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Path of the Game Master Vol. 2: Mechanics Theft

Welcome to the second part of the promised three-parter on Game Mastering. Last time around I took a look at the various styles of Game Mastering, and this time around, I’m going to look at some interesting game mechanics that you might consider taking for your own games. These are NOT part of any single game experience (this article started out as a thought on Pathfinder 1 many moons ago), but they can certainly be applied to them, to great effect.



Game Master Art by Dean Spencer
Art by Dean Spencer


Initiative

Instead of rolling standard initiative and then following a strict set from high to low roll – I’m going to steal something that I experienced with Pugmire. I was really impressed with the teamwork inherent in their initiative system. Having the high roller start, and then having a progression of people choosing who will follow them, just FEELS right for a cooperative game. I am going back and forth on making a minor change to it though, which is to have the person that comes last in each round, START in the following round, to discourage putting the NPCs at the very end of the round every time.


Advantage/Disadvantage

This particular little mechanic comes from D&D 5e (so it obviously doesn't apply to 5e in this case) – it basically has you rolling 2d20 instead of a single d20 whenever a situation is either advantageous to you or problematic for you. Then, depending on whether it’s good or bad for you, you choose either the higher or the lower of the d20s that you roll. For example, you might roll 2d20 and choose the higher of the two, if you’re in a sword fight and you have the advantage of the higher ground. While it is a relatively small change it always feels better whenever you roll more dice, instead of simply applying a modifier (usually a +2/-2).


Destiny Points

Coming from Star Wars, Destiny Points allow you to influence the narrative both as a GM and as a Player, I’ve considered putting this into my Pathfinder games, to allow the players more agency within the game, allowing them a way to influence the game in a narrative manner. It also allows ME to up the ante as the GM while making certain that my PCs know that this is the way it happens. I’d probably still use the Force Die for it unless I can find an alternative dice within the normal d20 sets.


Bigger Dice Chain

This one will prove a little more difficult to implement, but it’s one I’d really like to experiment with. While Pathfinder is currently restricted to what we think of as the standard dice pool (d2, d3, d4, d6, d8, d10, d12, d20, d100), there is another OSR game out there, that uses a bigger dice pool, namely Dungeon Crawl Classics (at some point I’ll have to review this rather large gem of a game), which uses several other dice, popularly called the Zocchi set (it adds a d5, d7, d16, d24 and a d30 to the pool). This will allow you to play along with similar things to the advantage/disadvantage mechanic mentioned above, but instead of adding a +2/-2 modifier or giving the advantage/disadvantage, you allow the player to move up (or down) by 1-2 dice steps (i. From d10-d12-d16 or d10-d8-d7). Again with similar reasoning. It feels better to roll the dice than it does to apply a modifier of any sort.


Cards

A mechanic we should all know is cards. Allowing a player a hand of cards, instead of dice, allows them to “choose the roll” from the available cards on their hands (though you may need to get a special deck of cards if you want to represent the full 1-20 range). Heck, the cards can be used for everything from random encounters, to critical hits and all the way over to locations (does it show that I recently wrote a deck of random locations? Ask me if you’re curious. 😛 ) – Depending on which version is used, they either enable the PCs to control the story a bit better (using the 1-20 cards) or introduce even more randomness into your game.


Action Economy

Starting from Pathfinder 2, this one might be a little more difficult to implement in many games, but I think it would be possible to do so with a little work. In this case, I'd probably apply it to 5e, where it would replace the current mechanic of bonus, move, and action. Instead taking the place of all of them simply going "1 action = any of the normal 3" so that you could gain things like 3 move actions, or 3 "normal" actions (though I think it might be worth limiting that so that you only get the Extra Attack feature (for those classes that have it) on the first time it is used), or 3 bonus ones.


What are your favorite game mechanics that you’d like to see implemented in another game? Let’s hear it in the comments. 🙂


This post was originally posted on d20radio on the 18th of May 2018 but has been updated to include the PF2 action economy.

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