When to use Threat, when to just say it happens

One thing I like about the 2d20 system is the transactional nature of Momentum and Threat–the way the Narrator is encouraged to spend Threat points to create dangers for the PCs, whether it’s through changing the environment or adding new enemies to an encounter.

But it does raise an interesting question–as the Narrator of a game, I can literally say that anything I want happens at any time. If the characters are walking through downtown Helium and I want to say it starts raining frogs, or that giant war machines burst up through the ground, I can do that.

If you’re running a 2d20 game, how strictly do you hold to the Threat economy?

If an encounter is running super-easy, do you ever add enemies as reinforcements, even if you don’t have any Threat points?

In another type of game, I might decide it would be interesting if the Martian moons both pass out of sight during an encounter, shrouding everything in complete darkness and heightening the tensions. What if I’m out of Threat? Should I just not do that?

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Hullo, Isaac,

I find that Threat and its use is very individual taste-wise in this game. There are good guidelines to Threat use in the material for the Narrator, starting on page 145 (as well as the additional uses for Threat that the Narrator has), but I tend to stick to the Threat economy for a couple of reasons. First off, Threat is my equivalent of the players’ Momentum and given that the Narrator starts of with a number of Threat equal to the sum of the Luck points of all the player characters, the Narrator isn’t lacking Threat at the start of the game. How I spend the Threat, as Narrator, is very much part of the Threat economy and that varies from group to group and from what the players do or don’t do. Secondly, Threat makes Narrator characters more effective while its limitations help give scenes and session structure. It’s meant to be a finite resource, so Narrators have to use it wisely and make it work to their advantage in terms of countering the players’ ability to spend Momentum.

In your post above, you talk about making it rain frogs over Helium or have the Barsoomian moons pass out of sight, shrouding things in darkness. It’s the narrative change of environment, as per the Dramatic Environment rules (page 146), so one uses Threat to change the environment. If you don’t have the Threat to do so, then you can’t.

This is because a Narrator should never run out of Threat. They might be low on it, but they should not run out of it. If they have, then they’ve either spent it unwisely or they haven’t encouraged the players to spend Threat. The idea is that it’s part of the Narrator’s job to encourage the players to spend Threat, thus making their lives more…interesting. The key to remember with this, however, is that it’s actually in the players’ (and their characters’) best interest to spend Threat.

Hope this helps. :smile:


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My approach is any change to the scene after it is framed costs threat or comes from a deliver action or consequences/complication of an action. No threat, no reinforcements. No threat, then the airship doesn’t suddenly tilt unless somebody in the scene makes it happen. You can’t just throw in reinforcements and then save your threat to spend on their attack rolls.

It’s deliberate but it’s OK. It narrator actually can’t say whatever they want happens whenever they want. It’s a common expectation/assumption after having played older games but plenty of modern games limit or mechanize the GM role to great success. In 2d20 the GM is a player too. Their end of the game has mechanics too.

If the encounter is too easy and you’re out of threat let them have it. Sometimes things are easy.

Not all difficulty modifiers need to be added to the scene though. Some may be there from the initial framing of the scene. If it’s windy and blowing lots of sand when you frame the scene then up the difficulty of things affected by wind and sand. Liberally applying the environmental affects of things in the scene from the start can haVe a big impact on the difficulty. Players will need more dice so they’ll inevitably have to pay threat.


My universal rule of thumb for Threat use is:

  • When establishing a new scene, the GM (Narrator in the case of JCoM) may describe the situation freely, without needing to spend Threat.
  • Once a scene has begun, the GM/Narrator may only influence events in that scene via the spending of Threat or the action of NPCs

One additional consideration I like to make is that uses of Threat which aren’t purely mechanical can benefit from being foreshadowed - maybe something an NPC does, or the result of a failed test or a complication from a player, or something you described at the start of the scene, creates circumstances that you can spend Threat to influence.


Hullo, Nathan,

Those are excellent rule of thumb guidelines to use.

Thanks for posting that! :smile:


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It could seem that the Threat mechanic “punishes” the players for trying too hard (adding Threat to buy more dice) and diminished the actual threat when used (paying to introduce an NPC with the currency that powers him).

This is surely not the intention.

What is a good way to give the player an incentive to willingly add threat?

When the challenges the heroes face are really tough, and they run out of Momentum, they’ll be motivated to buy dice with Threat.

Narrator: Don’t use threat to punish your characters. Raise the stakes. Don’t undermine success. Use threat to make cool things happen.

  • Yes: “Wow they’re wrecking these guys very fast and it’s really boring for everyone even though this should be a cool running battle through the streets. Here comes wave 2 to keep the action going a little longer and make things more exciting” spends threat
  • No: “They gave me all this threat and I’ve gotta use it so here’s 3 white apes and I’ll keep rolling 4 dice at a time, even though that other fight was really evenly matched and the PCs are really beat up. Gotta spend it.” spends threat
  • Yes: “Oh wow you did this really awesome thing and blew up that air ship! The battle field is littered with burning airship wreckage now and roll a defense against this hazard of falling debris.” spends threat
  • No: “Wow… you blew up my…I mean their airship? Yeah that was cool I guess but now I have no airship. OK their reinforcements show up in another airship.” spends threat
  • Yes: “The thark PC has all these talents around taming savage beasts… I know! When they’re riding through the mountain pass a white ape attacks to give the thark a chance to show off” spends threat

Players: It’s not about giving the Narrator fuel to punish you. The Narrator’s job is to create a fun and exciting story with ups and downs. The threat system explicitly mechanically ties that into your success. The narrator can not “just do stuff.” The game will be more boring if you do not add threat.

2nd thing for Narrators: Enforce the limitation of only using momentum once per turn. If your players don’t also spend threat then they’re going to miss out.

2nd thing for Players: Use threat to buy extra momentum spends for cool stuff when your Narrator enforces the once per turn limit on momentum spending.

Threat is fuel for the engine of the game. It’s like a hybrid car engine. Threat is gasoline. Momentum is the electricity that is generated by driving the car. You can get some miles with momentum, but you’re not getting far without also putting some threat in the car.