System Cross Pollination

One thing I can’t help but do is tinker with game design.  It keeps me from running established settings and often it keeps me from running games by the RAW (rules as written).  Besides using various optional rules and tweaks, one thing I like to look at is system cross pollination or using mechanics from one game system in another.

This isn’t anything new to the gaming world.  A good example to the recent proliferation of hero/action/fate points over the last decade.  For those who are unaware these are points (or chips or dice) allotted to players to influence the game mechanics outside the standard rolls.  In most cases they simply give a large bonus or a reroll to whatever the character is doing.  Other systems give them more power.  In Arcana Evolved for example, hero points can allow one to do something just outside a character’s capability.  In Mutant & Masterminds, the points become a way to enforce the comic tropes of the setting.  The Game Master (GM) uses them to capture heroes and subject them to various obstacles, while the heroes use them to create lucky breaks.

I have one rules cross-pollination I want to share, mixing some relationship generation rules from the indie roleplaying game Fiasco with the Amber: Diceless RPG.  Amber is a game I had been wanting to run for over a decade, but I felt due to the setting a mechanic was needed to add extra detail to the setting prior to play.


To describe the setting in brief, in Amber the players take the roles of the scions of the royal houses of Amber and Chaos, the two poles of reality.  As members of the royal family, they posses the ability to travel between the infinite parallel worlds that exist between Chaos and Amber, called Shadows.  Blessed with immortality, vastly superior attributes to mere mortals as well as other powers and gifts, they are free to find whatever they wish in Shadow. Thus game focuses on the intrigues between these characters and their parents who scheme for the two thrones of reality, as some of the few things that one can’t access or avoid in Shadow.

This is where Fiasco comes in.  I needed to ensure a group of powerful immortals had good connections to each other so that they would be motivated to help or harm each other given the opportunity.  When each character can easily find their own paradise, material needs like wealth are no longer a good motivator to pull them into an adventure.


Fiasco is a game that does away with the GM.  The structure of the game and its plot is almost entirely created by the players (with some the help of some random rolls).  The aspect of the game I found interesting is how the characters are connected together.  What happens is that a number of six sided dice are rolled and these are dice are chosen by each player in turn and used to decide the relationship between two players (not necessarily including the one doing the choosing).  So in a game with Adam, Beth, and Carl, Carl could pick an available die and use that to establish a relation between Adam and Beth or himself and Beth.  Each relation has a type (set by the first die used on that relationship) and a specific relation within that type (set by a second die).

So in my Amber campaign, I used the same rough idea.  After the main character creation section but before we began play, each player was allowed to establish 2 relationships between any two characters.  These include the initial set of non-player characters (NPCs). To supplement for the fact that I added these extra characters to the mix, I (as GM) also set some relations, mostly between the NPCs.  I decided to keep the specific relation as the choice of those those personally involved in the relationship.  Partly I did this to keep the specifics secret, thus adding to the intrigue, and partly to not infringe on the players’ image of their characters.

Here are the relationship types I used and some specific examples I gave them to spark their imaginations:

  • Over a Woman (or a Man)
  • In Business
  • In the Mystical Arts
  • For the Throne
  • In a Game of Chance
  • In Battle


  • I’ve known her since we were kids
  • I saved his life once
  • We served together in the war
  • Gambling Partners
  • Separated by time and distance
  • Best friends since yesterday


  • Close friend of the family
  • Siblings/Half Siblings
  • Parent and child
  • A Close Uncle/aunt and nephew/niece
  • Friendly Cousins


  • Apprentice/Master
  • Students of the same teacher
  • Comrades in Arms
  • Went to school together
  • Worked at the same firm/government agency
  • Belong to the same country club/secret society


  • Secretly allied, publicly enemies
  • Secretly enemies, publicly friends
  • A cabal to conquer a world (or Amber…)
  • We buried the body together
  • Secretly works for an enemy of Amber
  • Keepers of a dark secret


  • I killed a duplicate of him once
  • We took shelter from the same Shadow Storm
  • We are followed by the same magical creature (ghost, fairy, demon, unicorn,..)
  • We found a secret universe when we were young
  • She has a trump of me but don’t know where she received it
  • Victims of a death curse

In actual play, the results were fairly good.  Two characters became rivals (partly over their tactical skill, partly because one was after the others’ sister), others were covering up murders, one was the childhood nanny of another, yet another was mysteriously contacted, and so on.  Enough skeletons were seeded to sow distrust and establish shaky alliances.

I think the mechanism would be good for any system that relies on a complex social dynamic where a rich history is needed.  So anything ranging from political campaigns to soap operas to a game set well after the heroes have established themselves. In particular something like this would be nice any game of Vampire (either the Masquerade or the Requiem).

There are a number of other similar experiments I’d like the try in the future such as incorporating Microscope’s history creation system or the One Ring’s travel mechanics.   I’m also interested to see what ideas for transplanting mechanics you’ve had and how it went.  Let me know below.