Dedicated Mechanics

So, that's a great point. It leads us to then ask the question "What is a heist game?" Or, to generalize, "What are the key elements of whatever focus a game has."

One major trope of heist genre media and fiction is that the planning and preparation is generally glossed over with a montage - the characters case the joint, come back with information, and a plan appears pretty magically, often by invoking a made-up name of the style of heist/grift the characters will use.

Someone entering a heist-genre focused game expecting to actually do the planning is walking into a play expectation mismatch. And that's not the game's fault - that's a Session Zero fault.
I think you even need to step beyond that, you have to question whether you're emulating fiction about heists, or if you're emulating the concept of heists. Because watching the problem-solving process in a movie probably isn't very fun, it could be good fun in a participatory medium. TTRPGs have the potential to tell the story of a heist better than the heist fiction we might otherwise try to emulate. Which is one of the interesting discourses in and of itself, are we going through the motions of genre as presented within the constraints of non-participatory mediums, or are we presenting the concept they sought to present in the first place?

For me, that's a big part of what makes TTRPGs so engaging, seeing things that are often glossed over in the need to drive the plot and immersing myself within the organically interesting portions of that world's status quo. A heist movie has a story in needs to tell in which the heist is a sequence of events, but a heist game can be fully engaging simply via the actual play experience of planning and executing a heist.
 

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Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Because watching the problem-solving process in a movie probably isn't very fun, it could be good fun in a participatory medium.

So, you go to "problem-solving", while I used "planning". I used that word for a reason.

Genre media and games that do heists well still have problem solving - they simply focus on problems that occur during the heist, rather than the problem of planning. Indeed, heist fiction is loaded with problem solving - typically one thing after another goes wrong, and the issues that arise are solved by one of to ways - improvising on the spot, or revealing that the thing that "went wrong" was part of the plan all along!

Fiction authors have the benefit that they get to stipulate what happens. There is, in fact, no problem to solve, any more than people who write a comic book in which Batman and Captain America fight deal with the problem of who would "actually win". The fiction isn't a simulation of a reality.

Our GMs are also not actually particularly high-fidelity simulators. And our players are not criminal masterminds. So, going through the planning is unlikely to produce something that will look like the "concept" of a heist.
 


aramis erak

Legend
Over in this thread the following came up while talking about heist mechanics.

I wanted to move it to its own thread and out of D&D-land so we could discuss it more broadly.

How do you feel about specific mechanics to force or encourage genre trope or elements?
I think that genre enforcement is not a bad thing in general, but some implementations are bad.

Ham-fisted attempts are often causes of new and undesired subgenres...
In the heist example, games that focus on them include things like "flashbacks" that make it easier to create the illusion of the kind of planning heist books and movies highlight. Other elements could be tightly focused roles (the boss, the heavy, the safecracker, whatever) as well as genre-appropriate methods for dealing with combat, injury, death or whatever. Games with narrative bents often use these kinds of mechanical tools, such as PbtA, FitD and Fate games (among others). But sometimes more traditional RPGs fold these kinds of mechanics into a broader general core mechanic. An example of this might be Journeys from The One Ring.
One Ring is on the storygame side of the line in many ways... it's a very poor example for genre enforcement in trad games, since neither edition is trad in operation

D&D 5e does have a travel system, tho', and it's not horrible. Not great, either.

My personal preference is the hybrid zone - and TOR 1E is smack in the middle. Talisman Adventures is also on the trad side of hybrid. Both have genre enforcement in mechanics, and I enjoy them.

Do you think focused mechanics are better in games built for that one thing, or do you like focused mechanics within more broadly applicable game systems? Do you not like these kinds of specific mechanics and think you should be able to use the core mechanic to accomplish these things?
I prefer my games focused but not laser focused.
For my part, while I enjoy some games designed with a laser focus, I generally prefer medium crunch highly applicable rules systems. I can do a heist in D&D or Savage Worlds as well as I can in Scum and Villainy. It just means conducting play in a way that feels like the heist genre and using the tools you have to make it happen. That said, I will adapt things like SWADE's "dramatic tasks" for whatever the thing is I am trying to emulate and tweak the rules if need be.

