Hello, TTRPG enjoyers!
This is a collection of many mechanics from various TTRPGs. Those procedures, moves, activities, ephemeras and other mechanics. Actually those lists are inspired by game mechanics Wikipedia entry (for board games). Indeed, I aimed for similar breakdown.
For a reference: I don’t name all ruleset of a game as „mechanics”. Here’s the definition of „mechanics” that I’m using:
Mechanics – an activity, which is used by a player to engage with the game. It animates the play („moving forward”).
- Turns – sections of a game (or one of it’s stages) with a set accordance about, when it’s a player’s moment for activity. Most of the time, turns appear during conflict (like combat, but not only). However, some games organize the whole session around it: Night Witches (Day & Night), Mouse Guard (GM’s & Player’s Turns), many FitD games. The campaign itself can be arranged with turns, like Pendragon with Winter Phase, for instance.
- Scene framing (establishing) – this kind of „turns” relies on the current need of the players and the fiction (Shared Imagined Space – later mentioned as „SIS”) itself, by utilizing technique called „spotlight”. While turns are enforced by the game structure, framed scenes are emergent and sometimes improvised features.
- Another cases of something that works like both turns and scene framing are games like Archipelago or Love in the Time of Seid. Every player have scenes about their character in orderly manner, however, all consecutive scenes-turns are also based on previous SIS (follows previous content, story). Fiasco is another instance of scene framing put into rigid turn order.
- For your information, even „fight, non-fight, fight” order is also a game structure.
- Progress Tracks & Clocks – methods of measuring the time and progress, between current moment and set decision of what is going to happen. It’s not only literally measuring the time (like turns in OSR). It can be:
- Abstract 6-sided clock of Apocalypse World (also used in other PbtAs)
- Various 4/6/8/10/12-sided clocks in Blades in the Dark and other FitD games.
- Progress Tracks in Ironsworn and WFRP 3ed.
- Grind in Torchbearer (for every 4 rolls/turns, the characters are affected).
- Scenario Progress, like Monster of the Week (six stages of „night”, monster development) or Dogs in the Vineyard (progress of The Sin in the community).
- Completition – I separated it from „Progress Tracks & Clocks”, because of a premise about ending the scenario/game. You collect something to complete the adventure/session. For instance, InSpectres and collecting clues. Psi*Run and answering the questions on character sheet (game concludes, when first player answers all their 6 questions). October Rust technically also lies here, with completition of Final & two Epilogue Questions…
- Again, Ironsworn seems to also fit that category, because it’s Progress Tracks are intended to be filled – the player decides when it’s time to conclude it.
- Rituals – codified habits and customs of a session, which are repeated over time. The most common examples are „beginning of the session” and „end of the session” rituals. Even with the absence of other discernable structures, they form an enclosure: an effective structure, when and how the session actually ends. Examples:
- Giving experience points at the end of the session.
- Beginning of the Session Moves in PbtA games.
- Artha/Rewards in Burning Wheel, Mouse Guard or Torchbearer.
Resolution mechanics (of an action)
- Random resolution – a collection of all mechanics which use some sort of random number generator, be it cards, dices or other methods. It’s associated with phrases like „roll the dice” or „draw a card” and they need to be a crucial component of the resolution.
- Deterministic resolution – a collection of mechanics, which uses non-random input in order to decide what happens. Most of the time it’s either by spending some resources or, when procedures allows (or enforces) a player to make such resolution.
- One of it’s variations is „arbitrary resolution” in which a player relies on their own creativity and jugdement to make a resolution.
- Raise – mechanics, where a player spends a resources to change (alter) the condition of a action resolution. It can be raising one of the conditions before resolution, but also changing the outcome.
- Spending Stress for improving dice pool and Effect in FitD games, spending Persona Artha/Rewards in Burning Wheel/Mouse Guard/Torchbearer.
- Dogs in the Vineyard asks a player how many dice they decide to put, in order to match attacker’s value. How many resources to use? Also, if 3+ dice are used, the character gets Fallout dice (consequences), which are checked after the conflict.
- Auction/Wagering – it works like raise, but both (all) sides are actively involved. the resolution concludes, when all says „pass”.
