Wednesday 17 May 2023

What is Primacy of Action?

 Here's what the rules of Mythic Bastionland have to say:

Even when using the rules for travel, exploration, and combat, remember this, the  most important thing:
Past action taken by the players supersedes  content generated by prompts or rules. Their deeds are reality.
Remember the core of giving players information, honouring their choices, and describing the impact of their actions. 

But I think it needs a bit more explanation. This is where Oddpocrypha comes in handy. 


The group encounter an Omen of the Troll, which the book describes as a clumsy burglar fleeing from the Troll’s cave-house. 

Ref: Running away from the cave you see a figure. Actually, you recognise her, it’s Sam the burglar.

Ref had previously used Sam as an incidental character, randomly taking them as a prompt when they needed a shady character. By coincidence the same character has now been prompted by an Omen.

Moss: I guess she got over her broken leg?

Ref: Wait, what happened again?

Tal: She got caught trying to break into the Seer’s tower, remember? The guards beat her up and later we found out her leg was broken, but that old woman was looking after her? I think this was after we did the Season change, so can’t have been long ago in game.

Ref: Ah yeah, right…

Slightly awkward pause. 

Ref: No, no, this is fine! Well above anything else, all that stuff you remember definitely happened, but sure enough you see Sam sprinting away from the cave, no sign of a broken leg. Weird huh?

Moss: Huh.

Tal: Okay let’s flag her down and see what’s up.

Meanwhile Ref flicks to a random page scouring the prompts for an explanation. They see “Toxic Plants”, and during the conversation Sam explains that her leg was miraculously healed by a travelling herbalist, but they used methods and materials that nobody in the shire had seen before. 

Ref makes a secret note that these bone-mending methods use toxic plants that are going to spell future trouble for Sam. They plant the seed by having Sam have a small coughing fit in the middle of their conversation before laughing it off. 


Never underestimate the power of saying “yeah, weird huh?” when you slip a massive contradiction into the game by mistake.

Here we see a group running into a situation that calls for Ref to remember the Primacy of Action, essentially the idea that events that have already happened supersede new events that are generated through omens or prompts when establishing the ongoing fiction of the world. 

So if you cut off the Wyvern’s wings then they don’t grow back because the next omen describes it flying above. 

Here it’s a character reappearing in an Omen, doing something that would be unlikely given the events that have already occurred. 

Ref could have just said “okay, it’s NOT actually Sam, but she looks just like her”, though revealing a secret twin is a risky play. 

Remember the whole point of this is to make the world feel real and not to undermine the players’ previous choices. Here the players are well aware that Ref is pulling this new healer tangent out of thin air, but if they deliver it with confidence and make it an  interesting addition to the fiction then the players will take it in their stride. 

As with other moments of improvisation, it’s best to keep the improvised content as something neither overtly beneficial or harmful to the players. Players accept that improvisation happens, but moments with significant positive or negative impact are best when they feel like part of the impartial mechanisms of the game, rather than something implemented at the whims of the Referee. 

Here, even just flicking to another page of the book to scour for prompts can make the improvised content feel more real to the players, at least spreading the perceived responsibility between the Referee and the book. 


Art by Midjourney

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1 comment:

  1. Those exemples of play are really nice. On a side not the ability of some players to remember minor details from months ago always astonishes me.