What are your favourite "GM game mechanics"?

To give some examples:

  • Atma gives the GM tokens to spend on introducing new threats, items or to cause harm, gained when the players roll poorly.
  • In PbtA, the GM has a specific list of “GM Moves” for inspiration to keep things moving, often when the players roll 6 or less


  • In D&D, other than Inspiration, the DM puppeteers a functionally unlimited amount of NPCs and resources like a player, but has no “DM game mechanics” per-se

What are some of your favourite GM mechanics that give them “a game to play” as opposed to treating them as a fiat-god narrator? Bonus points if they’re GM-only.


Right now, I’m really enamored with the “Set Position & Effect” part of GMing Blades In the Dark. It clearly telegraphs the potential risk v. reward calculus of an action, sets the floor for negotiating the action, and commits the GM to a range of outcomes so that any surprises that result from the players’ roll are manageable.


I enjoy the limitations of random encounter tables and other oracular randomization such as the hazard/overloaded encounter/exploration die. In the same vein, pre designed location based adventures offer the same constraints without necessairly gameifying referee decision making.

The preset fictional space, even in a system or play style with a strong referee role and little shared narrative, limits and directs referee power. Likewise both random aspects and the player ability to manipulate the more static location elements (even something as simple as how to navigate a complex map) offer unexpected cues and combinations that the referee derives ludic joy from arranging in a comprehensible and internally consitent way. Despite theoretical power over the narrative the referee’s duty to maintain fictional cohesion is constantly structured both by previously agreed limits from the location key and challenged by the players efforts to unpuzzle it.

In general I think this structure makes the Referee experience much like putting together a puzzle, but I don’t have any clever systems with chips to trade or thrumaturgic language that makes for mechanical fun.


Luck/Oracle roll, take a d6 and roll it, higher results means the situation goes favorably to the players, low means badly, middling is middling. Technically players could also roll this. But its a very handy ‘generic’ mechanic to use in order to spice up the gamer and create unforeseen results without requiring specifically tailored mechanics to situations. Especially useful for mundane things like if players want to try and wait for a guard to take a break you just throw it down to see if the fella goes pee or not.


I like some mechanics that take some of the decision making out of my hands. In OSR games this usually means random tables, in story games it means giving players some narrative control.

1 Like

I like the Dungeon World (and I guess other PbtA games?) distinction between soft moves and hard moves.

A soft move is one without immediate, irrevocable consequences. That usually means it’s something not all that bad, like revealing that there’s more treasure if they can just find a way past the golem (offer an opportunity with cost). It can also mean that it’s something bad, but they have time to avoid it, like having the goblin archers loose their arrows (show signs of an approaching threat) with a chance for them to dodge out of danger.

A soft move ignored becomes a golden opportunity for a hard move. If the players do nothing about the hail of arrows flying towards them it’s a golden opportunity to use the deal damage move.

Hard moves, on the other hand, have immediate consequences. Dealing damage is almost always a hard move, since it means a loss of HP that won’t be recovered without some action from the players.

And I remember reading about, but not being able to implement it myself, Ron Edward’s Bangs.

Bangs are the explosive moments that define the agenda of a scene and force the PCs to start making meaningful choices. But you don’t necessarily need to come up with all of your bangs on the fly. In fact, prepping bangs can be a very flexible and effective way to prep. In Sorcerer , Ron Edwards talks about prepping a bandolier of bangs. It’s a great image. The GM goes into a session armed with his bangs, ready to escalate and respond by hurling the material he’s prepared into the fray.

For example:

  • Suzie calls. She’s pregnant.
  • A death knight kicks down the door.
  • Your muse starts howling. Your system is getting hacked by something ugly.
  • A dark miasma creeps across the surface of the moon. The werewolves begin bleeding from their eyes.

Grab any of those and toss ‘em like a grenade.


For my last game I created Omens. All players throw one die, GM then looks for patterns. For example, all 1s and 2s - character type will have a vision. All odd numbers - character type gains a valuable insight.

GM can reroll some dice but only once.

GM can roll to see if omens turn out to be true. Maybe they backfire.

‘all numbers are even so Jerry will be lucky real soon. GM throws a die to see how lucky = 1. Sorry Jerry, misfortune is coming.’

Players should never find out why are they throwing dice before they start :slightly_smiling_face:

I’m really interested in “rich rolls”, where throwing various dice lead to changes in the fiction. I’m not quite hitting that sweet-spot in my own hacks but it’s something I’m pursuing.

Might seem cheesy but I like throwing story cubes or pulling tarot cards when I am stuck for inspiration.


Not cheesy at all. :slight_smile: Call it an “oracle” and you’ll sound more RPG-esque. I do it all the time. Love cards and oracle decks, and I love consulting dice for inspiration (that is, opting into that, often outside of written mechanics).


One of my making is Hitting the Books. Everyone has a book they enjoy which they bring to the table. If the GM is stumped or bored everyone (including him) opens up their book, puts their finger down on a passage, and reads their finding aloud. The GM takes these inputs and makes the twist or whatever it needs to be. Players can call mulligan if they find the twist too mean.

I had a player bring a horror manga. Life got REALLY interesting, really fast.

EDIT: My game Crescendo uses a modified form of this mechanic. There’s a lot of journaling in Crescendo; making the setting and characters is actually journaling according to prompts. During gameplay you write a lot of your actions down. So when the GM calls for Hitting the Books you’re referencing your own history. Careful what you put in! :slight_smile:

1 Like

Oh, I’m very curious about Crescendo. Is it available somewhere?

I shot you a private message. :slight_smile:

I like how Apocalypse World named lots of tools I’ve always had in my toolbox but once named, it is easier to identify them and find them when needed. The way prep is structured is helpful.

Burning Wheel’s beliefs are such a great way to show character development and what the player is interested about the character. The way BW’s campaign creation defines Situation has changed the way I prep campaigns.