Beats and Breathers
(Back to the Rule Reference)
The game time is measured in units called Beats. Each Beat represents a unit of time chosen by the Narrator. The shortest a Beat can be is a second and the longest is a century, and every increment in-between is fair game. No matter how short or long a Beat may be in terms of time, each character may only take one significant action once per Beat.
The length of a Beat may change throughout your story, but it will generally remain the same so long as your conversation lingers on a given part of the story (e.g. so long as your characters remain at a given location, or through an in-character conversation, or until the end of a fight).
Beats give you a framework within which to describe the action. If the Narrator shifts the Beats down to just a few seconds at a time, you know the pressure’s on and everyone has to pay a lot more attention to the little details (this is common in combat, for example). If the Beats move up to one a minute, then you can rest a little easier and lavish detail on each Beat — unless of course you’re in the middle of a foot chase or another situation that demands you keep your descriptions tight and focused.
Most of the time the Narrator probably won’t even have to announce the Beats; the natural flow of the conversation will suggest them when they’re needed. Sometimes you’ll need to know the Beats to see how much your character can get done alongside other characters, such as the Narrator’s Villains and Extras. This is true in combat, chases, and most other competitions. It’s also true when you’re working with a time limit, even if other characters aren’t involved. In all these cases time ticks down Beat by Beat, usually with each character given the chance to act once in each Beat.
Occasionally your character may “catch a Beat” (meaning he or she can take an extra action immediately), or “lose a Beat” (meaning he or she has to sit the next Beat out, taking no meaningful actions at all). These phrases will make more sense as you see them in context elsewhere in the rules.
Sometimes the Narrator will declare that you aren’t using Beats for a while — usually right after a part of your story ends, when there’s a logical period of downtime before anything important happens again in the game world. These periods are called Breathers, and there are two kinds of them.
• Short – typically last an hour to a day of game time
• Long – can last multiple days, or even weeks or months
A Breather might be called so the Narrator can abridge an otherwise dull period of the story, or so the Heroes can regroup and recover resources, or just to give everyone some time to clear their heads in the real world. A single Breather may be called for all these reasons.
Breathers let characters recover lost Resiliences and spent Standings, and they’re also when Keepers store charges in metalminds (see page 447). Long Breathers let players spend Advancements (see page 121), which makes then one of the Narrator’s best tools in controlling the pace of the game.