View Full Version : What Makes One System Better Than Another?

2009-03-26, 01:59 AM
As the title suggests, I'm trying to get at a fairly simple, although potentially hard to define, concept: what makes System A better than System B? I'm looking for answers as basic as "it should be balanced" or more involved, such as whether it's an advantage or disadvantage to have 3 different skills that are all similar enough that any can be used to jump, but each is better than another in different situations (from one narrow ledge to another vs. across a chasm vs. up to the rafters).

A couple of key points I've come up with so far are as follows:
*Balance - the game shouldn't favor one class over all others, though whether having all be equal or a rock-paper-scissors aspect is less clear to me
*Speed of Play - if it takes an hour for each person to take a turn (especially if it's in the D&D sense of 6 second turns), there's a problem.
*Flexibility - is it an advantage or disadvantage to have 15 classes that can be described as a "nature-based warrior"? Should there be a massive number of classes, a couple fairly basic classes that combine to cover almost any concept you can come up with, or one ultimately flexible class?
*Customizability - similar to flexibility, I see this as being a little different: is reducing the number of skills an advantage or disadvantage? Does this change if you reduce it past a certain point? Is it good or bad to make simplifications to the skill selection system, such as was made with the change from 3.x (skill points every level) to 4e (flat +5 to 'trained' skills, all skills improve as you gain levels).

What other general categories are there that should be considered? What do you consider to be a draw for a system? What other considerations are there to picking one system over another?

2009-03-26, 02:05 AM
What determines the 'best' system is really based on what you like. With every benefit there is a drawback, at least in a general sense.

Flexability breeds instability.
Balance breeds complication.
Speed of play breeds oversimplification.
Customization breeds instability and complication.

Then there's other things like... the style of play may alienate one group and compel another to play, or if a game is roleplay or hack-and-slash oriented. To find the perfect game is a journey based on who you are.

Just my 2cp.

2009-03-26, 02:46 AM
I personally prefer systems that are high on custom traits despite the horrid imbalances that may occur. I'm talking point buy, classless, and level free. So long as the numerically talented players help the more rp minded sorts, things can get really interesting without too big a power gap. The point of a tabletop game, in my eyes, is to let imaginations mingle with a general rule set in place so that schoolyard god-modding isn't an issue. That's just me though. As far as an omnipotent system goes: much like the question of what the best governing system is, the human element makes it so that there isn't one.

2009-03-26, 02:50 AM
Flexability breeds instability.
Balance breeds complication.
Speed of play breeds oversimplification.
Customization breeds instability and complication.

I'd say that balance often begets homogeneity, not complication, because balance, by its very nature, means things must be the same. Character A does 40 damage in one round and is then useless for the rest of the battle, and Character B does 8 damage every round for the entire battle, which is meant to only last around 5 rounds.

Mostly the same, but Character A is better during shorter battles, and Character B is better during drawn out battles. Play Group X always plays with drawn out battles, and declares Character B overpowered, and throws out house rules to balance, etc.

I'd say throw balance out the window, make things flexible, fast, and customizable. If you do it right, your players should love their characters and have enough fun not to care that one character does 10% more damage, and one character is really bad at one part of the game in exchange for being awesome at another part.

I hear the system 'Burning Wheel' took this philosophy, but I haven't had the chance to play a session with it yet to see how it all plays out in practice.

Oh, and as a single concrete suggestion. Don't do what D&D does in that failing at something means absolute defeat. For example, a failed Open Lock check means you can't open the door. The unmistakably worst parts of D&D for me as both a player and DM is when several checks end up coming out poorly and now the plot comes to a grinding halt. I can't pick the lock on the door, I can't bash the door open, I can't decipher the writing on the door, I can't tunnel around the door, huh...well, I guess that's that. The Lich is gonna get the MacGuffin and end the world. How anticlimactic for us.

This ties in with people complaining about total party kills and player death in general. Four destined heroes set out to save the world...one of them gets a critical hit at level 5 from a CR 1 Gnoll and dies. Well, so much for the plot...

Make it so that defeat ties into the story. You fail to bash open the door? Well, the door gets broken down, but so does your Warhammer. Now you have to face the Lich with only your wits. Drop a chandelier on him or lure him into the castle's cellar, drench him with liquor and light him on fire, or bargain with him and stab him in the back first chance ya get - or realize you'd die without your blessed hammer of evil-smiting and convert to his cause because you're afraid of what afterlife awaits you.

And, say you *do* lose to the Lich. Instead of just dieing and feeling unfulfilled, maybe you manage to kill him, but you have to break the MacGuffin in the process, and now the kingdom is faced with famine-induced civil war because you couldn't lift the plague from their livestock.

Your character's statistics should not be your way of *fighting* the system. "I made this super powerful character so I wouldn't die, because if I die, the plot stops and the game can't continue. I have to fight death just to have a good time." Your stats should be your character, and determine what place your character takes in the plot.

On the completely other hand, I haven't found a simple, intuitive, hack n' slash, entirely mass-combat system yet. Sometimes I want to run roughshod over somebody elses' armies with no regards to plot or reason just so I can laugh in the face of their ridiculous tactical decisions. So, maybe try to do something like that? I know *I*, for one, would appreciate it.

Tempest Fennac
2009-03-26, 02:51 AM
I like things to be as balanced as possible, but I class customization and freedom of choice as more important. I prefer classes to buying skills and I tend to prefer high magic worlds which have a lot of half-animal races. As far as choice goes, I think it is better for each class to fill a distinct niche (eg: if there was a class which focused on unarmed combat, I wouldn't want there to be other classes which also did that unless they were dramatically different). I also prefer RPing to combat (this shouldn't have any effect on the system in most cases, though).

2009-03-26, 04:02 AM
As the title suggests, I'm trying to get at a fairly simple, although potentially hard to define, concept: what makes System A better than System B?

System A is better than System B if its rules better suit the sort of game you wish to play.


As to what sorts of rules are better suited to a particular game, that's a matter of personal taste. Some people like to have a rule for everything. Others like to improvise. Some people like wide-open point-buy chargen. Some prefer the greater regimentation of a class system. Some even like complete randomness. Some people like a system designed to fit the genre they want to play. Others like to learn a universal system and adapt it to whatever genre strikes their fancy at the time. Some people like characters to be roughly equivalent in ability. Others think it can be more fun to have characters of wildly varying capabilities.

The one case where I'd say a system is objectively better than another is this: that its rules are consistent and, preferably, elegant. A game system with many inconsistent and nonsensical rules is a worse game system.

Which doesn't mean that you can't have fun playing with that system, however. And if you're having fun, does it really matter if another system is better?

2009-03-26, 12:02 PM
Thank you all for the quick replies, there's some interesting ideas in here, which is what I was looking for.

I probably should have stated it at the beginning, but I understand that this is a very opinionated subject, and different games are better for different things. I was trying to get at, for you, why do you have a preference for the system(s) you do?

2009-03-26, 01:11 PM
One system is better than another when it gets in your way less than the other when using it for what you want to use it for. So I view GURPS as better than D&D for gritty stuff, since D&D rules actively get in my way. I view GURPS as better than D&D for fantasy too, but thats not the point. Similarly, I view Fudge as better than Gurps, because I can work with it faster, and it gets in my way less.