More Thoughts on Finding the “Perfect” RPG

At first I want to thank everyone who commented on my last post on this topic – either here or on Google+ and Facebook. Thank you guys! I have been thinking a lot about the various RPGs at my disposal and at the moment I am unhappy with most of them. Yeah, it’s one of these days again. Luckily there’s a silver lining at the horizon: I am determined to get back at designing a new game or at least hack an existing one into submission. Yeah!

The main question is what makes a game “perfect” for me. As with all important questions it’s not easily answered and I am not sure if I actually know. Using “perfect” is probably not a good idea. I guess we are rather looking for something with is ideal for me and my group. There just is no perfect. Ok, back to the subject at hand …

What I want is a simple system that gets out of the way most of the time. For me story is king. I play roleplaying games mostly to experience cool stories that help me escape from the cold reality of life for a while. I also love the roleplaying. Just telling a story is not enough for me. I want to immerse into the setting, feels as if I am not only dictating the actions of my character, but BE that character for at least a short while.

And since I am mostly the GM I want something easy, which doesn’t rely on a lot of tables, where I can easily make up stuff. I avoid rules-heavy games mostly because of the prep involved. And I just can’t remember every little rule and every little detail anymore. That’s why I was always a fan of the “rulings not rules” philosophy.

I am also a fan of generic systems. Yes, it is easier to write a game explicitly for one genre, one setting, BUT I don’t want to reinvent the wheel all the time. So I am looking for something which I can use as easily for fantasy dungeon crawls and space opera campaigns.

GURPS can do it, but it’s just too rules-heavy for me. Sure, the core mechanic is pretty easy, but there are so many options, so many skills, so much of everything, that it’s not something I want to run. Savage Worlds is what most people would call rules-medium and I’ve run it several times in the past with great success, but there are a lot of things that keep bothering me. It’s little things like the exploding dice which make the d4 more efficient than the d6 for example, the poker cards to determine initiative, et cetera. It also depends a lot on my mood. On good days, I don’t mind, but sometimes it just makes me want to avoid the game altogether.

West End Games’ venerable d6 System is pretty easy to learn and to play. It can handle most genres without a problem and is available under the OGL. Unfortunately several of my friends despise dice pool systems. Personally I don’t mind dice pools, but what good is a rules system your potential players don’t want to use.

Recently I was reading a lot of rules systems which focus more on the narrative side of things like various Cortex+ games, Over The Edge, and 7th Sea 2nd Edition. From these games the WaRP system in OTE is probably the closest to what I’d prefer right now. The rules seem simple enough and allow for a lot of improvisation. Character creation is quick but allows for very unique characters. It supports magic and other weird powers. The only aspect of the system feeling a bit out of place are the combat rules, which are surprisingly complex compared to the rest of the game. But it’s nothing I can’t handle.

From what I’ve read MWP is planning to kickstart two new Cortex+ corebooks with various sample settings, but suited for multiple genres. That sounds very exciting to me, but unfortunately the announcement on the website from March talks about “spring” and now it’s almost fall and the Kickstarter hasn’t materialized yet. With the help of the Cortex+ Hacking Guide, Firefly and Leverage I should be able to hack something together – at least for the time being.

Time will tell what I’ll end up doing. The hardest part of this whole project is to find out what I really want…

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.

11 thoughts on “More Thoughts on Finding the “Perfect” RPG”

    1. I was thinking of ScreenPlay too because it focuses on story, about same complexity as WaRP but with conflict resolution rather than combat system, and can do various genres.
      Please note I know Todd and was a playtester.

  1. If you want a perfect fit rather than a perfect game then I think writing your own homebrew system is the only answer. I did it myself to fit my needs and I started by looking at all the systems I have enjoyed over the decades and borrowed this idea from there and that idea from over here and stitched them all together. Some of it was designed for D12s some for D100 and others for D6 so I just chose the dice that suited me and did conversions to unify all the patchwork.

    In total it took me 40minutes to write a draft set of rules that was playtestable. Like you say generic is the way to go so you have one set of rules for all genres. All my rules can fit on a single page for when I need to share them with a new player and a comfy version with extended examples and art is 30 pages.

    1. I don’t have a problem with T&T. I am just looking for a different kind of game at this moment. But don’t worry, T&T will always have a special place in my heart. ^_^

  2. I’m in the same boat as you are. I suspect this need could be some kind of ‘syndrome’ or would be if a psychologist cared to do a research paper on it. Certainly the search has taken a lot time away from actual gaming. Currently I’m attracted to something like Call of Chuthlu with bits of Fate glued on. Can’t quite Nail it down, though.

  3. Regarding Savage Worlds:
    “… like the exploding dice which make the d4 more efficient than the d6 …”
    It might feel like this is the case, because d4s are more likely to explode than d6s and therefore are re-rolled more often, but more faces on a die mean a higher expected total value.

    Like all systems, Savage Worlds has its flaws, but its rules simply work most of the time and they are okay for most kinds of players, no matter where they are located on the rules-light to rules-heavy spectrum.

    Honestly, I am a little bit worried regarding your self-imposed quest to find or design the ideal rules system for your group. IIRC, you wrote in the past how game mastering occasionally became an unbearable burden to you. And now you want to take on the added responsibility for whatever might be wrong with the rules …

    The least stressful and time-consuming course of action, which I would suggest to you and every other GM in this situation, is to pick a system as a group and the see how it goes. In case of minor issues use house rules, in case of major issues try a different system. Good luck!

    1. In my opinion looking for a system that suits my needs better is less stressful than having to deal with the flaws of a system which is popular. I want to make things easier not harder.

  4. Have you tried to itemise what you like and don’t like about different rule systems? When building a character do you like to roll stats and go with what chance throws up or do you like point buy systems where you can create the character you have in your minds eye? Do you like games where the characters stats/characteristics are the dominant factor in success or failure or the characters skills? Do you like your combat short. bloody and lethal or to be able to carve your way though swathes of enemy? Do you like levels and breaking off the game to level up or do you like continuous progression?

    How important should the dice roll be? Some systems you will alway ssucceed unless fate intervenes others you will fail unless you are good enough.

    If you can answer questions like this as a group then you at least have an idea what to look for in game systems. You never know once you can describe the system that is right for your group someone may suggest something that you have never heard of that is exactly what you are looking for.

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