The backbone of every game- regardless of the medium- is the mechanics behind it. Some mechanics, like Shadow of Mordor's nemesis system, may have been very interesting in a virtual environment, however prove effectively moot in the tabletop world, as the GM would obviously remember the occurrences much better than a system would. However, other mechanics, similar to Bioshock’s plasmids and the tonics that came along with them, would simply flourish in a tabletop environment. Hell, an entire class, maybe even a whole system, could be dedicated to Bioshocks superhero-esque plasmids. There are literally dozens of games out there that could have entrancing and exciting overlaps.
1) The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion
The Elder Scrolls series may not have a whole lot of mechanics that would fit cleanly into a lot of RPG’s. However, the beauty of fantasy worlds is that as long as there's magic, there will almost always be some overlap. In Oblivion, once you complete a little bit of the tutorial, you get to make a rather interesting choice: your birth sign, which grants you a passive or active ability. This concept could be implemented very easily in any game system that has magic. You could, of course make up your own constellations or, depending on the game, use the ones provided. Using the real world zodiacs could be incredibly versatile. A rogue born under the sign of the Libra could have the ability to bend luck in his favour, in exchange for bad luck later (the GM would obviously choose when to affect the player with this) or a warrior born under Aries could receive an extra action per day in combat. You could perhaps even force the players to roll randomly for their birth and giving them a sign that may or may not blend well with the class they have.
Taking the Chinese Zodiac would be just as interesting. Someone born in the Year of the Snake could get a bonus to deception checks. Being born in the Year of the Dragon could make you better at persuasion. Those born in the Year of the Pig may just be better at coming across money. Personally, I would say that typically passive bonuses would be better for an RPG setting and that if you chose to give the player an active ability, it should probably be a once per day thing.
In Oblivion many of the abilities are actually rather powerful with a prominent detriment, such as the ability to regenerate health at the cost of being weak to fire damage. While a system with bonuses and detriments would work very nicely, having some sort of weakness or handicap at level one could be a character killer, depending on the system.
If you’re unfamiliar with this PlayStation exclusive, you may or may not have been living under a rock. But that's beside the point. In Infamous, you have powers that are enhanced by your choices via their Karma System. When you do “good” things you get “good” karma, and vice versa. Now, the interesting portion of this system is when you introduce the powers.
When you lean further into one of the two karmic paths, you are allowed to unlock powers that are specially made for that path, typically with the good path being focused on self-healing and the evil path being built around the concept of “big boom fast no take damage.” In games which your alignment is a solid and important choice, this could work out very well, as your alignment would affect your abilities and functionality.
For example, a lawful neutral wizard could be able to prepare an extra spell per day. A chaotic evil fighter could choose to do a significant portion of extra damage in exchange for taking a little damage themselves. Neutral good bards could have a bonus for their buffs and healing spells. Really, the doors that are open for this (in a world with more options than “good” and “evil” doing the most stereotypical “good” and “evil” things ever) are quite astonishing when you take everything into account. Not that it wouldn’t be a lot of work. *
*Only because I got a little bored while writing this, I've decided to calculate out exactly how many possibilities there are for this. Assuming one power for every combo (I.E. One power per alignment for every class. So 9 alignment powers for a fighter.) we have 9*12 when using D&D as our basis. Which already leaves us at 108, arguably a whole crap ton of legwork. But, if we include all the races and have individual powers depending on race, class, and alignment, (i.e. A LG dwarven fighter would have a different power than a LG elven fighter) then we have to go 9*9*12, which brings our new total up to 972 individual power changes. That's not including Volos Guide races. Which, including the monstrous races would bump this number up to 1404 individual race and alignment based powers per class. Now, let’s drop the race thing and focus on if you adjusted each ability slightly depending on alignment. We’ll assume 5 different adjustments. So 5*9*12. Which comes out to 540 separate changes. Let’s face it, 5 adjustments would probably be lowballing it. But still, you can see why this idea would be a little bit of work if you were going to fully map everything out.
