In the independent game design crowd, there are plenty of discussions and arguments about what makes a next generation roleplaying game and how this compares to the old generation of games (and their legacy). One of the common things brought up is the ability for players to take more control into their own hands. Taking risks for added chances to achieve important goals, being able to accept responsibility for your actions by deliberately imposing complications to your own character. Instead of accepting the railroading or deprotagonising effects from the GM, you step up and become a true protagonist again. Destiny is back in the hands of the players and the story becomes a collaborative effort once again.
It sounds a bit over the top. A lot of us got into roleplaying because that’s the kind of thing that our game books promised us, quite a few people never experience this and they either become jaded and leave the hobby, or they change their expectations of the hobby and become content to let a GM tell the story while they just follow aong for the ride through their characters.
This idea is pretty simple, but it pulls the players back into the storytelling process without pushing the intimidating step of “full GMing” on them.
At the start of every campaign, a character should have three or four things that might be useful, depending on your game system, these might be piece of equipment in the inventory, they might be specific traits, relatives, merits, or they might be simple keywords if your game system doesn’t normally keep track of things like equipment. At the start of each new session, a character might gain a single new item, or maybe they’ get refreshed back up to the starting number…
During the course of play, every time a skill check is made, roll an extra die of the type appropriate for your system.
If you are rolling d20s, roll an extra d20; if you’re rolling percentiles, roll an extra pair of d10s.
If you are rolling 2d6 and adding the results together, roll an extra d6.
If you are paying a game with a step die mechanism, roll another die equal to your highest die type (or your lowest die type...whatever you choose, be consistent through the whole game).
Before a skill check is made, the player should describe one of the objects/items/keywords important to their character. This important thing needs to be related to the events at hand, something that can be risked to improve chances of success. If the character doesn’t have something suitable, they still roll the extra die but risk something nasty happening to themselves (perhaps they’ll risk taking some damage in the skill attempt, or some kind of other penalty or flaw).
When the skill check is made, one die is allocated to the actual skill attempt, while the other die is applied to the risk.
The risk die has three levels of effect:
If it rolls really badly (like a natural 1 on a d6, or a 1-2 on a d10) the risked item is lost for good.
If it rolls fairly badly (less than half of its maximum value; eg. up to 3 on a d6, up to 5 on a d10), the risked item is lost temporarily. Perhaps it is gone until the next period of rest, or until the end of the session.
If it rolls relatively well (more than half of its maximum value; eg. 4 or more on a d6, 6 or more on a d10), the item survives unscathed.
As an example…John is playing one of the newer editions of D&D, he is playing a ranger and has chosen a family heirloom and a few pets as his key bonuses. Skills in this version of D&D use a d20, where a die roll plus a skill level must meet a target number in order for the skill attempt to succeed. Normally, if the Dungeon Master wants something to happen, they’ll offer a low target number before getting the player to roll…if they don’t want it to happen, they’ll offer a high target number.
This time, since the Dungeon Master has decided to turn the focus back onto the players. John attempts to get some information and he chooses to risk one of his pet ferrets. The Dungeon Master declares a target number of 20. John’s Ranger has +8 on his rolls when attempting to find information in this way. John rolls 2 dice, 7 and 14. If he allocates the 7 to the skill attempt, he won’t find the needed information (7+8=15), but the ferret will survive intact. If he allocates the 14 to the skill attempt he will prove successful (14+8=22), but something nasty might happen to the ferret until the end of the session. John has to make a choice that is important to him, the story or the ferret.
A similar effect could be applied to almost any game, this is basically adding the concept of “Otherkind Dice” onto the system.