View Full Version : What makes a good system?

2011-07-08, 06:29 PM
I've been working on a system of my own for around six or seven months now and it's coming along nicely. However, I've been wondering what exactly makes a good system. When looking at a new game, what are the things that catch your eye? What are the deal breakers? What are your top priorities?

Mine are as follows:

1. Ability to have additional material Homebrewed. An absolute must. This is the single greatest reason that I've stuck with D&D so long. Just check out my extended signature.

2. Reasonable level of realism. I don't need a ridiculous level of definition, just enough to get by. And the rules should make sense. I dislike that in D&D you can stab a Level 1 Commoner three times in the chest with a dagger and not have them die.

3. Playability. Realism is nice and all, but if combat takes an hour out of game for every three seconds in game, you have a problem.

4. Support for a large variety of characters. It encourages a group to play again once they've completed a campaign.

5. Ease to pick up. The rules shouldn't be so eldritch and arcane that a person of average intelligence is incapable of learning it. Preferably those willing and able to pick it up should be able to start playing after only five minutes or so of rules explanation, with further rules added as the game progresses. This is likened to many scripting languages in which you either can say "Hello World" after a few minutes or after learning the entirety of the system. It should be the former if you want anyone to get hooked.

6. Clear wording. There's nothing I hate more than trying to figure out what the author meant when something is worded vaguely. Also the source of many rules arguments that everyone hates.

7. Reasonable amount of balance. One character type shouldn't be ridiculously more powerful than another. 3.5e Wizard, I'm looking at you.

So, what do you all think is important in a Tabletop RPG?

2011-07-08, 06:41 PM
In general,
1.) Does it have clearly defined design goals and genuinely meet those design goals?
2.) Is it up front and honest about what it is, and reasonably intuitive to use?

For a roleplaying game system,
3.) Does it properly address the management of creative agenda within the group?
4.) Does it take steps to define a social contract before play, and reasonable well define the expectations of the GM (if there is one) and the other players in their roles?
5.) Are its mechanics actually enhancing the roleplaying experience, and not hindering it or ignoring it?

2011-07-08, 06:44 PM
To your list, I'd add:

8. Large variety of options during combat. Nothing is more boring than auto-attacking every round, characters should be able to do many mechanically distinct combat maneuvers. And "you can try tripping this guy, but it gives such low benefits that you're better off just attacking" stuff doesn't count.
9. Mechanical elements that encourage creativity and roleplaying from the players. Even a simple system that gives you bonuses if you describe your action in a cool way does a lot to make everyone at the table roleplay more and feel more rewarded for roleplaying.

2011-07-08, 07:52 PM
I've been working on a system of my own for around six or seven months now and it's coming along nicely. However, I've been wondering what exactly makes a good system.
I've been thinking about this for awhile, and have come to a single conclusion: There needs to be a reason to play it.

Pretty much any new system is going to encounter resistance. After all, most people inclined to play a role-playing game are either familiar with an existing system or have a friend or group familiar with one. The few that don't are more likely to notice a more noteworthy system to pick up first. So anyone considering this system need to take the time to read through it all, learn it, show it to their gaming group, teach it to them, and get everyone to understand the odd details before they start playing. It's probably little wonder that most end up saying, "Let's just stick with D&D."

On the other hand, what if the rules for the new system were easy to learn? What if character creation was quick and easy, putting together interesting characters in a few minutes? What if all the information mechanically important to a character could be written in a few lines, making everything easy to determine? What if combat was strategic, immersive, and engaging? With a focused reason to try out and play the new system, more people would be encouraged to give it a try. Even if the reason for playing is "Dungeons with Dragons... IN SPACE!" might get people interesting.

Beyond that, I'm not sure I could add anything helpful to the topic. Even if I did list my preferences, they'd no doubt conflict with someone else's preferences - and thus, we'd have a list that was either nonsensical and self-contradictory, or so vague (not too heavy and not too light!) as to be unhelpful.

2011-07-08, 07:55 PM
For me a good system is a system that doesn't get in the way of the game.

I mean the rules are the means to an end, If I have to stop and check the rulebook, have rules discussions or some part of the game is boring, it is not for me.

Also it should be modular. I like to modify systems to fit me and my group. If everything is held together by a single mechanic and changing a part of the system makes the rest of it unusable, that system for me is useless.

I forgot, I also like swinginess and unpredictability. As in life, I can be prepared and do my best, but that does not guarantee success. There is nothing that bores me more that kwoning I cannot fail because I have a +45 in a skill check.

That is one of the main reasons I loved fallout. You could max everything and still screw things up in the worst moment possible

2011-07-08, 10:42 PM
Great feedback! I'm pleased to see that my system thusfar fulfills the majority, if not all of these preferences.

Do any of you knows of any systems that went the free, online-publishing route? I often hear of people on these forums having systems that they're working on, but I've never heard a story of how such an attempt concluded, whether it was with success or failure. Any such anecdotes would be of interest. A friend of mine wants me to use Amazon createspace to publish my system once it is completed, though I'm somewhat daunted by the concept of actually making an entire system. Yet I find that I'm already a good deal along that path. However, it seems like chances of success are low, as evidenced by the lack of success stories, and the reasons given by Erikun. I am heartened, though, by the responses of my playtesters.

2011-07-08, 11:35 PM
I'm not very knowledgeable about independent publishing, but you could try over at The Forge (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forge/index.php). They have an entire forum for helping and how-to's about publishing (and selling, and generating hype, etc). And they have a separate "Game Development" forum for advice and ideas about developing your new system if you'd like that as well.

