System junkie

I looked up the definition of the word junkie. It says “Drug addict, esp. heroin”, and the term gets used to describe addicts to anything – adrenaline, sports, whatever. I think junkies (of the heroin type) are looking for the perfect high, which is what I mean when I describe myself as a system junkie.

The system of any RPG is at one and the same time the best and worst part of it – the most interesting and the least interesting. OK, I’m going to stop with the Dickens. What I mean is I don’t buy a game because of the system, I buy it because of every other factor: background, artwork, genre, even print quality, all go into my decision to buy a game. System never enters into it.

However, there are lots of games out there that miss out on greatness because their system lets them down. This doesn’t stop me from playing the game, but it usually means picking out the good bits and running it in a different system, or leaving out / creating house rules for large bits of the system.

SLA Industries tops my list for this – I love crunching numbers as much as any geek (actually, probably a bit more than most, as Matt will attest), but SLA character generation took the biscuit. Other systems had more numbers, but SLA had a poor layout for the information you needed, and even when you’d done it a dozen times it didn’t get any quicker. (Also, the first edition had pretty poor binding, so the char-gen section was the first to split – now it’s all in a binder).

I’m in search of great systems. Not all systems work for every game (which is why not everyone likes GURPS). Pendragon is a great example – you couldn’t (or shouldn’t try to) re-use the Pendragon system in any other setting (with the possible exception of George R. R. Martin’s Westeros books). Likewise, Marvel Super Heroes FASERIP system works really well for the Marvel background, but poorly elsewhere, even within the genre. And yet I like both of these systems, for very different reasons (Pendragon for the passions, skill perfection, criticals and skill checks, seasons, glory, children; Marvel because I do everything with one roll on one table).
Matt and I have been bandying about ideas for a system (as he’s mentioned). In this case, the system is for a super-hero game. I know it won’t be perfect. I just want it to give a good approximation of super-hero reality, without having to be a 300 page tome. We’re only going to write it if it fills all our criteria.

Got a favourite system? What’s good and bad about it? If you were writing it now, what would you do differently? These are the same questions I’m asking myself.

About AJ

Gamist: 14%, Simulationist: 29%, Narrativist: 57%. Ah, the irony.
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5 Responses to System junkie

  1. matt says:

    Generic systems, bad, mmkay?

    Oh, they have their place but I’ve very much in favour of systems designed with the genre or background in mind.

  2. Aidan says:

    Agreed. Generic systems are like anything else that is generic: it’ll do anywhere from 30-80% of what you want to be able to do in the way you want to do it, and then you’ll have to tweak it.

  3. paulk says:

    Personally I like to find a system that works for a type of game and then keep it regardless of the “actual” game being played.

    Modern Day/Post Apoc – Stocs (god help me…)
    Horror/Mystery – Cthulhu
    Fantasy – If only I could find one….

    To me a system should have a theme, concentrate on it outside of any specific background and never be more than 10 pages long.

    I don’t have time to learn a system for every game I play. I don’t even have time to learn a system for every game I run. What time I have I prefer to spend making the game as rich as possible, not trying to understand that D4 phases is actually 2.75 seconds.

    Also, if the system could make me tea while I learned it, that would be great.

  4. matt says:

    Personally I’m liking:

    Modern Day: ERIS/The 23rd Letter
    Horror: Cthulhu
    Superheroes: MSH Advanced
    Fantasy:…um….A Cthulhu/RQ amalgam…
    Sci-Fi: I have a hankering to play Classic Traveller…

  5. Aidan says:

    I wish I could continue the above meme, but really I can’t. In the past seven years I’ve played in two games, each for about 6 months. I GM’d both times (and they were both d20 system, mostly because that was what the group wanted to play).

    Anyhoo, I was about to post a big comment but I’ve decided to make it a blog post.

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