How do you conceptualize your mechanics?


I have a problem. Many problems actually. But I’ll summarize my main problem up front:

I can’t keep the projected systems for any potential WiP I touch simple.

I got worlds, I got stories, but I’m a tabletop RPG player at heart. I enjoy elegant systems as much as I enjoy a captivating story. I don’t feel that the general 5 primary and 10 secondary Attributes ranging fromm 1 top 100 best fit Thema worlds and Stories I am dealing with here. So for the two really fleshed out settings I theorized these elaborate setups and immediately realized they were above my ability to easily code. So I came up with a new story and setting which would be more straightforward. Except then I had an ingenious idea on the code aspects of that which made it even more complicated than the other two.

Which makes me wonder how other people keep their systems manageable. Is there a specific design approach people take or do you just add stats as they crop up in the game at the risk of them not being as balanced as they could be?

I obviously want to meticulously plan ahead even at the risk of people not appreciating the work that goes into it. People who just play for the story probably don’t care for little tricks like four derived stats pulled from nine binary character traits. How do you do it?


I love stories, I love lores, and I’ll also declare myself as a true maniac of RPG (although not a tabletop player 。‿。). But before writing a story, always set up the vision of “what my story will be.” Do you focus on the gaming aspect (mechanics heavy)? Or the narration?
Always keep in mind of these “visions” you’ve made and try not to deviate too much from it.

As for this particular topic :point_down:t4:

I’d recommend set up your mechanics before you write the story that requires it. Don’t write a story, and go “Oh, I need this,” and then begin on creating the system. I’ve done it before, and it was a mess.

But if you want to anticipate for what your game will be, you can always use your creativity and create a mechanics that are “future-proof”, if you get what I’m saying.


See, I want the marriage of both. Like the third option I came up with was supposed to be a scrappy post-apocalyptic action romp vaguely inspired by Into the Badlands. You’re set on being a fighter but we still want variety, right? So I came up with a system where different weapons behave differently in essence almost becoming character classes of their own. It was cool in theory but it got convoluted real quick.


The first thing is to realize there are two directions of game development you’ll need to plan out.

First there is depth. This is how development of your story elements are going to be planned out.

Second is breadth or width. This is how many individual branches you are going to allow each of your story elements.

I’ll provide you with an example and then comment after in general.

The example I am going to provide is a simple battle. Before you can design any mechanical structure you are going to need to determine the story elements of the battle you want to write about. These elements are the “rails” of your game and they define where the edges of the roadway are, where the road begins, ends and how many stops are in between.

This means that for each individual branching of your story, you’ll need a beginning, an end and however many “stops” you want to focus on during the battle.

Branching is customization of the story. I allow: a knife, a semi-automatic and a chain to be used for my first fight scene. For each story element involved in my battle scene, I need to be able to branch out each of the weapons. There are many other ways to customize a CS game and some of the better authors in our community have included quite a few ingenious ways of doing so. Zombie Exodus, Tin Star, Sabres of Infinity and Lucid’s many stories are but a few examples.

Keeping it manageable means understanding your limits as a writer first and a game designer second. As a writer, keeping battle scenes limited to a beginning, several stops/vignettes in that scene that will address plot points and arcs and the ending is all I can manage. At least right now.

I’ve found that most authors trip up with breadth - the more options you want to give the gamer, the more mechanics you’ll need to support those options. My suggestion is that you most likely will hear given to any beginner developer - start with a limited scope. Think of it this way: for every element of breadth you wish to add, you’ll need to design one mechanic and write 3x the words. Why three times the words? Replayability.


This is a very good writeup and should be cut out and stickied somewhere.

I’d like to think I’m vaguely aware of these shortfalls and I can write on command. What I’m really struggling with is how to keep it simple on the mechanical end. Every time I try to figure something like Mecha Ace with its compact four stats plus relationships I come up short.


I found Im the kind of writer that starts with no mechanics planned and then ends up with a ton because the story went its own way with stuff…


Perhaps you can expand on this?

