The simple version of ranking each axis is entirely relative; that is to say, all that matters is one axis is prioritised over another.
You could also interpret the rankings as absolute numbers, if that’s useful. A sample scale might be:
Rank 1 – either no consequence from the property, or a complete absence of the property.
- Catalyst – there are no clues present
- Tension – there is no conflict for the PCs to become involved in
- Portal – this is (physically) a dead end
- Domain – no territory or important people to speak of
Rank 2 – item is present but very low priority. Mostly the fallout from interaction is of low value, or low threat level. Interaction is optional and the yields from that interaction may be low.
- Catalyst – the clue is a side-quest or minor detail; an irrelevance
- Tension – there is a conflict here, but it can be ignored and will have little effect on the PCs
- Portal – connections with other places are routine and uninteresting
- Domain – there are people of power here, but their ability to affect the PCs is limited.
Rank 3 – item is medium priority. It’s a significant feature, but not the dominating feature. It could be a real hindrance/distraction to the PCs if it’s a sideline. This feature isn’t automatically uncovered but is likely to be with some persistence/curiosity.
- Catalyst – the clue is important and will lead the PCs in a particular direction; it isn’t essential, but it is interesting.
- Tension – there is a significant conflict going on that can involve the PCs.
- Portal – there are some interesting connections to other locations.
- Domain – there are powerful people here, and they will make their presence felt if the PCs look at them funny.
Rank 4 – item is a high priority. It is guaranteed that the PCs will encounted this feature upon entering the location; it’s sufficiently high profile that it may be telegraphed (e.g. everyone knows Armitage rules the Barrens with an iron fist – enter at your peril!).
- Catalyst – the PCs are guaranteed to find the clue
- Tension – the PCs are guaranteed to be drawn into a conflict or feud
- Portal – the location is the gateway to somewhere different, and important
- Domain – there are powerful people here who can seriously affect the PCs, and will demand some sort of tribute.
Rank 5 and above – these will be automatically encountered as for Rank 4; higher ranks exist only to establish priority above Rank 4. Encountering these events is a certainty, but Rank 5 factors will take precendence over Rank 4.
p>In the simple system axes are definitely prioritised one above another; that’s still my recommended approach. However there may be times when the GM wants to give two axes equal priority. Fine, go for it. My only reservation is that unless both axes are Rank 4 (i.e. they must be encountered) then these features are essentially optional; in which case, what do you gain from giving them equal priority? One will always be encountered before the other, and if it proves more interesting the other will be ignored.
The absolute ratings do serve another purpose. Total the ranks and you get the Threshold of the location. Threshold can be used for campaign planning; in early stage campaigns locations of a certain Threshold are off-limits. Or at least, the PCs can enter, but can’t interact. If the weenie PC party enter a location with an exceptionally high Domain, for example, they’ll be safe–but only because they’re unlikely to be taken seriously. When they return as older and wiser (and more powerful) versions, the place suddenly becomes more threatening.
I’ll discuss the Threshold later, when it comes to considering Scope–the dimensions of your sandbox. TTFN.