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Action Economy, Economy of Fiction, and Latency

So I was kicking around some ideas, and I came across this one and felt the need to share it with you folks out in reader land.

A lot of Eurogames, ala Splendor, Ticket to Ride, and Dominion, have the limiting of choice, or an action economy, as part of the game play. D&D and Pathfinder have action economies in their combat systems that limit what you can do on a turn. Savage Worlds limits you to taking the same action only once unless you have edges or use a rule which breaks that mechanic. Also, taking multiple different actions incurs cumulative penalties. Even Fate limits you to one active action on a turn.

So now let’s turn to the Powered by the Apocalypse games. These games only limit what can be done via the GM, because when the spotlight is on you, you’re playing toward moves instead of spending actions from your action economy. Since it’s the GM’s job to handle the flow of who is talking, they can just let you go until you hit the move you’re either knowingly or unknowingly working toward. That’s the choice you’re making.

This means the fiction is the action you’re taking to play toward engaging the mechanics instead of spending a resource. I guess you could say this is the economy of fiction, since the fiction is the resource you’re spending, but it doesn’t feel the same as an action economy. This is probably why I enjoy the Apocalypse World-inspired games so much. The game isn’t about spending a limited resource when a stat and some other mechanic has determined it’s time for you to act, but it’s about creating fiction when the spotlight is on you at a time that probably makes more sense to the play at hand, then using your economy of fiction to drive play toward engaging a mechanic.

With that knowledge it is easier to see why there is some disconnect in games when you switch from the less structured conversation and skill use parts of the game to the more rigid parts of the game. I guess it’s why the PbtA games have a better flow from conversation to engaging a mechanic to conversation. I call that latency, because I haven’t found a better term yet. Have any of you folks out there thought about this? Does this make sense to you? Does it even matter to you? Do you think it’s something you might see in games going forward–this difference between action economy and the economy of fiction? Maybe you have a better term for it than I do. In any case I’d love to hear some other thoughts on this if you have them.

Christopher Sniezak

Since 2011, Chris has written and designed for games like Fate, Gumshoe (Dracula Dossier), Numenera (Tales from the Mechanical Bard), and D&D (Living Forgotten Realms scenarios). As a podcaster, he’s been the host, producer, and audio engineer of The Misdirected Mark Podcast, Down with D&D, and Geekin Out. In his spare time he loves listening to audiobooks and podcasts, playing board games, and watching or reading anything superhero related.

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