What Mechanics or Systems Do You NEED?


This is a question about personal preferences and NOT a question about objective game design truths or onetruewayism. Please respond accordingly.

For a TTRPG work for you, as a player or as a GM, what does it need to have in its mechanical base?

By that, I am essentially asking you what parts of play are important, but with a strong focus on the mechanics of it all.

Do you need a system that supports narrative elements through mechanics? Do you need the game to model the world, mechanically, in a realistic or at least consistent way? Do you need a robust and fun combat system? Do you need the game to get the hell out of the way with transparent and intuitive mechanics? Do you need a game to have new and interesting mechanics to bother with trying it?

Like that.


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Argyle King

I think it depends upon what the game is attempting to emulate.

For example, if I'm playing a medieval-ish fantasy game that is inspired by Crusader Kings and focuses on courtly dynamics, dynasty building, and commanding armies in a somewhat abstract way; I imagine I need a more robust narrative system and a combat system that focuses more on Mass Combat (and commanding armies).

In contrast, if I'm playing a medieval-ish fantasy game that is inspired by Mount & Blade Warband and focuses on managing a mercenary group and actually fighting "boots on ground;" I imagine I'll need more granular rules for combat that focus on two individuals trying to kill each other; some way of handling logistics and moral; and maybe some skeleton of how to handle social interaction with NPC lords/ladies.

At minimum, I demand the rules not be wholly deterministic - randomness has to be a factor, even if it's a small one - and that there has to be some mechanic for characters changing over multiple sessions of play (unless the game is intended solely for one-shot use). Change usually means advancement/improvement, but I'd be willing to try something with nothing but sidegrades (maybe swapping around random Chaos marks or cybernetic components or something) or even a steady degradation of abilities.

Other than that, nothing's really a deal-breaker for me.

Perhaps worth mentioning that the subject or theme of a game is far more likely to make me bounce of it than the lack (or presence) of mechanical elements. For ex, I grew up listening to madmen seriously discussing how survivable a nuclear war would be, and I'm not going to remind myself of those days by gaming Twilight 2000 (the only GDW RPG I never owned), Aftermath or the Morrow Project. Gamma World only gets a pass because it's so gonzo it doesn't ever feel real, and in some editions doesn't even emphasize the nukes in the first place.
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If a game has more than one gameplay loop or aspect then I need it to balance my options that affect those pieces of the game. If a game is 50% pterodactyl racing and 50% hosting pool parties then I don't want my choices of specialization to be Handling, Evasion, Speed, Blocking, and Hosting. Half the game is tied to one skill so either everyone is going to have to invest in it or completely sacrifice their ability to do well 50% of the time. That same game would be better served if it was 80% pterodactyl racing and 20% hosting pool parties.

I also don't like trying to take an option and forcing it to be a part of 2+ parts of the game if it only makes sense in one part. Using the above example it would really break my enjoyment of the game if it forced me to use Blocking for preventing another racer from passing me and stopping Jamie from talking to Sam so that Ashley can talk to Sam first. Yes, I may be "blocking" in both situations but those are two entirely different things. Being good at one should have no effect on the other.

Also, there should be multiple viable strategies/builds/options/etc. If a pure Speed pterodactyl always wins then the design is a fail. It's also a fail if Handling is something you can ignore because it's either rare to use and/or lacks impact on the game.

Lastly, for DMs there needs to be guidance on how to handle situations that fall outside the normal game loop. You don't need to give me a table or subsystem for everything that could possibly happen. That's just not reasonable. But you can say something like "all situations outside the norm are handled with a game of darts." Weird, but at least I know I should buy a dart board.


Relaxed Intensity
For more traditional games I look for:
  • Rules that highlight and reinforce who the characters are as people.
  • Help propel the momentum of social scenes without overwhelming them.
  • Combat rules that mostly allow for a few dramatic exchanges, but mostly allow violent scenes to progress quickly so we can deal with their fallout.
  • Character creation rules that result in well-rounded characters that will have ways to contribute in most scenes while allowing for specialization within a type of scene. Forex. the intimidating Brujah and charming Toreador both having an impact in a social scene.
  • NPCs that are easy to generate and have the ability to affect PCs mentally.
Basically, I need rules that support a game focused on individual character stories, social intrigue and don't force me to focus too much on action/adventure stuff.


Front Range Warlock
I personally need some means of defining a character (this can be very minimalist, as you can see in my adaptations of Graham Walmsley's Cthulhu Dark engine, one of which can be found here) and a set of mechanics (again, this can be very minimalist) that models the fiction that the game is meant to accommodate. Character advancement is less of a concern for me. I prefer organic character growth by way of accumulating gear or wealth, forging relationships with other characters (both PCs and NPCs), earning renown, etc.

[Edit: Game updated.]
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I usually start at combat. Not saying all my players are murder-hobos, but in most sessions there is a chance of combat, so it needs to be fun in the context of the system and the characters.
Which brings me to the second part, character generation. Creating the right character (in context of the game theme) is important, and though I am not a fan of level-based-systems, I can cope with them. In this generation is where you get to find what they can and can't do so we move to the next important bit.
Skills and the action system. In many ways combat will have given a half idea of how the skills system works, but how skill tests are done, the difficulty factors, and how they work versus opponent or environment. Again it needs to interact with the game theme well.
Having a nice advancement system (when not levels) is important to me, and more so the players.

In regards the system, I prefer dice rolls and I also prefer rolling as a GM. Some systems have players make all rolls under the premise it gives them all the power and control for their character, saves GM time etc. I am not sure I agree, especially in combat, I want to roll against my players, as much as I want the GM to roll against me.

In regards the dice mechanics, I prefer multiple dice but really no more then 5 for a roll in general. I do like specialist dice (for theme) but I am not fan of the cost... I am not a fan of single dice swingy mechanics, really dislike the single d10 plus bonus type games, to small a range and to swingy. Not huge fan of the single d20, but it is better than d10 (twice as good!), plus something I have grown up with for forever. I do however like the d100 systems even though technically its both 1 and 2 dice.

I am in two minds in regards the [Roll and Add it on] vs [Roll Under]. My mind says I want to roll high on the dice, so getting a 20, or 18 of 3d6 has to be good. But I do like Runequest, Pendragon, GURPS which all require you to roll low.


I'm an unapologetic simulationist. I don't need a system to emulate story or plot points, a TV series, movie or novel. I DO need a system that will help me determine whether characters succeeded at a task in the designated universe simply and clearly. I look for rules that will help differentiate each character from one another but leaves character personality largely up to the player by way of freedom to roleplay. We enjoy the story we created after we play out that adventure, seeing what decisions characters took, and whether or not they succeeded. BRP (CoC, RQ, Pendragon), D&D, GURPS, Rolemaster, Traveller all fulfill this goal pretty well.
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He'll flip ya...Flip ya for real...
Depends on general or bespoke intent. Obviously, if its a bespoke game the mechanics need to ensure the feel is appropriate for source material. I think Free League does this well with Alien and Blade Runner. Mechanics that not just aid theme, but really dig in and engage it. Mechanically, im open to options and systems as long as they clearly do what they are intended to do. Im leaning more towards leaner and quicker systems, as I don't find complexity adds much in most situations.

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