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The Douchey DM » Advice, Alternate Views, General Gaming, Misc » JiB on GM’ing 8: Game Systems Really Don’t Matter

JiB on GM’ing 8: Game Systems Really Don’t Matter

Ok, before everyone goes up in flames. I’m not disagreeing with Tappy’s premise that the game system flavors the play. Quite the contrary, I agree totally that it does. That is not the point of this JiB on GM’ing article, but I’ll get to the point momentarily. I just wanted to make sure and get that out front before I started.


I’ve been talking with a number of gm’s across different game systems lately including, Hero, Savage Worlds, Pathfinder, D&D 4e and L5r in particular, but not exclusively and with all the talk about game systems and the various mechanics and implementations I’ve come to an interesting conclusion, the game system doesn’t really matter. Or let me rephrase, it’s not the game system that is important.


We talk a great deal about game systems and that’s totally to the good. We all have our favorites because we like the game mechanics or we like the flavor of the game or we’re familiar with it or whatever. We may like the simluation nature of GURPS, or the fast and pulpy feel of Savage Worlds, or we may like the familiarity of a d20 system or the way aspects weave into a character in Dresden (which I think is very cool by the way). Those discssions are wonderful and help to grow the gaming experience for all of us who play. It is a simple statement of fact that shooting someone with a gun is going to ruin their entire week. If the game system doesn’t impose that same sort of impact on the victim of a shooting it’s not a good representation of the event. D20 systems suffer from that problem as characters advance and the intrinsic damage done by weapons stays functionally the same. There are any number of ways to deal with this problem, but it is one (among a list of them) that gm’s and players site as preferring one system over another. I have no disagreement with that premise, or the myriad of others that lean a player in one system’s direction or another. The absolute truth is that there is no such thing as a perfect game system, only ones that work for groups of players.


Ok, so what’s the point of all this JiB?


It’s simple really. Regardless of what kind of game we want to run, the game system could totally be thrown out and the game run in something else and it will work. What? What blasphemy is this? Of course the game system matters. Think about it. Can we not tell the same story regardless of what dice we’re rolling, or what mechanics we’re employing? Can the players not role play their characters the same way regardless of what we end up doing to adjudicate the results? This is the very soul of what we call diceless role playing, and it’s why diceless role playing actually works. The game system only gives us a framework to resolve things that happen in our games. Yes they totally flavor the nature of those resolutions, but they are not determinal in the game being played. Just because the dice mechanic comes from D&D 4e doesn’t mean that we can’t use it to facilitate a pulp sci-fi game.


Let me say that again so everyone hears me clearly, the game system provides a framework for resolving things that go on in our games. That is where the flavor of the game system comes in because it alters the actual resolution. If someone gets shot with a gun in a GURPS game there’s going to be a VERY different result than if they get shot with the same gun in a d20 game, and that is actually why we should chose one game system over another so that the resolutions that are generated by the mechanics are the ones that we want and the ones that suit the nature of the game we want to play.




I had occasion recently to talk about D&D 4e with a gm who runs the encounters games in her store every week (Yes you know who you are). While everyone who’s read my writings or talked with me on the topic knows that I’m not a WotC fan for a number of reasons. However, in talking with her I had what amounts to a minor epiphany. If the game system doesn’t matter what good does it do to beat up another game system because they’ve done something that I don’t agree with? It works for her, and it works for a lot of others. I may not be inclined to pay money to WotC for their products because they’ve done things that I wish they hadn’t, but if I’m making a decision about whether I want to play in a game the game system being played is a secondary consideration.


Just a few thoughts that have been rambling around in my head for a bit.




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2 Responses to "JiB on GM’ing 8: Game Systems Really Don’t Matter"

  1. JoeGunNo Gravatar says:

    I completely Agree JIB! I started out playing Palladium, and when we all moved to an online game I found that Palladium, while I knew it really well, wasn’t suited for hour long sessions during lunch breaks at work. So I moved the entire thing over to Savage Worlds. And like you said while it changed the feel of the game a little, the story remained exactly the same and the PC’s continued in their quests without much of a hitch ( except for the first time one of them got hit by a couple of arrows…then the system differences showed their colors! ). And I guess since I grew up as a Palladium Junky, I can’t really look down on other systems 😉 j/k!

  2. SirGuidoNo Gravatar says:

    I agree as well. With L5R there is a very dramatic feel of tension because of both the system and the setting. Systemically you have the combat rules which can be quite deadly, but from a setting perspective you have the belief in honor and the absolution of such. You are fully expected to kill yourself in a ritual way if you dishonor either yourself or your family. I don’t think you could get the exact same feel with another system, but you could certainly tell the same story with something like d20 or even Savage Worlds. So yeah, I can get your point for sure.

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