What do you mean by “come up short”?


After I planned an outline for my game’s story, I designed the mechanics. The reason I did this is simple: for the game to work and not breakdown you need to understand your mechanical structure. With the three weapons - the entire game shifts and changes if I have two mechanics per weapon or if I have three. If I did not know how many actual mechanics per weapon I had, there is no way I can write the battle scene using those three weapons.


Well I have an idea in my game on how to do the mechanics, since I plan to include different weapons. I came up with having a score for accuracy, handling, and maybe damage, based on the weapon’s characteristics and the player stats, but anything more than that makes things too complicated, as you have to make branches for when choices fail.

There is a combat scene on my game so far but I have not implemented these mechanics yet, as I’m just trying to make something simple for now to have a WIP, so the combat mostly uses ifs to check your gun and your firearm skill. But boy, does it get complicated if you want to go in detail about combat.

Still I want to keep mine as simple as possible so that I can focus more on narrative.


What I mean by coming up short is that I plain don’t manage to keep things that simple. For the Vigilante setting I settled on four basic stats:


But the game was also to allow you to create a multi layered personality and have a few appropriate reacts for each extreme you could have. While devising those I came upon the idea that these would also determine your stats at the onset of the game. To this end I came up with six binary characteristics, where each end of the bar would relate to one of your stats.

So you’d have CHA-DEX, CHA-PER, CHA-STR, DEX-PER, DEX-STR and PER-STR. Every stat is balanced against every other stat allowing for a multitude of possibilities since stats are what active checks use. You’d also get a small class bonus to one or two stats to prevent anyone from gimping themselves.

See how I’m overcomplicating a simple four stat setup? And now I’m so enamoured by the setup I don’t care to do it another way.


So, if I understand … you are going to have at least three checks that are modified further by customization in both weapons and player stats. That is more complicated then I can keep track of personally but I know some authors can. The main thing is you are going to need to firm up “weapon characteristics” and player stats before you can develop a proper structure.


That’s what I keep trying to do. I’m just not very good at it.


It always helps to simplify code I found.
Let’s take the multiple weapon idea.

Rather than code for every weapon. You have variables called weapon, wpn_skill. So you can do this

*set weapon “sword”
*set wpn_skill 5

Or you can do

*set weapon “shotgun”
*set wpn_skill 5

And so on so you only need to work with two stats for whatever weapon you want.


This is a ten-stat structure. You have the unidirectional: Charisma, Dexterity, Perception and strength. You also have the opposite pair stats of: CHA-DEX, CHA-PER, CHA-STR, DEX-PER, DEX-STR and PER-STR. In addition you have multipliers consisting of class and minimums.

That is a valid approach but for each story element you’ll need to structure 10+2 different mechanical hook-ups. This could be drains, faucets or even basins for temporary states of those mechanics. So, now you are designing this structure for each of your story elements.

Have you looked at any of the games I mentioned above? They may help you design such a structure mechanically - this is more then I can advise on. Sorry.

Edit: Just to give you an idea: for a 5x5 multiple-choice body, it took me 2,000 lines to code it. This is 5 individual stats and this coding took a long time with help for me to get done correctly. So, you have double the individual stats and modifiers on top of that - which means a lot of code.

Simplifying, no matter how enamored you are with the complexities, is the way to address this as @Nocturnal_Stillness said.


Yeah that’s the idea in short, but it may change since I have yet to do that. But I feel it’s a way to differentiate weapon characteristics, as I want it to be possible for the player to buy some different weapons.

Say for example you have a long assault rifle, it has high accuracy for longer distance shot, but lower handling since its a heavier gun, so if an enemy attacks you in short range, it would be difficult to use it against him or something like that.

With a gun with higher accuracy it would require lower skill to do a more difficult shot. Its possible to make it achievable using some math, like calculating the stats, the weapon stats and coming up with a score, which will be what is checked on the choice checks

For things like ammo and stuff I dont think ill need to bother much, just make it infinite. I saw for example a WIP here that had even magazines in your inventory, such as BREACH: The Archangel Job - Crime Thriller WIP (UPDATE! 23-November-2017) , but that sounds too complicated to keep track of (for the creator), so i’m not planning to go into that much depth.


