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

Otherkind

Yes, Otherkind dice are the greatest. I love any system that really sets the stakes before the roll and having multiple factors (one per die) adds a lot of the mixed-fortunes that make the 2D6+ stat Moves in some PbtA games flow so nicely.

Learn by failing

The advancement rules in Mouse Guard and Torchbearer requires both successful and failed attempts to improve a skill.

4 Likes

Oh boy, where to start?! Every time I learn about a new game there’s a very high chance that something catches my attention… when i first heard of fate’s success scale and traits system I was blown away… same when I first heard of the pbta philosophy…
Right now I’m truly fascinated by Forbidden Lands’ “push” system that let you roll a test again but with higher stakes involved. The first time I heard of it I didn’t really buy it, but when I saw in an actual play I was amazed by its potential!

3 Likes

CoC 7th Edition introduced that mechanic too but I haven’t seen it in action

Call of Chtuluh? Interesting! But I guess having a straight re-roll as I expect they’ll do in CoC with the d100 system will feel quite different than knowing what’s the base price of raising the stakes as in Forbidden Lands (in FL you got a pool and you don’t re-roll 1s and 6s)

1 Like

In Dogs in the Vineyard, I really like the way you can escalate between different forms of violence - switching forms when you’re outmatched, marrying escalation to consequence, and acknowledging the various forms of violence whose impact is contextual. I love that the game includes violence and also has something so nuanced to say about it.

8 Likes

I really dig the Devil’s Bargain in Blades in the Dark. Offer a twist, unrelated to the consequences of the roll, that most likely is a hook for something bigger later. It’s a great way to interject with what you think would be cool/exciting/unexpected without taking away their agency. My players always love to throw out ideas for bargains unprompted, and fishing for them as a group when they really want the extra die. I want to find a way to build a core resolution mechanic around this, somehow.

12 Likes

Speaking of Blades: Stress and resistance rolls.

In particular, that you can resist very nearly anything (except devil’s bargains) and the GM has to roll with it.

which also means the GM can give consequences like “In the rain, you fall off the ledge. You shatter your hip and before anyone can get to you, you drown from the onslaught of rain and wind.”

6 Likes

Blades in the Dark was mentioned a lot already. I second all of them =)

I like the risk sheet in PSI*RUN a lot. It’s simple, but very devious in it’s own way. Some people get a brain freeze over it, which can be fun watching.
My second mentioning is also related to PSI *RUN. I love how the collaboration on the narrative is baked into the rules. This mechanic of having ‘first say’ on something and then passing the control over the narrative to the other players or DM is creating so much collaboration and so many cool stories. (I think i’m in love with PSI *RUN :smile:)

4 Likes

I’m going to combine all these mechanics … to make the best game evah!!!

3 Likes

I really like when tokens gives natural boundaries of rule mechanics or otherwise helps any kind of bookkeeping. I adore how colored paper clips are used in Deadlands to mark wounds or keep track of bullets. I tend to use that in almost everything I do. Shadows over Camelot uses a normal die to keep track of health points, which gives a natural limit of max 6 HP. I like the notion of rolling to get better, which makes the die cap how high a skill can be raised.

I also like graphic design that clearly tells something, like how the dots on the character sheet on Vampire the Masquerade tells, and limits, the players on how good they can be at something. I think the Swedish game Rotsystem (rot = root) has circles that you fill in for skills, but later on the circles are split in half and quarters, which tells the players—in an easy way—that it costs more to raise those skills. I also think the design of the character sheet for D&D4 had some really good design thoughts, merely how they used arrows and plus signs between squares to show, in a clear way, how any kind of calculation is done.

I used that when I designed my own D&D4 character sheet. Here you can also get an example of how a paper clip can be used:

One of my favorites is the Shiver from Fear move in Bluebeard’s Bride, where if the GM sees that a player is unnerved by what’s going on, they ask the player what they’re afraid of, and then show them how the reality of the situation is so much worse.

4 Likes

There are so many, brilliant mechanics, but a couple that come to mind…

Dream Askew / Dream Apart weak moves include a number sub-optimal social decisions that relate to the playbook’s internal conflicts. Showing vulnerability or insecurity might be one character’s weak move, while acting without consideration for other’s might be a different character’s flaw. This expresses fundamental character challenges in a compelling yet subtle way.

Spire has a delightful fallout system, whereby you slowly accumulate stress during play, and then you roll based on your stress levels to see if it results in fallout. If you do get fallout (which are narrative/mechanical consequences), you reduce your stress. The fact that the fallout increases in severity means there’s a delightful incentive for you to hope that you fail early, and feel an increase of tension if you succeed in avoiding fallout because you know it’s coming. It replicates some of the emotional dynamics of Dread, but with dice.

