View Full Version : Most enjoyable mechanics (where the gameplay is as fun as the story)

2015-11-27, 12:51 AM
This is something I've given a lot of thought lately. As I'm currently involved in a custom RPG design project I've been scanning over all kinds of tabletop RPGs and looking for those moments where the game mechanics are more captivating than just extra maths or counting spaces.

What are those moments at the table which- on a gameplay level- really make you feel excited? Or invested in what's going on?

I'm thinking things like the Warhammer 40k RPG and it's Psychic Phenomena table where using your powers makes you roll on a huge table of possibilities for weird side-effects can happen. From chilling winds to literally summoning demons through your brain.

Or in Vampire the Masquerade where you have to balance your Humanity- being closer to the 'beast' side of you makes you stronger, but also drives you more crazy and makes you a more noticeable monster.

Anyone have any of their favourites to share? Or even things you'd like to see that nobody has put to use? Would really help my design research :smallsmile:

2015-11-27, 01:19 AM
Most of the time, I'd say that enjoyable mechanics emerge from fairly ordinary but tightly designed ideas. With that said, it sounds like what you're looking for are particularly evocative mechanics which help emphasize the setting or milieu, and for that I recommend Nemesis. There's the psychological tracks, which model both people being severely traumatized or becoming hardened. There's the casual listing of "human shield" on the bullet penetration table that really emphasizes just how bleak of games it's intended for. It's also free, comparatively short, and thus generally accessible for your project.

2015-11-27, 02:03 AM
Definitely one to check out then. A game that handles its theme well is always good to learn from.

Recently I looked into a few systems and even looked through some GURPS and Basic RPG. Honestly? Basic has some interesting ideas for action based games and GURPS may just be the worst designed system I've ever seen! Nothing but maths stacked on rules with no original mechanics. Very upsetting.

Honestly even if people could say "I'd like to see a system that could allow this..." it would be good to know what people are looking for in their paper games.

2015-11-27, 02:22 AM
GURPS is an interesting case. It's very tightly designed, and it actually works really well for the most part* if you like high crunch games, despite not looking like anything special. It's also a very old game, and while a lot of its mechanics actually were pretty new when it first came out, that's something like 35 years ago. If on the other hand you tend to favor more rules light games, math stacked on rules sounds about right. I'd recommend looking at Fudge for the GURPS niche, then taking a look at Fate entirely for the concept of Aspects, which are another mechanic that work extremely well in and only in a particular kind of play. I'd also recommend giving Microscope a spin, but unlike Fudge and Fate it has no free version. It's also the best example of emergent gameplay from simple rules I've ever seen, and helps provide a broad perspective on just what an RPG can be.

*The skill granularity is just completely out of hand regardless, but that's an exception to the rule of it being solid for what it is.

2015-11-27, 04:57 AM
For me I guess the really exciting stuff is modular/combinatoric stuff with non-trivial interactions (e.g. things which don't just add bonuses to the pile, but stuff which fundamentally shifts the limits and utility of other things when used in combination). Less 'this +1 and that +1 add to the same thing!' and more 'well, this lets me heal someone by a little bit, but that thing lets an ability scale with how much the target of the ability has injured me, and this thing over here causes me to share an effect that I apply to someone else, and this other thing means that when my abilities would affect multiple targets I can choose to exclude some... so if I put them all together, I can full-heal myself when fighting a solitary enemy!'

I also like mechanics which somehow help me see or understand something that normally would be beyond me or wouldn't be possible, but those are harder to find.

Kol Korran
2015-11-27, 02:08 PM
There is a basic problem with the question- What people find enjoyable are different things. Some basic examples:
- Some people love the FATE simple mechanics, which focus on character and scene traits, and encompass failure to propel the story further. But some HATE those, not finding a way to approach them.
- Some people3 love the multi detailed and "realistic" rules of Shadowrun, while many find that they bog down play and it's fluidity.
- Even in D&D, consider for example the Rod of Wonder, or similar chaotic effects. You'll usually find some players who go nuts for these, while some hate these with a passion. So... what do you define as "enjoyable", can differ for many people.

Some post in this forum some time ago, directed me to an article about the 8 aesthetics of play: The Angry Dm sums it nicely (http://angrydm.com/2014/01/gaming-for-fun-part-1-eight-kinds-of-fun/), but if you prefer a video then Extra credits had an episode about it as well. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uepAJ-rqJKA)

Basically it says that players come for different gaming experiences- aesthetics of play. These can be to face a challenge, to imagine a fantasy world, to find a way to express yourself, and more. (There are some differences in opinion as to the 8 aesthetics).

From a game designer's point of view though, these terms, and the mechanics that may lead to them, are important for UNDERSTANDING game design, and experience. An interesting point is that most successful games can only really cater to about 2-3 mechanics, or if they are massive and very encompassing, about 4-5 tops... By understanding these concepts you may be able to refine your question- what do you consider as "enjoyable mechanics"? what would others expect from your game?

