Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Aspects as a (near) Universal Design Approach for RPGs

We have a new prompt for the  GM (blog) Roundtable.

What is a favorite mechanic or idea you've encountered in an RPG that you think would work well in other games? Please explain the mechanic/idea, tell us a bit about the game it comes from, and give some ideas of how it could be used in other games. You can discuss more than one mechanic or idea if you like.

This challenge is one that is close to my heart.  As you can tell, given the focus of my blog and audio segments on the podcast formerly known as GM Intrusions,  I have a passion for reading various RPGs and adapting their mechanics to improve my games.  In the recent past, I have focused on the Cypher System.  It has proven to be a readily adaptable system that lets me combine the strengths of several systems -- as well as being quite strong to begin with.

Much of what I write about is applicable beyond the Cypher System, though.  I like to think that some of the systems I talk about could also be adapted into other systems.  For example, the discussion of fronts is something that can help in preparing a 5E DnD game.  In taking up the topic for this month's GM Roundtable, I wanted to discuss a mechanic that I think is useful in just about any system -- including the Cypher System.  I have chosen to discuss how the notion of scene or location aspects  from the FATE system will change the way I will design encounters in just about all of my games, in all gaming systems, moving forward.

Derbyhaven Ruins (Grant Matthews -- flikr)

I will briefly discuss how location or scene (I will focus on just location for simplicity from here on out) aspects affect game planning and game play.  This should not be taken as a complete description of aspects in FATE.  Aspects are of central importance to that game and I am going to be simplifying the system to make it portable to just about any system.  If this discussion interests you, I strongly recommend reading the full system in the FATE system (I read FATE CORE, specifically).

A location aspect is some element included in a location that players (and the GM) can use as part of their actions.  Consider the ruins pictured above.  The location may have the aspect of "precarious ruins."  Anyone (players or GM) can announce an action by their controlled characters that take advantage of that element to secure some bonus.  GMs can also declare that the aspect hampers some player character actions where appropriate.  A player could pull down the walls as part of an attack to add to damage.  A GM could declare the ruins are littered with debris rendering movement difficult.  Anything goes (within the group-defined limits of relevance) with characters interacting with this aspect of the location.

This mechanism will affect how I design encounters in all games I play moving forward.  One of the elements of DnD 4e I liked most was that the rules facilitated bringing the environment of an encounter to the forefront.  The aspect system provides a logic for that in just about any system.  Whenever I design an encounter, I will define one or two aspects and work them into the description.  I will encourage players to use these aspects to justify a bonus to their actions.  I hope it will serve as a mechanism to encourage more imagination with actions (Don't just swing your sword at the creature; work them into a corner of crumbled ruins to limit the ability to parry).  

This is easy to integrate into the Cypher System.  The aspects of the location become assets that can be used to reduce the difficulty of the action.  The GM can use the aspects to bump up the difficulty where narratively appropriate.  

I can see this working in all of the systems I have ever played.  In DnD editions, you can declare that location aspects give a simple +1 bonus or penalty or vary the bonus where in some cases it can affect damage, saves, etc.  The only thing you need is to have a small but noticeable bonus to actions that reference (or, more strictly, interact with) the aspect of the location.  

I see this as an easy to implement planning element and one that will shape how encounters happen within the games.  One does not need to rely on "orc and pie" encounters in simple rooms.  Every location should be different -- and this lets you make the differences affect the play within the room.  

Please also check out the other contributors to this discussion at:

Living for Crits (James Walls)

Starwalker Studios (Lex Starwalker)

Dread Unicorn Game (John Marvin)

 Inspiration Strikes! (Marc Plourde)

Instant Backstory (John Clayton)

1 comment:

  1. I remember reading that one in Fate and in the MWP Marvel game and thinking "What a good idea." Why I never made the mental leap to use it in my other games is beyond me. Thank you, as I believe was once said on Not The Nine O'Clock News, for pointing out the bleedin' obvious! (In a good way, of course)

    This is going straight into Sunday night's game.