I’d love to. I plain don’t know how. It kinda snowballs out of control. :expressionless:

As to your question, I’ve played most of the games you mentioned (I don’t care for Zombies though) and Sabres of Infinity is pretty much the gold standard for elegant simplicity in my book. You have your three basic stats (Soldiering, Charisma, Intellect) which almost exclusively go up, Reputation and Money as accounts that can go up or down depending on your actions and need careful balancing and Health as a line of credit for wear and tear and stupidity.

I can just never come up with something equally elegant (but neither has @Cataphrak though Kendrickstone has some interesting mechanics so maybe it’s just a stroke of genius that only comes along every so often).


You have no idea… :rofl:

One of the things about game mechanics, (the one thing me and Ben seem to forget a lot) is that it doesn’t have to be complicated. If you’re working with another person, go crazy with your concept as long as you can keep track of everything.

With great complexity, comes great migraines… But also some really realistic gameplays.

EDIT: That, and it makes for a LOT more diverse game.


Yeah i get ya, mostly the difference i want to do for the weapons is so that it isnt like you can carry a sniper rifle to a close combat fight, since even if it would make you have more accuracy, its a slower weapon to aim and all, so say an enemy could try to disarm you, and you would have to use a backup weapon or your melee skill against him. The sniper rifle will be better used if you go for the sniper assassination, while the weapons you can buy are if you go for home break in.

I notice in your game this happens, if you dont saw off the shotgun it seems you always die? I tried even on very easy difficulty lol (i dislike sawed shotguns). However i do want to play more of it later and try out the other gang options (i only played very little)

I still have to think about that in more detail though, as i havent got to the part where you can buy your guns. In the prologue there is a combat scene but due to how it plays out, these handling checks were not necessary.

However i can leave things simple for now so i can get to later parts of the story and focus more on the narrative, then come back and change the combat system if necessary, or adjust a few parts of it.


Most of the checks actually starts at Chapter 1. The game becomes progressively more complex as you go through them, as the more fleshed out the MC becomes, the more complex the gameplay. But there is a point where the complexity stops climbing, and the game becomes a bit more focused on branching towards the end.

I’ve made a note to flesh out the prologue more than how it currently is. There was an unfinished arch where you can actually go through the whole thing with your shotgun staying at full length. But there’s so many things I have lined up for the game, it gets postponed, and postponed, and postponed.

… When I started this game, it was just supposed to be a simple bank robbery story. But then I met my current co-author, and now the game’s much more of an undertaking than I first anticipated. Sometimes I think I’m way in over my head on this game. :sweat_smile:

I actually don’t remember what I was thinking at the time when I made a list of more than +80 weapons to choose from…

… Yeah, I should definitely slow down on that.

And to be honest, I think seeing a robber walking into a mall with a scoped bolt action sniper rifle in the middle of the night is quite absurd. But the choice is in the players. If they wanna carry around a sniper rifle in close quarters, then go ahead.

I think by the end of the day, I had a choice. Make the game streamlined and simple, or go for the freedom of choice… and for some reason I went all out on the freedom of choice :joy:


I feel you, I 'm a wargamer and rules are something I love. That being said, there is more skill in designing a simple system than a complex one.

If I were you I would start writing before finalizing the rules, only adding what you actually check for. Don’t have any rule or stat that won’t be a major core. Also, don’t forget that you can mix types of stats.

In my game I had two major 0-100 stats for the power of the MC, four sliders for personality traits and then a whole lot of on/off for skills and weapons. That meant that I could combine checks as I liked when it came to fighting. I could check for a Cautious MC with the Armor and Speed upgrades and the Tactical skill.

I started out with only two stats and three sliders, everything else was added when I found a need for it. I simply did not know enough about the practical application of codes on writing to be able to do a good system from the start. Sometimes it is better to learn as you go.