In Covenant, there’s a big round region on the centre of the the character sheet. All other elements of the character sheet feed into it. Because it’s the melting pot where story is created, I named it the crucible. This is about how to adapt it to other games.
The crucible exists because I wanted a quick way to generate scenes and I wanted to show how the primary influences that act on the protagonists come together. It owes a lot to the back of the character sheet in Sorcerer, a bit to the cosmos in Polaris and a bit to my own meandering thoughts on getting characters moving quickly to drama. Essentially it’s a quick and visual way of getting your character appropriate adversity in scenes.
So how does it work? Into the crucible you write at least three NPCs, and align them towards one of three regions: self, society and faction. NPCs can sit towards any number of regions, and where they sit shows what kind of influence they have on your PC. Closer to the self zone? That character matters personally to yours. Closer to the society zone? That character can exert official control over yours. Closer to faction? Unofficial control.
Obviously some characters mix these up, some might even be all three. But for the Director, looking at a player’s crucible allows them to easily select elements to put in conflict. Take a character from one zone and have them act against one in another. Easy. Simple example, girlfriend in self region vs faction leader asking you to forsake sins of the flesh. Conflict!
Of course the diagram is actually more tied in than that. Look outside the three regions and there are elements that feed into them. Outside the society region are your character’s official orders, that characters in that zone expect you to follow. Outside the Faction region is your factions agenda, which they expect you to pursue. Finally, outside the self region are the truisms, those beliefs your character once held but now isn’t so sure about. All of these are feeding pressure into the potential situations mapped in the crucible.
There’s also another plane of interaction. Because the crucible must contain a character from the cell sheet and a either another PC or a character from their crucible, all the diagrams in play are inter-linked. When a character enters conflict with somebody on their sheet, it changes their relationships with the rest of the cell. This means that cause and effect should ripple round the group during play, as relationships are adjusted based on actions and consequences. This feeds into the way truisms work, because when one is resolved and used to add edges, suddenly the amount of impact one cell member can have on the rest is out of balance. This creates tension which feeds the drama.
So how would you adapt this technique to other games? Well, it should go without saying that this technique is best used in games that revolve around the characters, their relationships and the drama those produce.
Start off by considering the influences that act on the main characters. They should be social pressures of some kind, and the players should be able to chose which of them they accept and which they reject. Without that element of choice, the threeway split is pretty meaningless. There needs to be a level of doubt for the tension to work. Think of simple, single word labels that describe these influences. These are your regions. I’d expect at least one to be self, but it could work without it.
Example: Say it’s a spy game, the regions might be nation, agency and self.
Next think about what drives these three influences. What pushes these three elements on and means they can’t be ignored? Why are they acting on the characters right now? In Covenant, this is the orders, agenda and truisms.
Example: In our spy game it might be oaths, orders and promises.
So there you go, quick and easy dramatic tension by way of a diagram with some character names on it.