Six More RPG Mechanics That Must Go

Roleplaying design is highly sensitive to context. Some rules work really well in one system and really poorly in another, and it all depends on what each game is trying to achieve. But then there are mechanics that don’t work well in any system, and that’s what we’re talking about today. These rules will always make your game worse, no matter the context, because they are fundamentally flawed, and they should be avoided whenever possible.

I’ve talked about these kinds of mechanics before, but roleplaying is a crowded medium, so naturally I discovered more with time. Let’s take a look at this newest batch and see why they have no place in your design project.

1. In-Universe Meta Currency

Sailing ships firing cannon at one another from 7th Sea's GM screen. In 7th Sea’s 1st edition, PCs can’t activate certain magical abilities unless they’ve done something cool or funny enough to earn a drama die.

First, a definition for anyone not familiar with Mythcreants terminology: “meta currency” refers to the special points most systems allow players to spend on boosting their characters’ abilities. In Burning Wheel, they’re called Artha; in Serenity, they’re called Plot Points, etc. These points are almost always intangible in nature. They are earned for good roleplaying and don’t represent anything real in the fiction.

Now imagine you’re playing a campaign where you’ve been granted a magic sword that bursts into flames on command, but at a cost: you need to spend a point of meta currency whenever you use the sword. At first, this just seems like a reasonable balancing mechanic. But then you reach a scene where your character wants to use their sword but can’t because you don’t have any meta currency left.

How exactly do you explain that in the fiction? Is your magic sword just on the fritz? You can’t very well say that you need to go exchange some dramatic dialogue with the villain before your sword’s magic will activate, even though that’s the actual dynamic created by the rules.

The issue here is a break in how meta currency is treated. Most of the game treats it as an intangible factor, a reward you as the player get for enthusiastic participation. But the sword is treating meta currency as a tangible resource that your character can spend to get extra fire damage.

The only way this type of mechanic can work is if the meta currency is fully integrated into the fiction. It must be gained through in-fiction means and spent on tangible, in-fiction rewards. It must also be spent as a conscious choice on the character’s part, not just their player. This is rare, but it does happen. Legend of the Five Rings, for example, has Void Points that represent a character’s inner balance. They can be reclaimed through spiritual meditation or a calming tea ceremony. They are not gained through a dramatic shouting match with the villain. When a PC spends a Void Point, it represents the character leaning on their inner balance to give them an advantage.

2. Stables of Unrelated NPCs

A woman summoning some kind of green spirit in Delta Green. Delta Green’s Home phase is the only time agents will pay any thought to the friends and family that are supposedly so important to them.

If there’s one thing all roleplayers can enjoy, it’s making fun of how PCs seem to pop fully formed into the world, with no meaningful family or friends. This problem is not unknown to designers, and many have tried their hand at solving it, only to fall into a different problem.

This scenario is probably familiar to you: you’re rolling up a character, and as part of the creation process, the rules want you to write down the names of several people the character knows in their personal life. Spouses, parents, and children are all common choices, but plenty of systems will have you name friends, coworkers, or even pets.

Creating all these connections is supposed to make your character feel more grounded, but there’s a problem. None of them have anything to do with whatever adventure your character is having, so they almost never come up in play. Maybe you make an effort to engage one of them during downtime, but no one else at the table has any connection to them, so the GM tries to limit these scenes in order to make sure everyone has time to do what they need.

This is what happens when games have you roll up a stable of unrelated NPCs. At best, you’re back at the original problem: a character with no meaningful connections. Those names on the sheet don’t mean much if they never come up. At worst, you’re disappointed because you were excited to roleplay with these NPCs, but there’s no opportunity.

The problem here is that designers sometimes forget why a PC’s family origins so rarely come up in a campaign: they aren’t important to what’s happening in the story. This same dynamic is pretty universal in other mediums. We don’t know who Han Solo’s parents are because it doesn’t matter. We only know Leia’s father is important on Alderaan because that’s the planet Tarkin blows up. On the other hand, we know a lot about Luke’s father, because he’s important to the story.*

If designers want PCs to have important connections, those connections need to be important to the story, shared between multiple PCs, or, preferably, both. If the game is about fantasy adventures, PCs should know someone who can get them a good deal on healing potions, whether that person is their sibling or a good friend. It’s even better if multiple PCs have a connection to this potion dealer, so any scene with them will be relevant to more than one person.

