Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Why is Choosing a Game System so Hard?

Well, for me anyway. See, I have to choose a system that becomes the default system for the club. The system most of us play in most of the time. We've tried bouncing around and that just frustrates everyone else even more than it does me. The club always goes better if we choose one system to stick with. And truthfully I suppose this says more about me than it does the systems themselves. But I have to be happy with the system as I end up running 90% of the games that the club plays. And if the GMs not happy noone is happy.

The system has to be a currently supported system. Not necesarily commercially, but at least that the core rules are easily avalable either for download or purchase. This allows the playuers to get their hands on teh rules easily. But for me DnD 4e is pretty much out, as is Pathfinder. They have excellent commercial support, but they are simply not games that I enjoy running ov er the long haul. The more I game them the more I realize that I don't really like the system and start wanting to game something else. However, the reason I hesitate to throw those out is that many who come into the club are most familiar with those two systems, as they are the ones available at retail outlets. They also have shiny covers, video game, splash page art that catches the young eye. So the 14 to 16 year olds that are the bulk of our club membership is often highly attracted to such games. Getting them to try something else is often an effort. But it can be done, and we have done so in the past.

Common sense tells me to go with retro-clones or free download variants. These games are often very user friendly, easy to pick up and play and they're free! Picking one version is often difficult and to tell the truth I'm all over the map with the clone/variant crowd. OSRIC is well known in the club and has some adherents. But I prefer somethign closer to actual AD&D. Which has made me seriously consider Adventures Dark & Deep which is an excellent 1.5 variant. Swords & Wizardry is probably my favorite retro-clone in presentation and creative potential. I love what people are doing with the system and it's focus on dark wierd and swords and sorcery fiction. But I worry that it's perhaps too loose to work for young players.

Druthers pushes me strongly towards Hackmaster as its mechanics actually enshrines lots of principles I prefer like honor, quirks & flaws, excellent crit rules, threshold of pain, realistic combat rules and the like. But I know that some club members are scared of HM exactly for these reasons and approach it with great trepidation if at all. Castles & Crusades is a well put together easy flowing system that beginners can pick up and run with from the get go. But it seems to be missing elements that I like added in. Do I go to the trouble to add them in and risk rebellion that I'm tweaking the rules too much? Dungeon Crawl Classics is very intriguing to me, but it won't be out in official release until November. And if they are scared of HM they are likely to be terrified by horror of DCC crit tables and magic corruption.

The democratic side of me tells me to just allow a vote. Talk about all the systems, be open about what I think about them, let others make their pitches for their preferred system and then hold a silent vote. And then all of us, me included are bound by the club vote. I could even make it easier and include a checklist on the club sign-up forms. They could make their first, second and third choice or even "no preference". That allows me to rank the systems and still tweak the choice if I feel the need to. Of course both these options means I might be running 4e. Drats!! Unless I take it out of the choice selection altogether, but that would be too obvious. As a club we have lots of 4e resources, lots of Pathfinder resources, several copies of OSRIC, S&W, and we have one set of Castles and Crusades rules. And all of the returning members know this. Excluding one of these from the choices would be too conspicuous. It would be obvious I'm predetermining the choices.

Well, I've got to do something. We start passing out club sign-ups tomorrow. Any advice out there in blogland?


  1. Take the middle road and go with Labyrinth Lord. Chuck in it's Advanced Edition Companion and you've got 1e AD&D without all the bits that most people didn't use anyway. Feel like a 0e game, plug in the Original Edition Characters supplement. Want something post-apocalyptic or futuristic, use the Labyrinth Lord-compatible Mutant Future.

    All in all a nice suite of games that are easily compatible with the other clones and the original games.

    And then there are third party plug'n'play options, such as Lawful Indifferent’s Aremorican Addendum Volume 1: Player Options for an advanced game, or Relative Entropy Games' Engines & Empires, for "a game of gaslight-and-steamworks science fantasy".

  2. I'll second LL, but also put in a nod to C&C. Both are pretty easy to pick up. I'm a big believer in system being an influence on play style. Depending on your players and the type of game you want to run, certain systems might not be suitable for what you want to do.

  3. I'm going with Microlite 20. With the resources you have on hand and the sheer flexibility of the system I have built my entire engine off the concept. From the 2 page lean and mean up through all the fleshed out versions the world is your oyster. Just look at purpleduck for how much more source material you can add for free:

    and this tag page is very helpful to track down specifics.

    That big honkin' compilation from Randall Stuckey probably has all you need.

    To me it offers a new comer the best of the old and the new without costing a fortune or scaring people away who are intimidated by 300 page books.

  4. Have you considered Green Ronin's Dragon Age RPG? I know it's not a retro-clone, but it does have a very easy to learn system, offers a computer game try-in, is currently supported, plus it feels like D&D when played.

  5. While I personally think you should run with a retro-clone like those you and other posters mentioned, I think 4e is the wisest choice given the demographics of the cohort. Being impressionable youth, going with a game that's highly supported by the market, has attractive material, and is mainstream, will create even more momentum in the club.

    That said, it's a shame that unless someone like you opens their minds to different gaming platforms, they may never know the joy and adrenaline that comes from successes and lessons learned in failure playing a truly lethal game.

    Whatever you do, good luck! It's still role-playing!

  6. Hey thanks everybody. Good advice all around. I just started classes today, and handed out about 6 sign up forms without even really trying. We just have the two posters near my classroom door. I'm giving Labyrinth Lord a closer look -- I really like LL Society -- and I really like th resources you listed. But I haven't ruled anything out yet. I offered a choice of systems on the club application, but I retain right of dismissal if it should come to a close call.