Mechanics that support what you want as a Player to feel like you matter

Sacrosanct

Legend
There are a couple threads floating around about what matters to you as a player, what you want to be able to do as a PC in the game, and what your expectations are while playing. Rather than hijack one of those threads (to be honest, I'm not sure which one would fit this topic best anyway), I wanted to create this post and narrow the scope. That is, I want to talk about mechanics in the game that support what you're (general you) are asking for in those other threads. Specific examples from other games would be helpful.

Based on those threads, a common theme is:
  • I want my PCs to be able to impact the game from level 1 to end game.
  • I want to have some agency to change the narrative
  • I want to be competent

So what does that look like, mechanically? I will admit my blinders straight away. I started in 1981, so I very much grew up with "If you want your PC to matter, that's based on what you do in game, not any specific mechanic. At low level you save the inn or drive away the monsters in the caves, giving you a great reputation at the local town. At mid levels you defeat the slavers and gain rewards from the local king or queen, including keeps that you control. At higher levels you save the realm. Your interactions are based on role-playing. Etc. etc. While I think that is still very much true, my understanding is what people are asking for goes beyond that.

Ideally, every game will make PCs feel competent unless the game is designed to not do that (like some horror games). That, and everyone feels differently as to what is "competent". So we'll set aside that and assume that the core rules will be balanced to accomplish that goal.

What does that leave us?

For me, the simple solution is something like Fate points, or Heroic Points. Is that the answer? You earn these points from varying things you do in the game, and spend them to reroll die rolls, adjust NPC reactions, alter the narrative a bit, etc? Are there other solutions you're looking for?

Would a table or chart that gives guidelines on "This is the task you completed, and here are some suggestions on how that benefits the PCs" be helpful? Something like:

Cleared out rats from Inn: Innkeeper give you free room and board for X time, patrons are thankful
Defeated monsters from caves of chaos: Castellan offers to send a contingent to build your party a small outpost or fort and appoint you stewards of the land you cleared.
Twarted evil cabal from destroying the realm/nation: Heralded as heroes, access to top level circles, granted tracts of land and keeps. Every ruler seeks your allyship, defeated enemies seek revenge
 

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kenada

Legend
Supporter
Reliable mechanics / conflict resolution. If the player states an intent and rolls success, they should achieve that success. The GM can contextualize it, but that context must not negate the success. This is how check resolution is handled in my homebrew system.

For example, in our last session¹, Dingo was interested in information on vampire hunters. He decided to see if his contact Kitty had information. She is a local fence and had worked him before, so she is considered a party friend. Mechanically, this was resolved by rolling Rapport + Wisdom (from his Underworld experience) to solicit her help. As part of the framing, I noted various possible consequences (such as the information coming with a cost, possibly being not very useful, etc). He rolled poorly but not bad, getting a 0-degree success.

A 0-degree success is a success, but it also comes with a consequence. That meant he could not get useless information because that would effectively turn the success into failure. Instead, it came with a request: she wants his help on a heist. Dingo could have resisted (to avoid the obligation), but he chose to accept it.

Another example, from a past session: the party wanted to ambush some raiders. They had time to prepare, which was resolved by rolling Camouflage + <approach> as a group check. They ended up with a 2-degree success, which is very good. It means no consequences and better than normal results. Since the intent was to ambush the raiders, the situation that followed had to be set up with the PCs in position. It would not have been an appropriate play for me to have the raiders come from a different direction, putting the PCs out of position.

(This form of resolution isn’t unique to my homebrew system, though I operationalize it may be. It’s inspired by games like Blades in the Dark and Apocalypse World.)



1: Which I plan to post in the 5-words commentary thread this evening.
 


aco175

Legend
Is there a system that takes the DM out of control vs the player? If the player wants to do something and the DM needs to or gets to decide if they can, that seems to be one of the sticking points. Seems to relate to the thread about magic items and class powers taking their place so items are not needed. It places the choices on the players and not the DM to give out a cool item. How does the player want to do something and the DM no be as involved as a gatekeeper?

I like the idea of hero points or whatever to at least roll again on something. I give a hero point at the start of each night of play and let the player roll it on anything. A monster ctit you- reroll, fail a save- reroll.

