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Exploring Downtime in Varsity — Sports Anime RPG

 Last time, I talked about the playable classes in Varsity, including the popular tropes I emulated when designing them. This week, I'm talking about downtime in the game. While the sports games themselves are obviously the crux of a sports anime game, making up the biggest climaxes and driving most of the narrative arcs in the story. Break time, however, can be just as important—exploring the characters outside of their roles in their team, giving them the space they need to breathe, introducing and interacting with outside characters like family and friends, and showing the ramifications of what happened in a match. I'll first go over the general definition of "Break Time," mechanically and in universe. Then I'll break down each of the moves that you can use during a Break!

A Break is considered any time that you aren't in a sports match in-universe. In other words, any time the sports clock isn't counting down is Break time. This includes the smallest of breaks within a match itself. The "timeout" Game move allows each player to interrupt a match with a quick huddle, during which time each player may make one Break move. A lot of sports also have a halftime, inserting another round of Break moves. The ramifications of these moves are often small in scope, such as brief dialogue or interactions between players. The largest scene that will result from a Break move during a match is an escape to a washroom to cool down for a few minutes, for example. 

More significant and scene-creating Break moves take place during the week or weeks between matches. Unlike timeouts and halftimes, each player must make at least one move during this break, and during longer (month long, for example) downtimes, they may make as many as three moves. 

So that I can give more specifics, such as defining what I mean by "scene-creating," let me list Varsity's Break moves:

BURN CHALK

When you take command and draw out plans for an upcoming play, roll +eye. If you have any Clues about the enemy team left, like from the “Gather Intel” move, add +1 for each Clue here.  

On any roll, lay out your game plan. On a 10+, your Aces get a +1 ongoing any time they act on your plan. On a 7-9, they get a +1 forward the first time they act on your plan. On a 6-, your information is faulty, or maybe the enemy team sees your plan coming — the first time each Ace acts on your plan, they get -1 forward and gain 1 EXP. 


CATCH UP

When your relationship with Work/School or Family/Friends is below 0 and you try to make things right, roll +skill. On any roll, add +1 to one of these relationships. On a 10+, add another +1. On a 7-9, hold 1 from the list below. On a 6-, you really have to cut corners to make it work — hold 2. If you have any holds you haven’t spent when the next Game starts, you have to miss that Game. Holds can be spent one-to-one from the following list:

  • Miss a practice. 

  • Miss sleep, and get Exhausted (from the penalty list).

  • Let one of your teammates down, and lose relationship with them.


COMEBACK

When you’re not where you need to be in a crucial moment, like if someone needs you and you’re not there or if your coach has pulled you from the Game, make a passionate appeal (to your coach or fate itself) and roll +heart. On a 10+, you somehow get exactly where you need to be earlier than anyone would expect. On a 7-9, you get there, but you’re not in perfect shape — mark a penalty. On a 6-, you get there too late to intervene, and watch everything fall apart before your eyes. 

FACE OFF

When you and someone else have enough of each other and a confrontation breaks out, roll +power. On any roll, you and the person you’re confronting will each choose from the list. If you’re facing off with an NPC, the Referee will choose. If you’re facing off with another Ace, they choose. 

On a 10+, choose two, and the other person chooses one. On a 6-, choose one and the other person chooses two. 

  • You tear them down or embarrass them.

  • You get the last word. 

  • If they’re an enemy ace, get 1 Clue (as in the “Gather Intel” move)

  • You lash out physically, and they get Injured  (from penalties)

If a confrontation becomes physical and anyone important finds out, you might be chewed out (at best) or dismissed from the team (at worst). 


FIND YOUR CENTER

When you take alone time to cool off or heal, roll +heart. On any roll, remove one Condition, like Exhausted, Injured, or Angry (from the penalty list). On a 10+, you can remove one more penalty. On a 6-, it takes a while to find your center — hold 1 from the “Catch Up” move list. 


GATHER INTEL

When you pore through hours of taped games and practices, sneak into an enemy’s field/court, or otherwise investigate a team you’re going to play soon, roll +eye. On any roll, get 1 Clue. On a 10+, get 1 extra Clue. Clues can be spent 1-to-1 to ask the Referee one of the following questions, at any time.

  • What is their ace-in-the-hole?

  • What are they weakest at? 

  • What do they know about us?

  • What are they keeping from us?

On a 9 or lower, your investigation draws unwanted attention. On a 6-, it is also exhausting or dangerous — mark a penalty. 


REACH OUT

When you make a connection and reveal a personal truth to someone, roll +heart. On 10+, choose two. On 7-9, choose one:

  • Increase your relationship with another Ace by 1

  • Increase your relationship with Family/Friends by 1

  • Clear a condition, like Angry or Hopeless (from the penalty list)

  • Decrease the pressure by 1 next time you enter a Game

On a miss, your efforts are ineffective, misunderstood, or understood all too clearly.


RUN YOUR SETS

When you narrate how you do your usual workout and training routine, hold +1 forward in your next Game. If you instead do something riskier or more exhausting, like repeating an impossible shot for hours until you finally make it or carrying training weights throughout your whole day, roll +power. On any roll, mark EXP and hold +1 forward. On a 7-9, get a penalty. On a 6-, get two penalties. 


SHARE A MEAL

When you and someone else eat together, whether you’re sharing a couple of power bars during practice or eating a four-course meal to celebrate a victory, roll +heart. On a 10+, choose three. On a 7-9, choose two. On a 6-, choose one. The same option can be chosen more than once:

  • The food hits the spot — get +1 forward.

  • Increase your relationship with another Ace who’s eating by 1. 

  • Increase your relationship with Family/Friends by 1, if relevant.

  • Choose an NPC who’s eating and hold 1; spend that hold later to get a +1 to a roll when they help or encourage you in the future.



As you can see, there are quite a few options during a Break. "Catch Up," "Find Your Center," "Reach Out," and "Share a Meal" all help you increase relationship with other teammates and remove penalties you've accrued during a game or from other Break moves. "Burn Chalk," "Gather Intel," and even "Face Off" let you prepare for an upcoming game by setting up plays and gathering Clues on the other team. "Run Your Sets" either lets you get a small bonus for narrating your usual training or—for greater risk—gain EXP, which is a rarer resource to come by in Varsity than in many other PbtA games.

Any of these moves can easily lead to a new scene, in which the GM can describe any NPCs that you interact with. In general, an average session of Varsity is balanced between time in game and out of it, but each individual session doesn't have to be. When these scenes that spin out of Break moves discover a kernel of something interesting, like an NPC who has chemistry with a player character or a good piece of drama in a player character's personal life, these threads should be followed. I've played satisfying sessions of Varsity that never actually touched the game court.

Next week, I'll cover Varsity's Game moves. After that, my final Varsity pre-launch blog post will cover penalties and pressure—the systems that drive conflict and risk/reward in the game. 

If you're enjoying these posts about Varsity and want to keep up with the game's development, feel free to follow me @filmatra on twitter.com, or leave a comment about your thoughts below. Some exciting developments are happening behind the scenes, and I'm very much looking forward to officially launching the kickstarter soon. Cheers!

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