Something I touched on lightly when discussing the organization of your nodes was the difficulty of working with large networks of nodes.
- Working memory capacity for most adults is in the range of 7 +/- 2 objects. Short-term memory capacity is also 7 +/- 2 when memorizing strings of random digits.
- Beyond these limits, mental functioning drops off rapidly.
In other words, we are generally pretty good at holding somewhere between 5 and 9 objects in our mind at a given time. Any more than that and it becomes increasingly difficult (or impossible).
So if you start trying to tackle large networks of nodes, you can quickly reach a point at which you can’t keep the whole network “in your head” at the same time. At this point, the network becomes difficult to design and manage (particularly in real-time at a game table).
Properly organizing your network can make it easier to manage, of course. (The Act I structure I posted, for example, took 15 difficult-to-manage nodes and broke them down into 6 major nodes with a varying number of sub-nodes. I could easily grasp the structure of the 6 major nodes and then “zoom in” to focus on the sub-nodes as necessary.)
But this principle also offers us an opportunity as designers: A quick and easy way to add complexity to a node-based scenario is to simply add a second set of nodes that are largely or entirely disconnected from the first set.
I call this technique the Second Track.
In my experience, it’s particularly easy to run a second track if the tracks use different methods of linking their nodes. For example, you might create a timeline of “backdrop events” combined with a primary network of clue-linked nodes. But this division of methods isn’t strictly necessary.
The reason this works well is that, from your perspective behind the screen, there are just two “chunks” of 4-6 nodes each: Easy to keep track of. Easy to understand. Easy to design. Easy to run.
But for the players – who aren’t privy to that structure – there are 10-12 nodes. This pushes it past the Magic Number Seven and presents them with enough complexity to become enigmatic.
(To put it a different way: The GM can easily handle the reactions of Conspiracy 1 independently from the reactions of Conspiracy 2. Until the players figure out that there are two different conspiracies, however, they can’t even start to unravel what’s happening to them.)