3. Vehicles With Character Stats

Serenity flying in front of the Serenity RPG logo. The Serenity RPG gives ships the same stats as characters, but doesn’t give much indication on when or how to roll them.

Designing vehicle rules is understandably difficult. Vehicles are more complex than almost any other common type of gear, and it’s often unsatisfying to simply hand-wave these rules. Space opera games create expectations that PCs will be able to modify their ships and spy PCs will certainly want to trick out their cars with the latest gadgets. If these expectations aren’t represented in the rules, it’s a major disappointment.

For a lot of designers, the solution is to treat vehicles the same way they treat characters. Give them the same set of attributes and possibly even the same skills. Then the vehicles can level up and gain special abilities just like a player can. It gives players the robust vehicle rules they want and saves the designer a lot of work. It’s perfect, right?

Unfortunately, it’s only perfect until you start playing and need to roll for something while operating the vehicle. Should you roll your character’s ability or the vehicle’s ability? There’s no good answer. If you decide your character’s ability is more important, then it renders the vehicle rules unimportant, which is absurd. We all know that a pilot will do better if they’re flying a P-51 Mustang over a rusty old crop duster. If you use the vehicle’s stats, then it seems like your character’s own skill is irrelevant, which is equally unsatisfying. The best plane in the world shouldn’t be able to save a pilot who has no skill of their own.

The core problem is that both the PC’s skill level and the vehicle’s capabilities should affect a roll; giving them the same set of stats makes that nearly impossible. Combining the two ability levels would be unbalancing in most games, and there simply aren’t many other options. Some systems that use an attribute + skill system will try to split the difference, plugging in the character’s ability for one half of the equation and the vehicle’s ability for the other, but that still doesn’t work. It just feels like both character and vehicle are having half of their ability discounted.

More philosophically, giving vehicles the same stats as a character will never work because the two have fundamentally different roles in an RPG. Characters are the movers and shakers of the narrative, especially player-characters. Vehicles, no matter how complicated, are still pieces of equipment.* Confusing that distinction just causes problems, which is why we never do it for any other type of equipment. Imagine if a sword substituted for its wielder’s strength score. No player would stand for it!

If a system needs in-depth mechanics for vehicles, those mechanics should be focused on how the vehicle changes what a character can do and how they do it. Spycraft is a good example. In that game, a customized car never substitutes for a character’s drive skill except to represent some form of automation. Instead, add-ons like rotating license plates make the car harder to track, and a concealed rocket launcher gives it extra firepower. If a system’s core rules aren’t robust enough to support these options, then in-depth vehicle mechanics simply aren’t a good fit.

4. Exclusionary Content

Two samurai dueling from Legend of the Five Rings In Legend of the Five Rings, dueling uses different skills and stats than regular combat, making it very difficult to be good at both.

Whenever you sit down to play an RPG, you’re confronted by a list of skills, attributes, and special abilities that outline what sorts of things PCs are expected to do in this game. Games about modern witchcraft tend to have a lot of research and occult skills, while high fantasy systems focus on sword fighting and courtly etiquette. The presented options aren’t always equally useful, but designers do their best.

This all works fine until you encounter some part of the game that requires a very specific skill, attribute, ability, or combination thereof. If you didn’t purchase the required option, tough, you are incapable of doing anything. This is exclusionary content, and the more there is of it, the bigger the problem.

Exclusionary content can manifest in a number of ways, but computer worlds are the most common example I’ve encountered. These are virtual realities that exist entirely within a digital space, whether it’s the Matrix from Shadowrun* or the Digital Web from Mage: The Ascension. In these computer worlds, normal skills and abilities aren’t important. Instead, the computer skill is king, and those with high ranks in it are gods among mortals.

Meanwhile, anyone who didn’t take the computer skill lags behind at best or is completely helpless at worst. You also see this type of dynamic at work in systems that have specialized forms of combat where normal skills are useless or in-depth resource management mechanics that only use the logistics skill.

No matter what form it takes, exclusionary content always has the same problem: players don’t like feeling helpless or underpowered, so they tend to avoid any content they aren’t equipped to handle. This means they either miss out on important aspect of the game or have to wait around while characters who do have the requisite abilities enjoy themselves. If the GM tries to force PCs into content they’re trying to avoid, it’s even worse. Instead of boredom, you get anger and resentment.

