This post is part of a series that explores Robin Laws’ seminal work on GMing, Robin’s Laws of Good Gamemastering and adds my thoughts on the same subject. This time, we tackle choosing a Rule set which is very actual since we’re at the butt end of D&D’s current edition.
I stole the image from Shamus Young, sorry mate it’s too good not to use!
Most of those reading here are currently playing a campaign so the choice of rule set is not usually a problem.
But campaigns do come to an end. Players get bored of rules (I know I’m growing tired of 3,5). Editions come and go, leaving behind part of it’s fan base looking for different stuff.
I also know that some readers here are between games or are thinking of starting again at some point on the future.
For all of these reasons, a GM/DM may start to look for a new game system for his next campaign.
Robin Laws starts this chapter with a very relevant discussion on the fact that there is no true best game out there. That you, as a GM, need to look for, and find, a game that best fits your tastes. After that, hopefully you’ll get players to join you.
If you are lucky enough, you’ll get to play your 1st choice of game. However, often enough, you’ll need to compromise. I know that many DM’s like Shamus, were actually ‘stuck’ playing D&D because it’s the default around which a varied gaming group will agree to play.
Therefore, converting players to your pet system is not just an exercise in GM enthusiasm or (heaven forbid) a lecture on “just how Awesome this game is” it needs more than that. In order to sell your game, be it World of Darkness, D&D, Blue Rose or Spirit of the Century, you need to objectively compare the games’ focus and mechanics to the tastes of your potential players.
For example, if your game is about collaborative Storytelling and intense GM narration… don’t get a group of Butt kicker or Brilliant Planners. Go for Psychodramatists and Storytellers. Furthermore, if you want to play D&D because you want to play thematically-linked tactical battle scenarios, make sure that your group wants this.
If your game blurs crunch and fluff (a bit like Burning Wheel seems to be), check that the players understand the key difference from the classic RPG paradigms and are conformable with that.
After that point in the book, Robin Laws does a rather simplistic analysis of “Storytellers=Vampire, Power Gamers = D&D and Casual = whatever the hell you want to play”.
I think it’s far more complex than that but I’d summarize it as”If you want to have a game where the players will have fun (and so will you) you need to make the effort to recognize if your game will meet the needs of your players”.
This in includes but his not limited to the game’s
- tone(Heroic, gritty, over the top…)
- theme (Fantasy, Horror, Supers, Pulp…)
- learning curve (from Risus to Pendragon)
Also, while I don’t suggest to actually use his proposed system of scoring your player’s types to achieve a ‘Fluff vs Crunch’ score, it’s worth having a look at his Game system continuum. There he compares rulesets that favor GM fiat (weak, vague or abstract crunch) vs rules that favor player (Defined, powerful, clear cut crunch).
In that mind, games like John Arcadian’s Silvervine seem to be a modern representative of the 1st category (as well as games I’ve seen labeled as ‘Forge designs‘) whereas D&D, perhaps more than any others, firmly sits in the second category.
You should explore these 4 issues (Tone, Theme, Learning Curve and Crunch) vs your tastes and those of your players in order to choose the best game (or at least get to an acceptable compromise).
Finally, Laws tackles the possibility of choosing a (partial or complete) Homebrewed RPG by asking a brutally honest question: Does your rules make the game better or does your game exist to make your rules better?
Getting a group to play your homebrewed ruleset requires a lot of effort for players. As a both a GM and creator, it might be hard to make an objective analysis of your game system vs your player’s tastes. I’ve been around the Internet and RPGs long enough to have heard the line: “(insert indie/homebrewed game) is better than (insert famous RPG)’ only to realize that the game is an unplayable mess with a few rabid fans clustered around its creator.
Regardless of what Robin Laws or I have to say about it, chances are you that when next you decide to start a game, you’ll tell yourself : “I’m the damn GM, I might has well start a game using rules I like” and I’d say your at least 60% right. A successful campaign needs the GM’s buy-in first and foremost.
However, for the campaign to become a good, even a great one, you need to address that other 40% and make sure your players will likethe game’s theme, style and philosophy.
That’s why I’m sticking with D&D for now, it still meets most of my player’s needs, although some of the crunch and fluff of that game are getting a bit stale for all of us. (And it’s the main reason why we’re turning up the Storytelling part a few notches past our usual level).
Now, how about you tell me how you made the choice for your game system (not campaign, that’s the next chapter) and you explain what you had to contend with to achieve that decision.
Damn, I need to fill in an extra paragraph to fit in with the rest of that awesome image… so while we’re at it, why not sell me on the merits of your favorite non-D&D game? Out of all those shown in the image, I only played D&D, Gurps and read Shadowrun and Rifts.