Thoughts?
there are over 10,000 RPGs for a reason... not every ruleset is good for every group.
 

aramis erak

Legend
D&D isn't highly focused. But it's also not a general game.
It's a genre engine. Its rules enforce encourage a genre, not a specific setting. And each edition's default sub-sub-genre is different... not a lot, but different. It wanders about each edition, and sometimes certain expansions shift it. (AD&D 1E's Unearthed Arcana,

Traveller was written to be a genre engine as well. Different genre, obviously. Likewise Rolemaster, Spacemaster, Space Opera, The Fantasy Trip, Tunnels and Trolls... all of which were the big names when I was in high school (mid 80's)... and all of which are still available in one edition or another.

RuneQuest, WFRP, The Atlantean Trilogy, and Starships & Spacemen all are specific setting games, albeit useful outside their specific setting's sub-sub-genre... The core rules for RQ and The Atlantean Trilogy can be used as genre engines, or for their specific settings.

Starships and Spacemen's setting is Star Trek, but its implementation doesn't do the source faithfully, but does the genre well enough that it's still got fans... 44 years later. (The big disconnects from Trek? Crew sizes are much smaller in S&S than the available fanon and canon of 1978, and a change in a number of technologies because FGU couldn't afford the Trek license...) It's experience point earning rules strongly encourage role appropriate play, even tho' characters are reasonably broadly competent. FOr example, the Doc isn't going to gain any XP for shooting Zangids, and the security guy won't get XP for healing others.

WFRP tightly encourages its setting... with it's character gen and advancement rules. Like D&D, it's default genre point wanders a bit with each edition...
 

Reynard

Legend
One Ring is on the storygame side of the line in many ways... it's a very poor example for genre enforcement in trad games, since neither edition is trad in operation
I disagree with this whole heartedly. TOR is a trad game in all the ways the matter, particularly the distribution of narrative authority.
 

aramis erak

Legend
I disagree with this whole heartedly. TOR is a trad game in all the ways the matter, particularly the distribution of narrative authority.
Have you actually read 1E's rules on Traits? They're anything BUT trad. Autosuccess.
2E, I can't argue as it's moved more trad...
but 1E is not trad in many places. The lack of tactical movement, the autosuccess mechanic of traits, the "everything is TN14 except combat" (with an optional rule for variable TN), the instructions on how and when to roll...
As I said, it's in the hybrid zone.
 

Reynard

Legend
Have you actually read 1E's rules on Traits? They're anything BUT trad. Autosuccess.
2E, I can't argue as it's moved more trad...
but 1E is not trad in many places. The lack of tactical movement, the autosuccess mechanic of traits, the "everything is TN14 except combat" (with an optional rule for variable TN), the instructions on how and when to roll...
As I said, it's in the hybrid zone.
Those aren't what makes a game trad. It's a primarily a function of narrative authority. That is, who gets to describe the world state at any given time. TOR primarily leaves that to the GM.
 


Reynard

Legend
Are D&D's combat mechanics the sort of thing you have in mind?
Not really. I don't think the combat rules in D&D do any work to promote or emulate any particular fantasy genre or subgenre. I would go so far as to say D&Ds combat rules have always been at odds with the actual genre tropes of fantasy.
 

Not really. I don't think the combat rules in D&D do any work to promote or emulate any particular fantasy genre or subgenre. I would go so far as to say D&Ds combat rules have always been at odds with the actual genre tropes of fantasy.
Sure they do! More than any other aspect of the game, the combat rules enforce a nasty, dangerous, 'low fantasy' kind of experience of hardened delvers constantly living on the hairy edge of being obliterated by some passing horror as they grub for gold pieces in some endless underground maze. I mean, combat is not ALL of the formula, but it is a highly necessary component. Even higher level combat becomes a highly risky and much to be avoided coin toss. I would call it the first and strongest 'pillar' of the D&D genre.

To Elaborate: Imagine how 4e style combat completely alters this equation. Suddenly the PCs are the heroes, likely to triumph over any one arbitrary fight. Its night and day, and the fundamental difference is the combat system and its probability of being ganked in any given fight.
 

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