If something is going to be an important, time-consuming part of your game, all PCs should be able to engage with it. Requiring a specific ability or build makes the content exclusionary. If you can’t figure out how to make the computer world or formal dueling open to the entire group, then it should be resolved with a single roll. For instance, you’d have a PC roll Animal Handling to teach their dog a new trick instead of turning it into an extended training conflict.

5. Sudden Character Death

A group of characters on an alternate cover for Tenra Bansho Zero. In Tenra Bansho Zero, your character can suddenly become unplayable between scenes because you didn’t manage your meta currency properly.

This week you’re playing a game about mage politics. PCs spend most of their time casting spells and plotting schemes. But between political adventures, they put a pause on all that for a special rest phase where the characters talk about their feelings and take stock of how much stress all that magic has put on their bodies. Oh, and if it turns out that the stress is more than a certain amount, your character dies and you have to make a new one.

That’s a sudden death mechanic, and it’s exactly as un-fun as it sounds. Sudden-death mechanics come in all shapes and sizes, but they all have one thing in common: a character can become unplayable based on random dice rolls, with little or no input from the player. This usually means the character is dead, but not exclusively. The character might be locked away in jail or trapped in an endlessly repeating time loop, as long as it makes them impossible to play.

In a lot of RPGs, combat is a form of sudden-death mechanic, if a less severe one. A D&D player whose character is killed by an unexpected critical hit probably didn’t have any agency in that event; they were just playing the game like they’re supposed to and without warning they needed to roll up a new character. On the bright side, most combat systems have options players can use to make sudden death less likely, but the risk is still there.

Players hate it when their characters die, and the less input they have, the angrier they get. It feels like they’re being punished for playing the game the way they were told to. This is bad enough when a character dies from random rolls in combat. It’s far worse if the sudden death comes from failing to manage resources properly or as the result of roleplaying choices the player made two sessions ago.

These deaths aren’t part of a fair contest; they’re the result of arbitrary systems that depend on a GM to apply them properly, something that can go wrong even if the GM is doing their best and the rules are well designed. Any possible benefit of sudden-death systems is outweighed by the damage they do to everyone’s enjoyment when a character actually dies.

In most cases, sudden-death mechanics can be replaced by options that cause a major consequence to the character rather than making them unplayable. In adventure games, running out of physical health can result in capture or lost gear rather than death. In horror games, running out of mental health might require a character to change one of their core traits rather than forcing them to retire permanently.

If death is going to be on the table, it should be something players opt into. For example, in Tenra Bansho Zero, it’s impossible for characters to die unless the player chooses to fill in the last box on their damage track. This gives the character bonus dice, but also renders them vulnerable to death. This option isn’t perfect, as some players will opt to risk death and then regret it, but at least the choice was theirs.

6. Adversarial Player–GM Relationships

An armored soldier with a young child on their back from Burning Empires. In Burning Empires, the GM is supposedly trying to defeat the players, something the GM could do at any time with little effort.

Literally everyone who gives GMing advice online has to spend at least some of their time repeating that RPGs are not a contest between player and game master. Roleplaying is a cooperative endeavor, we explain, where the whole group works together to have fun, whether that fun is to be had in triumphing over dragons in a dungeon or in deep narratives about politics on the moon.

We’ve been pretty successful in getting this message across, until some new system comes out and explicitly claims that, in fact, it is a competition. None of this wishy-washy cooperation, the system expounds, it’s time to earn your victory fair and square. So far as I can tell, designers do this because they think it’ll be more satisfying if players win despite the GM’s best efforts rather than having their triumph be prearranged during a planning session.

There’s just one problem with this idea: it doesn’t work. If a GM actually played these games like they were trying to win, they’d wipe the players out in the first session. No system I’ve ever looked at has actually put enough limits on the GM’s authority to make the contest fair, and that’s not just coincidence. There’s simply no way to give the GM enough authority to craft a story while also limiting their authority enough to level the playing field. It’s like designing a vehicle that travels 60 mph but can’t outrun a human on foot.

If an RPG designer does manage to restrict the GM’s powers enough to create a fair contest with the players, then they’re no longer making an RPG; they’re making an asymmetrical board game. That’s not a bad thing! Asymmetrical board games can be a lot of fun, and some of them, like Descent and Omega Protocol, even mimic the structure of classic dungeon crawls. But they are not RPGs, and they will not provide the same experience.

