Permission to Change the World

One of the favorite things my gaming group brings up are the “Legacy Tokens” that allow the players to take part in the narrative “legacies” of the gaming world. I stole this idea from a (fan-made?) addition to old Deadlands but it still has evolved from those beginnings. In the following I will high-light how we have used those chips to give the players major power to reshape the narrative.

The gaming mechanic behind these chips (or Sigils, in my Eldritch Sigils hack of the AWengine) is simple:


Before each session GM mixes a number of tokens into a single bowl. The pool must consist of at least the following:

• Common token = 5 times the number of players
• Uncommon token = 2 times the number of players

• Rare token = 1 time the number of players
• 1 Good Sigil token
• 1 Bad Sigil token

At the beginning of each session players draw one chip (some playbooks have access to an extra chip) and during the session they have moves that allow them to “draw one“. Most of the time the chips are used to build success up ie. to pass missed checks.

But every now and then a player draws a Good or Bad Sigil. That usually leads into a (exaggerated) cheering as the players know that now one of them has not only the chance but the obligation to change the gaming world in a huge way.

When a player spends a chip he/she must come up with a way that the current situation relates either into the past (very rarely in our games) or to the future of the gaming world. He/she explain to others what is so profoundly relevant in the current scene that it casts ripples through time. It might be that a common item used in the scene proves to be a key element in some future event, or that the event itself becomes as a turning point in history.

IMG_9939I can clearly see why this kind of power can be a huge problem for some gaming groups. But during the five past years we have been using them and the only time I have had to decline a player’s narration only once.

It was when he declared that “two years from now my character…” Even though we have had something a bit similar to this before I had to explain that telling the story in that way would either imply that we have skip two gaming years or make his character unkillable for that time. Luckily it was not such a big deal for Peetu who had used his Good Sigil for this. He thought it through and after a while came up with another idea that involved time-travel and saving another character from dying forty years from the current “gaming now”. And I was naturally ok with that.

As example are a best way to illustrate the opportunities these Sigils represent I’m going to give you some.

Example 1 – In one of the first eras (western) of this ongoing epic campaign one of the players played a famed gunslinger called Cactus-Sullivan. When the natives attacked the small mining village the party currently was he used rolled a stunning success for jumping through the window and shooting the attackers. Mikko wanted to seal that moment as a keypoint in the campaign timeline and used a Good Sigil. He narrated that his gunslinger made the shot with sideways and that in our gaming world it would therefore be known as “shooting Cactus-style”.

Example 2 – During our first visit to film noir-period Sami used a Bad Sigil to reveal that Mikko’s character was actually a sleeper agent brainwashed by Nazis and would eventually be the one who actually shot Kennedy.

Now while these two are not the brightest examples of our gaming history they were the first and kind of determined how these Sigils would work in the future.

Example 3 – In our most recent campaign we have seen a lot of Sigils in use and I have to say that the players are much more creative now than they were when we started. Now the players have used their narrative power to establish that our campaign main city becomes the first city in the States where homophobia is weeded out as well as declared that the city’s University sends an expedition to Egypt (and that it will find a lost civilization).

Our whole gaming group has enjoyed the variance these chips bring to the game. And as a GM I couldn’t be more happier when the players give me serious player flags of what they want to do and how they want to do it.

As said this kind of approach doesn’t work for all but more narrative games they really keep everyone on the edge wanting to play to find out what happens!

I might add that though this system was in use even before first rumors about the Cloud Atlas were published that movie is like a modelbook example how these things work.

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