GM/DMs: What mechanics should I know for specific genres?
March 11, 2017 7:05 AM   Subscribe

I tend to gamemaster tabletop RPGs in generic systems. When a game session veers into a specific genre, I'd like to have a better toolbox of mechanics in order to enhance the feel of that genre. What are some genre-tailored mechanics that I should know about?

Most of my games are in GURPS or Fate, and I'm also very familiar with DND-style fantasy games (especially 5th edition). But, my RPG knowledge doesn't extend much further. I'm hoping to learn mechanics that were introduced in genre-specific games that I can adopt when appropriate. For instance, the GUMSHOE system uses the core clues mechanic to improve mystery-type investigations. I'm open to ideas for any genre.
posted by philosophygeek to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (4 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Hm. Some stuff I've enjoyed, off top:

* The best sanity system I've ever seen occurs in Unknown Armies. It has multiple tracks for different kinds of trauma including violence, encounters with the supernatural and prolonged isolation. Tracks progress in two directions simultaneously: hardened and vulnerable. Hardening means a character doesn't need to roll against lesser stimuli, vulnerability means the consequences of a failed roll are worse. For instance, (IIRC), someone with Violence: Hardened 1, Vulnerable 3 doesn't need to check if someone pulls a knife on them, but if they miss a roll for a more serious situation, they're going to have a full meltdown, while someone at 0/0 *would* roll for a knife, but have a much less severe reaction to failure.

* There are some good abstract chase mechanics in d20 Spycraft. Don't remember the details as well, but it was a series of opposed checks instead of needing to break out a map.

* For comic book stuff, HERO is much more robust than GURPS generally. When modeling versatile or complex powers, they have the notion of 'power frameworks' that allow characters to pay for a general power, and then buy specific uses of it cheaply. (In general, I prefer the point buy model in HERO over GURPS - GURPS costs stuff based on rarity, while HERO pricing is based on expected utiltiy. It leads to better balance overall, IMO, though there are still lots of loopholes that you have to be mindful of.)

* Horror Rules RPG has some great stuff to model dumb behavior in classic horror movies. Again, less firm on the specifics, only played it a few times, but it was lots of fun.

* Teenage Ninja Mutant Turtles is a hot mess, but one interesting thing they had were perks for characters with a unified backstory. It was class and level based, and if PCs were raised together, they got starting skills at a higher level based on how many of them trained together as children. (So, like, the canon characters got +3 levels' worth of skill development since there were four of them.)

* Gamma World had a hilarious 'artifact examination' mechanism for attempting to understand the purpose of technology beyond a given character's background. It was just a flowchart, but the basic idea was hilarious, and readily adapted to other post apocalyptic backgrounds.

I'm sure more will occur to me later. Feel free to memail if you ever want to talk shop. Haven't run anything in years now, but I've tried tons of different systems, and read even more.
posted by mordax at 10:25 AM on March 11, 2017 [2 favorites]

For me, something like Hero is rather the antithesis of what I value in a game - too fiddly by far.

Instead, what sort of effects are you looking to bring to the table? The Fate Toolkit and Codex offer some interesting ways to introduce particular mechanics.
posted by canine epigram at 11:51 AM on March 11, 2017

I have never played it myself, but have heard good things about Dread for horror games. Doing anything difficult or scary forces the player to pull a block (or blocks) from a Jenga tower. Optional rules involve doing it in the dark or by flashlight only.
posted by AndrewStephens at 1:13 PM on March 11, 2017

Several RPGs that are cinematic-style (that is, they emulate the melodrama of action films and TV shows) allow the players to have some sort of mechanic to alter and/or take control of the narrative in certain limited ways.

For example, in QAGS the players start with--and can earn--Yum Yums. Yum Yums can be used to buy automatic successes, chances to re-roll failed rolls, and to modify things like damage (given or received). They also give players a chance to take control of a game and determine certain details about the game world. You'll see a similar mechanic with Bennies in Savage Worlds, Hero Points and Victory Points in Mutants and Masterminds, drama points for the lamentably-OOP Buffy the Vampire Slayer RPG, temporary Willpower in World of Darkness games, and in other RPGs.
posted by magstheaxe at 8:41 AM on March 13, 2017

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