There’s two different game mechanics that I think have made a particularly noteworthy impact on the way in which we play.
The first, and perhaps most important I think, was the introduction of ‘stunts’ in Feng Shui. Feng Shui is very much an emulation game, attempting to recreate the feel of the high-octane and frequently ridiculous martial arts and gunplay antics of Hong Kong action films. The key ingredient to that emulation is the ‘stunt’ mechanic, where you receive a bonus to your actions, not a penalty, when you attempt something particularly wild and stupid, say, kicking a whisky bottle towards the enemy gang members and then shooting it to create a fireball.
It might seem obvious now, but shifting the mechanics to represent the conventions of genre, rather than realistic difficulty, was pretty wild and revolutionary – not that it was the first game to toy with these ideas. As a mechanical means of encouraging great roleplay and making game combats more interesting, it was fantastic.
Interestingly another game that did this well was Deadlands, which encouraged players to bring their own character flaws and drawbacks into play in exchange for tokens. Both games first came out in 1996.
The second mechanic that has really made a difference to me was the way in which Blue Planet handled initiative rolls. Determining turn order is always a pain in the arse and while getting to go first has some advantages, being able to react to what others have done also confers an advantage. Blue Planet reversed the typical situation of most games by inverting things.
In Blue Planet the lowest initiative would go first, but anyone with a higher initiative could interrupt them and take their action. This forced the lower initiative people to telegraph their actions, expose their vulnerability and yet still gave the higher initiative people a chance to act and brought value to their higher speed. For a long time we imported this system into our other games. It’s a bit slower and a little harder to keep track of, but for grittier games it certainly seems to work.