Friday, August 4, 2017

Discussion: Your Favorite Mechanic

RPGs have a lot of mechanics to help power their games. However, not all these mechanics work out as well as the designers intended. Some fail to do their job, or do their job but are more burdensome than helpful. Others are great fun, but maybe don't do what they were intended for? Some though, do the job and t hey do it well.

So what is your favorite?

For me, I think I have two.

The first is Raises. Raises is basically the system allowing the player to call their own critical hits. If you're good enough to do a task well, you can call raises and get more impact out of the GM. It's the difference between needing to hope for a mega good roll that is a low percentage chance of happening, and being able to make those moments happen when you want. Sure, it robs the joy of a nat 20 at the right moment, but it also lets you feel your character's superior skill when you can do things better than other people not because you luck out on the die roll, but because you can call more raises than them. You can find this mechanic in Legend of Five Rings and in the original 7th Sea.

The second is actually another John Wick game. It's the "team bond" mechanic found in The Aegis Project. The mechanic is simple: for every mission a PC has survived with the group they putt 1d6 into a communal pool (up to 5 max) at the beginning of the session. If the PC wants to keep some for themself that's fine too, but it's holding back from the group. Then, during play, any Player can pull one or more dice from that communal pool at any time (without group permission) and spend it to help with an action. At the end of the session, every unspent die is becomes an alotment of XP that gets evenly spread across the whole group. Remainder dice are lost.

I love this second mechanic because it very aptly represents a group cohesion in a stress situation. It makes the whole group feel it if someone dies, because suddenly Tom isn't dropping 5 dice into the pool anymore. He's dropping 0. Only, Tom is still spending from the pool, and Tom's new character is still getting a fair cut of the bonus XP even though he didn't put anything in to it. Which means you also get the feel of the FNG and having to accomodate getting this new person not only into the squad, but meshing with the other members.

It's a wonderful mechanic, and one I try to use anytime I'm doing a war game where the idea is the story of a squad.

How about you?

1 comment:

  1. The one campaign I'm running right now is Force & Destiny, so I'll use a couple of mechanics I really like from it.

    First, the story dice mechanic it uses is impressive. At first glance, using six different kinds of non-standard dice (actually seven, but Force dice aren't part of the basic mechanic I'm extolling) is understandably going to generate skepticism. However, each roll tends to be replete with narrative, particularly compared to your average RPG's hit/miss dice mechanic.

    All rolls intrinsically allow for the possibility of:
    1) success of different degrees
    2) success with complication(s)
    3) success with side benefit(s)
    4) failure with additional complication(s)
    5) failure with side benefit(s)
    Then many rolls (those the include proficiency/Challenge dice), in addition to the above, allow for the possibility for:
    1) An outsized demonstrative side benefit
    2) An outsized demonstrative complication

    Whew! Yes, there is a learning curve, but it's not as bad as all of that may imply. Once you get the hang of it, the dice mechanic can drive the narrative pretty relentlessly. Best if you come with your creative thinking cap on, because you're probably going to get plenty of chances to use it.

    The other dice mechanic from Force & Destiny that I really like are Destiny Points. Like A.L's aforementioned "team bond" mechanic, it's a group resource for the players. At the beginning of each session, each player rolls that 7th non-standard Force die to generate either 1-2 Light Side Destiny Points or 1-2 Dark Side Destiny Points. Their cumulative total, both Light & Dark, make up the pool of Destiny Points for that session. The GM uses the Dark side points for NPCs, and the players use Light Side points. Once a Destiny Point of either kind is used, it "flips" to the other kind for the other side to use. That, in and of itself, is pretty clever, I think, allowing for both sides to frequently put it into use.

    However, just as clever perhaps, are points varied uses. The players can use a point to improve their own chances on a roll, decrease a foe's chances on a roll or to take narrative control of a modest aspect of the current scene. The first two uses are straight-forward and solid, but it's that last one that adds an additional cool factor to the mechanic.

    Players want to suggest that there would likely be dumpsters outside that building to provide a little cover? Discuss it with the GM, and use a Destiny Point. Does the NPC's discovered notebook include a list of her favorite watering holes? Is there a stimpack under the seat of that long-abandoned ambulance? Did the group remember to include breathe masks in their mission pack, even tho no one mentioned it? Is that bartender from the same planet as the PC? For all these, discuss the possibility with the GM and use a Destiny Point.