8 Likes

I played a game at Origins called Lead and Gold, which had a Dialogue Card system I haven’t seen before. The premise is that we’re five bank robbers holed up in a safe house after a failed heist. Our leader is dead, and one of us tipped off the cops. We have to figure out who and eliminate the rat, or we’re all going to jail. It’s a character-driven set piece, not a deduction game: there’s no way to actually figure out who the rat is (although one player does have a card telling them that they’re the rat). So the game is just a paranoia-fueled conversation in which we all try to ferret out the rat. The twist is that the players all have Dialogue Cards, which we can pass to another player, and the other player has to follow the instructions on the card. (For example, “Insult somebody, then apologize.”) Works really well to keep the conversation going, since even the expectation of a possible lull will prompt people to slide a card to someone. And in the end, of course, the guns come out, and one of us ends up dead—although, in our case, it turned out not to be the rat.

11 Likes

The flashback mechanic in Blades in the Dark. I love playing out intricate plans but I’ve been in games where we’d spend one whole session planning for every two sessions playing and while it can be fun it can also feel like a huge waste of time. (And there I wasn’t even the GM, for whom in my experience long planning sessions are much worse.)

As a GM, I love the monster design and encounter building guidelines in D&D4E. I ran a combat heavy campaign that wen’t to level 14 or so, and with the exception of one or two encounters every single combat I ran was fun, tense, and exciting for the players and fun for me to run as the GM. I never had to worry that I had picked enemies that were too dangerous or that a creature that was supposed to be a tough opponent would be a pushover, because the challenge ratings just work. If I want to give the players a tough fight they will probably win, I can give them that by following the guidelines and then try as hard as I can to beat them with what I’ve got. I never need to hold back or fudge because the balance is already there. It gives me exactly what I want for a combat focused game where tactics and player skill are part of the fun.

I also love the playbooks in Beyond the Wall. I’m not sold on old-school D&D as such, but man those playbooks. They illustrate character archetypes, they give you hooks, they create character connections, and they set up the setting. Yes, this is standard for PbtA games, but with the random tables everything becomes so quick and easy.

7 Likes

Just thinking back, I played a hack of Dream Askew that outlined just how cool the regular moves are. Just having these actions on the sheet, these “you can always do this” things. Because positioning them in the design allows them to be drivers of narrative. When you do these actions, they’re actions that mean something, so even though you can always do them, you should be thoughtful about when you do them, because they hold power, and you have to think about how you use that power.

2 Likes

Two things that come to mind:

(1) In Stonetop, there’s a move called Keep Company. The text of the move is:

When you spend a stretch of time together (on the road, in camp, etc.) and you or the GM calls for it, take turns asking one of the following questions of a PC or NPC in camp.

  • What do you do that’s annoying/endearing?
  • What do I do that you find annoying/endearing?
  • Who or what seems to be on your mind?
  • What do we find ourselves talking about?
  • How do you/we pass the time?
  • What new thing do you reveal about yourself?

This move was so good that we’ve essentially ported it to every other party-based game we play. It’s an incredibly effective ways to build interesting relationships and introduce new facts. It’s also a great way to shine the spotlight on folks that haven’t been as active to ensure that every member of the group is protagonized.

(2) Someone previously mentioned Troika’s inventory system. Torchbearer has something pretty similar (which is where I first saw it): the system makes tracking inventory, light sources, food/water, etc. interesting by giving most player actions an indirect time cost. It blew me away that you could make the kind of bookkeeping that always seemed to slow down D&D feel compelling and interesting, and also use it to make exploring dungeons feel dangerous even when they are deserted.

13 Likes

The ORE games (Wild Talents, Godlike, Nemesis, Reign) had a great d10 dice pool mechanic to determine where on a the body a character was hit, and had damage categorized into “shock” and “killing” damage. It was a quick way to get specific damage that might cause varying degrees of problems/drama as opposed to generalized hit points that could be easily healed.

4 Likes

Just rediscovered this one, from A Storm Eternal, that I love:

This Is All True
The rulings laid out here are all true. The Ancients are unknowably powerful. Permanently marked harm can’t be healed. A new age will come. These are all facts.

Until they’re not. At some point a player will want to break the rules. They’ll want to face an ancient as equals, or heal permanent harm, or something stranger. This is all possible, but we don’t know how.

How is up to you. When a player wants to do something that doesn’t seem possible, tell them yes, but (choose one or more):

  • The best they can do is a lesser version
  • It’ll cost them _______ to do it
  • They’ll have to gain knowledge of how from _________
  • First you must _________
  • You’ll need help from __________
  • You’ll risk danger from ____________

It so elegantly captures the game’s theme of a world that is shifting into a new age, sets up thrilling stories with climactic moments, and maybe even says something deep about the world. Plus it has a meta quality that I find irresistible.

7 Likes

The choices in This Is All True look a lot like those in the Ritual move for Wizards in Dungeon World. Maybe they had a common ancestor? In any case, I agree that it says really interesting things about the world.

When you draw on a place of power to create a magical effect, tell the GM what you’re trying to achieve. Ritual effects are always possible, but the GM will give you one to four of the following conditions:

  • It’s going to take days/weeks/months.
  • First you must _______.
  • You’ll need help from _______.
  • It will require a lot of money
  • The best you can do is a lesser version, unreliable and limited
  • You and your allies will risk danger from _______.
  • You’ll have to disenchant _______ to do it.
3 Likes

The games share a designer (Sage Latorra) so I wouldn’t say it’s out of the question. :wink:

6 Likes