In a competitive board game, players are trying to win. Any concerns about narrative, or even that everyone is enjoying themselves, are secondary at best. RPGs, on the other hand, are all about narrative, and it’s the GM’s job to help every player have fun.* Trying to make an RPG do what board games do better just produces a bad experience for everyone.

Two options exist for designers who have ideas for competitive RPGs but don’t want to sabotage their game. First, they can simply design a board game instead. The world can always use more good board games. Alternatively, they can channel their energy into rules that are robustly structured rather than competitive. These are systems like Torchbearer and Blades in the Dark. Their rules support the GM by telling them how to manage complex situations, like keeping track of supplies in a dungeon or building a criminal organization from the ground up. The world can always use more systems like these too.

Sometimes I get discouraged at how many bad mechanics are still common in RPGs. It seems like designers just keep making the same mistakes over and over again. Will they never learn? But then I remember this particular medium is less than fifty years old, and it’s still going through growing pains. With roleplaying reaching an ever-wider audience and more talented designers launching their own projects every day, I’m confident we can give these terrible rules the boot they so richly need.

Treat your friends to an evening of dark ritual murder. In a fictional game scenario, of course. Uncover your lost memories and save the day in our stand-alone game, The Voyage.

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  1. Passerby

    I disagree with the meta currency. True, the example in this article with the sword wouldn’t work. But it’s not the only way a meta currency can work. It CAN work if it remains conpletely meta. For instance, you can get a Luck Point that you can later spend to retoss an action (or one of the dice). This has no bearing on the narrative, because the player uses the point before the narrative is influenced by the action.

    • Oren Ashkenazi

      I absolutely agree, and I’m sorry if that section made it sound like I was saying all meta currency must go. Meta currency that is simply a player resource, like that found in the majority of games, is a great thing. It’s only when the lines between meta and fiction blur that it’s a problem.

      • Kyo

        Well the fact that the article begins with
        “These rules will always make your game worse, no matter the context […]”
        Heavily implies that you mean all meta currency is bad

        • Rakka

          Seeing that the title is “IN-UNIVERSE meta currency” there doesn’t seem to be anything that implies all meta currency is bad.

    • Adam

      Yeah, what’s Oren’s trying to say is, it would be like if I needed to use an Inspiration point to activate my Holy Avenger powers in D&D, that would be dumb. But Inspiration in D&D doesn’t work like that, thankfully.

    • Michael Campbell

      I really don’t comprehend the example for metacurrency.
      If a magic sword is fueled (at least in part) by awesome witticisms and the player drops the ball and runs out of “gas” because he forgot to keep-up his Noel Coward-esk repartee:- how is that not simply “natural consequences”?

      Once you say, it’s a magic sword; things get pretty weird and the players know it can get weird.

      I think maybe there’s a mis-comprehension of the term meta-currency.
      Spend wisely!

      • SunlessNick

        Because within the setting, the sword is not fuelled by witticisms, it’s fulled by fire magic.
        If the metacurrency only applies to things the player thinks about – do stuff that’s cool and in character to get points, then use them for a bonus in fulfilling moments – that’s fine. If it applies only to things the character thinks about – eg it *is* a setting where magic is powered by witticisms – that’s fine too, although it’s not really a metacurrency any more.
        It’s when it’s half and half that it falls apart.

  2. JackbeThimble

    The Green Ronin Song of Ice and Fire RPG is a bad offender on 4 (The game’s conflict system is divided into Intrigue, Combat and Warfare, with completely different skills for each and very little overlap) and also has a weird version of 3 except with military units instead of vehicles. Basically the way that military units are supposed to be statted is that they have the same skills (the game calls them abilities) as a PC with each ability starting at 2 (the normal level) and each unit getting a certain number of experience points depending on the units experience (green, veteran etc.) with the types of ability you can buy for a unit being based on the type of unit (cavalry can get animal husbandry). This has the effect of making it so that every unit in the army needs its own character sheet, it’s possible to make your unit of elite knights useless by spending all of their experience points on animal husbandry, and certain types of units are almost useless because they don’t allow you to buy the skill types that affect damage and health. This all makes the warfare rules essentially unplayable unless you house rule the entire thing.

