25 December, 2009

Game Mechani(sm) of the Week #51: Changing the Mechanisms to Suit

As I wind down my game mechanisms for the year, I've had a few preconceived ways to finish off the series. I'll be using two of these, both of which are really meta-mechanisms.

The penultimate mechanism is the notion of changing a game's mechanisms to account for what is happening in the fiction. Changing the way characters are able to interact with the world depending on how they have done so in the fiction so far.

At a long term perspective, this can be accounted for through experience points, especially in games where these points are used to purchase character upgrades rather than simply advance through levels. It gives the players some way to inform the group as to how they'd like a story to progress.

John buys a whole heap more stealth for his character, so it's obvious he'd like a bunch of situations where hiding is important. Charlie buys up his character's piloting skill, so it's obvious he wants more chances to get some vehicle action happening.

Old-school traditional gaming doesn't seem to take this into account, but then again old-school traditional gaming tends to treat character development through classes and levels rather than point buy systems. In such games it doesn't really matter what the players want to do, it's only the whim of the GM that matters. See my comments on Heroes of Rokugan at GenCon Oz 2010.
It becomes more a matter of creating characters that meet the requirements of the scenario set by the GM, rather than developing a story to set the needs of the character.

But that's just a crude way of adjusting the systems to match the story.

What I'm actually thinking here is a game that literally changes gears on-the-fly. An example of this can be found in Rackham's Cadwallon (fansite here), most play occurs in a traditional format with players describing the actions of their characters, occasionally rolling dice if there is a chance of failure or some chance that an interesting twist in events might occur...but as soon as a moment of drama occurs, the game completely shifts gear to a miniatures game with a second set of rules. It might be a bit too much of a jump for some people and there can be a disjoint in the narrative when the first couple of games are played, but it freely admits that the basic system is a poor match for resolving combat, and the combat system is a poor match for developing story. It tries to claim the best of both worlds by using two completely different systems that are each specialised in producing a specific play experience. If you want more combat play, resolve the potential story conflicts in this manner...if you want more narrative play then avoid the conflicts through conversation and diplomacy. Two groups could play the same scenario in very different ways and under very different rules, each perfectly viable.

Another example is typically found in gaming accessories and scenarios rather than the main rulebooks. A certain scenario might have the characters facing off against a scary monster, so it introduces a fear mechanism when confronting the unknown. In regular play, a mechanism like this might not be necessary, but it really becomes significant when dealing with the specific situations in the scenario provided. You add the subsystems when you need them, you ignore them altogether when they are no longer relevant. A good supplemental mechanism is one of the few lures that will prompt me to buy a game scenario or gaming supplement.

I'm told that D&D4 has taken steps in light of this revelation, but many reports have indicated a slightly different tack. It also takes heavily to the miniatures route for conflict resolution, but has basically eliminated the narrative side completely except for some very limited die rolling.

The new edition of Warhammer also seems to have taken some steps in this direction...it's one of those games I'd love to get a good look at one of these days.
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