View Full Version : Game Design: Which System Does it Best?

Zeta Kai
2012-02-18, 02:44 PM
There are many things that go into making an RPG work well. Different games do things differently, of course, & so some do different things better than others. What I wanna know is which games do some specific thing particularly well*. This is a thread to give your opinion, not a thread to debate someone else's opinion. For sake of organization, I've devised the following aspects of game design, so please denote which game does which aspect best & why:

Character Generation
Dice Mechanics
Combat System
Magic System
Skill System
Social Interactions
Vehicle Rules
GM Tools

* - And no, you're not clever or funny if you say "That game does skills best, because it doesn't have any" or "This game does chargen best, because it does everything great." Thanks for trying, though.

2012-02-18, 04:48 PM
Character Generation: I actually like Space 1889 for that. It's ancient and complained about, but really, all you do is choose what you did when you were younger, what you do now, a few character traits and away you go. A bit more complex if you're wanting to play a scientist or someone who has a vehicle, but not overtly so.

For sheer joy of character creation, Deadlands is fantastic. The only system I ever feel fine about poor draws in, because they're playing cards...:smallbiggrin:

Dice Mechanics: I prefer speed, so my preference will always be for additive/target mechanics. I favour the underlying system from All Flesh Must Be Eaten and the derived Buffy and Evil Dead systems, simply because the modifiers are smaller than those in D&D.

An honourary mention goes to nWoD for most improved dice mechanic; now the rolls take less than half the time they used to and have the same basic outcomes .

Combat System: Depends entirely on what you want from it. Pathfinder has a good middle ground, I'm going to be honest. Reasonable flexibility, can do [I]most things with a little interpretation of the rules and is simple enough to learn.

For a pure, visceral combat simulator, my favourite is Inquisitor by Games Workshop. Didn't get the respect it deserved because of the insanely over-priced models attached to it, which was a shame. Not too slow, flexible as hell, infinitely modifiable and satisfyingly brutal.

Exalted deserves a mention for the Stunts system, though I've rarely seen it actually implemented as it is in the book. [Seriously, it states that more than 30 seconds is fillibustering and i'm sick of 12 minute monologues...]

Grappling Okay, got me there, can't think of one. Actually, while it's as arcane as everything else in the book, Spycraft 2.0 has an excellent, if basically unplayable, grappling system. The things that make it unplayable affect the combat system in general, though. Could probably be stripped out.

Magic System: I don't really like magic. It's either [my preference] flavour, or overpowered to the max. For flavour, Infernum has one of the best. And it's powerful in its way, if you think about what you're doing. The system is so setting specific that it's maddening though. One of the best meshings of flavour and mechanics ever rolled out of the d20 license.

Skill System: Gumshoe. The system is odd compared to most games, but it's really well tailored to what it's meant to be used for, that is, investigation. It functions automatically for the basics and your skill ranks grant you points to spend on enhancing clues or gaining extra ones.

Social Interactions: I'm a rare person in that i don't believe that roleplaying alone should determine the outcome of social interactions. It should be an investment, like everything else. I've seen too many of the GM's favourites use their 0 ranks in Diplomacy to mind control NPCs while my Diplomancer can't talk his way into a nightclub.

Rant over, but I actually like my version adaption of the d20 social system, which is in turn based on Spirit of the Century's twin hp system and an incredibly good idea from the blog of Ben Robbins (http://arsludi.lamemage.com/). It's a little bit clunky, but it rewards actual roleplaying, emphasising the effort of the player rather than ability, but also making investing in social skills worth the time, allowing less effort or simply faster resolution.

Vehicle Rules: Oh vehicles. So often so bad... a friend of mine actually has the GURPS book that has a square root in calculating vehicle hits... I'm hesitant to give an answer, but out of those i've played, BESM probably has one of the best, simply because it's not absurdly clunky but still customisable. It suffers from the character creation issues of BESM, though [i.e. you aren't getting anywhere without already memorising the rules] but it does ACTUALLY FUNCTION right from motorbikes to star-ships, so that's something at least.

Advancement: I actually like the idea of level based advancement, though it does get a bad press from D&D's wonky design. For favourite, I'm going to say Call of Cthulhu. The checks and rolls system is fine and means that attempting to use skills is rewarded just as much as successfully using them. It doesn't actually allow you to grow your character in the direction you might want half the time, but it does FEEL natural, which is more than a lot of games, and it doesn't result in nearly as same-y characters as most granular advancement systems.

GMs Tools: Errrmmmm. Okay, the BEST GM tools i've ever seen were written in 1987 by TSR for AD&D 2e. The book is the DM's Toolbox and it's really, really good. It's got photocopy cheat sheets, quick build encounter techniques and so on. Similarly, 1992 game us the Complete Villain's Handbook. Check it out, it has chapter on chapter of how to play an campaign and/or adventure. It even has a good section on building, defusing and escalating tension.

The best overall GM support...well, I don't know. Nope, can't come up with anything. Apocalypse World is mentionable, in theory, but the tone makes me unwilling to even read it all that closely and the general flavour the writer put into the world comes of as so childish to me that I'd never run it. Basically, it's ideas are...interesting but it's presentation and thus usefulness borders on the appauling. IMO.