    It’s also worth noting that the most recent edition of L5r is better about number 4 than previous editions. Because any of the rings can be used pretty much equally in any of the 4 main conflict types it’s much easier for a character to participate in a scene even if their character isn’t optimized for it since in most rolls the character’s ring is more important than their skills. Also I think the only difference in the skills you use for combat vs. dueling is that in dueling you use meditation for initiative instead of tactics and there are certain techniques (basically feats) are much more useful in dueling than regular combat.

  3. Grady Elliott

    Problem Number two (Unrelated NPCs) can be be corrected if done properly. One of my old gaming groups had a GM who asked for all character backgrounds to include one allied NPC, one enemy NPC, and one “mentor” NPC. These were broad enough labels to give the players a lot of freedom when writing character backgrounds. They also went a long way towards making sure the NPCs would be relevant to the campaign. And our GM always found good ways to use them, especially the enemy NPCs.

  4. Tenório

    Regarding problem #4, some time ago I participated in an Interface Zero campaign. And, oddly enough, nobody chose computer related skills. I was a modern bounty hunter and sorta “delivery guy”. So I went for stealth, tracking and such. The other players were a detective and a doctor.

    The thing is, the whole campaign revolved around hacking AI systems, disabling security networks… If I knew I’d have to hack every single piece of technology out there, I would’ve chosen differently. And we had to use our meta currency to ask for favours from our NPCs’ friends, who could solve those situations. Which led us to problem #1. Guess what happened when we run out of it…

    Besides preventing us from having agency on the outcome, we couldn’t afford to do things on your own and risk not only the mission, but the whole game! And we couldn’t afford to ask for help every single time, or we wouldn’t have meta currency when it counted the most.

    • Oren Ashkenazi

      Ouch, yeah if this is a game where you gotta hack everything then everyone should have the hacking skill, assuming it’s even a skill at all. Much as I enjoy critiquing D&D, there’s a reason every class has a base attack bonus (I think it’s called proficiency in 5E), because everyone is gonna have to fight!

      • Tenório

        The thing is, I believe the game tried to emulate and intensify the atmosphere brought by the Blade Runner series, in which technology is ever-present and determines the major plots, but turning mandatory for the the character to be a specialist in it in order to survive WITHOUT then him that!

        I literally felt like Silvester Stallone’s character fighting against a handful of Wesley Snipes in Demolition Man. ?

      • Michael Campbell

        If a system is written well, then “skill-level zero” should give players characters the opportunity to attempt a thing, even if their chances will be; pathetically unlikely.

        If a character with a skill-level of zero, can not attempt or alternately has no chance to succeed, then the game system was written poorly, IMHO. It, simply, put too much weight in skill selection during character creation and not enough weight on the possibility of in-play-session player creativity.

        *It’s okay for magic spells to be imposible at skill-level zero but to say you can’t punch a guy in the face because you have no brawling skill really does erode believe-ability for the players.

  5. El Suscriptor Justiciero

    I like how Apocalypse World (2E) handles vehicles. They have their own stats that are unrelated to the characters’ (except for Armour, which works pretty much the same), and when a character makes a vehicle-related move they usually roll their own stat, modified by the stats of the vehicles involved as specified in the move (e.g. when you jump from a moving vehicle to another, you substract their difference in speed as a penalty).

  6. GeneralCommentor

    This has come up multiple times in the comments section, but bears repeating once again: For all you harp on character death (Or “Sudden character death” as you characterize it in this article) as a universally terrible mechanic, there are entire games and systems that are built around this mechanic as their cornerstone and are all the better for it: The likes of Paranoia and Kobolds Ate My Baby are designed from the standpoint that any and every player character character is going to die at a moment’s notice and are all the more fun for it to the extent that I think removing this aspect would fundamentally change these games for the worse.

    I understand that this sort of random mortality is not a mechanic that’s going to work universally across systems, but to say that it’s a mechanic that can never be a viable design choice is as short sighted as thinking that D&D is the be all and end all of RPG design. This brushes up against what I feel is a near universally recurring issue with the articles on this site: They spend so much time on these “[x] Media tropes you shouldn’t use in your stories/rpgs/whatever” that I feel they start to miss the forest for the trees. While it’s easy to make a click-baity listicle of items for writers to check off to feel good about avoiding in their stories this doesn’t address the root problem that leads to these tropes proliferating themselves in media in the first place and doesn’t go in-depth into the history or societal trends that create these tropes in the first place. Without this deeper understanding we’re just going to see lateral movement at best: Where creators abandon existing problematic tropes in favor of new, equally problematic tropes.

