I’ve been poking around RPGnet a bit as of late, and it’s the usual mix of the good in with the bad. It’s the awesome stories about gaming table events, great ideas for off-kilter games, Exalted threads in abundance, and 1,000-post love-in threads for Nobilis.
Another sort of thread that remains popular is the threads asking people to recommend a gaming system (usually noted as “Sell Me On _______”). These can be brutally exacting, difficult, and will still feature at least once person enthusiastically recommending Wushu, seemingly oblivious to the fact the original poster wanted a mix of Rolemaster and the HERO System.
I think at times we worry too much about the nuances of system; whether Castles & Crusades is better than Dark Dungeons or Labyrinth Lord for our next game. Discussion of system and mechanics is a bit part of the hobby for many (the biggest part for some), but I think like anything else, we tend to go overboard with it.
It’s really “System Paralysis”, of a sort. We’re so worried the system we choose won’t be perfect for our playstyle that we waste time we could be creating stuff, writing for our games, or better learning the ropes of a perfectly serviceable system we already own. If a system does 90% of what we want, we still search for that missing tenth, or search for it when we could be filling in the blanks ourselves. Dice gimmicks, alternate mechanics—we’re still out there searching for that White Whale, seemingly ignoring the Generally A Bit Pale Whale we already have on our harpoon. It’s The Next Big Thing, and we’re going to jump on it, until we find out we don’t really like mechanics X or Y.
Meanwhile, the worn, trustworthy copy of D&D Rules Cyclopedia we’ve had and run our most successful games with sits in the corner, waiting to be used once more.
That’s not to say you shouldn’t do a little bit of homework before running or trying something. If you’re happy with Rolemaster, running Dogs In The Vineyard might be an unpleasant surprise if you don’t learn a bit more ahead of time. That said, I think there’s a point of diminishing returns. We’re talking about tinkering with random probability and dice. Nothing’s going to be perfect.
So, no, don’t sell me on a system. I might check it out, but even if I try it, it doesn’t have to be perfect. I don’t mind a bit of houseruling, and it beats shelling out $20 or $40 for a new RPG. I guarantee you 80% of the people swearing it’s “a perfect game” or “their go-to system” will have moved on to something else in six months or a year. I think if we really tried to do what we could ourselves with whatever system is on hand, we’d save some money and time, and probably get something closer to what we wanted besides. And RPG publishers probably wouldn’t like us very much.