RPG Rx: “I Won’t Play X Because of Mechanic Y”

Posted by on January 30, 2017

Different “Different Directions” by Matthias Ripp on Flickr

From an old thread on RPG.net, shockvalue asked:

Are the people who absolute[ly] won\’t abide a game with some mechanic and/or prop a tiny, tiny minority? Or are they more common? Are there a lot of people who just flat out refuse to use cards in a game? Or would refuse to play an rpg with a group of people they liked just because they were playing a game with classes?

I’m going to turn that around a bit and answer the question, “Why do some people refuse to play games with certain mechanics?”

Mechanics, like most things, are complicated. Let’s look at a few common randomization tools:

  • Dice have a triple connotation in modern society: board games, gambling, and role-playing games. Nobody feels shame at rolling dice in a board game or gambling game, and in fact, that very action can create a thrill.
  • Cards imply gambling or Uno.
  • Flipping a coin implies an old-time gangster or maybe Two-Face from Batman.

Meanwhile, mechanics can have all sorts of specific associations with people, places, or events. Your uncle used to roll a coin across his fingers, and you can’t stop thinking about that when you see a large coin. You won $500 your first time at a Blackjack table on your one trip to Las Vegas. You only ever played card games during the annual family ski trip.

What associations do RPGers have with certain mechanics? Well, some folks don’t like percentile dice rolls, because they were so often used for lookup tables in early RPGs. Some don’t like cards, because they’re larger than dice and they’re an extra thing to bring to the table.

I think many shy away from non-dice mechanics because they’re often gimmicks. Die rolling is tried-and-true within tabletop RPGs, so cards or coins or tokens or what-have-you feel like an unnecessary layer. Why install a second engine in your car when you already have a perfectly good one?

The solution, I think, has to come from outside RPGs. If you have a player who “hates cards” in tabletop RPGs, play a few card games. Play a few board games that use cards. Get him or her used to the concept in well-built games, games where the utility of cards shines with blinding obviousness.

Exposure, as is so often the case, breaks down barriers.

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