Monday, August 30, 2010

Why You WANT To Play Multiple Systems

Everyone has a go to system. The system they're the most comfortable with. The system their group knows. A system that has given them hours upon hours of enjoyment, where they pretty much know the rule book backwards, frontwards, sideways, and could probably find the rules for feinting by the feel of a coffee stain on a nearby page. Known systems are good, and they're fun. In a lot of ways they're like a home track for a race driver. But we're not talking about that today. Today we're talking about why you need to put that Go To system down, get out there, and bring home a new system to try out. Why? Well, read on to find out.

First off, let me say that I'm sure most of the people who read this have played multiple systems. Even if it's just the transition from D&D 3.0 to D&D 4th Edition. Even that though, is fairly limited and scope and something you want to try and break free of. I'm not saying you need to throw your old games out. Quite the opposite, I want you to keep your old favorite. You're going to be playing it, and your group likes it, so why throw it out? However, there is a real benefit to getting out there and trying multiple systems. What is that benefit?

Simply put, it is exposure. See, no two systems do things exactly the same. There are key differences to be found even when the transition is from X-Game 2.0 to X-Game 2.0 Revised. Every system has their strengths and weaknesses. For example, the oft-maligned (unjustly I might add) D&D does tactical movement very well. Not that the system doesn't have its issues, but when it comes to the tactics of the engagement it does a damn good job. On the other hand, Legend of the Five Rings does a great job of showing how to make each hit really hurt. The Silhouette Core system has a great way of quickly, and simply, capturing the duality of depth versus reliability when it comes to skill training, as well as a way of condensing To Hit and Damage into one roll while still keeping weapons meaningful.

All of these things are things you want to be exposed to. Mostly, as they help out with Game Design. You see what is out there. You see multiple perspectives, and approaches, to the same problem and ways to deal with it. This helps get your own juices flowing, so that you can find the solution that works best for you, and for your system.

What is that? You say you're not a Game Designer, you're a GM? Well, that's great, but every GM is a Game Designer in some regard. Your players will do something, at some time, that is not covered by your system and you'll need to find a way to make it work. Every GM dabbles in game Design at some point when making custom content, and without the exposure to other systems you'll never find out about that super simple way to handle something that is waiting for you in another system.

The best part is, the benefits don't stop there. Even your players will benefit from new systems. They'll see new ways to do things, and be confronted by different challenges and obstacles. The change of pace can be incredibly refreshing, and really get the game going and going in new directions. I've been watching this happen with one of the friday groups here. A group that has been using Roll and Keep for going on 5 years is now playing Dark Heresy. Sure there are some snags with the new system, but people seem to be coming out of their shells in different ways, and really having a fun time with the change in pace the system brings.

In short, play different systems. I didn't mention it, but it helps support the hobby which is always good. It will help you as the GM in finding new solutions to old problems, and give you ideas to solve problems as they come up. As a player, it will help change the pace and bring a breath of fresh air to the table. It may not replace your old favorite, and your old favorite will be there for you to play in again. However, it might enrich the experience of the old favorite. The things you like about your old favorite will become more clearly defined, and you'll be able to focus on them more. On the other hand, maybe a new system will replace the old favorite. Wouldn't that be tragic? To miss out on the system that does almost everything exactly the way you want it to, and you never play it because you don't try it?

So go on. Run out to Drivethrurpg and grab a new system. Better yet, head down to your local hobby shop and grab one. Read it, and have your group give it a shot. The games are out there, just waiting to be played.


  1. Great article. I share your feelings for exploring games, think that my GMing has been greatly improved by the things I have learned from other games, in terms of mechanics, playstyles, and settings.

    There are some elements from games that are more portable than others, and so I have taken some rules and concepts from one game and carried them through. My favorite is the Let It Ride rule from Burning Wheel, which does away with making multiple skill rolls (like Stealth), one roll, you either make it or dont.

    A great way to be exposed to different games, without the heavy financial burden is to explore the Indie game scene. Get some games from Indie Press Revolution. They are light weight, many are designed for single time play, and all have very interesting mechanics.

  2. Oh wow, can't believe I forgot to plug Indie Press with Drive Thru. Great point about them and the one shot games. Thanks for the addition.