There are three basic ways to approach game mechanics if you’re writing a game world. First, you could choose a system you want to play, and then write a world that conforms to that system’s rules and implied setting. Second, you could write the core setting assumptions of the world and then find a system that can be adapted to them. And third, you could write a system yourself where the implied setting is your world. For this world, I’ve taken option number two.
Now, in all likelihood I’m going to end up using a toolkit system, which will give me room to write the mechanics as I envision instead of having to work around a strong implied setting, which is present in pretty much every fantasy RPG I’ve read even if they don’t have a specific game world. I have two toolkit systems sitting in my shelf which I have a lot of experience using: Fate and GURPS. There is a third, Savage Worlds, which I have run but not written adaptations for.
I’m inclined to dismiss Savage Worlds off the bat because I don’t have any experience altering it in terms of feel. Savage Worlds is intended to be, as the tagline says, fast, furious, and fun. I don’t want my fantasy world to be fast-paced with spells shooting everywhere…this is a darker, more subtle world.
Darker and more subtle makes me turn to GURPS. In addition to having a wealth of material available, GURPS is at its core a more realistic system, allowing for a distinct feeling of danger and a good amount of available challenge. The problem I have with GURPS is that more detailed rules mean a lot more writing, especially for monsters and NPCs. Also, despite being more detailed and realistic, GURPS doesn’t have organization rules outside of a supplement.
Which finally turns me to Fate. I was initially afraid Fate had the same issues as Savage Worlds when it comes to being able to do gritty, but there are a number of ways to turn that up…”Complications Only” is a variant in the Fate System Toolkit that immediately makes getting injured in a fight way, way more dangerous…and that’s probably further than I wanted to go. Still, knowing that I can go further than I want is a good indication I can go as far as I need. I also already know how to write up my hypothetical magic system in Fate, though of course it’ll need some tweaking. My main concern is about the Fate Point Economy, and how that will work in contrast to a sandbox game. Fate has strong narrative mechanics, and I don’t think this game will have a traditional narrative, at least not at first. This is likely more of an issue of how this will work, as opposed to whether it can.
As much as I thought this was going to be a decision, looking at the candidates I’m not sure it is. What it boils down to is that Fate can do everything I want, even if I’m not sure about how to get the right feel yet. I still think the ‘feel’ of GURPS is appealing, but out of the box I’m not sure exactly how to shape it. Fate, especially now that I’ve read some of the adaptations used in Interface Zero, does seem to be able to do everything I want it to. The problem now is not with the system, it’s with me learning how to hack the system and make it work in the way I envision.