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Jun 28 2012

The Idea and the Mechanic

I have a lot of discussions with a friend of mine named Drew about games, mechanics, how to implement them, what’s good, what works and why. Recently he was telling me about how one of the guys in his group mentioned Dresden Files and how a campaign starts with characters who were already set in the world and interconnected. Drew’s player then mentioned it was something Drew did for them in a Savage Worlds Deadlands game. This brought up the concept of Idea’s in RPG’s and how they can be imported from one game to another.

My favorite idea from a RPG is the Core Clue concept from Gumshoe by Robin Laws:

  • If there’s a clue give it to the players but don’t tell them what to do with it.

That’s the idea but the mechanic changes a little bit in the Gumshoe system:

  • If there’s a clue in a scene and a character has a point (training) in the field they find the clue. If they choose to make a spend, and there is extra information to be gained, they learn it.

The mechanic leads to a game where it pays to have people specialized in a variety of investigative fields offering some niche protection along with a resource management mechanic. Once you spend a point in one of your fields you won’t get it back until the next scenario. Even if you hit zero points during the scenario you’re still considered trained so will find any Core Clue associated with the field, but are tapped out from finding the extra information.

I’ve only played a little Gumshoe but I like the idea more than the mechanic. The problem is if you want to use the idea you still need some way to implement it since mechanics are the implementations of ideas. My mechanic is a little less mechanical and relies on one guideline:

  • During an investigation scene a core clue will be found as long as a character states they’re participating in an action that would find it.

In other words, if the core clue is the gun wrapped in plastic and dropped in the back of the toilet seat then an investigator stating they’re searching the place is good enough to gain the core clue. Now if I’m playing a D20 game or Savage Worlds I’ll have extra information gained, if there’s any to be gained, on a successful roll or a raise. I might introduce a complication if the roll is failed and a complication makes sense. Either way the clue is found so the story continues and we move to the next question. Now that the players have the gun what does it mean and what do they do with it?

These are the mechanics I use in a D20 or Savage game with an investigation. The idea behind them is the same as Gumshoe but my mechanic puts forth a slightly different agenda. I require my players to interact with the scene (I think Gumshoe also does this), there is never a dead end in my investigations, and I use the mechanics given to me by the game I’m playing to facilitate the idea given to me by Gumshoe.

That’s only one example of porting an idea from one game to another. I’ve done it with FATE points and aspects into D20 and I’ve used different campaign framing devices similar to Dresden and Smallville. It’s all about understanding the idea so you can build the idea into the games core mechanic.

Say you want a conflict resolution system in your Pathfinder game for social situations that’s a little more robust than a single diplomacy roll and less fiated than just talking it out.

First I identify the core mechanic:

Pathfinder uses a D20 roll plus a modifier vs a difficulty number to determine success or failure.

Second I identify the idea from another game I want to use:

I like how Fate and Dresden uses stress tracks to determine how much you can take before your taken out. I also like the idea of setting stakes before the conflict from a variety of games.

Third I figure out how they can be melded together to create the idea from the second step into the mechanic from the first step.

This one takes a little work. I think I’m going to need a stress track. Charisma is force of personality and I feel it’s the best ability score to use to build a stress track. Design wise I think a social stress track in Pathfinder should be 2 + your Charisma modifier. Now that we have a way to build a stress track we need a way to have the conflict. This means guidelines.

A conflict like this should be something that is a point – counter point situation, maybe includes more than a single point, or has different angles it can be argued from. If the conflict is of sufficient importance then stakes must be set. Stakes are what one side is looking to achieve vs the other sides goal.

Now that we have a guidline for what constitutes using this system we need to resolve it. I break a little from convention here and would have each side argue one point and make opposed rolls using d20 + diplomacy, take the difference and divide it by 5 rounding up. Whoever lost takes that much stress on their track. Repeat this until someone is knocked off the track.

To make things more interesting I would include a couple things:

  • If you get knocked off the track you can take one complication to save yourself from being taken out but your track becomes full. A complications is something the player and GM create to make the characters life harder in the future. It will never be good and the GM can pull it out whenever they want. For example if the character is having a conflict with the local lord and gets taken off the track but decides to take the complication the GM and player decide the complication is the local lords ire. This means the GM can pull the local lords ire complication out once in the future at any time he wants as long as it makes sense in the story.
  • If the character has some advantage to the situation they gain a +4 to their rolls. Having incriminating documents, witnesses, a drunk opponent, a crowd favorable towards the character, ect.

That’s all I got for today. I hope this sheds a little light on how to transfer an idea from one game to another. It’s sort of a 101 on hacking games. If you have anything to share or insights on the topic I’d love to hear about them.

Game On,
Chris “The Light” Sniezak

2 comments

  1. Chris Sniezak

    I couldn’t agree more with your idea about NPC’s being interesting and sometimes doing things that are unexpected.

  2. Drew

    I’m “Drew”, and i approve of this post.

    But seriously, I’ve been a big fan of the SavageWorlds system for a long time now, its the core mechanic I want to use most. But thats not to say there arent a lot of great mechanics and aspects of other systems that SW doesnt use.

    For instance, one of my favorite parts of 4th Edition D&D is that each monster feels “different”, they aren’t just different hit points and attack damages, they all have a unique ability that makes players feel like they’re fighting something thats different from the last monster they fought. I’ve taken a lot of those unique monster abilities and translated them into SavageWorlds in order to make NPCs and encounters a little more interesting. It doesn’t matter that those NPCs will have different mechanics than the PCs have, its about making things interesting and sometimes, unexpected.

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