    So too do we see this in these RPG design articles: These “[x] RPG mechanics that have to go” present things in terms of absolutes but don’t go nearly far enough in-depth into where these mechanics come from or the original intent behind their creation to take away any meaningful insight into RPG design.

  7. GregS

    If the vehicles in conflict are similar enough, ignore vehicle stats and focus on character skills. If the vehicles are a little different, figure out where the edges are. For example if TIE fighters are faster than X-Wings, the TIE pilot gets a bonus for maneuvers involving speed. If X-Wings are tougher than TIEs, they have the edge for resisting damage.

    If the vehicles are vastly different in capabilities, you may have a problem. But then, maybe you shouldn’t bother whipping out the tables, dice and minis for the Fokker Triplane strafing run on the USS Enterprise.

    • Leon

      There were war games where a frigate “sunk” a modern carrier.
      Probably something like making 50 bluff checks in a row, but reality isn’t realistic.

  8. Michael Campbell

    “Imagine if a sword substituted for its wielder’s strength score. No player would stand for it! ”
    Actually players will stand for that…a lot.

    Think about a rule. Say a player inflicts damage equal to their sword’s damage score or their strength score, whichever is lower. Note punches inflict non-lethal damage equal to the strength score.
    This would be a case where sword damage is indeed substituting for character strength.
    Yet most players would indeed stand for it.
    Particularly because they’re substituting non-lethal damage equal to their strength score for a lesser value (or identical value) of actual lethal damage.

  9. Michael Campbell

    “4. Exclusionary Content”
    Actually for once I must wholeheartedly agree.
    A great many game systems have a split between tactical operations and strategic operations, wherein the character’s that are great in the tactical environment are pretty lousy when acting strategically.
    In cyberpunk 2020, if the Fixer and the Corp go down to the black market for a shopping trip, the players running the Solos get bored real fast.
    If a firefight breaks out, any Solo in that situation can blast away like crazy while the best the Fixer and the Corp can hope for is to find cover and stay there.

    And Netrunners and firefights hardly ever mix.

    Allowing the players to each get a go at letting their character shine is important to play-tempo (which slides when someone leaves to play video games).

    So game designers must look to give every character a tactical and a strategic set of options to chose from when operating in each state. Or else keep one state quickly resolved.
    And sure enough this is true of multiple tactical states such as Netrunning or star-ship combat. If the ship’s geologist can’t help out with bandaging the wounded and realigning the antimatter injectors then the geologist’s player will get bored, pretty quickly.

  10. Rose Embolism

    Catching up on old posts…

    3. As far as vehicles with character stats, Champions worked with it in a way that I thought worked very well. Vehicles had Strength (carrying capacity), Body (hit points), Armor (reduces damage), Intelligence and Speed (if the vehicle had a computer capable of autonomous action) and Ego (if the computer was a sentient AI).

    The reason this worked so well is that everything was on the same scale as Player Characters, so if a jet had a Strength of 35, it could carry 3.5 tons, the same amount as a hero with that strength. In addition, they could have the same powers as characters, such as Growth (to reflect size), Life Support, Flight or Running, and even attacks or extra limbs.

    The bottom line is you could regard a spacecraft as a character, because being Champions, you could stat up a character who WAS a spacecraft. Or have a sidekick that was a sentient spacecraft. In fact I know of at least one shapechanging character in game that had as one of their forms an interstellar spacecraft. Imyself had a character who’s sidekick was a sentinet, rather paranoid motorcycle. It worked.

    5, 6: In a lot of ways, I think this reflects a difference in attitude between old school and new school gaming. When I started playing in 1979 or so, an adversarial relationship with the GMwas if not taken for granted, very common (other common modes were “GM is stoned and laughing at his own jokes”, “GM’s store-bought scenario is completely outmatched by the overpowered characters”, “Monty Hall”, etc). And honestly, with a lot of DM’s instant death was damn common, and they didn’t care if the character was new, or had been played for a year.

