I’ve recently been thinking a lot about role-playing game systems, specifically what MY needs and preferences are. In the past year or two I’ve studied around 30 different game systems, and played games with around a dozen of them at least once. To recap, a few years back I played Storyteller games pretty much exclusively. My Storyteller era culminated with home-brew systems best described as “Storyteller Ultra Lite”. The emphasis was heavily on story and immersive character play. I also played a lot of different indie games, Dogs in the Vineyard chief among them. One of my problems with Storyteller was, that since the system is pretty much rubbish, all the actual decision making (“What happens next?”, “How hard is this guy to beat?”, etc.) relied on the GM being able to spin a good yarn. So my ideal game system needs a structure that provides the basic framework of anything that might need rules (or rulings).
The next era was all about Dungeons & Dragons 3.5. A need for a more structured game system had been brewing in me for some time, and since D&D 3.5 was so completely different from anything Storyteller, AND it came with one of the most important ingredients required for role-playing, that is, an active player scene, it was kind of a logical choice. On the topic of 3.5 and Pathfinder RPG after that I’ve already blogged quite extensively, so I won’t bother with beating that dead horse any more. D&D 3.5 had structure aplenty, but the gaming culture associated with it had way too strong a gamist streak for me.
The next step was also a logical one: D&D 3.5+ systems were to damn heavy, but I still liked the basic idea of D&D, so I decided to go back to the roots. I studied a lot of old school systems and their simulacra, and eventually settled on Labyrinth Lord, a Moldway D&D retro-clone. Simplicity. One key element of my requirements for a gaming system pigeon-holed right there. The rules provided a framework, but were a lot lighter than 3.5, and also a lot less gamist (leaning more towards simulationism, actually), since there just wasn’t that many fiddly bits to deal with.
At the moment my main game system is Jim Raggi’s Weird Fantasy Role-Playing, a Moldway retro-clone, and as fantasy gaming goes, it satisfies quite a few of my needs adequately. One key ingredient is, however, still lacking: Basic D&D hasn’t got much mechanical character development going on. That is, the characters are pretty much ready-made. Sure, they get more hit points, and a few other benefits as they advance levels (such as powerful magic), but the characters don’t really grow. Indeed, the point of OD&D isn’t characters at all. Its about the actual adventuring experience; about solving puzzles, conquering dungeons, beating monsters, and surviving traps using whatever ingenuity the players (n.b. not the characters) can muster. The characters are completely expendable and disposable.
My next game is going to be a Space Opera -type science fiction romp in the vein of Starblazer Adventures, Buck Rogers, Flash Gordon, and Star Trek TOS. I haven’t decided on a game system yet, but it should be something that meets all of the criteria described above: 1) It needs to have a robust (maybe even simulationist) rules system. 2) It needs to be light, fast and easy to use. 3) It needs to have mechanics for character development. I’m currently leaning strongly towards an old favourite of mine, indeed, the first game system I ever played: Chaosium’s Basic Role-Playing. I recently purchased the new(ish) BRP core book, which has, in addition to the core rules set, pretty much all of the sub-systems from all of the different BRP-games. It’s like a rules smorgasbord, that allows me to pick and choose which rules sets to use and which to discard. For instance, I won’t bother with combat mechanic fiddly bits like hit locations and fatigue. Neither am I going to use magic, sorcery or superpowers. Mutations and psionic powers? Maybe. Sanity rules? Tempting, but probably not.
I have my hopes up, that this particular “old school” game just might be the one I’ve been looking for all along. We’ll se what happens. Now all I need to do is find players, who share my enthusiasm for ray-guns, space-pirates, pastel colours, weird or even goofy aliens, intrigue & romance, and swashbuckling adventure…