Re-Skin, Drift, Hack

There are a few terms used to describe changes made to a tabletop game. Sometimes they’re used interchangeably. I just wanted to mess around with definitions – at the very least, to explain how I would use these terms to describe the various things I do to games.

Re-Skin

A re-skin is when you don’t make significant changes to the actual mechanics in a game, but change the “color” – that is, the descriptive text or “fluff” that surrounds the mechanics and gives them meaning. The dice rolled or cards drawn don’t significantly change, but what the player or GM describes in the fiction changes.

Example: games like Savage Worlds and BESM invite re-skinning their various abilities, so that a ranged attack might be a jet of flame, a magic missile, or a thrown spear, all with essentially the same mechanics (dealing damage at a distance).

Drift

A drift of a game is a change to the mechanics, kind of an intermediate step between a re-skin and a hack. A drift is a departure from the apparent intent of the original writer/designer(s).

Example: using Mouse Guard to play Jedi traveling a galaxy far away, or Rangers in the North of Middle-Earth. In a way, many Powered by the Apocalypse games are drifts of one another.

Hack

A hack is a new version of a game when the game’s history can still be recognized. Most of the mechanics are retained in some form, but they are adapted, and new mechanics might be added. It is common to take mechanics from one game and put them into a hack of another game.

Example: I just wrote up a hack of the Clockwork: Dominion initiative system for use with D&D 5E.

So, designers and gamers, what about you? How do you use these terms? Do you think they’re just synonyms for each other, or are there significant differences?

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