roleplaying games

System matters

I’ve been continually vacillating over how and what to run for my future campaign, swinging from big questions like genre (fantasy or Cyberpunk, post-apocalyptic or Steampunk?) to little questions like mechanical adjustments (if I run in The Sprawl, do I port over advancement or relationship mechanics from other PbtA games?). Somewhere in the middle is the question of system.

I’m quite likely to run a Cyberpunk game again in the future, and I keep on thinking about what that game is going to look like in a lighter, fiction-forward system like The Sprawl, versus a heavier, mechanically-oriented system like GURPS. I run into the issue that both types of systems provide some, but not all, of the elements that I want in my games. And then I see the ultimate conflict: I’m better at running games like The Sprawl, but GURPS is more capable of doing everything that I want.

GURPS is capable of delivering a vast range of mechanical complexity, including the heights of crunch which essentially no other modern system (save the Hero system) are truly capable of without collapsing under their own weight. PbtA gives you a tight experience with strong guidelines for play and a few strong mechanics, but most of the mechanics are not so out there that they couldn’t be emulated in another system. The package, though, is really tight.

Out of the box, all of the PbtA systems deliver focused, nay, designed play experiences. The games run great, but I keep on wanting more flexibility, more ability to adjudicate things differently. That’s what GURPS can provide. But to tune GURPS carefully enough to preserve the sense of danger and drama that PbtA games provide with no prep work is quite difficult. And more to the point, in my years running GURPS I was never quite able to do it.

Ultimately, especially for a genre as tightly defined as Cyberpunk, I think staying on the PbtA side is going to deliver a rewarding game without a huge amount of additional effort; my current Apocalypse World game is one of the best I’ve ever run and I see no reason to turn my back on that. Looking forward, though, I definitely have a desire to keep experimenting and looking at many different ways to play and structure games.


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