Favourite Game System – RPGaDay 2023

Question number 18 is:

Favourite Game System

These questions don’t get any easier!

I’ll caveat that this is hugely subjective. For some, Pathfinder or Rolemaster might fit all the criteria (for them) that I’m looking for, but I’m not seeing it. No one is right or wrong; we’re just built differently.

I think I look for three things:

  1. Simple – easy to learn and remember
  2. Flexible – easy to adapt and expand, ideally on the fly
  3. Easily Grokked – common principles; easy to explain; read once-ability

And I’d much prefer all three over just one, but I can probably work with it. I guess I’d prefer all three if I’m going to get mileage out of a system, but one will suffice for a one-shot.

So, FASA Star Trek, for example, is neither simple nor flexible, but I grokked it and figured out that it’s just a d100 roll, and you modify the roll result, then compare it against the characteristic. Yes, the game has some wargame detritus in the form of an action point system, but in the round, the whole thing boils down to figuring a mod, rolling dice, applying the mod… and, then checking whether you roll equal or under?

It took some re-reading to confirm that there wasn’t more to it (not simple), and the system doesn’t have the breadth to make me comfortable with improvisation because I’m then going way off-piste from the rules-as-written.

(I explained it poorly. That seems like way more words than I needed.)

The AGE engine, from Dragon Age, is flexible, and I grokked it. At heart, you roll three dice versus a task difficulty to handle tests (opposed or simple), and for hazards, there are usually two, four, or six dice depending on whether the threat is low, medium, or high. If you roll doubles, you get stunt points that can generate fancy effects — a nice flourish to the mechanics — that create moments of heroic action. I’m probably misquoting (I haven’t run the system in a while), but that’s the basis for the whole system.

It’s not so simple, but it’s flexible (the principle can be applied across the system and adapted on the fly for things that the system doesn’t cover), and when I ran it a lot, I grokked it well enough to know that I didn’t need to be looking things up the whole time. I think I preferred Dragon Age in the first, original boxed set before the Stunts started spilling out into the wider tests like exploration and social interaction.

Simple, flexible, and grokked? All three?

The Cypher System, perhaps?

Your personal experiences may vary (and opinions may be divided over the “simplicity” and the experience point economy of the system). Still, the Cypher System is the one I have hacked the most (outside of anything that I have written myself).

Everything has a level. Use your skills, assets and support to reduce that level. Then multiply anything left by three and roll a d20 to exceed the number. Done.

Character abilities allow you to use what you have slightly differently to ease the pain of besting a challenge. Threats have a level — whether it’s a 50-foot robot or a fiendish maze — and want ideally to drop that level to zero before you roll.

I have run Saturday morning action series, dystopian digipunk, fantasy, espionage, and far future adventure. The game has supplements for sci-fi, post-apocalypse, fairytales, folk horror, superheroes, and first responders, but the system boils down the same every time.

It isn’t perfect. It has limits. But I get it, I hack it, and I’d run a game in a heartbeat without needing to double-check whether I was doing it right or not.

RPGaDay is a prompt-driven experience in tabletop roleplaying, initiated by Dave Chapman of Autocratik and powered by you and me.

The prompts for this year are as follows — and you can find out more on Dave’s website.


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