22 February 2014

Sticking To A System

Not as a rule a habitue of gaming stores -- I've gamed out of my home almost exclusively since the mid-80s -- what I see about how other gamers think comes from a couple of online forums.  One of the common themes you see on such forums is the premise that a Real Gamer Tries Many Games, and threads about diversity in selection are frequent.  In particular, a number of people heavily tout a willingness to try many so-called "indie" games (i.e., self-published games of which 95% of the RPG public have never heard) as a needful virtue.

Being asked my own opinion, I reply that I started GMing The Fantasy Trip in 1983, flipped to its successor system GURPS when it was in playtest a couple years later, and have pretty much GMed nothing else since.  An answer considered unremarkable when the system you solely play is D&D (or, these days, Pathfinder), this bugs a surprising number of people.  What's the point of doing that? I've been asked.

For one thing, I don't dance around genres much. I've done some SF, done some Firefly (not quite the same as space opera), done some French Revolution. Mostly, though, I've been doing the same setting, genre and milieu since 1978.

This has its advantages. I know my gameworld to an eyepopping degree. I have DECADES of prepwork behind me. Detailed realms. MULTIPLE cities with hundreds of businesses apiece. Hundreds of NPCs, many of which have detailed notes. 20 page writeups for religions for the in-depth priest. Etc etc ad nauseam.

So tell me, why would I forfeit the sheer knowledge there to run Some Other Setting? I couldn't possibly do the same job. I don't have the time or the energy to duplicate all that work. I'd have to say "I don't know" a lot more often, and slow up play to think up an answer.  (And I'd sure get caught out a lot, when the players knew I was wrong, and was contradicting myself.)

That's how I feel about switching systems. Let's say, for the sake of argument, that there is a setting I want to run, and that X System is "better" than GURPS for running that setting. (This being an argument made about a hundred times more often than it's been proven, and has always seemed to me an attempt at self-justification, but let's go with it.)

But I understand GURPS. I have long experience in creating characters, and long experience in shepherding others through character creation. I know how the combat system works. I know how the magic system works, and I've created hundreds of new spells to go with it. I don't have to refer to a rulebook very often at all during runs. I know the weaknesses of the system - or at least those elements I feel to be weak - and have come up with variations and houserules to cover the gaps.

So tell me, why would I forfeit the sheer knowledge there to run Some Other Game System? I couldn't possibly do the same job. I don't have the time or the energy to duplicate all that learning. I'd have to say "I don't know" a lot more often, and slow up play to look up the answer.  (And I'd sure get caught out a lot, when the players knew I was wrong, and was contradicting the rulebook.)

I don't have GM ADD, I'm not enough of a moron to feel that a game system which wasn't invented last year is "obsolete," I don't ascribe unique virtues to systems just because they're published by the creator, I'm not rich enough to drop hundreds of dollars on corebooks and splatbooks every switch, and I'm not insane enough to insist my players go through the same relearning process just because I have a short attention span.

There. That's the point.

2 comments:

  1. I'm quite sympathetic to that viewpoint... you know what you like. Why change it for the sake of mollifying some hipster who keeps jumping from one RPGnet darling to the next?
    That whole line of thought... that games become 'obsolete' or 'old'... such a load of bunkum. Anyone pushing that is someone I don't want to game with, that's all.

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  2. Yep. I've used the example of chess, in such debates: here's a game for which the last major, widely accepted rules change was TWO CENTURIES AGO ... but the game is still considered vital, it's still played by millions more than will ever have heard of tabletop RPGs, and it doesn't suffer from the lack.

    The responses I get from that example have ranged from blank incomprehension to sullen dismissals. And what drives me REALLY crazy is to see arguments defending the constant switching to new systems from people who bitch about investing any "unnecessary" time -- in reading backstories, in developing adventures, in character creation that takes "too long."

    Yet somehow, they have the time to flip to a new system every month, a system that people *need to learn how to play?* Nonsensical.

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