- Blightburg and wagering during the PC vs PC move. After applying proper Move (rolling for it) and then triggering „Oppose” Move by an opposing player, two of them decide how much Grit Points (0-9) they want to use to alter the main Move’s outcome.
- Some infamous game called „Wolsung” heavily relied on wagering: each conflict (and even round during the confrontation) relied on initial roll – vs TN or versus test – and then increasing the value by using cards and tokens.
- Criteria(-lism)/Description-based – mechanics, which resolve or set things according to a collection of „tags”, descriptors or other namings with written out meaning (and with according to SIS at hand).
- For randomness: Psi*Run and Lady Blackbird (sources for collecting a dice pool), City of Mist (sources for bonus to roll).
- For the fiction: „Tags” in PbtA games, which impose how fiction should work in the moment. For instance, how tool, weapon or other subject should behave in SIS.
- Slide – mechanics about regulating the situation at hand. It can be made for a single resolution or it may impose an overarching condition for all players.
- „Singular” Slide: FitD games (Position, Effect), October Rust (Scale of Intent – regulating both difficulty of test and impact on narratives)
- „Universal” Slide: Ironsworn & Starforged (Momentum), Moth Light (Position applies to all characters).
- Safety buffer – all solutions, in which you need to lower the buffer to „zero” in order to impose a change (make something worse, most of the time) on character. Hit points are the most common version of it.
- Parameter – all solutions, when certain value remains fixed while it’s used by a game engine. They’re called „stats”, „attributes”, „skills”, „modifiers”, „abilities” and such. You can call it „passive resources”.
- Non-free spendables – all resources, which regaining isn’t guaranteed no matter the situation. They can be one-time bonuses, „points to use/spend”. But also they are regenerable resources with certain criteria to meet in order to regain.
- Artha (Burning Wheel) and Rewards (Mouse Guard/Torchbearer) technically are „non-free”, because you need to earn it via play, by engaging to the criterias.
- Pools (The Shadow of Yesterday/The Solar System) and Stress (FitD games).
- Actually, spending 1 XP to negate GM intrustion in Numenera also works like that.
- All non-abstract, in-fiction resources, like currency or raw materials. Previous examples were metacurrencies.
- Free spendables – all resources which are regained in given cycle, regardless of a situation in fiction or player’s decision.
- Metacurrency, like Bennies in Savage Worlds, Fate Points in Fate.
- All activable abilities, which works per combat/day/session.
- Improvement points – this is a special kind of resources, which indirectly affects the game. Most of the time, it’s used for improving parameters or gaining new posibilites (powers, abilities, moves, etc.). The most common example is experience points.
- Lowering the safety buffer – Lowering the value of a given safety buffer and checking, if it reached „Zero”.
- Alternate (opposite) version of it is the „collecting” until certain threshold hits and something happens (like in Glitch).
- Status – granting a special feature to the character, which affects both fiction and capability of making (or resolving) decisions. All Harm statuses in Blades in the Dark, wound scales in Burning Wheel and TSoY. But also conditions like in Lady Blackbird, Mouse Guard or Torchbearer.
- Counting the progress/clock – ticking the given progress track or clock. It differs from „lowering the safety buffer„, because each tick of the clock should be explained via ficiton (why progress/clock has been changed). You don’t just complete the clock or avoid it; moving the clock itself matters.
- Indetermined consequence – all inevitable consequences, in which the exact weight (or meaning) isn’t yet established and introduced. They can be based on randomness. They can be resolved just after being announced or much later.
- For the former: all damage rolls, critical tables
- For the latter: rolling Fallout in DitV after the conflict to check, how the character went badly.
- Fail forward – imperative, which imposes, that a situation must move forward, regardless of resolution’s outcomes.
- Alternating the consequence – those mechanics can work either by a random chance or not, nevertheless they are about replacing the given consequence with another.
- Examples: Resistance Rolls in FitD games, Scars instead of Harm boxes in Urban Shadows, „Complication” rule for Persona Artha (Burning Wheel) – the last one is about changing the failure into „worse, but different than the initial stake”.
- Unfortunately, traditional saving rolls doesn’t apply to that category. First of all, you make them in order to avoid or lessen given consequences. They didn’t exchange the one for another.