    Not that I’m being nostalgic; Imuch prefer modern times where characters can be developed and death generally means something. Hell, Iappreciated the time the DM bent over backwards to keep my character alive after their plan involving a cart full of explosives and a drastic underestimation of blast radius went wrong.

  11. EndlessKng

    As an L5R fan, I can understand the frustration in having different skills for different types of combat. However, I think that was an intentional thing, and stayed the same through the core editions of the game even as they changed things. Now, the original creator has gone on to lament the large lists of weapons and all the different skills for them, but they did make sense when they were created and, while cumbersome, worked well until later when the game took away unique traits from most of the weapons and didn’t adapt game features that were taking those into account (for instance, in fourth edition there’s no reach rules, and though the Moto can use two handed weapons in one hand, there’s no distinction on what a two-handed weapon is in the rules).

    As for duelling vs. combat and running on different abilities… again, it’s actually dependent on the edition. In 3rd Edition, though the Iaijutsu skill was still separate, a duelist could potentially use Agility to duel instead of Reflexes in the strike phase. Void remained key to focus, but Void is universally useful, so it makes sense. The change to 4e removed variant dueling (not sure about 5e). And, the idea of there being different abilities also runs off the idea that good duelists aren’t necessarily the best combatants; all duelists should be competent with a sword, but the arguable best duelists usually rely on winning in one stroke (or doing enough damage in a duel to the death to stack on wound penalties and avoid the counterattacks), and are explicitly forced to learn swordfighting separately with additional effort as a result. (Of course, they usually get bonuses based on their Iaijutsu skill, and in 3rd Ed could even just use it instead of Kenjutsu, so…)

    So, while I see the frustration, I do think it matters on the game and what the themes and design philosophies are. L5R is a game where you really do have to specialize to excel… unless you’re an Air Shugenja, in which case you can theoretically be great at dueling, archery, diplomacy, and can cast spells.

  12. marshun

    That’s an important point about board games under #6 — let a medium do what it does best, and choose the best medium to do what you want to do.

    There’s a similar argument about requiring a lot of bookkeeping in a tabletop game. Or a lot of rules to cross-reference. Or really any system where it takes a lot of work just to make sure you’re playing it correctly. We have computers for that.

  13. Thomas

    About #1: The solution you mention just turns the meta currency into a (non-meta!) in-universe currency. It’s not a meta currency anymore if it is in-fiction, can be gained in-fiction and should be spent consciously in-fiction by characters instead of players. So certainly a solution, but simply because you replace the meta currency with something else. So either you have a meta currency without in-universe implications or you have an in-universe currency that is not meta.

    This is just a minor terminology issue, I do agree with the general point.

  14. BLAKE 1001

    I see nothing wrong with the meta-currency (cute name for it, BTW) in concept, as long as what it buys is also meta, and the player, not the character, is aware of, angles for, and spends it. For instance, in the flaming sword example, it’d be find if the magic of the weapon were undependable based on factors outside the character’s knowledge and/or control. If it were a quirky intelligent item, if it was dependent on unknowable mystic circumstances, or just clunky (not that odd, even in D&D, for an item to work or not on a random check, for instance). Form the player’s PoV it’s magic he can’t depend on – sometimes it flames right up, sometimes it sits there, cold steel, just mocking him. It’s like such items don’t exist in fiction.

    For vehicles, I agree with Greg S and Rose Embolism, above, even though they’re both saying totally differen things. In a system like Hero where chargen is robust enough to handle something like vehicles, go right ahead and have KITT, vehicles as character stats work just fine.
    In systems that are skill-based and abstract enough, a conflict involving vehicles is just down to the skills of the opperators and some circumstance bonuses for the relative merits of the vehicles & situation.

    Finally, I agree Exclusionary Content (“Netrunner Syndrome” we used to call it, back when Cyberpunk 2020 was a brand new game, and it’s title didn’t place it *in the past*). It’s an existential crisis for some games, and it comes up more than you might think, because we’re just used to it. In D&D, for instance, it’s long been traditional for the Rogue to be there to deal with traps, and it was saved from being an overt example of the problem by generally being resolved very quickly – the low level rogue looked for a trap, got very lucky, found it, got slighly less lucky, was killed by it. ;P

    Thanks for another interesting article. And for having comments turned on. Haven’t prattled on about RPGs in ages when I found your blog yesterday….

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