For example, dramatic time is when the players navigate through town shopping and talking to the various residents, but when a group of thugs hired by the corrupt mayor accost them in an alley there is a switch to conflict driven time. Resolving that conflict, either with the players triumphant or with their character’s waking up in a dank jail cell, the GM uses dramatic time to move the story forward again. Sometimes dramatic time segments get chained together to tell increasingly bigger, more intricate non-combat stories, such as a stealth mission or a series of personal encounters based on character back-stories. Accordingly, sometimes action sequences get chained together to form a more dangerous or harrowing evening in which survival is not guaranteed, such as a chase from the mafia interspersed with shootouts and escapes.
Conflict Driven Time
Conflict driven time is divided into turns. A turn is roughly 4 seconds long, and is further subdivided into actions. Actions are the most basic units of time in combat. A character can make a single complex action (CA) or three simple actions (SA) in a turn. There are also free actions which essentially take no time, but the GM should limit the number of free actions a character takes to two per turn. Finally there are reactions, which a character can only make when it is not their turn, used for reactions.
In addition to the above, a character can choose to make extra actions beyond those prescribed. Each additional simple action in a turn gives the character a -3 penalty to all rolls taken for the remainder of the turn. This penalty is cumulative, with each additional simple action increasing the penalty by an additional 3.
Below we have common examples of all four types of actions.
- Speaking a phrase: Speaking a word or short phrase aloud, such as “Stop,” “Hands Up!,” “Halt!,” or “Surprise!” would be a free action. Complete sentences and the like are not free actions.
- Dropping an item: A character can drop any item in her hands as a free action. The character can not drop a strapped, tethered, or tied item, and a dropped item cannot be aimed or directed.
- Taking a step: A character may take a single step (on average about 1 meter of movement for an adult human), but only if they make no other movement on their turn.
- Swallowing: If a character has an object in his mouth he may swallow it as a free action.
- Interpreting hand signs: If someone is communicating through gestures in a system the character understands then it is a free action to get the message. Common gesture systems are sign language and military signals, both of which come in numerous varieties just like spoken language. Both the interpreting character and the character making the gestures need knowledge of the same communication system for communication to happen.
- Speaking a sentence: A character can speak a sentence as a simple action, such as “Sven, he’s behind the wood pile!,” “I think that sound is getting louder,” or “Where did he go?” At the GM’s discretion the speaking character may speak while performing another action, such as speaking while moving, but characters can’t spout out philosophical debates in the middle of combat for free.
- Tossing/catching an item: Throwing an item to another character or into a specific place is a simple action, as is catching a thrown item. The character must have the item in hand and free of any restraints in order to throw it as a simple action.
- Moving: Each character has a movement ability determined by her attributes (typically 5 + Agility + Size + Athletics, but advantages can change this). A character can move this distance as a simple action. The character can combine movement with another action by taking a -2 penalty to the combined action.
- Making an attack: A character can make a single Mental, Physical, or Social attack as a simple action on any character or object within her reach (including the reach or range of her weapon).
- Using a potion/taking a pill: A character may take a drink, a single bite, or place an object in their mouth as a simple action. This includes swallowing.
- Making simple hand signs: While a character can understand hand signals as a free action, making them is a bit more complex, with simple phrases/ ideas taking a simple action. For examples of simple phrases, see “speak a phrase” above.
- Readying a prepared item: A character may draw a weapon from a holster/scabbard, or another object from a similarly convenient carrying solution such as a bandolier of potions.
- Speaking a simple paragraph: For communicating more complex ideas such as “I know you have a good heart! Don’t let your rage and frustration consume you!” or “I’m giving you a final chance. Put down your weapon and back away!” This still does not allow you to deliver a Shakespearean monologue.
- Making a double move: A character may move three times their normal movement distance as a complex action. This is equivalent to “hustling” or “double timing it,” and is the quickest a normal character can move without losing the ability to defend themselves. A character can move four times their normal move speed outside of combat, but they have no active defense.
- Making a full-out attack: A character can make three attacks (such as a shield bash followed by two sword swipes, excreta or they may make a single more powerful attack that grants a +4 bonus to their damage.
- Making complex hand signs: A character can convey more complex concepts via hand signs as a complex action. For examples, see “speaking a sentence” above. A character wishing to convey more complex information must be out of combat.
- Retrieving a stored item: A character may retrieve a stored item from a pouch or pack as a complex action. A pack that contains a large quantity of items may take longer. Rummaging through a large storage device like a chest is an out of combat action.
- Dodging or blocking an attack: Anytime a character uses Dodge, Discipline, the Parry skill, or the [[Skills in Detail#Perception|Perception] to protect themselves from an attack or environmental hazard this is a reaction.
- Activating a defensive advantage or ability: These three abilities, as well as any others built with the Reactive aspect can be used as a reaction.
- Make any type of opposed roll against another character: Anytime a character attempts to thwart another’s skill use with an opposed roll, this opposed roll is a reaction.
Dramatic time is more akin to that used in books, plays, or television. Dramatic time does not have a set length but is exactly as long as it needs to be to get the job done. The smallest unit of dramatic time is the scene, followed by the episode, the arc, and the series.
A scene is a series of connected events, usually within the same geographic location and concerning the same characters. The most common clue that a change of scene is happening is that one of those two pieces of information changes.
An episode is a series of connected scenes that progress towards the overarching story goals and plot points, but which also tell a smaller story with their own beginning, middle, and end. Episodes often correspond directly with a single session of gameplay, but may spread across multiple sessions of gameplay depending on how involved the tale being created is. At the end of each episode the GM gives out base character points and the players take turns giving out 1-3 CP to their fellows based on their favorite moments in the story. More on character advancement in the character creation section.
An arc is a series of connected episodes, and details a single plot or story from beginning to end. Other systems may call this an adventure. Not all plot points and story threads should be resolved at the end of an arc, and in fact, a well designed arc should always ask as many questions and it answers, leaving the players wanting more. Given the travel times in the real world, even in most sci-fi settings, many arcs will take up several months, and often have several months of downtime between them.
The longest amount of dramatic time, a series is the total story time of a group of collected characters. Some RPGs refer to this as a campaign. Most series follow a larger overarching plot that ties the events of the game arcs together into a cohesive narrative, routinely taking years of game time to resolve. While many characters only have a single series worth of stories to tell in their entire lifetime, others may have several series worth of adventures.
Each player has the ability to interject a flashback within the typical flow of the game. This can set up a plan to circumvent an issue ("Thankfully, we thought of this issue last night!") or to otherwise change the current situation. This allows the semblance of thorough tactical planning without actually having to take the time away from the more fun parts of the game to do it. If your group enjoys planning sessions, however, this need not interfere, but can be the icing on the cake to a well planned heist.
There are two hard rules to the flashback rules: First, information that is already known cannot be changed (i.e. we already know the detective is alive, so we cannot flashback and assassinate them last night). Second, only things within the player character's sphere of influence can be changed or setup in this way (i.e. the player does not have control of the weather, so cannot use a flashback to change the weather).
If possible, any flashbacks should be played out as a scene, not just rolled for. It is a powerful narrative tool, and should be used to enrich the narrative, not strip away drama.