System mechanics are normally a necessary evil – they don’t often add value. Here’s ten bits of system I actually like.
1. Karma, Drama and Llama Fortune (Everway)
Jonathan Tweet’s concept of resolution for Everway is (I believe) the foundation of Ron Edward’s GNS Theory.
2. 10-segment Rounds (Judge Dredd)
Lots of systems have ways of splitting up the combat round into chunks. Runequest uses strike ranks; Feng Shui and others have an open-ended initiative roll and count down to zero, with each action taking a number of “shots”; Exalted has a similar structure based on a character’s speed. But the Judge Dredd RPG method has always worked for me: a round lasts ten segments, and a character acts on certain segments (say you have 3 actions, you act on segment 3, 6 and 9). It’s slightly artificial but it’s one less thing you have to worry about in combat. I used it in Department V.
3. Column-based Damage (1st edition Paranoia)
Paranoia uses a 20 column table to work out damage. All weapons lie on a column, with a percentage table at the bottom indicating injury (from “nothing” to “vaporised”). Armour causes weapons to shift to the left (less severe). Does away with rolling damage, soak rolls and so forth. Obviously good with Paranoia where the body count is high, but could be used with any game with careful balancing of the damage effects.
4. Self-Image (Lace and Steel)
Lace and Steel does a lot of cool things, but Self-Image is particularly useful. It’s how the character feels about themself. It’s rated between +4 and -4, and confers a penalty/bonus to some skill rolls (social rolls especially). You lose Self Image as a result of having a bad day – a setback in the adventure, a tiring journey, being humiliated or losing a duel. You gain it as reward for success in the adventure.
5. Frequent, Major and Versatile (Everway)
Instead of balancing a huge list of special powers the Everway method of powers was to ask if the power could be used Frequently, could it disrupt an entire scene (Major), or could it be used in many different situations (Versatile). Each letter cost 1 point (a major expense since 1 elemental point makes the element twice as potent as the level below).
6. The BIT system (Burning Wheel)
I don’t really care for the Burning Wheel rpg, except for the Beliefs, Instincts and Traits which is very cute. I particularly like Instincts because they indicate behaviours – a kind of “insurance” that allows the player to say “but my character would always do…”.
7. A Chinese Portrait (Nephilim)
Nephilim uses a Chinese Portrait to illustrate the different supernatural races (and we love playing modern-day fantasy supernatural games, don’t we). It also uses the Metamorphosis to show how the Nephilim changes in appearance as its elemental soul becomes more prominent.
8. Fate Points/Bennies/Brownie Points
As used by WFRP, Spirit of the Century, Savage Worlds and others. The implementation in SotC is particularly good – players spend points to leverage their Stunts.
9. Exhaustion and Madness Dice (Don’t Rest Your Head)
Since Exhaustion is a big deal in DRYH, you get exhaustion dice to add to your dice pool when rolling for skill checks. The more dice that you have the better your chances, but the exhaustion dice stay with you to indicate level of fatigue.
10. Vampire the Masquerade’s Character Sheet
p>Really? A character sheet? Yes. VtM was the first game I played/ran where the character sheet combined utility and attractiveness. The sheet pretty much laid out all of the decisions the player had to make for character generation (other than choosing a Demeanour and a Clan, etc).