Tuesday, 25 August 2015

#RPGaDay 2015: Day 25 - Stop! Hammer time

Prompt: Favourite revolutionary game mechanic
"It's murder. And somebody's responsible."

So, there are two of these that I want to talk about, and they both work by taking the crunch of the system and making it visible for dramatic effect. Cards on the table (that's not the mechanic) I'm not enough of a student of mechanics to know which ones are truly revolutionary, so bear with me if this is old hat to you.

The first is in my old fallback, Fate Core. When you roll, you always know what your opponent rolls, or what the static difficulty is, and once you've seen the outcome, you can then choose whether to spend Fate points. This means that you never blow your Fate points, a scarce resource, on a roll that comes up against you anyway, and gives the players - and the GM, who also has Fate points to spend - much more direct control over the action. This is of course on top of invoking for effect and creating advantages, both of which are means by which the players can control the scene.

GUMSHOE has a more adversarial feel than Fate - the GM is specifically setting puzzles for the player characters to solve, or not - but its investigative focus is highlighted  by the division of skills into General Abilities, which use a regular pass/fail mechanic, and Investigative Abilities, which always work at least perfectly, maybe even better, thus ensuring that - unless the GM has screwed up and included a need for an ability no-one in the party has - you always have all the information you need to solve the mystery, although you may yet fail to do so.

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I know I put this up before, but seriously, that is a lot of fucking
cards and tokens.
It's a lot harder to come up with revolutionary mechanics than it used to be back when THAC0 was the height of innovation and, indeed, still seemed like a good idea somehow. Those were the heady days, when drama points were unheard of and non-cuboid polyhedral dice were so alien as to give HP Lovecraft conniptions, before roll-and-keep, playing card mechanics, custom dice, custom card decks and - gods help us - 10div5*. The sprawl of cards and tokens and dice that, while six sided, are completely useless for anything else due to their custom symbols used in Fantasy Flight's Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 3rd edition are perhaps the ultimate evolution in terms of complexity, but also something of an evolutionary dead end** in a world in which simplicity (and, given the ever growing number of available products, affordability) is increasingly preferred***.

In this interview from yesterday, Ken Hite quite coincidentally**** sums up this point by explaining that the industry is moving away from the model of games as super-expensive magazine series for which you must get a loyal audience who will keep buying the stuff so that they can keep playing the One True Game, and towards looking at games as individual small press books, with each as a largely stand-alone product that only needs to sell itself. This is all tied in with the OSR***** and the increased presence and relevance of self-publishing, epublishing and PoD through outlets like DriveThruStuff, and of course Kickstarter, making it increasingly likely that the garden variety gamer will have an eclectic mix of stuff rather than a huge, coherent set of core and expansion books for a single game.

Anyway, come back tomorrow for Day 26 and my favourite inspiration.

* The system for the new World of Darkness Mind's Eye Theatre live games, which had the revolutionary effect of turning experts into barely competent amateurs and dilettantes into useless assholes. In fairness some of this came down to implementation, but combat was a joke.
** Like a giant, sabre-toothed cat that can take down any threat but needs to eat a mammoth a day just to keep get up in the morning.
*** Like some diminutive, lippy primates jeering at the flailing death throes of the once-mighty sabre-tooth while they pass around a mango.
**** Man, if I could afford to pay Ken Hite to drop apposite references into interviews for me to point to, I would just buy my daughter all the tiny, adorable Frozen dress up clothes I could find. Sorry, Ken.
***** I expect. Honestly, whenever I start to talk authoritatively in these things, you can be 90% sure I'm blagging it. The other 10% is educated guesswork.