There we go. What have I done with my life?

2012-02-20, 02:30 AM
Character Generation - Burning Wheel: Burning Wheel has a very nice system in its complexity. It connects characters to the setting, binds history to capabilities, and does it all simply by the selection of ordered life paths and later tweaking. It's very crunchy, but also elegant.

Dice Mechanics - ORE: ORE's mechanics are fairly simple, but nonetheless surprisingly deep. One rolls a pool of d10s, and searches for matches. Both the matching number and the number of matches in the set matter, producing 2 variables from a single die roll - more than that, they fit together beautifully with the increasing number of dice (never more than 10). On top of that are the Expert Dice and Master Dice, which are set to a desired number before or after the roll, which allows more dynamic modeling from a simple base.

Combat System - ORE, Qin: On the one hand, we have ORE. It's combat system handles timing, it handles hit locations, it handles attack and defense, it handles variable damage, and it is in general very detailed. Moreoever, this timing, hit locations, attack and defense, and variable damage are all produced by a grand total of one roll per character. It is deeply tactical, where the tactics are integrated seamlessly into manipulating the dice pool. Then there is Qin. It promises high flying wuxia, and it delivers. It's fast, it's furious, and it perfectly and elegantly models the genre convention of highly variable speed and special techniques without dragging down. Both of these are good (to the point of knocking Burning Wheel out of this spot), and I can't choose between them.

Grappling - Fudge Fu: Fudge Fu is one of the general combat options for Fudge. It is fast, intuitive, and generally highly usable for grappling, which makes it practically unique. Plus, the rest of the combat system is quite good, so it isn't dragged down whenever the grappling starts to involve striking as well.

Magic System - Ars Magica: Ars Magica has a noun-verb system. That alone has more flavor than some complete magic systems, on top of it there is integration of rituals, scholarly magic, improvisational magic, and even magic items from that base.

Skill System - Fudge: Fudge introduced the unified qualitative trait ladder, applied to most everything. It is a system in which "Great Swordsman" could be a game statistic, and it is skills more than anything where this trait ladder shines through. It has just enough granularity, is perhaps the most intuitive part of every system,

Social Interactions - Chronica Feudalis: D&D centers around a combat system. Burning Wheel centers around three combat systems, and one system for social interaction. Chronica Feudalis actually balances these things - there is a Fight subsystem, a Chase subsystem, a Parley subsystem, and an Espionage subsystem. All have underlying similarities, all feel unique to what they should be, and all are very good. Perhaps I should repeat that for emphasis - Chronica Feudalis has a social interaction system as good as its combat system. That alone puts it on this list.

Vehicle Rules - Fudge Dogfighting: I'll be the first to admit that this is very limited. It handles only a subset of vehicle rules, and really only works for fights between airplanes or small spaceships in space opera settings (though it can be tweaked to naval combat relatively easily). However, that it does perfectly. Given how good it is within its limits, it really has to be put ahead of the numerous decidedly mediocre systems that handle most vehicles.

Advancement - The Shadow of Yesterday: TSoY introduced the system of Keys, the predecessor to Aspects. Experience is connected to playing characters as they are, and to playing them as they change, which promotes a rich experience.

Attributes (New) - WR&M, Qin: I'm not particularly fond of most sets of attributes. They work, sure, but they feel dull. WR&M and Qin both break out of the mold, in somewhat similar ways. In WR&M the attributes are Warrior, Rogue, and Mage. It perfectly captures the feel of early D&D around these, with the balancing of archetypes between characters, and centers these attributes to the point where they just work. Qin uses the five Chinese elements, and takes into account the balance between them. That immediately sets the right feel, and helps the rest of the game work as well as it does.

GM Tools - Fudge: The whole thing is a highly mod-able tool-set that a GM can tweak at will. It doesn't get better than that.

2012-02-20, 06:08 PM
My systems knowledge is very likely too narrow to offer much of value*. Regarding what's been said already, I'd like to insert a quibble that I believe Fantasy Craft has the same grappling rules as Spycraft 2.0, and they seem to work so far as I can see. Also, I second Call of Cthulhu for character advancement.

*I've only really played Spirit of the Century, Savage Worlds, Fantasy Craft, Call of Cthulhu, Exalted, Burning Wheel (once), D&D 3.5, D&D 4e, d20 modern, Fiasco, Spycraft 2.0, and Victoriana. All of my answers would come from the first four on this list.

EDIT: What the hey, here's my ideas.

Character Generation Fiasco. But then it is half the game, and the more fun half when I've played it...
Dice Mechanics Never been too fussed on this point.
Combat System FC
Grappling FC
Magic System Victoriana
Skill System FC or Call of Cthulhu.
Social Interactions Depend far more on the group/GM than the game, so far as I've seen. Quite liked how burning wheel modelled this, though, although not everyone in my group did.
Vehicle Rules Never really used these.
Advancement Seconding Call of Cthulhu
GM Tools FC

Ye gods, I'm even more of an FC fanboy than I'd realised.

An alternate question: what, overall, is your favourite rules light, medium, and heavy game? For me, it would be the following:

Spirit of the Century / Savage Worlds / [take a wild guess]