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D&D 5E Adapting BitD Flashbacks to D&D5E

overgeeked

B/X Known World
If you're not aware of the game Blades in the Dark, you should be. It's a rather wonderful, focused game of criminals and heists gone awry. It has a really slick mechanic that uses flashbacks to avoid the endless tedium of players over-planning. The gist of the flashback is that you Act Now, Plan Later in the sense that you just jump into the action and when something goes awry (as it inevitably will) you can spend resources to have a flashback scene where you "pre-planned" a contingency for something like this. It's not time travel, you don't prevent whatever bad thing just happened in the on-going narrative, you just slip something into the past that helps the present. The idea is to use flashbacks to show the characters as competent and show that they did in fact plan the heist, but not have to sit through a few hours of the players trying to actively plan everything to the smallest detail. For that it just sings.

A paraphrasing of one example given is: You’re about to break into the museum of antiquities but a roll comes up really bad — your crew is suddenly accosted by the patrol of moonlighting city watch who are working as security. Oh no! We should have planned for this! Nah, just call for a flashback. You can have a flashback to the night before. We see a character talking with our city watch contact. Maybe she was able to get some dirt on the local city watch officers that she can use for leverage now — for better effect if we can convince him to look the other way.

I think it's a rather interesting mechanic and would vastly prefer that style of getting to the action first, planning second in most games. Sitting back and watching players painfully over-think and over-plan is one of the banes of my gaming existence.

But, the question is, what kind of limited resource should be used in a D&D game to throttle the use of flashbacks? They're not meant to be used all the time. Some obvious limited resources are hit points, hit dice, spell slots, Inspiration, rests, and exhaustion. Exhaustion is incredibly punishing and I don't think it should be used here. Rests are a good idea, but most players would rather put something off than go in to any situation with anything less that absolutely full strength, and retconning the PCs missing a previously established rest would be a nightmare, and go against the core idea of flashbacks. Inspiration is too limited by default. If you had a larger pool of Inspiration to draw from, it would be easier to use as the fuel for this. Spell slots could work but not everyone has spell slots and again most players would rather go in with full strength, though losing one or two slots for something like this isn't too punishing. Hit dice are almost the forgotten mechanic in 5E, they matter a bit at low levels until the party has fairly reliable access to healing potions and enough spell slots to fully heal before a long rest. And finally hit points. Again...players would likely refuse to go into a situation with anything less than full power, so docking hit points seems like it's too harsh, especially at lower levels.

Maybe simply limit each character to 1-2 or 2-3 flashbacks per heist or per day.

What do you think? What mechanical limit should there be on things like flashbacks in D&D5E? I'm not interested in arguing about whether or not to use flashbacks, only what mechanical limit should be used to control how many can be done.
 

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Galandris

Foggy Bottom Campaign Setting Fan
I usually don't use Inspiration because I feel PCs are often enough at advantage when they want to (and I dislike, as a GM, rewarding roleplaying). I could see the mechanism you describe working using a stackable ad hoc ressource.

I am not familiar with BitD, but I feel giving such a tool to my players would not prevent overthinking. They are prone to do it, spending two hours doing nothing except planning a perfect method... just to discover that it is derailed at step 1 or 2 out of 48...I think they'd keep planning for hours AND use flashbacks on top of that.
The amount you suggested (one to three per character per day) is enough to cover the heist... But would it change how PLAYERS approach the game? I think the ressource should entice players to go blind. Maybe a naturally decaying ressource along the line of "The more you plan beforehand, the less you have?" It might be to gamified though.

Great idea anyway!
 

overgeeked

B/X Known World
Maybe a naturally decaying ressource along the line of "The more you plan beforehand, the less you have?" It might be to gamified though.
That’s a good idea. I don’t care if it’s gamified. It’s a game. I just want there to be some connection between the mechanic and the fiction. To me that makes sense because they can only plan so much, they only have so much time to plan. Either they plan ahead in game or they “plan ahead” using flashbacks. No double dipping.

But yeah, carefully planning 48 steps ahead only to be derailed on step 2 is...yeah. That’s exactly the kind of wasted time I’m looking to avoid.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/They)
What if rather than the players having a resource, they give you a resource you can spend to introduce a new complication later. That’d create a kind of snowball effect where they use flashbacks to deal with complications, which gives you ammo to add new complications, which they’ll use more flashbacks to deal with, etc.
 

Quickleaf

Legend
I've done this. The resource I settled on was Inspiration.

