Monday, August 31, 2020

Like an onion, the layers of reskinning


Art Credit: Nick Ong and Norah Khor
By Christopher Robin Negelein

There has always been an interplay between two desired forces in game mechanics. The way game rules are used for resolution vs how those mechanics suggest a verisimilitude of a simulation or a mood. 

Perhaps the two biggest textbook examples of this, and by biggest textbook I mean lowest hanging fruit, are guns and psychic powers in D&D. 

Entire libraries of Congress have been filled ad nauseam with fans who churned out ruleset after ruleset on how they would “replicate” accurate firearms in a system with abstract hit points or different psionic powers from an oddball set of rules that “replicate” fictional magic powers. Invariably someone says, “Use the stats of crossbow” or “Rename spells and make a new spell list.” 

Good advice indeed because I’d call this the “first” level of reskinning. The air quotes are only for labeling the different types. (YMMV as no level is better or worse than the other.)

Cyphans are familiar with this level since many Foci, like Bears a Halo of Fire has Fire Abilities, which switches a character’s other energy-based abilities to being fire-based. 

In fact, I’ve done this level of reskin for a whole PC in D&D. 

One of my players was a first-time GM and wanted to only use the core PH. On the other hand, the entire crew wanted me to play their favorite goblin NPC as character in his campaign. Before he had time to panic I said, “Just use Halfling for my ‘Goblin.’”

He immediately sighed in relief. 

We ran the whole campaign that way without anyone ever saying that my goblin “felt” different because I was using the “wrong” mechanics in play. 

At this level, GM fiat is the only rule for additional benefits or penalties to the reskin. If a GM makes a habit of doing so, they may have slipped into level 2, which is probably most famous known as Trappings in the Savage World RPG. 

They started as a sidebar with some suggestions of how to make certain reskinnings, like fire, a bit more unique by adding penalties and bonuses to corner cases that would balance things out.  Fire, for instance, could catch flammable things on fire, but do half damage to … wet things or powers. Acid might do less damage, but also continue to damage things even after the first hit, and so on. 

Since then Trappings are pretty much part of the M.O. for a SW game because it works nine times out of ten. 

It’s a good middle ground for long term decisions;  and  if you apply it consistently to NPCs and PCs most issues fade away. Old school AD&D used in this in the mechanics for their character kits to spice up classes. 

The third level is what I’d call Effects, where a category of mechanics is offered up specifically for reskinning -- some for the GM and sometimes for the designers. The most famous among old gamer for that would be Hero RPG creation where an energy beam might be plasma, lasers or … fire. Savage Worlds also carries on this tradition with its 60 powers which are to represent magic, psionics and super science. (Though there were only 24 powers back in the day.)

D&D 3.x leaned into this with weapons types by assigned certain dice types and effects on a consistent basis. It was a shame their never broke down those number for the consumer. 5e weapons types aren’t as drastic but they are reinforced with resistances and immunities.  

Cyphans have this right under their nose with character weapons. For the uninitiated, PC weapons have two stats, Range (Close, Short and Long) and Damage (Light, Medium, and Heavy.) 

A Long Heavy weapon can be a rifle or a crossbow while a Close Medium weapon can be all sorts of melee weapons that do solid damage from a sword to a hold-out pistol. From teasers and previews, it seems that the custom Focus section is going in a similar direction. I’m waiting with bated (baited?) breath to confirm either way.

Now here’s the cool thing.

There’s no reason why you can’t also do your own “stealth” reskinning. It’s some of the magic we used in Rich Lescouflair’s Esper Genesis.  

The trick is that even if you don’t see a framework, you can make one. Select three or so game mechanics that you see some promise in, give them nicknames, and then turn them into a proper table by listing their reskinning opportunities. You can even add in Level 2 trappings to get really creative and flexible


You get the idea.

Regardless, each level of reskinning is just as valid as the other; right tool, right job and all that. Here’s some examples of what I mean by that:

 Level 1: 

  • Last minute NPCs
  • A group that’s pretty laid back      to when it comes to rules “fidelity”
  • Decreasing prep      time  

 Level 2 

  • Spicing up a big bad
  • Adding variety to artifacts and      weapons
  • Making up new skills of magic

 Level 3 

  • Making your campaign unique      with “new” powers 
  • Better for groups who like more      rules with their world building.
  • Expanding the flexibility of      your favorite system for a certain aspect be it for powers, weapons or      even character building.

Reskinning something that should not always be in your GMing toolbox but will give more confidence over time as you use it more and more. So go out there and doppelganger away!

Go, Ganza! Go. 

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