In design, the greatest tool for improving a game is iteration. There are very few games that are completely, objectively perfect, if any at all. Iteration is vital to improving upon an existing game, from the smallest parts to entirely new editions and systems; however, this concept can be equally staggering as it is interesting. It’s dangerous to go alone, take this guide and make the first steps of evolving yourself from player to designer.
One of the greatest parts of homebrewing, adapting, or modifying games in general, is the ability to change as much or as little as one would want to change. Part of the reason that modifying a system is far more enticing than creating an entirely new system all-together is that it is the same effect as adding a radio to an existing car rather than attempting to build a car from scratch.
Then again, that assumes that you’re going to be building that radio from scratch. Rather than attempt to undertake a large project, potentially ruining the wiring of the system you’re modifying, you can simply install a new piece that works within the system without too much trouble, adapting that portion into your new, fully functioning machine. Before this analogy gets too far, the crux of the statement lies within adaptation and iteration.
Adaptation is taking a piece of a different system and bringing it into the system you’re currently playing. Iteration is taking an existing system and refining an aspect, portion, or entire section, and then bringing it into the game. Adaptation is the easier portion; you can take a part of a game that works and should work universally, and place it into your game. Iteration is slightly harder; you would have to correctly identify a part of a system that can be improved and then improve upon it in a meaningful way.
In Exalted, there is a mechanic called “Stunting”. The world that Exalted takes place in, known as Creation, inherently loves a good story. Therefore, all of the players in the world of Creation gain otherworldly support when they are in the process of making a good story within the universe. Stunting is a mechanic that allows a player to gain more dice to roll, equating to more potential success on their action, by simply describing whatever it is they are doing in a flowery or colorful fashion.
Stunting is an adaptation that can come into literally any system. It is a mechanical benefit for good roleplaying, and small enough to not break any system or inherently ruin any scenario, as the benefit gained is entirely judged by the person running the game. Inasmuch, it is a simple mechanic adapted from Exalted and placed into any other game to potentially great result.
In Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition, there was a mechanic known as “Action Points”, which allowed players to take a second standard action, allowing them to perform two “main” actions in their turn. As it progressed, it was rather hard to gain more Action Points in a single session, and the result of gaining more was massive. Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition instead allows for a mechanic known as “Inspiration”, which will also grant a small mechanical benefit, for playing in such a manner that suits their character or potentially placing themselves into a precarious situation on purpose.
Iterating upon the concept of “Action Points”, where a player would either need to rest fully or perform an insanely grand action to achieve, “Inspiration” gains a quick and useful currency that can be given to players more often (much like Stunting), and even passed from player to player, allowing the entire table to celebrate the successful play of another. This iteration took a mechanic that was seldom and very powerful and created a smaller, but more interactive and narrative mechanic that can be used by the entire group, which better serves play.
Overall, do not be afraid to take a mechanic that works from another system and attempt to adapt it into your current play. Mechanics that serve narratively are always easier to implement, but there is certainly room for more structural and mechanical implementation of options for the players. Rather than building a car, just buy a new radio. It will be music to your ears.
Have a story of adaptation or implementation of new mechanics into your systems? Have you gone full-force in creating an entirely new system of play? Do you believe there is benefit or lack thereof regarding adapting mechanics? Let us know in the comment section!
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