Monday, February 8, 2010

Picking A Generic RPG System

I was hoping to have my review of Rolemaster Rome finished by today, but it isn't quite finished. This weekend, I was looking at generic RPG systems to use with my Middle Isles campaign, and hopefully beyond. The hope of a system-generic ruleset for me has always been that you can use a single system you know well for a variety of various genres. Obviously, it doesn't always work like that.

I'm looking for something that's easy to learn, uses some manner of skills and traits, allows for at least semi-crunchy combat, doesn't have a huge list of situational rules for special events, possibly using a point-buy system, that makes sense when you think about it. Should be easy, eh?

I've put the candidates thus far into various divisions. These are the games (with the exception of the Final Four) that I've decided I won't be using this go-around:

The No Chemistry Division

GURPS 4e—I respect the system, but it's never clicked for me. Probably won't start now.

HERO—See above.

JAGS—Yeah, I get about halfway to the point where I'm going to pick up and run JAGS or JAGS-2 again, then it all falls apart. It's like that ex-girlfriend you keep thinking about getting back with, then you go out together, and you have nothing to say to each other. I love everything about JAGS except....JAGS, apparently. Wait, that's not right. I love the thought of JAGS? There—I have now put more thought into my relationship with a role playing game than that with several exes. Happy?

Cortex—Still reading. Not digging it right now.

The Too Pretentious To Seriously Consider Division

The Window
—OK, so it sounds like the author has mellowed over the years. But this is too rules-light anyways, I think. But I can never get past the writing. That's a shame when a product allows that to happen.

The RPGnet Sweetheart Division

Wushu—Automatically eliminated by merit of it being recommended at 114,567 times a year at RPGnet whether it actually meets the criteria for what people want or not. RPGnet Wushu fans, if given a chance, will recommend Wushu to you not only as an RPG, but as a dietary supplement, living will template, breakfast cereal, and a political manifesto for Bolivian Leftists. As an afterthought, I will add it is way too loosey-goosey for what I'm after.

The Crunch-Lites

--I really, really enjoy the PDQ system. But it's a little light on structure for this go-around. I think I want to run Swashbucklers of the 7 Skies at Gen Con, though!

FUDGE—For me, FUDGE was never quite as solid as FATE. And I've decided I don't like FUDGE dice.

—Even though the 3.0 version of FATE is a little more fleshed out, I think we're going with something a little more traditional this time around.

The Eric Gibson Has Killed It For Me Division

d6—Right now, I'm just so tired of the crap surrounding the on-again, off-again drama of d6, I don't even want to look at d6. It isn't the system's fault, but I'm tired of it right now.

The Just Outside Division

Iridium Lite—I have an on-again, off-again project I've been using Iridium Lite for. I really think I need a break. The system is fun, and makes sense. But not this time.

Savage Worlds
—Yeah, it's nothing against one of the hottest rulesets on the market, but I don't think it'd work for my current gaming circle. Another time, perhaps?

The Final Four

GenreDiversion3—How can you not like Precis Intermedia? All they do is make solid, affordable gaming products. In baseball, GD3 would be that guy who reliably hits .275 every year, is decent in the field, and can be counted on for about 16-17 home runs. I've got a few concerns regarding scalability, but let's see how another read goes.

Basic Roleplaying
—Basic Roleplaying is fantastic. It's got a Quick Start version—always a plus, and the system has been around so long for a reason. It's easy to add options to, but I'm not totally sure I'm sold on combat or roll-under. And I don't know that I want to put the time in to customize just now.

EABA—This is a system I hadn't messed with in a while, and in reading it again, it really made a lot of sense. I love the Universal Chart, I love the simplicity and scalability, I love the points-buy scheme (I think). Let's see if I remember why I put it aside or not.

Mini Six—Somewhat free of the d6 fallout I mentioned above, Mini Six has a lot of good things going for it: easy to pick up, short, and free. If my current d6 hangover doesn't kill it, this may be it.

