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Mechanics that evoke a feeling

Narrative description and player mood can do wonders for having a certain feeling in a scene, but there are times when I wish for game mechanics to support a certain vibe.

Case in point, I had a campaign where the party had spent multiple adventures escorting an apprentice air elemental wizard to visit sites that were rich with elemental air energy, because she needed to be ready to replace her aged mentor in a council that was responsible for balancing the energies of the world. A tree the stole voices. A hilltop that sang. A hurricane that stopped just off shore and hadn't moved in a year.

And on a 'Christmas' episode, the party found a chubby holy man who normally rode around in a reindeer-pulled sleigh to deliver food for the midwinter feast. But a nearby town was besieged by a small goblin army, and he couldn't get through. A few friends of the party had gotten taken prisoner by the goblins. But with the combined power of the priest's blessings and the air magic expertise the apprentice had gained in her adventures, they were able to grant the power of flight to the party (and the reindeer and sleigh) for one evening, even time for them to deliver supplies over the battle lines to keep the townsfolk going until reinforcements could be brought in to free them.

We were playing 3rd edition, and if you recall that game, movement was pretty restricted. Opportunity attacks abounded. You could not split movement before and after an action.

But during the "delivering presents on Christmas Eve" scene, rather than use the normal fly rules, I told them that
  • they had a fly speed of 60 (enough to get almost anywhere on the map); and
  • the flight magic basically granted them a +10 bonus to any efforts to bull rush someone; and
  • they could bull-rush one time during their movement each round for free, even pushing upward if they wanted; and
  • if they wanted to bull rush or make multiple attacks, they could split up their movement between them, and they wouldn't provoke opportunity attacks from anyone whom they had attacked; and
  • before or after they took their action they could fly a free 10 feet that wouldn't provoke opportunity attacks at all.
The 10-foot limit at the end meant they couldn't get entirely out of range of the enemies, so the enemies could at least attack back and pose some risk. But the effect was that the players felt so powered up and free, able to deal with any problem they wanted, with full command over the skies while the masses of enemies they faced struggled to keep up. It seemed really exhilarating for them, and a huge payoff for helping the apprentice elementalist level up.

When have you had a session where some special mechanic evoked a rare mood or feeling?
 

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doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
aaaanyhoobastank...

I've used custom mechanics a lot in my 5e games. IMO, the loosely defined nature of the system, with a lot of very simple resolution mechanics present to draw from for inspiration and extrapolation, lends itself very strongly to doing so.

Recently the Eberron team was chasing a sky coach through Upper Tavick's Landing in Sharn, toward the water. They were on experimental 2-person "Sky Slicers" (name stolen from Star Wars RPGs) that had a pilot, limited co-pilot piloting, a forward pilot gun, a co-pilot swivel gun, and a big gun that runs the length of the skiff under their seats, simply called The Big Gun.

The Skycoach was faster, with 150ft speed instead of 120ft, but the skiffs could be boosted with 5x the check result in feet, and the skycoach could only be boosted for 2x the check result, and required a dedicated engineer to do so.

The co-pilot can overcharge a system on their turn as a bonus action, either increasing speed by 2x check result, regeneration the force shield, adding damage to a weapon, or attempting to reduce Heat.

The Pilot can increase speed 3x check result, try to gain an advantageous firing position, or take a defensive posture, or throttle back to reduce Heat, but lose speed, with their bonus action.

Heat starts at 1 when you start the engine, which they haven't explored the workings of yet. Every time you do one of the following, you roll a the vehicle's Heat Die. If it lands on the Heat value for the system, Heat increases by 1. If at the start of the pilot's turn, the vehicle is at the maximum value on your systems Heat Die, the system suffers a mishap, which can include catastrophic failure. Any attempt to overcharge part of the system causes an additional mishap, until Heat is decreased.

