I Love Generic Systems

I really do. And seeing that some of the most popular RPGs on the market are Dungeons and Dragons, the World of Darkness, and Warhammer related systems, I’m going against the curve somewhat. But playing (and playing with) generic systems has a certain joy to me, and arguably to their other fans as well.

I was introduced to role playing games with Dungeons and Dragons, as many people are. I was writing settings almost immediately, tweaking the main races, screwing with politics, and generally having a good go of writing some interesting stories. When I tired of fantasy, I moved on to Cyberpunk 2020. Both of these systems are built around classes, who do something very specific. I wanted more freedom.

That freedom came in the form of the Generic Universal Role Playing System, or GURPS. GURPS is designed to allow for the writing of any setting and virtually any character I wanted to play. At first the freedom was overwhelming, and my players can attest to the wonkiness and even abject failure of some of my setting experiments.

But despite it all, I still love GURPS. From a system like Cyberpunk which needs houseruling to get a lot of mileage from, GURPS was an easy transition. The hardest thing for most people to understand about a true toolkit system is that large portions of the rules, in some styles even the majority of the rules, need to be ignored. In this way, GURPS is more a toolkit from which multiple games and game styles can emerge. Other games, such as the Hero system, are more of one unified mechanic from which many things can be simulated.

The key of generic systems is that a GM has to either purchase a published setting, or write their own. I’d argue using a published setting misses a lot of the flexibility of having a system with no setting to begin with, but admittedly a well-supported system with many settings available can give some interesting mix and match opportunities. Still, writing is where generic systems shine. Coming up with something really off the beaten path in a system like D&D can be quite difficult, especially using 4e where every class has unique abilities that are specific to the setting as well as the class.

In short, I am drawn to generic systems because of writing. Coming up with an original setting is easier if you aren’t writing around a pre-existing one. More detailed settings also give a bigger framework to start with, something that helps a writer at least avoid a lot of math and detail work, which some creative types seem not to enjoy. From a writer’s perspective, I’d maintain my GURPS recommendation. Lots of source material to start from, lots of genres easily supported, and a game that, in the end, is fairly straightforward. As long as you know when to say ‘no’ as well as ‘yes’, writing your own private fantasy world can be quite easy.

[tags]role playing games, GURPS, geeks, writing[/tags]

5 thoughts on “I Love Generic Systems

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  1. I play various Savage Worlds system games – right now, I’m in the beginnings of a Deadlands campaign. Nice elegant and simple system.

    One of the things I love about the system is the quality of the sourcebooks. ‘The Savage Worlds of Solomon Kane’ is one of the prettiest and best put together RPG books I’ve ever seen. Deadlands is very well put together, and a wonderfully deep setting for Savage Worlds. Necessary Evil is another good one.


  2. I like generic systems as well. I’ve got Fudge, Savage Worlds, Hero System, GURPS, and more sitting on my game shelf. Still, I find a well put together game for a specific purpose is almost always more fun.


  3. I love generic systems, I’m a big Fuzion fan. One thing I find is, they are all the same. Once you get past the generic dicepool/roll under/over/stat+skill they are all the same. I’ve gone over quite a few generic systems and never found the need to move off of Fuzion, there is not enough to make it compelling or worthwhile to make the transition.


  4. Personally, I believe it’s true that system matters. That is, different rulesets (even generic ones) are better are producing different styles of gameplay. d20 is great for over-the-top heroes, but probably wouldn’t really make a good system for a Lovecraftian horror campaign. While I don’t know too much about GURPS, I imagine it also has genres it works best with. And then you have games like Risus, which is also generic, but lends itself to comedy and light-hearted adventuring more than serious dramatic gameplay. And Savage Worlds, and Cortex, and D6 Space, and the list goes on.

    Obviously, the most important thing is to pick the system that helps you tell the stories that you want to tell, and just because something is generic, doesn’t mean it can easily be used to tell every kind of story. And if a non-generic system works best, just pull it out of it’s established setting and port it to a setting of your choice. For example, some people swear by using the Dogs in the Vineyard rules for Jedi-based Star Wars campaigns, because the rules in DitV make for great stories about characters with power being forced to make difficult moral choices. And DitV is a far cry from the d20 system used Star Wars Saga Edition.


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