2015-11-27, 07:46 PM
I rather liked Danger Patrol (http://www.dangerpatrol.com/) the one time I've gotten to play it. The system uses 'stepped' dice (d4 is bad, d12 is really good), with a 4 or higher meaning a 'hit'. Every scene, instead of a map, there's a bunch of Post-It notes showing the various problems in the scene. The player characters have to take out the problems by getting 'hits' on them with the appropriate profession 'skills' (wrestling a giant Venusian Octogorilla would be Warrior, shutting down the Magnetic Field Disruptor Doomsday Device is Professor, and so on). Any problems that aren't 'hit' at least once a turn get worse by stacking d4s on them the players have to roll when they try to deal with them. Hit it the right number of times, and it solves the threat.

In addition to your skill dice and the complication dice, you can also get Danger Dice (extra d6s) by explaining what's so dangerous about the situation, and asking other players for more ideas if needed. (And the GM can always add a Danger Die or two - the name of the game isn't Safety Patrol, after all.) It makes the situation even more complicated, but potentially gives you more hits. Dice that FAIL get you Danger, which makes getting injured worse, and depending on the number of fails you get, you can be injured, stunned for a round (you just roll smaller dice for one turn), have a new thread suddenly show up, or other unwanted effects.
You can also get bonus dice, (one size smaller than the biggest die, and working down to d6 size) by using the gear and gimmicks on your character sheet once per scene each.

There's more to it than that, but it's a very fun system - the players get to help make the scene.

2015-11-27, 08:05 PM
Well I think as a survey, this type of question is fine. I don't get the impression the OP expects a universal, comprehensive answer here :smallsmile:

2015-11-28, 05:33 AM
Old D&D's XP for gold. Players look at that and immediately understand that this game is about being greedy, safe and maybe even selfish.

Pendragon. The characters, from time to time, actually play themselves due to the personality mechanics. This also happens in a way that corresponds really closely to Arthurian mythology and the over the top personalities and dramatics therein. You can't play this game wrong if you just follow the rules.

Apocalypse World and derivatives. Every player is given a character sheet with its own moves that are evocative, easy to use and tailor made for the kind of fiction the game is supposed to represent. Again, you're bound to create a genre-appropriate story if you just follow the rules.

Dread, naturally. Intense, unfair and hilarious. Just like any horror story.

Traveller or any other system with lifepath character creation. This is a very personal preference, I just love lifepath systems as a way to get everyone on the same page during character creation.

2015-11-28, 11:31 AM
Riddle of Steel has two that I rather like, Character Attributes which ties the mechanical progression of the character with the character acting on their personality making characters benefit from actually roleplaying.

The other is the dice pool mechanic in which every combat round each player must determine how much they're going to put in to their attack and their defense, which along with a group of interesting but relatively simple combat maneuvers makes the combat very fun.

Pity the rest of the system is merely mediocre to painful in it's execution.

2015-11-28, 02:38 PM
In the mess that is Palladium/Rifts hides some of my favorite rules. Especially for spellcasting. The mechanics that let you cast bigger spells than normal if you find of way of getting hold of more points of magic power than you can generally hold/use incentiveises classic storytelling themes in fun ways. When I first read the book and said to myself-so if I wanted to cast a bigger spell gathering a cult of people that will happily donate a part of life energy on a regular basis would be my first step. . . And for special occasions I should have them go steal a baby for me to sacrifice. . . I wigged out over the plot hook generation built into the mechanic.

2015-11-29, 02:53 AM
Pendragon: I like how the way to play changes how the character willl develop, making it harder to play him differently. The way the system handles stuff like personal values and so on is pretty well made. Always feels loke playing in the Arthus Saga and not just something themed like it.

L5R - Calling a Raise: Anyone can, if confident in the skills of a character, call a raise and let the task be more difficult for added effect. It's a very sattisfying thing that players usually become bolder as their character advances and their actions become more narrative, as they think about ways to fit something into the framework.

"Crossing" Lifepaths - Traveller, Rogue Trader: Lifepaths are fun. Crossing Lifepaths are even more fun as they connect the characters along the way and create instant group backstory and stuff to create plot hooks from.

2015-11-30, 02:37 PM
Exalted's stunting mechanic is my personal favorite. (Up to once per turn) a player that describes their character's action gets a bonus to the role and a small mp refund.

The bonuses scale with how well the stunt uses the established environment, how qell fleshed our and helps establish rhw wnvironmwnt, how well it fits the game's theme, and narrative delivery.

Number two is something a friend invented for his own point buy system: split XP. Characters gain combat XP and social XP in speerage qualities. Disadvantages that hurt you in social interaction grant bonus social XP, aND so on. It ensured that, regardless of type of challenge, there was at least some way for every character to participate.