3) Dark Souls
I can hear the masses screaming already. “Oh god, what mechanic from those godforsaken, tough as nails games could this sadist possibly think would fit into a tabletop game?” Well, I’ll have you know that this is a skill game, and there's not a whole lot that would apply in a tabletop setting. However, they do have a bit of overlap and I think that Dark Souls ideas on the subject would make for an interesting game. And that subject is currency and experience. In case you are unfamiliar with the Souls format, in the game, you get these things called “Souls” (shocking I know) but they function as both the primary currency and the experience for the game. So you can choose between buying that sick piece of armour or jumping three levels after beating that boss.
Obviously, this would require leveling and price adjusting on the part of the GM in most settings, but the dynamic between players who choose to focus on gear and the players that choose to focus on leveling would make for some interesting and rather unique experiences. Pretty much making it so the same character, no matter how stock, can have some personality. This would also make NPC creation interesting. Where instead of having a BBG with a whole crap ton of HP and abilities, he can just be decked out in some super insane gear and really just be an average dip. Obviously, you don't need the whole XP=Currency system to pull this off, but it really could make for some damn good player choice and development in a lot of mediums. Implementing it in a story sense could be difficult, however, you could just use the “souls” idea from the game if you can’t think of anything better. Like myself.
If you’ve played a video game, at some point you’ve experienced a game over. You died, or you failed the mission, or you glitched into some sort of horrible unending pain that made you reload. Well, in the hit indie game Undertale, loading and saving are a recognized story element that a couple of characters (including the protagonist) can manipulate and use. Obviously, this is a rare thing that VERY few characters can use. In our medium, we can assume that it’s also rare, however, our heroes will consistently have it for the sake of ease. This mechanic would fit very well into a setting where the GM shoots for a “small fish, big pond” situation, where the protagonists are comparably insignificant to the monolithic and colossal proportions of the obstacles they face, and death is not only imminent, but unavoidable for someone of an adventurous mindset.
Ideally, this isn’t an ability that is used constantly. Perhaps with two or three uses per day before whatever magical or technological wonder they draw upon is spent, and won’t be able to save them if they die again. This is another mechanic that should be used delicately if integrated, as such incredible power is very easily abused, not only by the player, but by the GM. It would be easy to start giving BBG’s this ability left and right.
But really, this is a power that maybe a god or two would have and a handful of randomized legendary heroes and the like. However, this mechanic opens so many doors for “trial and error” based mini adventures that have a little bit more to do with luck. Again, impressing that “you are insignificant” mentality.
5) Every game ever... kind of?
You’re probably very confused and pondering the question, “What does literally every video game have that not a lot of tabletop games have?” Well, let me just tell you: powerups. Now I know that magic items and equipment can count as “power-ups” in a sense, however, those are typically permanent as long as you have the item. What I’m talking about is temporary super powerful situational abilities.
Of course, in a world with a lot of magic or technology, you may think, “Well that's kinda pointless. Why would I need a flower to let me shoot fire out of my hands when I can already shoot fire out of my hands?” But, kind sir, you forget the very basis of tabletop games: not everyone is good at everything.
Having some sort of “enchanted” mushroom that the wizard can down in a time of need when the tank is on the other side of the field to make them grow twice as big and be able to deck out some melee damage without wasting the use of a spell is a rather novel idea. Or in a sci-fi setting some sort of module or chip that, when attached to a handgun, makes it do double damage for a clip or two, but said module burns out super quick.
I know you’re thinking “potions and scrolls and spells oh my” but really, potions are quite the cliche at this point. Even if they do the same thing as a potion would be able to, finding some sort of super rare material in the wild and then consuming it to get a short lived edge would really add some flavour to the system.
As I said before, games live by their mechanics. Some games probably start with mechanics before they even have a real idea as to where it's going. And regardless of the medium, a lot of love and care is put into every game I’ve played.
What do you think about these ideas? Am I just blowing smoke out of my arse? Am I fool in a man's body who doesn’t understand how proper game balance works? Are there any games that you think would have a novel effect on the tabletop world? Well, there's a comment section for a reason.
Jarod Lalonde is a young role-player and writer whose passion for both lead him here. He’s often sarcastic and has a +5 to insult. Dungeons and Dragons is his favorite platform. Although he’s not quite sure if it’s Cthulhu whispering to him in the small hours of the night, or just persistent flashbacks to the Far Realm.
Picture Reference: http://indiehaven.com/knight-of-pen-and-paper-1-edition-pc-review/
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