh points are where the players choose "what am I going to do next?" while in the latter model the refresh drives the story forward by showing us "what happens if the protagonist takes a break here?"

    I find both useful alongside the basic idea that you can't refresh if you are under fire, which the rules text clearly intends. Just as with D&D, the idea of a rest period that gives back resources is somewhat jinky when the game delves into scenarios where that sort of moment-to-moment pacing doesn't make much sense. If you only have one scene every three days, why not have a refresh scene in between?

    As can be seen, my answer has generally involved attaching dramaturgical meaning to the refresh, controlled and initiated by the Story Guide: sure, you can refresh after that last scene, and it's not like I've made the rules punish you for it or anything - but it is good to understand that it is a choice that changes things. It's not an obvious no-brainer thing.

    Really, if I was conscientiously fixing the refresh, there is one thing I would consider adding to it. Consider it a third "refresh theory" if you will:

    3) Refresh as a character exposure moment

    To have a refresh scene, it is not sufficient for the character to have some fun with their friends. Rather, the scene actually needs to be discussed, and the character actually has to be exposed by the scene.

    The technical problem with that, though, is that it's dysfunctional for the SG to be the gatekeeper of what counts as nuanced enough character play. This means that while it's possible to encourage players to expose their characters in refresh scenes, it's not really realistic to make it a requirement. You could bolt in some game mechanics involving e.g. Keys, but I don't think that it's ultimately worth it.


    Considering your idea, Nathan - I think it's very interesting. There are a few different virtues to that idea. More on this later, maybe - sauna's calling.
  • Interesting, indeed.

    Two thoughts:

    1. Perhaps this could be arranged by making refreshment something other players award (like a refresh Key).

    "You made yourself vulnerable and let me take care of you: refresh one Pool."

    "You revealed a secret to me: refresh one Pool."

    This way, you play out a scene, and then the players award each other refreshment. Two characters bonding with each other might both refresh their Pools.

    2. Eero's Solar System booklet, if I remember, leans strongly on the idea that what distinguishes a Refreshment Scene is that the central character lets his or her guard down, and therefore isn't an active participant in conflict or otherwise pushing his or her agenda.

    You see these scenes everywhere, like in Lord of the Rings or James Bond movies: the hero finally allows themselves to relax and rest and let their guard down. Sometimes it goes well for them (usually the case in Tolkien), sometimes not so much (usually the case in James Bond films).

    Also, a sidenote: Lady Blackbird introduces the idea of a flashback scene for refreshment. It's a good device, but does some funny things to pacing, if you're connecting that to the developing fiction in any way. I've always wondered how that might be best leveraged.
  • So, what was I thinking about Nathan's idea yesterday...

    If the refresh rule was "characters grant each other refreshes", that would be an intriguing party mechanism in light of the ambiguous relationship TSoY has with party-based fantasy adventure. I could see it as a tremendously fun campaign conceit if I prepped one of the semi-sandboxy TSoY scenarios I prefer, with no explicit party embedded, but the players would nevertheless be forced to search for and engage with each other to gain refreshes. They might form a party over it, simply to be supported in the perilous world, or perhaps it'd be more of a loose network of affiliates who meet up now and then to trade stories of their adventures.

    (The usual form for that sort of scenario-based play has been for the player characters to each have their own supporting cast with whom they refresh. I've also usually played with the assumption that the players get to call refreshes basically whenever they want, and if the player doesn't determine the circumstances, the SG does: it's an opportunity to introduce new friends for the PC after all, so why not take it.)

    A looser form of that idea would be to allow NPCs to grant refresh scenes, too. This is still much more restricted than the way I've traditionally played it, as there would presumably be a gut-check for the NPC(s) involved: the SG would determine whether the NPC wants to engage in the desired type of refresh with the PC. NPCs refusing to refresh with friendly PCs has been rather rare in my SGing, as, according to the principles I discussed earlier, I've usually considered refresh more as a forward-moving trade-off than a constrained opportunity.

    And then, even loser would be what you probably meant, that the players on the meta-level grant each other permission to refresh based on the events of the game. It's better than having the SG act as the sole gate-keeper, but it's also somewhat prone to clique dynamics: you just need two boring players, and they'll soon figure out that they can just grant each other infinite refreshes, which in turn causes everybody else lose their reverence for the concept.

    The TSoY refresh, vaguely systemic as it is, works best if the players hold a certain dramatic reverence for it: it should be a bit like the Mountain Witch Act break, a moment of endings and new beginnings. The show theme should play when the refresh happens. In fact, make that a rule: the campaign has a theme song, and you play it any time anybody gets a refresh scene. And throw in a 10-second silence for the dead, too, for good measure. The refresh should, I feel, primarily be a watershed in the dramatic pacing; its relationship to character resources is merely a mechanical pacing cue that reminds players to set up refresh scenes.

    An interesting rules variant occurs to me: if I didn't give out XP in real time, and quite fluently too, I would seriously consider making it so that you only gain XP during refresh scenes. So you establish the refresh scene, and your character talks about their experiences with their friends, and that's when you count up the XP. You very well might misremember or forget something XP-worthy, but that's the breaks - it probably wasn't that important if you forgot about it immediately after the scene, anyway.
  • If it acts like an act break, why not signal in advance what conflicts will be turn points ? Players burning resources like cordite, then sensorial and emotional pause and refreshment sounds like good dramatic coordination.
    But it is a mix of character downtime, player getting resources, dramatic pause. You can do anything you want with it.
  • Yeah, that's what The Mountain Witch does - the subject matter of the act is known, so you know when the act break will come, and can plan accordingly. TMW even has the expendable resource pool mechanic, and it refreshes during the act break - essentially the same conceit as in TSoY, except for the explicit act structure.
  • What if you could, or had to use Gift dice to Refresh another player?
    I like that Refresh isn't a given. Either a vote or a gift from another player.
    I mean, in some stories, our hero(es) get's very little downtime. It might only be toward the end of it, that there's any time for it.

    Like in Seven Samurai, there's a brief moment between the attack, where there's a bit of downtime, where you get to spend time with each ronin. But, character exposition happens early on, and it's fairly light on it. But Seven Samurai is more plot driven than character. There's moments of character sprinkled throughout, just enough to feel a bit for these sad-luck guys.

    I like XPs taking a bit of time to circle back around, but I imagine it might get clunky getting there. Like it might take an Act/Refresh for a character to learn a lesson, that helps them later on. you see this all the time in story, but usually it's not simply improvement, but a DIFFERENT APPROACH or DIFFERENT ANGLE. It's not often just a character improving that wins, or get's past the obstacle, it's a change in perspective, that is usually gotten by sacrifice of a thing or a belief. TSoY's closest analogy to that perspective shift, is buying off a Key.

Sign In or Register to comment.