What are the best/most interesting mechanics you've seen?

We’ve all had the experience of reading through a shiny new RPG and stumbling across a really cool little mechanic which perfectly encapsulates a genre or has intriguing depth to it or feels really original. What are some examples you’ve seen?

A couple for me:

  • In Troika, an OSR game, the order of inventory matters. When trying to retrieve something in a hurry, you have to roll under the item’s position in the list. This makes inventory management, a usually arithmetic staple of the OSR into thinking about item practicality which is cool

  • In Dead World, a wild west reskin of Apocalypse World, Open Your Brain is replaced by the following. It perfectly encapsulates the scene of a character showing their personal philosophy to the world, which feels so very western

When you indulge your vices and your mind is besotted with your particular pleasures (booze, opiates, whores, gambling, violence, righteous anger), you gain revelatory insights amidst all this squallor. Roll+will and pontificate, in brief or in full, about the nature and truth of things. On a hit, the MC will seize on something you’ve said and elaborate on your insight. On a 10+, they’ll straight-up tell you something you hadn’t realized before. On a 7-9, they’ll hint at the answer to something that’s been vexing you. On a miss, some truth will set you free, but not this truth. No, this truth is gonna shove you right back into the mud.

  • In Fellowship, a LotR inspired PbtA game, NPC followers are used like resources. They each have a trait or two (e.g. the hunting bird has Eagle Eye and Go For The Eyes) which they can use once per unit of adventure. This allows a companion to be incredibly useful but never outshine the players

  • And despite it being old hat, of course I have to mention Apocalypse World’s GM agenda, principles and moves. The idea of formalising the GM’s role and responses is a really cool one.


I’m going to think on this, but in the meantime, this thread offers a subset of answers: What’s your favorite advancement mechanic? What's your favorite advancement or experience system in games and why?


Character generation in Traveller.

Marc Miller, Traveller’s designer, is a decorated army Captain and the game reflects his experience and influences. In many ways it is a game about service, even though the core activities of many traveller PCs are grey market tramping, piracy and mayhem. A tired joke about Traveller is that you can die during character creation. This is completely true. As a guy who earned a bronze star in Vietnam no doubt knows intimately, it is also true in real life.


Ooh, I really like the way that Dead World move is written so that the player pontificates with their own opinions first, then the MC tells them stuff.

Some of my favorites:

  • In Girl Undergound, the Girl starts with a list of manners that have been taught to her by society, but as the game progresses you can re-write them into beliefs that allow her to claim her own agency.
  • In Fiasco, chargen begins from the relationships between the characters.
  • In Death Takes A Holiday, you draw a tarot-type card, have two different people interpret it, and then pick the one you like better. Then play passes to the person who you didn’t pick.

In Cartel, there isn’t a Basic Move to shoot somebody, but there’s a Basic Move that’s When you get Fucking Shot. As with Endure Enemy Fire in Night Witches, it neatly mechanized the inherent chaos and sheer dumb luck associated with real-world violence. You don’t actively dodge or shoot guns out of anyone’s hand, you just hope the bullet (or flack) doesn’t have your name on it.

Inner Conflict in Hearts of Wulin is amazing for capturing the very genre-specific needs of romantic wuxia. ‘Does this rise to the level of inner conflict?’ Is my new favorite sentence.


Take A Powerful Blow from Masks is great.

I love the Negotiation mechanics from Red Markets where you effectively enter a short mini-game where mechanics support the narrative of push/pull in negotiating a price for your services, with the negotiator character being supported by Oceans Eleven style behind-the-scenes support from the rest of the crew.


The Grid in Grey Ranks - at the same time it expresses your emotional position, gives an indication of how likely you are to be successful in your next turn (through die size), gives a list of potential things to include in your next scenes, and helps you weigh up the relative risk of pursuing your love or your duty. And it gives you a good idea of how close you are to meeting your end.

Oh, and it does that for every other player at the same time.

Such a good mechanic.


And preparedness in various Gumshoe games, but especially seen in Nights Black Agents and Timewatch IMX - a mechanic that lets you pull out ‘here is something that I prepared earlier’ without having had to plan it out or write it down beforehand. Such a fun and game-smoothing operation.


I love the countdown die for combat in 13th age so combat doesn’t take forever.

Also the move “Oh Yeah” from the Faceless playbook for Apocalypse World. It lets you smash through walls.


Just Moves (player and GM) in general. Revelatory as a way of codifying the direction the game wants you to take. If I had to pick a particular one, Turn Someone On and Run Away from Monsterhearts 2 are perfect story generators.


It’s sort of an “anti-rule,” but I love that Into the Odd only includes stats for Strength, Dexterity, and Willpower, and NOT for “Intelligence” or “Wisdom.” While the rule text could be more explicit about it, I love how this reflects that problem solving and ingenuity are up to the players more than the dice.


