Any tabletop RPG system is really intended to serve as a framework for the game. Rulebooks and the like provide a play-tested foundation on which a GM and his/her players can build their interactive story. However, regardless of the chosen framework, each individual game’s true nature is determined by what the GM and the players bring to it. Often, it is the extra touches added above and beyond the core rules that help push a game into the realm of awesome. They are the icing on the dungeon cake.
In my own gaming experience, I have had the good fortune to roll with GM’s (roll… get it!?) who are not afraid to add custom elements of awesome to their games. Now, a list of examples! Yay!!!
Last year, I had the opportunity to play a session ofAdventure! in a group run by a friend of mine. This particular group had developed a system by which the players could influence the course of a scene. The Adventure rules include a system for “will and inspiration”, which this group had combined into “willspiration” which acts similar to action points in D&D 4E. Essentially, each player is allotted a certain number of points (in this case represented by poker chips). They can spend these points to influence the outcome of a scene in which they are involved, bending the very reality of the game world to their wishes. Well, this particular group added an additional element, called “shadow willspiration” by which any player could influence a scene in which they were not involved. They could throw a metaphorical or literal banana peel under the feet of their fellow adventurers, or nudge circumstances in their favor.
The 4E game I just began playing with GM Tendrilsfor20 includes a system of cards, dealt out to the players at the beginning of each session. The cards each describe a situation that can alter an in-game scenario. For example, one card reads “You spot a tactically advantageous piece of terrain. Describe what you see. Final decision is up to the GM.” Another card says “The cavalry arrives. A group of 5 npcs of your level shows up to lend assistance” During my first session, nobody got the opportunity to use a card, but the concept is intriguing and I long to witness the conversion of potential to kinetic awesome.
For my own game, (that’s right, toot toot goes my horn!) I have added the rule of awesome. In order to encourage my players to think outside the rules, I have developed a system by which they can make a single dice roll to determine the outcome of complex feats of daring-do. The roll is modified by any relevant character skill the player utilizes, how well they describe what they are attempting and how awesome I think the whole situation is. So, when the group’s monk wanted to charge across the deck of an airship, vault off the cargo crane and land on the back of an escaping wyvern rider, damn straght I let him try! When he rolled a 96 out of 100, the results were EPIC!
Then, there is this guy. I’ll let you read the interview for details, but it sounds like his idea for “open in the event of” envelopes adds a wonderful layer of mystery to a game session. You never know what secrets your fellow PCs might be hiding!
Anyway, custom rules and game mechanics like these are some of my favorite elements in role-playing games. My biggest challenge is learning to add them in moderation so as not to overwhelm my players with added flavor.