So, that's it. I have a lot more reading to do. I've already flipped through a lot of other free systems aside from the ones mentioned above, but unless something new comes across my radar this week, one of those is it.


Stargazer said...

I hope you don't mind when I comment on a few of the games mentioned here:

Cortex - I have to admit I like it very much. It has a lot of things in common with Savage Worlds, but it's skills system has a bit more granularity, which is a good thing. You really should give it a second look.

Wushu - Haha, I just wrote a review about this game. I think it could be fun, but it's probably not suited for every setting. And I think it probably works better with one-shots than full-blown campaigns.

PDQ/PDQ# - I highly recommend giving PDQ a try. It's a great narrative game. But since you are looking for semi-crunchy combat, it's probably not the right choice for you.

FATE - Definitely my favorite game that I never actually played. I really hope I can change that when the Dresden Files RPG comes out.

Savage Worlds - I love SW. Yes, I do. I even plan to name my firstborn after it! ;)

BRP - A solid choice. Especially if you look for an easy to learn system that's not too "indie". BRP is a classic system that has aged pretty well if you ask me. It's still one of my favorites.

MiniSix - The best implementation of the D6 system on 8 pages! 'Nuff said! :)

EABA - I have heard it is pretty good. I think I should check this out, too.

Rob Lang said...

Superb post! You've certainly included all the big systems I could think of.

By your list, you're almost implying that there isn't a free crunchy generic system. I can't think of one. Can any of your readers? Stargazer?

Stargazer said...

I have to admit I usually avoid systems that are too crunchy. As I said before, I am a pretty lazy GM. I need simple systems. :)

But I am sure there are some extremely crunchy free games around. Wasn't FUZION pretty close to the HERO?

Zachary The First said...

Thanks for the comments, guys! Really, a lot of free RPG systems are less crunchy. FUZION and JAGS both have some fiddly bits, as does Hinterwelt's Iridium system. It just seems when it comes to free RPGs, for every rules-medium or rules-heavy one there is, there are 3 rules-light ones.

My post wasn't strictly about free generic RPGs, just generic ones, but an interesting point!

Tim Brannan said...

Have you considered Unisystem?

The Cinematic version has skills, point buys, crunch combat that is still very easy and one simple rule mechanic. All you need is a d10.

If you prefer more crunch there is the Classic Unisystem.

Both are pretty much my go-to games for everything.

Zachary The First said...

Yeah, it's been a long time since I tooled around with Unisystem. Honestly, I didn't like something about it, though it now escapes me precisely what that was...

Stu said...

instant fuzion for fast playing and normal fuzion if you want that extra level.. I much prefer instant fuzion tho.

Rob Conley said...

Too bad about GURPS. It's basic form is pretty straight forward. They still have the 3rd edition GURPS Lite and the difference between 3e and 4e are inches. Perhaps that would make it click for you.

WalkerP said...

Very interesting and helpful post, Zach. I agree with a lot of your assessment (and your hilarious grouping titles), except the final four, most of whom I was never able to really get into for some reason or another.

But I do have one question, intrigued as I am on the Mini D6. Would you say it is crunchier than PDQ? How would you compare the two?

Zachary The First said...

@Rob: You know, I love GURPS sourcebooks, but GURPS Lite both 3e and 4e never do it for me. I can’t precisely tell you why, which is frustrating.

@WalkerP: Mini Six is perhaps just a little more potentially crunchy, being a distillation of the d6 concepts.

James V said...

I've always liked Risus. Though I would say by your criteria, it's way too light.

Zachary The First said...

I LOVE Risus. It’s the best easy pick-up one-shot RPG of all time. But yep, you guessed it.

Vincent said...

I'm fiddling around with Mini Six (and Savage Worlds) right now, so I'd love to see you dig into Mini Six, which I think is All of the Above :)

BRP is definitely something to consider (I sure want to love it), but I had concerns about how much I'd have to front end for creatures, vehicles and so forth.

Zachary The First said...

@Vincent: Mini Six is fun, and it may be that I end up using it. Then again, my d6 burnout may extend to it. Either way, I’d love to see it reformatted into a slightly cleaner presentation—I think it has a really good thing going for it right now, and that would only help.