The skiffs had a d6 Heat Die, while the Skycoach had a d8. I've already designed single pilot interceptors with d4, and I've got ideas for what vehicles and constructs might have higher die values. I also have an idea for an Aeronaut's Gauntlet that uses the Heat system and allows you to recharge magic items as well as doing some unique stuff, and Heat naturally decreases pretty slowly.

The chase also featured Lair Actions at the top of the round, which represented the hazards of traversing the city that quickly. (I told them to imagine that every foot of movement is being divided by 10 in order to use values they're used to. They were going terrifyingly fast.) These included options like all vehicles having to save against smashing into a bridge, having the Griffon Knights who patrol the upper city catch sight of the chase and mistake it for illegal racing of unlicensed vehicles, having the bad guys' allies show up on soarsleds and shoot at them, and even a storm rolling in, which they got lucky and that never happened. Oh, and a couple magical actions that would have increased or reduced all vehicles' Heat on a failed or successful check from the co-pilot or engineer.

The chase took up the entire 4 hour session, and it was an absolute blast! At one point the shadar-kai monk used ancient spells from a custom feat to summon a Quetzlcoatlus reflavored into an enormous corvid, and the nature bard/cleric's Dryads rode on it.
 

The stress dice mechanic in Fria Ligan's Alien. It rewards stress seekign, but also makes the player become more paranoid as they gain it, because it can also result in the character having a mental break, either going off, or hiding, or (worst of all) being stuck in one place doing nothing.... Which, for a space horror game, is perfect.
It also works well for representing the issues with being a crewman on a ship with a small, tight-knit crew, that isn't actually all that happy with each other...
 

The stress dice mechanic in Fria Ligan's Alien. It rewards stress seekign, but also makes the player become more paranoid as they gain it, because it can also result in the character having a mental break, either going off, or hiding, or (worst of all) being stuck in one place doing nothing.... Which, for a space horror game, is perfect.
It also works well for representing the issues with being a crewman on a ship with a small, tight-knit crew, that isn't actually all that happy with each other...

Where can I find this game?
 


TerraDave

5ever, or until 2024
The interplay of mythos knowledge and sanity loss in CoC remains one of the best examples of mechanics helping support a certain feel in game. They encourage moments of careful curiosity and growing fear, and PCs actually acting like there afraid, even to look at something.

Well done scenarios also help build a sense of confusion, with moments of (seeming) revelation. Underpinning all this is the fact that most mythos creatures could easily kill your character. And there is a good chance they will.
 


pemerton

Legend
When have you had a session where some special mechanic evoked a rare mood or feeling?
In Rolemaster, the spell Displacement is comparable to the effect of a Displacer Beast or Displacer Cloak in D&D.

In a session where the PCs were dealing with a magical incursion that operated in many dimensional layers at once, Displacement displaced the PC who had cast it across multiple dimensions, changing both the character's perception of what was taking place and opening up a new suite of permitted actions.

When we played Wuthering Heights, one of the two PCs died in his first moment of interaction with a NPC (an unlucky roll against Decrepitude) and so we got to invoke the Ghost rules. The ghostly PC ended up contributing to the death of the other PC by the end of the session.
 

Alien is an awesome game. Another thumb up there from me.
And it got several silvers in the Ennies for the Destroyer of Worlds Cinematic Adventure. Corebook got Gold last year for best game.

Everything using the YZE gets good reviews, are great reads, and are readily implemented in play. Most also have processes for random adventure prompts and open world mode play.

Alien is amongst the best of the YZE games. But they're all excellent: Vaesen, Coriolis, Forbidden Lands, Mutant Year Zero, Tales from the Loop, Things from the Flood... I've read all of those corebooks, I've run Vaesen and Alien. And now Twilight 2000. It, too, is Year Zero Engine... but using a different mechanic for generating the dice.

I'll note that the Coolness Under Fire (CUF) rules in T2K do evoke a good bit of feel. The look on my players when the gang of hardened marauders didn't make CUF checks first round was priceless... I'd special-ruled this batch - due to their meth, they got to ignore the first CUF test... most other Non-KGB NPCs have fled combat.
 

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