Arcane Game Lore

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Role Playing Game Manifesto: The Mechanics

Crush the Rules

Crush the Rules

For the last several months, I have been discussing axiomatic gaming theory. We spent several lunches trying to boil an RPG down to its basic parts. Much to our chagrin, we could not find a single rule that must be done in every situation. The closest we came was that an RPG has to tell a story, but countless nonsensical games prove that this does not always have to be the case. So, at the urging of my friend, I have decided to write my role playing game manifesto. I say ‘my’ because not everyone will agree with my views. That is fine; we are all entitled to our own opinions, but I challenge this of you: Instead of finding what is wrong with my manifesto, write one of your own explaining your point of view.

The Mechanics

One of the things that I find disappointing in games these days is the base mechanics of a system. Often, games try to create a single mechanic that works in all situation. I find this is a flawed mentality, kind of like using slope-intercept equation to plot a bell curve. OK,  so using rules for a game is a little more flexible. But honestly, why do you want to force a mechanic into a situation that makes it less than efficient.

I think a system should have multiple mechanics. The % thieving abilities worked in 1st edition, They may not have been for everyone, but they worked and they were efficient. The person playing the thief was familiar with his character’s key skills and it wasn’t lost in a list of other skills. I find that a player knew what percentage he needed without looking at his sheet, where now it appears that most players need to look up any skill they want to use.  I’ve seen a degree of mechanic dissemination on the internet entitled “Steal this Mechanic”. Often time these articles are not aimed at any particular system. Someone sees a hole in a game’s mechanic and creates a rule to fill it. They may not be necessary for all game masters, but most I’ve seen are well thought out and appropriate for many systems.

Since I do not believe in the ‘One Mechanic to rule them’, I cannot suggest a mechanic for you to use. I suggest simplicity over realism, fluff over crunch, fun over rules. Examine your mechanics and the effects on your group. If mechanics take too long and others at the table feel the need to do other things, then you may need to find a new mechanic. If your games are fun and everyone likes the way it works, leave it as it is.

As always, your travels may. Take what you like and leave the rest for the next traveler. 

Categorised as: Optional Rules


  1. jedion357 says:

    I understand and have sympathy for what you are saying about not trying to force everything to fit one mechanic but… there is more than a little attraction to have one base mechanic and its practical- one mechanic to remember makes for faster play. Its not really so bad as you suggested.

    Example: In one of my favorite systems ability and skill checks are the same mechanic d100 roll and get under the target number (and the target number was easy to determine), actions in combat were a skill check thus combat boiled down to the skill check mechanic. The system mucked up where vehicle combat was concerned as it introduce different mechanics. The new mechanics were not as easy to use and required tables to be consulted (consulting tables always slows game play IMO). Despite the speed bump that vehicle combat represented the game was very fast and loose and easy to play without really consulting the rule book and the simplicity of the mechanics facilitated that.

  2. neoproxy says:

    Hoi, Ability checks and skill checks often go hand and hand. I am not saying that you can’t use a similar mechanic for various parts. Let me ask you this. Do you use percentiles to determine initiative? IMO, this would be a horrible implementation and drag combat into the suffocating depths of ineffeciency. Yet….

    I used to love using percentiles. It makes sense to me, but I found that many friends had difficulties with it. Why? cause when their base percentile was not a multiple of 5 (say like 33 or 68) then adding up the modifiers became slower. If you look at them by themselves, it’s really not a big deal. But then you get that one guy, who’s tired from a long week of work, it’s late on a Friday night and he’s been up since 5am that morning. He doesn’t have the mental capacity to want to deal with it so his turn drags on. This is not true for every group, but it’s becoming more prevalent the older I get and the more complex the lives of my friends.

    At one point I came to the realization that almost all the modifiers were multiples of 5%. Adding 5% here, 10% there is same thing as +1 or +2 on a d20. I find that most players have and easier time figuring multiple modifiers if they are simple 1-5 than a 5-25. So I prefer a d20 over percentiles.

    But then they had to go and make the initiative roll a d20, and it is horrendous. There is so much wasted time that D&D (I’ll just call them out) mitigates this by just having you roll once for combat and you have the same initiative every round (I dislike this as it eliminates some dynamics and surprise).

    To expound, I did not just look at how people played. I timed my group on several occasions. The average time it took for a person to roll a check was about a minute. This encompasses asking about modifiers and looking up what they needed on their character sheet (this does not included tables which I agree would be slow). Out of a group of 6 players, 2 were a bit faster, 2 were right at the mark, and 2 were consistently slower. If your GM is slower, it will really drag down combat.

    My next manifesto article will be how I use initiative in a game. I have a couple articles planned before that, but I find initiative one of the most inefficient points in combat.

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