New mechanics (part 1 of 3) #NaGaDeMon

Featured image is Goblin by Darek Zabrocki

Life has lately been pretty stressful, and so I’ve decided I need to do something that gives me joy and will be a nice distraction. So starting this blog is that thing.

The month of November is National Game Design Month (aka NaGaDeMon – and so I’m going to take time to finally work on designing a roleplaying game. I have multiple friends who have designed games and so I thought it’s my time to take a stab at it. Here’s my attempt.

The first thing I’d like to address for my NaGaDeMon game is mechanics, or more specifically the base mechanic for resolution of challenges and uncertain actions. Here are the two basic ideals I have come up with for my basic mechanic:

  1. No dice
  2. Non-binary results

Item #1 – No Dice – So, in roleplaying dice are almost a ubiquitous necessary item. I’ve just been working lately on the idea that I’d like to use something other than small objects being thrown across the table. I want to do this because I’ve heard that most dice, because of their manufacturing techniques are not really that great at being statistically average. I’ve also seen a few great attempts on not using dice (Amber, Castle Falkenstein, Deadlands Classic, Dragonlance 5th Age, Nobilis, and others). So there are some references for doing this, just nothing seems to have strongly taken over for dice. (You can see this quite evident in Deadlands, since Reloaded uses diceless mechanics far less than Classic.)

But I want the game to still have a randomization feature, so I don’t think I’ll go full diceless (i.e. no randomizer) like in Amber or Nobilis. So I think I’m going to use a deck of cards, rather than dice. Initially this means that it will be easy to work with since you can find standard decks of cards everywhere. But I think ultimately I want to create a custom deck, with cool art that can enhance the play of the game and maybe give a good mood for what is going on. (But more on that later).

Item #2 – Non-binary results – This item has become an interest of mine since reading FFG’s Genesys system and games based on the Apolocalypse Engine. I’d like to use the deck of cards to give results that are more than just pass/fail. A standard d20 roll just tells you if you were successful or not. I’d like for the basic mechanic to tell you more than that. The goal is to allow for some description and roleplaying to happen with the dice, that is more than just I successfully/unsuccessfully picked the lock, or I hit/didn’t hit the orc with my sword). So I’m thinking I’ll develop that cards in the deck provide different options other than just numbers for successes, etc…

So here’s my Base Mechanic proposal:

  • A deck of 54 cards will be used.
  • Number cards will represent numbers (except Aces)
  • Royal/face/ace cards will provide a non-binary result (red means bad, black means good)
  • Jokers activate something good that is grander than normal, like a critical, etc…
  • Red and black royals/aces cancel each other out at a 1 to 1 ratio
  • Jokers and royals/aces do not cancel each other out

Performing a Base Mechanic challenge:

  • Draw from the deck until you have two numbers cards from the deck.
  • Special abilities may give you the ability to change this base mechanic.
  • Base – add the two number cards together, this is your “result”
  • Compare your “result” to the “difficulty” set by the GM
  • If it’s a head-to-head roll, compare it the “result” of the adversary
  • Royals/aces provide roleplaying effects in addition to the compared result.
  • Red royals/aces provide negative effects, black provide positive
  • Jokers are considered a “critical” and may trigger a special ability

The positive and negative effects provided by the royals and aces give players and GMs a chance to do a little more depth in the result. Maybe the character succeeded but did so with a red royal/ace, so then there is something that additionally happened that was possibly hindering to the party as a whole. So here’s how the results table can look (rated from worst to best):

  • Failure w/ negative effect – number below difficulty, and showing more red royals/aces than black
  • Failure – number below difficulty, equal red and black royals/aces
  • Failure w/ positive effect – number below difficulty, and showing more black royals/aces than red
  • Failure w/ critical – number below difficulty, with joker(s)
  • Success w/ negative effect – number above difficulty, with more red royals/aces than black
  • Success -number above difficulty, and showing more black royals/aces than red
  • Success w/ positive effect – number above difficulty, and showing more black royals/aces than red
  • Success w/ critical – number above difficulty, with joker(s)

Does this make sense? I welcome your feedback on this, and I plan to flesh it out a little more as I continue to develop this game. Thanks for taking the time to read this blog.

– Josh

The mechanics convo continues in Mechanics continued… and Mechanics development (part 3)

5 thoughts on “New mechanics (part 1 of 3) #NaGaDeMon”

  1. Immediate thoughts: I like what you’re going for, basically a Genesys system with cards. I think that the number of cards you’re drawing for each test will limit one of the benefits of using a deck – card counting. That is, unlike dice, lots of success early on guarantees lots of failure later, but only if you’re not shuffling. Drawing at least 2 cards per test, but often more, with five players, you’ll go through a deck every…fifteen tests or so? So it could be tuned to not have that many tests (conflict resolution instead of task resolution would do this).

    I’d like to see royals mean more than they do in this proposal. Maybe you can buy abilities that trigger on a given royal, and you have three “slots” for your three special abilities for Jack, Queen and King? So every character has up to three specials that can go off in a game that give them unique-ness. The fighter gets fighty ones, the rogue gets thiefy ones, the mage gets spell boosts or whatever.

  2. I agree with Douglas that the big issue will be that results can come in waves (all good early meaning that only bad cards remain, etc), coupled with card counting. One possibility would be to give either the party or each PC a certain number of “shuffles” to call for during play. I’m not sure if this should be session-based on some sort of currency that carries over, like hero points or inspiration, but it would add another element for players to exert to feel like they have some say.

    1. I was thinking of addressing this with having the deck shuffled every time a joker card is pulled. Wouldn’t that help?

    2. Though I’ve been thinking about some type of currency that players can use to further influence the game narrative, and maybe the ability to shuffle the deck would be one of the powers granted by that currency. Hmmm….

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