#RPGaDay2021 Day 29: System

I can see the end in sight and I can feel the month coming to an end. As I mentioned before, this month of publishing was my way of celebrating one year of writing every day, a feat that I had never achieved before.

But enough about me and my weïrd ways of celebrating.

Today there was no choice. Today is all about System in tabletop roleplaying games (TTRPGs).

What it is

A TTRPG system is the sum total of rules and mechanics that made up its “game” part. As such, it is often one of the things that TTRPGers seem most concerned about. As most flavor and theme can be surmised from the title, subtitle, and cover art, one of the first questions they ask you about a TTRPg is “What’s its system?”

TTRPG Systems

Some systems are well-known: d20 is D&D’s system, although each edition is a little—or a lot—different in its implementation. BRP (for Basic Role-Play) is Chaosium’s system, used in Call of Cthulhu, Pendragon (highly modified), and Stormbringer. The Storytelling (sic) System was White Wolf’s system, the one they used for all their World of Darkness TTRPGs, including Vampire The Masquerade and Werewolf: The Apocalypse. And so on and so forth.

Then there are TTRPGs that only sell you a system. They are known as “generic” because you’re supposed to add whatever flavor you want on top of them. You have titles like Fate, Savage Worlds, Cortex, etc.

Finally, we have a new group which includes TTRPGs who share an underlying “philosophy” instead of a system per se. Powered by the Apocalypse (or PbtA) means that the game shares the TTRPG philosophy underlying the mechanics of Apocalypse World. The same can be said of Forged in the Dark (FitD) games and their originator, Blades in the Dark.

My Favorite System

Notice that I didn’t say “best”, and that’s deliberate. I don’t believe that there is such thing as a “Best TTRPG”; only one that may be best suited for a specific campaign—and even that can be argued, that’s for sure.

So, what’s my favorite system today? It’s a difficult question to answer, because I have what I’d call a “theoretical answer” and a “practical answer”. I’d examine each of these in more detail below.

In Theory

If I had to choose one TTRPG system to run any campaign, in the spur of the moment, then I’d choose Fate Condensed. In my opinion it’s the best version of the Fate system and, combined with the rules in the Fate Adversary Toolkit (to build any kind of opposition), allow you to basically model any fictional world and play in it for quite some time.

There are some notes that I feel the need to add, though. Fate Condensed (as any Fate game) doesn’t have a good reward system, in my opinion: if you play enough, you just get better at your Skills and can add new special features in the form of Stunts. 

Apart from that, there’s the issue of explaining some of the mechanics, which seem hard to understand at first, such as Create an Advantage and Overcome. In this case, I cannot recommend enough that you read the wonderful Book of Hanz, which explains the rules and mechanics from the perspective of someone learning the game.

In Practice

As much as I like Fate and Fate Condensed, I haven’t had much success in running campaigns with it. In most cases, we’ve only played one-shots or short-lived campaigns.

So, in practice, my favorite system is no system at all; it’s the Powered by the Apocalypse (PbtA) philosophy. This is the type of game that a) I’ve played the most in recent years and b) feels like it has provided me with the best experiences most reliably.

The only problem I have with PbtA is that it’s simply not a system. You have to find a specific game that uses it and that serves your needs. 

As such, I feel obligated to recommend certain titles in case you want to give it a try.

I could mention a lot more, but let’s leave it at that for now.


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