Friday, January 24, 2014

One Game to Rule Them All

One false idea I have subscribed to over the years as a gamemaster is the idea that there is, out there somewhere, one universal game system that can handle every genre I would ever dream of playing. Logically, I do believe this is a false idea because of course no one game can do that. Even so-called "generic systems" such as GURPS, or even Fate Core are pre-disposed to run one kind of game or another. Running, say, a tactical wargame with Fate would require so many adjustments to the rules that you might as well play something else. Likewise, a narratively-focused storygame using GURPS would require leaving out so many hundreds of pages of material that you might as well play something lighter and more suitable.

However, the idea always lingers in my mind. Maybe I haven't found that game yet. Maybe if I just commit to one system, I can bend it to my will and that will somehow be better than learning a new system. I am constantly impressed with the two big universal systems out there, Hero and GURPS, and would love to have a collection of their stuff on hand. GURPS, in particular, writes some of the best sourcebooks in the industry, so meticulously researched that even people with no interest at all in role-playing games could pick them up and learn a lot about whatever the subject matter of the book is.

As mentioned above, Fate Core is a great new universal system, too. It's lighter structure and emphasis on collaborative storytelling make it particularly appealing. Furthermore, what I like about Fate is that it's rules are logically consistent across genres. For example, let's say you want to run a sci-fi world where the internet is a living, virtual-reality, like the Matrix. GURPS and other older systems like that would have whole books full of rules for handling that. Fate, however, would run it like it runs everything else; the only change would be in the scope of the story. Here's another one: underwater combat. GURPS would have all kinds of rules for how to do stuff underwater. Fate would run the same way, with only the particular details of the story changing. I'm not going to go more specific than that since you can look up these games yourself, but trust me when I say that Fate is truly universal, in a way that "universal" games before it could only dream.

So what's stopping me from declaring Fate Core the One Game to Rule Them All? Not a whole lot, really. But there are a few things that I'm looking for, a wishlist, if you will:

1. Judicious, quality support. Since Fate is a relatively new RPG, this is the big thing it lacks right now. You could buy a GURPS book once per month and have new content for YEARS. Fate right now encompasses just three books, not counting the core book itself and its abridged cousin, Fate Accelerated. There is a strong, diverse fan community for Fate, but call me old-school; I am a sucker for good, old-fashioned, published work. Stuff that's been seen by an editor. Stuff that's been playtested by dozens of people over hundreds of hours. Content that's tried and true, and not something somebody wrote up right off the top of their head while bored in class or at work or something. I've said before that I have little interested in playtesting or designing games; I want to play them, and show them off to the world, and for that, I need polish!

2. Popular, accessible, and preferably still in print. This one seems trivial, but remember my overall goal as a GM: get more people playing RPGs, especially people who haven't played them before. This is tougher to do if we're playing some dusty, out-of-print game that no one's ever heard of. The goal is to make the hobby as accessible to others as possible, not to force them to go on some scavenger hunt across the internet to find that cool game they were playing last weekend.

3. Logical, intuitive rules. This one's a little trickier than it sounds. In Fate, you roll four funky Fate dice, apply the net roll to a skill, and compare that to a difficulty set by the GM. If you need a higher roll, or want to re-roll, you invoke an Aspect, costing you a Fate Point. That's not bad, but there's a bit of learning required by the player, like knowing what an Aspect is, knowing how to manage Fate Points, and so on. GURPS is slightly more intuitive: roll 3 six-sided dice. Add 'em up. If it's lower than your relevant skill or attribute or whatever, you succeed. Problem there is, the dice are counter-intuitive; the player wants to roll low, not high. It can be surprising how mind-blowing this concept can be, especially to new players. Perhaps the most-intutive mechanic is the d20 system, where all the player needs to know is this: pick up a 20-sided die. Roll it. Higher=better. However, the problem with d20 is...

4. Math-light. It's surprising how just basic addition and subtraction can slow a game down. When you throw in an exciting scene where stuff is happening very fast, suddenly even adding basic numbers can suck the excitement right off the table. In my ideal system, you know as soon as the dice hit the table if you fail or succeed, and by how much. This is certainly not the case with most d20-based systems.

5. Genre and playstyle neutral. By this point, you can probably think of several systems that can fit the above criteria. Chances are, though, the problem with those systems is they're custom-built to run whatever setting they're running. How silly would it be to bust out Warhammer's narrative dice in a game about a first date (though I guess the "hammer" symbols would mean something else entirely...)? I would want this magical system to handle anything....anything...and handle it without any serious adjustments to the mechanics, terminology, or meta-game.

Does all of this sound too picky? Too trite? That's probably because it is. I understand this. As I said at the beginning of this post, this game does not exist, at least not without compromising at least one of these five criteria.

Or maybe it does exist, and I just haven't found it yet...

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