A couple weeks ago I talked about Progress Clocks from Blades in the Dark. Today I want to talk about what one of my favorite uses of using Progress Clocks: making trades.
As a refresher, progress clocks are a way of tracking how much progress the PCs have made towards some end goal or consequence. The PCs convincing the king to tighten security for the ball? That could be a progress clock. The PCs trying to find enough information to get the location of a hidden temple? That can be a progress clock. The guards outside a museum, how much loot is getting taken out of the sinking ship? All progress clocks.
Consequence wise, a separate clock can run. How suspicious the king is of the PCs, how close the guards are to raising an alarm, when that ship is sunk and lost below the waves. It all goes to the clocks.
So what is a trade? Quite simply, a trade is exactly that. When you lay out the PCs options you offer a trade. This works best when you have multiple clocks running because you are trading progress on a clock the PCs want, for progress on a clock the PCs don't want.
For example, if the PCs are breaking in somewhere and time is of the essence you could set out that going in through the front door is going to be faster (less lost time on the Time clock) but will trigger an alarm faster (more progress on the Alarm clock if a mess up happens.) It is essentially saying "more dangerous but faster" only with the clocks giving a real way to track both, you have a real choice to be made here.
You could even flat out offer a trade on set progress. A PC fails to pick a lock and is figuring out what to do. You can offer "you could break the window to get in. it will move the Alarm clock 1 forward, but you'll be inside and lose no more time on the time clock."
Why I Like It
I like this because with the clocks letting you track things it adds details and variance to the choices the PCs are making. It adds more strategy and choice. How the PCs break in is no longer "how do we apply our skills to best solve this?" and becomes "how do we best apply our skills to do this without filling a progress clock." After all, a sneaky PC can build themselves to be nigh undetectable, but sneaking is slow. Shooting through security CAN be fast, but it is loud and causes problems. Clocks gives a meaningful way to encourage the players to balance those approaches, and trades give them meaningful choices to make a long the way.