One of the players liked the mechanic enough to incorporate it into an awesome heist 3-shot he ran.

I thought I was borrowing from Fiasco... or Leverage... one of those indie RPGs. But I guess BitD uses it too! Cool!
 

MarkB

Legend
How about a Recharge mechanism, shared across the party. You have a Flashback available at the start of the current operation, which any player can use, as a freebie - it's guaranteed to occur. After that, it recharges on a roll of 4-6 on a d6.

But here's the twist: Once the party's had that initial freebie flashback, a player only gets to roll the Recharge after they declare a new flashback. If they roll high enough, the flashback occurs. If not, they can't use it to resolve the current situation and it plays out as it was going to - but they or another player can try to roll again the next time someone wants to call for a flashback.

You can even use that to modify for the quality of flashback. A flashback that simply overturns a bad roll result gets you a standard recharge, but one that would put you in an advantageous position for the rest of an encounter will result in you needing to roll 5-6 to recharge, and one which would give you a significant advantage through the rest of the entire operation might result in needing to roll a 6 in order to get another flashback.
 

overgeeked

B/X Known World
How I'm thinking of it is like this. The players form a multi-step plan to accomplish their goal. We're typically talking about a heist or other complicated thing, but I'll just keep using heist. The players make a plan that has 8 steps, for example. Most of those steps will require some kind of roll. The dice will break in favor of the PCs some time and break against the PCs some time. When the dice break against the PCs, that's when the DM introduces complications. But, no one wants to properly derail the plan, DM or players. So, flashbacks are there for the PCs to use to overcome those complications in fun and interesting ways...without every complication devolving to combat or derailing the plan entirely and thus wasting everyone's time. But, flashbacks should be limited and not a universal "I win" button. Some things you couldn't have planned for and you only have so much time to plan, thus a limited resource.
What if rather than the players having a resource, they give you a resource you can spend to introduce a new complication later. That’d create a kind of snowball effect where they use flashbacks to deal with complications, which gives you ammo to add new complications, which they’ll use more flashbacks to deal with, etc.
To me that works the opposite of how I'd want it to. That would encourage the players to simply not use it in the first place so I wouldn't get the resource to use later. That doesn't work for me.
I've done this. The resource I settled on was Inspiration.

One of the players liked the mechanic enough to incorporate it into an awesome heist 3-shot he ran.

I thought I was borrowing from Fiasco... or Leverage... one of those indie RPGs. But I guess BitD uses it too! Cool!
Did you expand on how many instances of Inspiration they could have at any one time? Only having one at a time seems limiting. They'd have to RP their butts off to generate more during a heist.

Fiasco and Leverage might have a similar mechanic. I honestly don't remember.
How about a Recharge mechanism, shared across the party. You have a Flashback available at the start of the current operation, which any player can use, as a freebie - it's guaranteed to occur. After that, it recharges on a roll of 4-6 on a d6.

But here's the twist: Once the party's had that initial freebie flashback, a player only gets to roll the Recharge after they declare a new flashback. If they roll high enough, the flashback occurs. If not, they can't use it to resolve the current situation and it plays out as it was going to - but they or another player can try to roll again the next time someone wants to call for a flashback.

You can even use that to modify for the quality of flashback. A flashback that simply overturns a bad roll result gets you a standard recharge, but one that would put you in an advantageous position for the rest of an encounter will result in you needing to roll 5-6 to recharge, and one which would give you a significant advantage through the rest of the entire operation might result in needing to roll a 6 in order to get another flashback.
I'm not sure I'm reading this right. It seems like you'd have 100% chance for one flashback per heist (starting freebie), then a 50% chance of getting a second (recharge on a 4-6), then a 25% chance of getting a third (recharge on a 4-6...after recharging on a 4-6)...on down. I want it to be limited, but rolling for a recharge doesn't seem like a good idea, to me at least.
 

Quickleaf

Legend
overgeeked said:
Did you expand on how many instances of Inspiration they could have at any one time? Only having one at a time seems limiting. They'd have to RP their butts off to generate more during a heist.

The context was stealth infiltrating a lizardfolk war camp. My current group tends to go deep into analysis and planning, so to stem that tendency I said "You have 1 hour to plan your approach while I set up the map (pre-Covid), and then after that the rest of the session will be how your plan plays out."

I gave each of them Inspiration at the start of the session. I explained "You can spend your Inspiration as normal... OR... you can spend it to do a mini-flashback for how you actually planned for just such an eventuality during your planning."

One player ended up using it to ret-con a communication method between the split party.