Plot mechanics might be a bit different. Clearing out the rats gets you a reward. But that reward is played between the DM and PCs. The NPC shopkeeper wants to give you a free meal but the PCs haggle for more. Does it come down to a DC 15 roll? Would a hero point come in handy here for a reroll to make the mechanic better for the player?

I think that there is still a lot of control in things for the DM and the players need to understand that. There is still the give and take and players should not think there is no setback for the PCs.
 

Retreater

Legend
Session Zero/Campaign Planning
The players/GM establish the ideal length of the campaign and the ideal level reached. This should inform the XP advancement track for quicker or slower progression.

Combat-oriented
1) If your health is so low that a mook like a kobold can take you out of the combat with a single strike, you're probably too weak.
2) You can do cool things related to your character's role and abilities multiple times in a fight. (No "cast one spell and then rely on darts for the other 3.5 hours of play.)
3) No stunning, petrification, etc., that removes a character from play for an entire combat (or longer). [One round might be okay.]
4) Ideally, even if you miss, you contribute something. Damage on a miss (or half damage on a successful save). You make the enemy off-guard/flat-footed. You learn a key weakness. Etc.

Outside of combat
Your character's goals and motivations are incorporated into the story. While working towards those goals, you get a mechanical bonus to succeed. Even a failed roll elicits some minor success.
 

Pedantic

Legend
I worry that this is conflating multiple things. For example, you brought up FATE points as a resolution model, and I find that system's take on creating advantages uniquely disempowering. You essentially describe any kind of plan, and the result is a +2 bonus to the next relevant roll/attack. +2 is a significant number in that game's math, making that reasonable course of action...but it just doesn't matter what you actually did. Instead, you're using your aspects, the scene's aspects, the enemy's aspects and so on to provide flavor to your chosen action.

My choices "mattering" as a player to me means that I must be able to make better or worse choices, and the resulting game state must be meaningfully different after I've committed to an action. I need to be able to put myself in a better position or mess up and put myself in a worse one, or I'm not really playing a game. And to be perfectly clear, "making a bad decision" can't be a function of "rolling poorly." Rolling dice to get a particular outcome is a risk that's calculated into the decision in the first place.

That whole discussion feels orthogonal to the questions of agency/impact you're raising, which instead seems to be focused on broad outcomes of player actions in aggregate. I have mixed feelings here; my instinct is to keep actions as atomic as possible, and then derive the rest of the board state from them, shuffling responsibility for the things that can't fall into such a framework to the GM (i.e. what do the NPC's want, and what actions do they take to achieve that?). The problems there are well documented as Hard Problems in RPGs, relationship systems, more involved social systems than "roll the change their mind check" and so on. I don't have a good answer for those, but frankly I'd prefer they remain a hard problem than imperil agency elsewhere.

Conflict resolution is fantastic at resolving those, but I find it pretty garbage for tactical gameplay; outcomes are singular and completely negotiated, which means you're immediately giving up any ability to modify the distance between any given action declaration and your goals, unless you're doing some subversive stuff where you try to hide your actual goal in several smaller action declarations that's clearly not in the spirit of declaring your intent.

The "gameplay" as I'd define the term is mostly in offering multiple proposals that will get you where you want to be in hopes of getting the least negative consequences...and the systems are so subjective about what consequences even mean that trying to optimize a given outcome is fraught. It's all good and well to decide I'd rather have "A Broken Arm" than "Haunted by Spirits" but that decision just doesn't ever resolve to a mechanical state I can make strategic choices about, it's just more narrative choices on top of narrative choices.

The tl;dr version comes down to this. I should be able to declare actions that will result in knowable outcomes that the GM has no control over, and I should be able to make choices that leave me in a better or worse position relative to my desired goal. I should be able to try and win, which necessitates that playing badly and losing be possibilities, and that whether or not I lose not be determined by the GM alone.
 
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Reynard

Legend
If I understand the OP correctly, you are looking for a mechanism that measures the players' actual impact on the state of the in game fiction?

