One Game To Rule Them All?

One question has divided players basically since the day when there was more than one roleplaying game on the market: which is the best roleplaying game? Is the new D&D better than Pathfinder? Or are they both trash compared to Fate Core? And what about that new indie game everyone is talking about? Introduce the anonymity of the internet and you get a flamewar of massive proportions. The D&D Edition War is a well known example of what can happen if gamers are looking for the best game.

But the truth is: there’s no perfect game. There’s not “one game to rule them all”. Every game has its merits and flaws. Even though you probably could run everything with GURPS, or Fate, or even D&D (with some modifications), should you do so? In my opinion it’s good to have one go-to game, you can fall back on. But it’s also not advisable to stick to one system only, even if you switch around settings.

There are several reasons to do so. First you miss a lot of what the roleplaying hobby has to offer nowadays if you always play D&D, and ignore all the possible alternatives. Heck, there might be even something out there, which is more fitting to your play style. Secondly its a lot of fun to try out new things. And sometimes even exploring games which are slightly outside of your comfort zone can be a great adventure in itself.

As you know, I have always been a collector of roleplaying games. I guess one reason why I started buying more and more RPGs was because I was one the quest to find the one game that I’m perfectly comfortable with. But over the years I realized that there’s no such thing. But I also learned that there are a lot of games I like a lot, and which are a joy to play, even though they have some flaws. And sometimes the flaws are even what makes them so compelling.

So what are your thoughts on this subject? Do you think there’s a perfect game? Or at least something which is almost perfect to you? Please share your comments below!

Michael Wolf is a German games designer and enthusiast best known for his English language role-playing games blog, Stargazer's World, and for creating the free rules-light medieval fantasy adventure game Warrior, Rogue & Mage. He has also worked as an English translator on the German-language Dungeonslayers role-playing game and was part of its editorial team. In addition to his work on Warrior, Rogue & Mage and Dungeonslayers, he has created several self-published games and also performed layout services and published other independent role-playing games such as A Wanderer's Romance, Badass, and the Wyrm System derivative Resolute, Adventurer & Genius, all released through his imprint Stargazer Games. Professionally, he works as a video technician and information technologies specialist. Stargazer's World was started by Michael in August 2008.

8 thoughts on “One Game To Rule Them All?”

  1. House Ruled D&D where the DM doesn’t change things too much from session to session, best RPG.

  2. While I’ve gone through periods where I favored one system over others — AD&D2 in the late 1980s, GURPS 3e in the ’90s, D20 in the 2000s, and FATE in the 2010s — I agree that there isn’t a single system that does everything well.

    Plentiful character options, realistic but swift combat, skills resolution, narrative storytelling, strategy and worldbuilding are all key elements, but each Game Master, role-player, and adventuring party has its own preferences. What’s the best balance between rules crunch and tonal fluff? If you ask two gamers, you’ll likely get at least three opinions….

    For my current homebrew campaigns, I’ve been using a mashup of D20 and FATE, but the people in my groups also like Savage Worlds and Pathfinder, and we’ll likely try out D&D5e/”Next.” People who like trying and tinkering with systems will always have more to explore, but a good setting/plot and collection of players and characters is more important than any rules set.

  3. One of the things that I really like about 5e is how it has incorporated elements from other games (Fate, 13th Age, 4e, etc) into an overall system that still looks very much like traditional D&D.

  4. I haven’t given D&D 5e a firm look yet, but … I think that there’s some “dial adjusting” you can do with FATE to make it fairly universal. One of the dials isn’t to things in print, though, but “how you play it”. You could, for example, play it exactly like an OSR game … with less emphasis on story-narrative and more emphasis on action-adventure, just using FATE for its light weight mechanics. And that’s very much the direction I’ve been going lately.

    As for other systems… I never really got into GURPS. I don’t know why, I just didn’t. I’ve seen FASERIP and d6 used as “do anything, go to game systems” by a couple game groups, and it _mostly_ worked. I’ve also seen RoleMaster/SpaceMaster/Cyberspace used that way (and I assume HARP can work in that role as well). D&D 3e was fairly adaptable to any genre, especially d20Modern, but 1e AD&D was more like trying to cram a square peg through a round hole when trying to do other genres (even though the DMG helped some with conversions to Boot Hill and Gamma World, it still remained that it was kind of clunky).

    But, I think the all-time champion of “do anything” is HERO (no pun intended, wrt to “Champions”). Too much work for me, but I’ve never seen a genre that couldn’t be done … if you were willing to do the foundation work.

  5. My Top choice for almost everything is *World engine (you can find it in Dungeon World, Apocalypse World, Monsterharts and A LOT of different games, and free hacks). I damn love those mechanics, the fiction in the game is great, I appreciate it better than Fate engine. Also, the Playbook thing is great, as alternative for the standard character’s sheet and “class”. The only “critic” I have, it’s not good for players that like to micromanage 20 type of different micro-bonuses to the action, like +1 for the weapon, +2 for different terrain, +2 ’cause it’s holy, +1 etc. etc. However, that’s not the type of group I like to play with.

  6. I think of RPGs like food. I like RPGs and I like food. It’s cool to try lots of different types of each, some you’re going to like more than others. You’ll always have your favourites, that you look forward to returning to. If you eat only one dish, you’ll only get bored of it, no matter how nice it tastes. You will also deeply connect the dish you’re eating with the company you were with when you first tried it.

    I think discussing if one RPG is better than another should be done in the same way you might argue if burgers are better than sushi. You probably wouldn’t write a 5 page blog post about burgers being better than sushi but you might playfully banter with friends about their sushi habit.

    1. I think the food analogy is a rather good one. It’s not like people argue over whether one sushi roll is better than another, they accept that one person prefers a spider roll while another prefers a chicken teriyaki roll. Or that one person prefers a meatlovers pizza, and another prefers a margarita pizza.

      We each have our preferences… and while we may not like the preference of another person, we don’t argue with them that their tastes are wrong. Nor do we expect there to be a single food that is enjoyed by everyone (though, pizza might come close to qualifying…).

      Seems to me that the same logic should generally apply to each persons taste in RPG systems.

  7. It’s absolutely true that we are different people with different tastes. However, if I have to watch back to my RpG history, I evolved. I read tons of manuals, and slowly understood they was all “the same” system, sometime masked with a d20 roll, sometime masked with a pool of d10s, sometime with dozens of tables about “falling damage”, sometime with “only a table to rule the world”… In depth, to the core, they was always the same menu.
    So I started a long research, and I understood there are VERY different ways to do RpGs, VERY different ways to Master an adventure, a whole campaign, VERY different way to manage PCs vs. NPCs emotions, relationships, bonds, and that can be a big portion of the rules. I passed thru Fate, I arrived to Apocalypse World, Monsterheats, Dungeon World… I can’t come back anymore.
    If I have to give an example from the food analogy, when I was 10, I liked pizza with French fries, and pasta with tomatoes, and Coca cola. Now I’m almost 40, I eat raw fish, drink lambic beers, black coffee without sugar, I put nutritional yeast flakes on my dishes as alternative to parmigiano… I evolved. Sure, I still could eat a pizza with french fries and Coke: would I enjoy that? I don’t think so.

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