- Phrase – using certain or agreed upon words or sentences („phrases”) to introduce activity or decide what’s next (it’s also mechanics!). I took the naming from „Ritual Phrases” from Love in the Time of Seid. Keep in mind, that even just declaring „I’ll go to the conflict” or „I surrender!” are also phrases that works as mechanics. They make an impact on a play, on the fiction (they animate it). Another instance is, when a gamemaster says „there is an obstacle here” – this is also a phrase, which propels further the play.
- All Safety Tools relies on phrase mechanics.
- Logic Gates/Triggers – existence of certain triggers, initiators or imperatives (like „Say Yes or Roll the Dice” or „If You Do It, Do It”) which steer us into new, certain situation. It can leads to another procedure or resolution to use.
- Stakes – it’s about establishing what will happen before the resolution is made. It sets the future possible directions of the fiction. It can be negotiated. I’d divide stakes into two subcategories: „open” and „discrete”.
- „Open” stakes: it’s established before the resolution what will happen, because it is announced.
- „Discreet” stakes: while it’s not announced, the stakes actually are written in given procedure (like Moves in PbtA games, Action Rolls in FitD Games). Those stakes exists, but they aren’t established into fiction yet, nor laid out.
- Negotiation – the talks about what needs to happen in fiction, it’s a mechanics itself. It’s about rights to change or withdraw from the stake (or even the conflict itself) after two sides initially set their declarations.
- Escalation – elevating or changing the weight (or radicality) of the conflict (action) in order to: prolonging the conflict, getting an advantage or aiming for better result. It can follow with changing the nature of the conflict (action) too!
- Examples: TSoY (escalation to Extended Conflict), DitV (changing the physicality of the conflict), BitD (repeating the same Action Roll after the Position had been worsened)
Various other mechanics
- Worker placement – According to Wikipedia’s definition, it’s „Worker placement is a game mechanism where players allocate a limited number of tokens („workers”) to multiple stations that provide various defined actions.”. That means, all mechanics which asks a player to „make an action from a certain pool” can be compared to worker placement mechanics. It implies a cycle of the game.
- Downtime Phase (Blades in the Dark), Player’s Turn and spending Checks (Mouse Guard)
- Actually, PbtA Moves which ask for „choose 1 or 2 options from below/above” also mimcs the worker placement mechanics. However, they lack overarching cycle in which those options returns.
- Action Points – It’s about spending possible action/moves during your turn/round. Like Pathfinder 2e (3 actions per combat round), WFRP 2nd (2 actions) or more sophisticated rules for actions to spend. Alternative take: hoard of dice pool and dividing it into „Attack” and „Defend” pools.
- Simultaneous Action/Play – all moments, where players sets their decision or maneuvers to play and they are revealed at the same time, at agreeded moment Then, they compare the interactions between given actions or maneuvers.
- Scripted Conflicts (Burning Wheel, Mouse Guard, Torchbearer)
- Stances (The Riddle of Steel, Blade of the Iron Throne).
- Technically speaking, previous example of Blightburg’s wagering is a simultaneous action, because two players reveals their Grit Points’ bid at once.
I think, it’s time to say something about the modes of resolutions themselves.
- Task resolution – We check for every action, if a single activity, event or ephemera can be invoked. It’s like „roll to hit„, „check if you climb up in this round” or „roll for Reflex against fireball”. Or, „I spend another 10 minutes of a turn to check for traps”. We resolve a situation step by step, by looking for single but simple answer.
- Conflict resolution – „Action” is a part of a fiction, which we framed as „conflict”. The resolution is about how the story (fiction) will be changed as a whole. Single action resolves entire framed conflict (situation, scene, etc.) and sets a precedent for a while. Two submodes exist for that type of resolution:
- Situation resolution – „Action” just aims for a situation set in fiction, not for whole scene nor stage of a game. The scene itself may contain more than one action, if SIS allows and calls for it.
- Scene resolution – One „action” resolves entire scene or stage of a game.
In essence: conflict resolution cares about moving the situation as a whole (has an intent of it), while task resolution doesn’t (it’s irrevelant to them, only contextual).