I love Preparedness! It’s the perfect replacement for an inventory in a narrative games. I wish more narrative games that used skills made a spot for it.

1 Like

Flashbacks and giving the crew it’s own charactersheet/abilities in Blades in the Dark


Related to @Jmstar’s Traveler answer: Lifepath character creation. I first saw it in Burning Wheel. I appreciate any system where characters are the product of their environment, and have a sense of history that you don’t have full control over. This was so much more appealing to me than rolling for stats.


It’s particularly great in Timewatch since that’s a game about retcons and setting things up via time travel!

I’m a big fan of the way that Mythic/Titanic actions in Mythender come with an inherent “upping the ante” factor. They give you a greater reward (and greater potential of corruption) while requiring you to narratively describe something fitting of the action, which is the GM’s window to nudge you to push the envelope. In collective, when players are firing off around the table, it means that what’s happening in play keeps escalating in terms of narrative color, and it leads to awesome action sequences where you just keep going with your imagination.

I absolutely love the way that “Luck” works in Dusk City Outlaws. Its so incredibly multipurpose and very much “in genre” for heist fiction.

Having used Dusk City Outlaws and an “intro/first” game for complete newcomers, I can also attest to how exceedingly intuitive it is for complete RP novices.

I’m really into Genesys’s Success/Failure & Advantage/Disadvantage system. Players roll from a pool of coloured dice based on skills, challenges etc… If they have more successes than failure they succeed. If they have more advantages than disadvantages they can spend them to add useful details to the scene (or to buy specific bonuses e.g. critical hits). If there are net disadvantages they act as a GM resource.

A lot of games, especially PBTA ones, use the dice roll of a specific to determine things orthogonal to that action. The Genesys dice pool generalises that in a really satisfying and intuitive way.


The Spicy Dice Roll.

In a game I first heard described on The Forge back in '04, user Silmenume described a game run by his DM, Cary. It was a Middle-Earth game that had run for 25 years (and it’s still going now! it’s 40 freakin years old!), using homebrew rules created by folks who had only ever played an early version of D&D.

The main mechanic they use is: Cary asks you to roll a d20. He often doesn’t say why. He often doesn’t give you a target number—though sometimes he does. “Just don’t roll a 1, 2 or 3!” After you tell him the result, he’ll often immediately ask you to roll again. Sometimes there are modifiers added to the rolls, but the modified result doesn’t seem as important as the raw result. Natural 1s and 20s were super important.

After you roll, Cary tells you what happens next.

What the heck does the roll do here, even? I spent years trying to figure out. Eventually I got back in contact with Silmenume, talked more about this game with him and others, even got to listen to some recorded actual play examples.

The roll seems to play many different purposes in this game:

  • Semiotic: Sometimes the GM uses the phrase “Roll a twenty-sided” as pure sign, pure communication. It ritualistically signals, “Pay attention,” or “This is important,” or “The spotlight’s on you, now.”
  • Pacing: Cary calls for rolls constantly. Like, more than one a minute. The fact of the rolls is like a metronome, the natural 1s and 20s are punctuation, escalation.
  • Crutch for Cary’s Authority: This group puts a huge, huge amount of trust in their DM. He can’t break that trust, he’s engaged in a multi-decade social endeavor! Natural 1s and 20s provide Cary with the license to say things that would otherwise stretch the players’ trust. They prepare the players to expect the unexpected and open the door to major escalation and change in situation.
  • Magic 8-Ball: A queue to Cary to describe the next outcome as basically what’s expected, or better or worse, depending on how high the die rolls. Often used very weakly. Kinda like Tarot cards in Everway.
  • Injecting Unwelcome Outcomes: Cary’s got a lot of authority to narrate pretty much whatever he wants, in this game. But, by the table’s implicit social contract, that authority is very much constrained by the dice. Sometimes the dice force his hand in a way he wouldn’t have otherwise chosen.

Anything that provides robust rules for broad strokes vs. in-depth play like Legacy’s zooming in and out between characters and the organizations they’re attached to.

Flashbacks as used in BitD.

Skills attached to professions. “I have two ranks in Sailor” vs. “I have a rank in navigation, two in sailing, and another two in knot-tying.” Barbarians of Lemuria used rules like this.

Skills not attached to stats: “I have two ranks in sea-faring, can I use those with my charisma stat bonus to try and convince the fisherman to tell us where he saw the sunken ship.” I first saw this in Beyond the Wall.

Anything that preferences scene over encounter.


Otherkind dice… I first saw it in Ghost/Echo, but it originates with Otherkind hence the name. It’s an incredibly easy, fortune-in-the-middle, conflict-resolution dice mechanic to learn. It yeilds interesting narrative results. And it only requires a minimum of 2d6, standard dice, which are easy to come-by anywhere in the world. You don’t even need a game, you can just carry around 2d6 and make any game you want on the spot. I also love fortune-in the-middle.

This is where Vincent first talks about it on his blog.