To that end, I would use some sort of tangible Reputation mechanism. Using 5E just as an example, i would tie it to CR because the more challenging a situation the PCs overcome, the more impressive the potential reputation boost. It would probably be relative to party level, though, so PCs that consistently aimed for low threat challenges would see their Reputation go stagnant or even decrease. In addition to a numerical value, Reputation would also have a "judgmental" value related to broadly defined, setting appropriate ethical and moral aspects. Yes, the PCs stopped the bandit raids, but did they do so by taking control of the bandits, by murdering them all, by convincing them to change their ways? Etc.

Reputation would have a couple impacts in play. First, your Reputation would serve as a "gate" for certain kinds of access. Want to talk to the King? You need to be this tall (Reputation wise). It would also impact things like reaction checks and other interaction rolls, with that "judgmental" aspect determining exactly how on a case by case basis.

Finally, I would let players burn Reputation to gain aid from appropriate NPCs and/or factions. Because they needed help, tho, Reputation used this way is lost. Points spent could be used for information, helpful items or even accompanying NPCs or henchmen.

Something like that anyway.
 

Whizbang Dustyboots

Gnometown Hero
My read was that there was a wide range of what those threads were sometimes asking and what other people were saying. Even Inspiration and Luck Points in 5E D&D are a way for the player to influence the game. On the other end of the spectrum, you have Fellowship, where each player can define the culture of their character's ancestry for the entire game world.

I think there's a danger in conflating the two, as the creator of one thread did.

"Hey, I don't want to basically play through your unpublished novel" is a lot different than "I want to be able to declare that all halflings are giant sentient gummi bears."
 
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So what does that look like, mechanically? I will admit my blinders straight away. I started in 1981, so I very much grew up with "If you want your PC to matter, that's based on what you do in game, not any specific mechanic. At low level you save the inn or drive away the monsters in the caves, giving you a great reputation at the local town. At mid levels you defeat the slavers and gain rewards from the local king or queen, including keeps that you control. At higher levels you save the realm. Your interactions are based on role-playing. Etc. etc. While I think that is still very much true, my understanding is what people are asking for goes beyond that.
Well, let's look at it through a trad lens and a Story Now lens...

In trad play, 5e say, we're relying on GM curated scenario with the details of, let us say, the Inn and surrounding milieu. Whatever threats the GM comes up with can be engaged. There's no built-in mechanism for the players to negotiate that. Now, that's not to say it's not negotiable. 5e does have things that can act as signals. Alignment, background, BIFTs generally, class, and informal backstory all do this. Inspiration and creative disciplined use of XP could reinforce this.

There are issues though, all of this relies exclusively on experience and table culture. Rules based incentives can be perverse, like XP being primarily tied to combat, the nature of task resolution, and a general lack of alignment between resource and resolution mechanics with this style of play.

Pitfalls I would expect would include a general lack of tight focus on the theme and a tendency to get bogged down in less relevant scenes and detail.

Now imagine the Dungeon World version. First of all, there's no existing milieu/setting to break focus. Session zero will establish the inn and its defense, plus an immediate threat. PC design is focused on this like a laser. You are The Fighter, lawful good, with an alignment statement like 'stand up for society against the darkness' and maybe a bond with The Halfling 'he is headed for a bad end, I must save him from himself!'.

The game's resource system is helpful, the entire shared fiction responsibility and 'snowballing dynamics' keeps the game focused on the theme and moving forward as desired. It just works! Once the PCs have surpassed this initial stage the infrastructure of fronts and threats will usher it smoothly on to further adventures in the same vein.

So, I would generally prefer DW over 5e for this kind of play, though the right GM and players might pull off a similar game using 5e, but the odds are against it working as well.
 

For me, the simple solution is something like Fate points, or Heroic Points. Is that the answer? You earn these points from varying things you do in the game, and spend them to reroll die rolls, adjust NPC reactions, alter the narrative a bit, etc? Are there other solutions you're looking for?
That could work, but I have limited experience with going that route. I picked DW as this kind of play is square in its wheelhouse. XP is the main carrot, you get it via resolving bonds (IE trying to save the halfling from himself) or playing your alignment statement (IE saving the inn from the forces of darkness), plus a few more generic adventurer goals like gaining info or beating a threat. So it's going to push play in the intended direction naturally, especially coupled with the GM side of things where your job, put the PCs on the spot basically, leads naturally to more adventures in the same vein with little faffing about, though DW certainly allows for some fun downtime stuff.
 

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