CaSE #21 : Optional Mechanics.

No sense in running your own game if you can’t change things up a bit, right ?  As the player in a friend’s campaign, you’re bound by their rule set and their choices for their game.  When you run your own adventure, the game is yours to customize.  All those aspects of the game that you thought could use a new approach – well, your time has come.

First off – don’t go crazy !  Your RPG of choice has been constructed with a lot of play-testing and careful editing to make it balanced and enjoyable.  Like a new car’s engine it has been factory-tuned; and while it’s your game engine to modify and supercharge, be careful not to mess things up.

Likely the best place to make changes are those areas of your game’s mechanics that are either undefined, come up infrequently, or have a minor effect on the overall campaign.  In these regards you’re adding a nuance, more than significantly changing the flow of the game.  Here are a few ideas, changes that my group’s DM’s have made to their games…

Critical Misses.  Running his 2nd Ed game, D.W. had a system to determine which unlucky circumstance would befall a character that rolled a Natural 1 on their attack.  When a player rolled a Critical Miss, D.W. would roll a d8 and compare the result to an outcome-table similar to this :

  1. Nothing happens.
  2. Drop weapon on the spot.
  3. Weapon slips from grasp and is flung away.
  4. Trip self, wind up prone.
  5. Accidentally hit ally.
  6. Accidentally hit self.
  7. Weapon stuck in floor, wall, tree, etc.
  8. Weapon breaks.

It didn’t happen very often; but when it did, the effect of the Critical Miss could be much worse for a character than just missing one’s target.

Train to Pass A Level.  In his first v.3.5 game, E.G. had a system where, in order to pass a level, characters would have to train.  Normally, characters either level-up on the spot or between adventure sessions (depending on when the DM gives out XP).  For E.G.’s game, a character who had enough XP to level-up would have to succeed on a check of a [d20 roll + INT modifier] against a DC of [6 + the next level].  One attempt could be made each game session, if a character failed his check the last time.  There were also NPC’s who could act as personal trainers, granting a bonus to a character’s attempt.  At Levels 10, 15, and 20, a character was required to find a trainer.

As E.G. himself explains the purpose of this game mechanic :  “A significant part of the original intent had been to incorporate quests for personal enlightenment into the leveling structure, especially at high level,” although “… that process was interrupting the flow of the game more when we could afford it less (more and longer breaks during the climax of the story = not good).”  It was an interesting challenge for players, but frustrating when one’s character has the XP for the next level but couldn’t achieve the training check several weeks in a row !

Re-Spec of Characters.  Another game device was the existence of a sect of Psionics who, for a price, would use their psychic powers to allow a character to re-assign his choice of skill points, Feats, spells, or levels of other Classes or Prestige Classes.  Players could re-spec their characters from any point in the character’s development, with the cost of the “brain blending” scaled to how long ago the original choices had been made.  The effect of this game device was that players were not stuck with their choices in character development as the characters and the campaign evolved.

Spells Cost Gold Instead of XP.  In campaigns where Group XP was assigned, some of our DM’s would say that a spell’s XP cost was instead paid in gold at a rate of 2, 3, perhaps 5 times the listed XP.  This was done because no character could have less XP than others, given that all characters received the same amount each session.

Additional Knowledge Types.  For a seafaring game, E.G. created the “Profession : Navigator” skill as a specific, separate ability from “Profession : Sailor” to define differences between the two for the purposes of his game.  In one of his earlier campaigns, he had decided that the “Knowledge : Local” skill was specific to each nation-state on his realm map.  Players had to choose for which region their character applied this skill; additional territories were purchased as separate versions of the skill.

These are a few examples of successful modifications our DM’s have made to their campaigns’ mechanics.  You may have some of your own.  Perhaps “bowling 400” (a critical hit with a dice roll of 20 that is confirmed with another 20) automatically does maximum damage.  Maybe you have additional situations in which Fatigue and Exhaustion take effect; beyond those listed in the DMG.  Or you may have unique rules for called shots, Opposed skill checks, or another occasional aspect of the game.

Optional mechanics for your campaign are your way to add a special something to the players’ experience in your game.  And they are a way for you to contribute your ideas on how to make the game more interesting.  Think through any change or optional rule you plan to make.  Be sure it will not negatively impact game play or game balance, and that it won’t over-complicate (or oversimplify) your RPG system.

Remember, gimmicks are no substitute for story and your modifications should not define your campaign.  A clever, well-conceived change to a minor, infrequent game mechanic is what you hope to achieve.




About d20horizons

D&D player.
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