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Some systems have the concept of an adversarial relationship between the game master and the players. These games typically have a series of mechanics to enforce this behavior and prevent one side from becoming too powerful and running away with the game - essentially accentuating the "game" aspect of a RPG. What mechanics of this nature are most likely to be easily adapted into another role-playing game?

To illustrate what I'm talking about, in D&D, there are guidelines for encounter creation to create balanced encounters. How could we change this to add hard game mechanics that would enforce fairness in encounter design? As an addenda, it would also be nice to see what games these mechanics come from and how easy they are to extract from the system they were built for.

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Hi! I've edited your title a bit as I thought it work better if it was focused better and your question text seemed to hint the way. I feel it is better to directly address the problem you are facing (as our faq advises) rather than generalize the question, which typically weakens it. – Pat Ludwig Mar 20 '12 at 5:13
The only problem with the edit is that I'm not actually interested in D&D 4E; I was just using that as an example. :) – rjstreet Mar 20 '12 at 11:07
Then what is the exact problem you are trying to solve? In the abstract, this question seems to lack focus. Are you coming at this as a game designer, or trying to solve a problem for a specific game? – Pat Ludwig Mar 20 '12 at 13:23
From the perspective of a GM/game designer looking to experiment with new ideas and wanting to understand what has worked elsewhere. – rjstreet Mar 20 '12 at 14:00
up vote 6 down vote accepted

In Rune, Robin Laws' Viking RPG, the GM has to create all challenges via a very strict budgeting system as players earn Victory Points with the goal of "winning" the game. This allows for adversarial play within tightly defined bounds. Unfortunately, it also means it's a colossal pain to create adventures for as a GM - I'm a big Laws fan and bought Rune sight unseen on the heels of Feng Shui but then it just sat on my shelf, as my desire to be a Norse accountant is extremely low.

This is similar to the direction D&D has taken in 3e and 4e with set rules for encounter CR and now in 4e with set treasure parcels. Although in my opinion that's less fostering GM vs players as it is attempting to remove the GM or at best make them the engine under the hood.

Paranoia is a good game where the gamemaster is encouraged to "hose" the players. This is mitigated by a) them having six clones, so an arbitrary death isn't the worst thing in the world and b) it being a humor game, so effectively you win by the GM stomping you out in entertaining ways. This is before everyone was obsessed with "mechanical rewards" for the point of the game, though, so it's not like you get extra "points" of some sort when it happens. But people have played it and had fun for many years.

In Mutants & Masterminds they had Hero Points and when they'd spend them the villains would get Villain Points. This went over very poorly with my group - rightly or wrongly, they felt like people besides themselves having resource driven plot immunity sucked.

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Check out Spycraft's action dice mechanism. The action dice mechanism is fairly versatile and powerful including adding to a roll or confirming a crit, but the interesting part is that the GM gets action dice as well. The players start each session with a fixed number of dice, and the GM also gets a fixed number based on the number of players. A GM can reward a player with an extra action dice, but then he gets one as well. The fun part of the action dice system becomes a bit of a game to figure out when to use these action dice and how to get the GM to use up his action dice. This mechanism does create a taste of an adversarial relationship and gives both sides a little more situational control of the story by choosing when to override luck with their action dice.

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Here someone adapted the action dice mechanic for DnD. – malexmave Mar 20 '12 at 10:15

Check out Deadlands Classic. It includes a mechanic called fate chips. You can spend chips to affect die rolls or avoid injury. If you have chips leftover at the end of the session, they're your XP points and can buy new skills and abilities.

But the GM also gets fate chips and can use them to shut down your actions too. I'm a little shaky on the rules because I haven't played Deadlands in a while, but depending on what chips the players spend, the GM can gain chips. This dynamic of "do I boost my own abilities, but risk giving the GM more power" results in a very adversarial game.

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Runequest and that ilk is an RPGish boardgame that gives the DM a budget for throwing monsters at the party. He has an income of monster points, various monsters cost different amounts, and he can only summon them out of sight. His choice of monsters is limited to what cards he draws. The DM's deck also has a non-monsters to "mix things up" like curses, mysterious arrows, faulty gear, and other effects. There is a hand limit, and a cap on the monster points to keep the DM from simply sending in one big wave and killing everyone.

There's still an ounce of plot. Usually in the form of the big boss and a pre-scripted battle at the end of a dungeon.

To adapt this to a pen and paper RPG, I think you'd have to agree to a similar point system for monsters, traps, and/or scenarios. You could use something like the stronghold builder's guide (D&D3.0) and agree on a price limit for building a dungeon/castle. Balancing it all so that the DM doesn't simply wipe the party and the players are challenged would be difficult, which is why most DMs just eyeball what they think would be fun.

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