Criteria for Game Mechanics (Do Game Mechanics Matter?)



Huge long time fan of your writing, RPG, YTube channel, and podcast. So first THANKS! HF/IB/BG, know that you are an inspiration both within and beyond the RPG world!

The underlying question seems to be how deterministic a game each player wants vs. how much they want unfettered imagination to run the show. I feel like mechanics offer scaffolding for imaginative play that, as creators get deeper, they sometimes leave behind, sometimes run towards. Fine either way of course. Story games one end, Magic Realm the other.

I liked your criteria for game mxn and wanted to post a couple others and see if the community had thoughts, comments:

  1. Does the mxn help capture a feeling? I feel that dice rolling is dramatic currency powered by uncertainty. Yes it is a substitute for actual skill but also can more than that. The right mxn in combination with storytelling mines that currency and potentially converts it into a feeling prior to the roll. Having to roll a 6 on a D6 to squeeze through a tunnel feels narrow. Rolling and failing leave you unsettled. You are a sharp shooter, have a +3 for laser sight, +3 for marksmanship, and are riding a +3 dex, you Feel steel eyed, stone cold confidence that you will blow the cap off that Mariners fan at 300 yards.

  2. Does it facilitate pace of play or match the feeling of in-game time to table time? (this could be a corollary to Exciting) This is where I think many mechanics fail and that we can still improve as I think table time seriously impacts the feeling of the narrative during pay. As soon as action tempo speeds up, game play slows - not a problem for the euro-gamers but often perplexing for everyone else. Shouldn’t combat be fast and deadly yet still leave room for those amazing attacks. Either way it should feel and I think BE fast. Hard problem. Single Target helps, non-differential stats help. What about no HP? No damage rolls. What about simultaneous rolls? I’ve mocked up a ICRPG variant that I’ll post separately, which is my attempt to address but interested to hear thoughts.

And other criteria you all have!

Anyway, so appreciate the way this community rides and comments so lucidly on the intersection of narrative, content, and mechanics in creating a fun experience (as opposed to the memory or anticipation of one). Psyched to jump into the frey!


Game mechanics do matter of course. Otherwise everybody in the world would be playing the same game. :smile: Preference for mechanics is subjective. Like you said there is a wide spectrum between pure story games and pure mechanical games and people like to stand on different places depending on their preferences.

I’d like to disagree with you on combat being slower. In ICRPG roleplaying is way slower, at least at my table and that is awesome. For D&D and its ilk, yes you are right and it is annoying.


I can see that! I could see slowing down table time feeling almost like going into slow-mo in a movie? Or just that it becomes more about a fun tabletop game at that point and not about narrative immersion? (Or at least more of a middle ground between immersion and game play.)

Other reasons slow resolution of combat being awesome for you?


There is a misunderstanding there. I said that at my table combat is faster than roleplaying as it should be. That is one of the highlights of ICRPG for me.


Gotcha! Totally misread that. Sorry.



Not that interesting because, one, my group loves to RP. They just love it. Two, ICRPG does away with square counting for both movement and spells - ranges, aera of effects and all that IMHO useless crap. Damages are way simpler too.

In D&D combat usually flows (if you can call it that) like this:
-DM (me): OK A, it is your turn. What do you do?
-Player A: Hmm… [starts counting squares] I cast… [counts squares] Nope. Can’t cast it, not enough range. [starts counting from scratch] Maybe if I were to move here [counts]… Nah, not enough movement. [His mini is in his hand but forgot his starting square] Uh, where was I?
-Player B: Here, you were behind me.
-Player A: Nah, I moved last turn.
-Player C: No you didn’t.
-Player D: You did.
A fight breaks out.
-DM: [points at the square] You were there.
-Player A: Uh, ok, thanks. [starts counting again]
-DM: zzZZz
After a while the player finally decides where to move and what to cast.
-Player A: [moves to a location] Ok I cast Fireball. [starts collecting 11 d6s] [to Player C]: Give me your d6.
-Player C: Nah. Just roll what you have and roll again.
Player A finally rolls.
-Player A: [adding] 4…11…12…16… Uh where was I?
-Player B: 16
-Player C: No it was 18.
-Player A: Sigh… [starts adding from scratch] 4…11…12…16…
Adding ends.
-Player A: I do 28 plus… Wait what is my INT bonus? Ah, 4, so I do 32 damage!
Table cheers.
-Player A: Wait! I can’t hit that Kobold over there! Shit! [to DM] Can I undo my turn and start over?
-DM: Oh f**k you!

Conversely in ICRPG:
-DM: OK A, it is your turn. What do you do?
-Player A: I move here and cast Fireball. [rolls 2d8] I do 9 damage.
Table cheers.
-DM: OK B, you’re up.

Also note that the example for D&D is the abridged version.


Great comments! Had me thinking of a couple things right away.

Your first criteria matches a post I made on the discord channel about some mechanics helping the players/villains/env feel bad ass.

Criteria 2 brought to mind the spawning mechanics for Zombicide, how they slow down the game play a bit between rounds (gives you a chance to fill your drink or grab more snacks) and create suspense about what the players will be facing next.


I finished, as a player, Tomb of Annihilation recently and with 4-5 players I would only roll 2-3 times an hour. Every time a book came out to cast some ridiculous cast of cone of sleep fire or whatever…I would start doodling or checking my instagram.

Conversely as a DM, playing ICRPG, my players don’t have time to for that. It’s Roll! Attack! Next! We play over a lunch break at work and crush a room in an hour. Also I taught all my players how to ICRPG in about 10 minutes. 5 players now.

My favorite memory so far is on the first session on of my players said “Oh, it’s my turn already “?!


Yes, exactly what you said, squared.

For me, nothing brings an otherwise interesting and exciting encounter to a dull, thudding halt faster than the opening of a rulebook or a number lookup (or multiple lookups) in a table/matrix.

ICRPG, not reliant on having codified rules for large swaths of eventualities, demands that rulings for things beyond the core mechanics be made on the fly. Such rulings are made and the game continues without missing a beat. No non-dramatic pauses to lookup numbers and rules and thus no loss of momentum.

ICRPG makes the cinematic moments feel cinematic – and that’s been a ton of fun for our table.