How Mechanics Help or Hurt Tone

By Kane Driscol

Listen In on the Conversation

What was this workshop about?

So as EpicSloth (JD) has worked on The Waste is Not Kind, the subject of “tone” has come up a lot. How do you use the mechanics of the game to highlight a particular feeling that a GM or player might be after? Well, I can say that EpicSloth was able to achieve that with the Waste and why his insight into the subject prompted this conversation.

As EpicSloth and I discuss the questions presented below, it really highlights how being in tune with our guts and our feelings as we play is so important. There isn’t one answer to how to achieve tone. You have to feel it out. Find what resonates and what sows dissonance into the game. As we play, those things become more apparent and then we’re not designing in the dark anymore.

Plus, once you’ve got a good grasp of the tone you’re after, it becomes easier to share those ideas with other players and help them get on board too. When the GM, the players, and the mechanics of the game are in sync, great games are so much easier to come by. But what do you think?

Here is a list of questions from the course of the workshop. How would you answer these for yourself?

  • What are your guiding principles when designing something player-facing?
  • When does cutting a popular rule enforce tone more than adding something extra?
  • If we accept that game/session tone is ultimately a choice that a GM presents to players in line with mutual expectations and desires, from the perspective of a game designer, would you recommend considering and developing options for adjusting and varying the tone in an RPG during its creation phase? Can you offer us some examples of how you constructed options for varying tone into The Waste Is Not Kind?
  • What went into your choices for adding adrenaline and grit in WINK? How does each impact the tone of the game?
  • What systems have mechanics that make the mood vs those that hamper it? And How?
  • How does tone relate to the theme in RPGs? Can you offer some examples of how you have operationalized this connection?
  • Is tone ever just baked into a ruleset to such a degree that the game cannot be hacked to serve a different tone? When are you better off switching to another game?

Kane’s Kiln

I'm a day-to-day Game Master and I'm here to play, have fun, and share anything I can to help others in this great hobby!

Let me know if you have any questions or need help with anything ICRPG-related. Always happy to assist another lumpy-head!