Carpe Guitarrem said...

I'm not incredibly familiar with a lot of systems, but I've got a couple comments. I agree that the writing of the Window system is quite pretentious. I was amused by how in one part they said "It's bad to describe attributes in terms of numbers," and then turned around and did just that in their sample character sheets. At the same time, I do think it's an interesting approach, and one that merits some look.

Wushu is definitely not a crunchy system, although if you're looking to play it, check out Wushu Reloaded, which suggests a mindset that's very conducive towards more serious games as well as actiony fun one-shots.

I think that crunchy systems are very hard to model, generically. If you want to be able to tackle any genre, the rules have to be heavily expansive, which tends to make them clunky. I'm a big fan of genre-specific rules, because I feel that each genre has a distinct feel to it, and that it's best to take that feel and then explore around with it.

Christian said...

Oh man, you made me laugh so hard with the Wushu as dietary supplement!

Dr-Rotwang said...

Whoa-hoa-HO, chief -- there's a baby innat bathwater.

You know you love you some D6, man. Just roll up your sleeves, swish away the Gibson and pluck that game outta there.

What's that? You can't? Okay, GD3 then. I approve of it; what else do you need? NOTHING, that's what. I'M FREAKIN' DOC ROTWANG!! That's like saying "No" to The Pope!




I'm with Vincent on the BRP thing. It's a swell game but does request a chunk of prep -- unless you feel like Shemping a lot.

Zachary The First said...

GD3 is pretty sweet, Doc.

How can one say no to the Gaming Pope? Unless I am, in fact, Gaming Martin Luther. Hmm....

Jerry Cornelius said...

Nice post.

Free and crunchy? What about Tri-Stat dX? The basic rules are simple, but it has a complete power system that can handle superpowers, magic, vehicle construction, etc.

As for the Final Four, I'd go for EABA like a shot. Great game system, especially when combined with Stuff.

Zachary The First said...

It's amazing how many generic systems there are, huh? I will give Tri-Stat another look-see.

Sean said...

I want to hear progress reports on this! I'm going through the same process myself. BRP is my current front runner, but I'm not sure if it really qualifies as universal - sure it can do a lot of things, but mixing them together is more complicated than it appears at first glance. So if you want a vampire, say, working with humans, that may be tough to balance.

I'm going to check out some of the systems mentioned here, so keep us up to date on your search.

Zachary The First said...

Will do, Sean!

jadrax said...

That's a really useful round up, and of the systems I have looked at pretty much echoes my own views. I will have to try and get hold of the others and have a look at them.

Stu said...

having used fuzion a lot, I found when I checked out other generic systems it was so much a case of similiar but not different enough to evolve away from fuzion and use something else.

if your already familiar with a generic system you may find it not worth the trouble to go with something else.

I looked over gdi/gd3, cortex (which I really didnt like), iridium core+light, tristat, d6, brp, sw, etc. I guess their genericness lends so much similarity to them all.

Nothing was compelling enough or different enough that would get me to move. Being able to use cutdown fast play instant fuzion or crunch full fizion gives me all I need.

If you have not checked fuzion out in a long time, the current free ruleset (v5) is much better than the old old v4.

Also OpenCore is pretty nice (OGL rename of ActionSystem!, which was theft of Fuzion and slapping an OGL on it...).

Gleichman said...

Dang, Age of Heroes wasn't mentioned as 'cool if only someone human could understand it..."

My day is ruined.

Or maybe not.

Zachary The First said...

Yeah, but your system is really generic--it skews towards fantasy, IIRC. I believe your shattered psyche will yet recover. :)

AntiPaladin Games (The Mini Six Guys) said...

The layout of Mini Six is being redone, but it's not going to be ready for a bit. (We're waiting for art to be finished and we don't want to have several minor revisions in a row.)

Within 2 months, hopefully much sooner.

Zachary The First said...

I can understand that. I'll look forward to seeing the revised product!