And one player used it to have a NPC ally waiting in the water to pull away a body, IIRC.
 

overgeeked

B/X Known World
The context was stealth infiltrating a lizardfolk war camp. My current group tends to go deep into analysis and planning, so to stem that tendency I said "You have 1 hour to plan your approach while I set up the map (pre-Covid), and then after that the rest of the session will be how your plan plays out."

I gave each of them Inspiration at the start of the session. I explained "You can spend your Inspiration as normal... OR... you can spend it to do a mini-flashback for how you actually planned for just such an eventuality during your planning."

One player ended up using it to ret-con a communication method between the split party.

And one player used it to have a NPC ally waiting in the water to pull away a body, IIRC.
That’s great. Sounds like it was easy to use. Did you give much more explanation than that or was that enough?
 

billd91

Hobbit on Quest (he/him)
What if rather than the players having a resource, they give you a resource you can spend to introduce a new complication later. That’d create a kind of snowball effect where they use flashbacks to deal with complications, which gives you ammo to add new complications, which they’ll use more flashbacks to deal with, etc.
That’s reminiscent of the Force pool in Fantasy Flight’s Star Wars games. As players use the light side resources, they flip to be dark side resources for the GM. I think it could work reasonably well - it could be as simple as giving the DM multiple points of Inspiration to use to use for NPCs.
 

MarkB

Legend
I'm not sure I'm reading this right. It seems like you'd have 100% chance for one flashback per heist (starting freebie), then a 50% chance of getting a second (recharge on a 4-6), then a 25% chance of getting a third (recharge on a 4-6...after recharging on a 4-6)...on down. I want it to be limited, but rolling for a recharge doesn't seem like a good idea, to me at least.
No, that's just the chance of them successfully getting three flashbacks in a row. If they fail a recharge check, that means they can't use a flashback to get out of this one situation (i.e. the 'caught by the security guard' situation), but they can still try it again five minutes later, to resolve the next mishap.
 

Have the PCs make a 'plan'. Make this plan very vague, the sort of thing they do in making the plan rather than specific steps. Eg "I use my skill in history to try and find out any local stories about the mansion" Just a tiny step more than "I use History". Then have them roll the skill. Each success puts a token in the pool that anyone can later use for a flashback. Once this is done the plan is finished. There is no actual plan, this is just answering the basic question "how was a plan made?"

The PCs should then use that vague planning stage as a driving off point for their flashbacks. It doesn't have to be directly related, it could be that while the pc with history was trying to find out the history of the local area they somehow came across the path of the keeper of the inner gate while he was on a bender in town and blackmailed him - that's cool.
 


loverdrive

Makin' cool stuff (She/Her)
The amount you suggested (one to three per character per day) is enough to cover the heist... But would it change how PLAYERS approach the game? I think the ressource should entice players to go blind.
Well, they would eventually get used to it, and smacking them over the head yelling "DON'T PLAN ANYTHING FOR THE GOD'S SAKE!" from time to time also helps.

Maybe simply limit each character to 1-2 or 2-3 flashbacks per heist or per day.

What do you think? What mechanical limit should there be on things like flashbacks in D&D5E? I'm not interested in arguing about whether or not to use flashbacks, only what mechanical limit should be used to control how many can be done.
Blades assume that most of the flashbacks are free, a bit of a stretch is 1 stress (out of 9) and 2+ is something just utterly ridiculous, so 2-3 flashbacks is kinda low.

I mean, the players are supposed to yell "FLASHBACK!" at every complication that arises, as every setback is actually just another step in their plan.
 

overgeeked

B/X Known World
Blades assume that most of the flashbacks are free, a bit of a stretch is 1 stress (out of 9) and 2+ is something just utterly ridiculous, so 2-3 flashbacks is kinda low.

I mean, the players are supposed to yell "FLASHBACK!" at every complication that arises, as every setback is actually just another step in their plan.
Right. If it's "an ordinary action for which you had easy opportunity," like asking a friend to show up somewhere, it's free. It's the 1 stress stuff I was shooting for with the question. "A complex action or unlikely opportunity." Things like hiding extra guns under the card table, just in case.
 

One thing that might be fun is to prepare some kind of major complication that can appear at some point to throw everything into chaos. An obvious one might be a third faction appearing in the middle of the heist and throwing everything into chaos.

So you could allow PCs to have as many flashbacks as they like, but everytime they do you keep a track of the number. At various points you roll a D20 and if it's lower than the number of flashbacks so far...bang, the complication happens.
 

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