2011-07-09, 12:15 AM
I'm not very knowledgeable about independent publishing, but you could try over at The Forge (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forge/index.php). They have an entire forum for helping and how-to's about publishing (and selling, and generating hype, etc). And they have a separate "Game Development" forum for advice and ideas about developing your new system if you'd like that as well.

Hmm, I may take a look at that, though the plan has been to use the Amazon Createspace for the publishing once the work is complete.

2011-07-09, 04:14 AM
Here's mine (roughly in order of importance):
- Modularity: Adding, removing or modifying a rule should not force me to rework half the system. The more of the system is "optional", the better.
- Realism: The rules should always lead to results that would be expected (or at least not found weird) in the setting. In a real-world setting this means everything should obey physics reasonably well, but in a cinematic setting the "rule of cool" would be more important - and in an outright wacky system, everything goes.
- Randomness vs. Predictability: Might actually be a subcategory of realism. The amount of randomness in the rules should fit the setting. A wacky setting should have lots of randomness while a more realistic setting (especially if it requires lots of planning by the players) should have more predictable results. Not to say that it should not be random at all, but plans failing because a competent character fails at a simple task should be the exception rather than the rule (unless that's what your system is about, of course).
- Streamlining: There should be no superfluous rules. Everything that takes time should provide a reasonable level of additional detail. Everyone has a different outlook on how much that is - this is part of what makes modularity so important.
- Flexibility: If I have an idea for a character that fits the setting, I want to be able to build it (or something reasonably close). And I don't want to scrounge tiny bits form dozens of different source books. Same goes for the GM: I want to be able to represent most things and situations that could be expected to turn up in the given setting (so rules for spaceship dogfights would not be necessary in fantasy games, but there should be a reasonably easy way to represent dragons, sword fights, magic artifacts and the like...)
- Availability: It should be reasonably cheap and easy to get new material for the system and to find playing groups. A good system will eventually lead to this, but you should never underestimate the inertia you'll have to overcome. Better just "patch" an existing, well-distributed system with a more or less extensive set of house-rules.

2011-07-09, 08:13 AM
for me? does the system properly emulate the genres it's trying to?

i love 4th ed because it's great at letting me run adventures where the party is a group of heroic fantasy characters. of the systems i've played, it's the best IMO at doing so and if i ever want to run a "oh no, the Evil Baron Vorpal Von Hackenslash was finally freed and is out to conquer fake-medieval-earth. call upon 5 (racially diverse) adventurers with attitude!" campaign (well... maybe a tad less camp)... 4th ed is great for that. it could be better, but it's the best i've played for the genre of "heroic fantasy adventurers go out and adventure".

do i care if i can run a modern game of political suberfuge in it? no! a hammer for nails, a screwdriver for screws and GURPS for everything else (though by [deity] it requires a lot of work).

i much prefer having a specific system for the job rather then have to retool an existing one for a genre is was never meant to run, especially since i already have the "build-your-own-genre" system of GURPS

2011-07-09, 09:51 AM
I can't say what makes a good system as different games have different needs. In a narrativest game where the rules are meant to provide merely a framework for role play, only bare essentials are needed. For a game that tries to simulate complex actions, much more will obviously be needed. For different players, or the same players with different wants, both can be fun.
I can, however, say some things I feel make a bad system.
More complexity then there needs to be. Where this line lies is very dependent on game and even subjective player preference, but it still holds in my opinion. For an extreme example from that turd of the tabletop, that rank rag of role playing, that grotty, gangrenous garbage of gaming, FATAL, you are supposed to roll a d100, twice, and note which one is higher. Statically, you can get the same result by flipping a coin. How many people even own a d100?
Widely disparate mechanics and subsystems. In AD&D, special abilities involved a percentile roll, attacks involved a d20 that you rolled as high as possible, armour was better if it was a lesser number, saving throws involved roll unders, and that is but scratching the surface. Yes, it is where we came from, but it still needed a lot of polish.
Settings where all the NPC are cooler then you and you can't do anything to change anything.
This is probably more a personal preference, but while I don't mind feeling small, I don't mind there always been a bigger fish, I do like having a world that moves when I am not looking, I don't like where it feels like, no matter what I do, nothing matter because all the cool things are been done by the NPC and there is nothing for my character to do that will have an impact.
That is all I have for now, I have been awake since 10PM after taking a 2 hour "nap" and it is now almost 8AM.

2011-07-09, 11:04 AM
I'll echo some other points and hopefully make some of my own.

Streamlining: This is something D&D gets further from every time a new book is released. I'd even venture to say that the class+level system itself stands in opposition to simplicity. 4E mitigates this a bit by having one progression table for all classes, just with different powers per class. Personally I think an even more general system is better. There's no reason I should have to read three books to play a game (not that I'm unwilling to do so, just that I shouldn't have to.

Flexibility: There should be enough options to allow me to do pretty much whatever is desired (within Limits, see below). If I want to deal damage, if I want to be a battlefield controller, if I want to fly, etc, I should have access to it all (without having to do circus tricks to get into PrCs or take feats or look up obscure spells).

Adaptability: Distinct from Flexibility, this means the system should be able to fit any flavour, atmosphere, or setting. I would say "You make the flavour" is a worthwhile philosophy. The system should just be a ruleset for how to accomplish what is needed for the flavour.

Limits, not Levels: This is in reference to balance. When you have characters doing 600 damage at level 6, balance goes out the window. However, applying caps to things ensures that no one is going to break the game.

All of this sort of says to me "take Mutants & Masterminds and scale it back a bit." And I agree with that. Then again...

X-Factor: There is something about certain games that just make them fun, and it's hard to pinpoint what that is. Mutants & Masterminds and D6 follow these rules well and are excellent, I love them. However, D&D breaks many of these rules and is still fun.