A Plethora of Pinatas

One quick search of the internet turns up countless of RPGs; the exact number is debatable. It doesn’t really matter if there are 30 or 3000. You need to select the system which works best for you. Once upon a time, there was just the one system, and people played it, and some folks hacked it up, but a great deal of folks, in the early, early days, just played it as it stood. The rules were handed down from on high upon tablets of stone, and far be it from mere man to muck about and try to make them better for their group.  That time has passed. False idols have been toppled, and the golden age of choice is upon us. There are those who follow the old ways, and they are to be respected. There are those who reach for the horizon and whisper their words as they pass, telling others of a better way, and they are full of confidence and charisma, and must journey ever onward. Some sit and watch as empires rise and fall and continue to tell their stories to those who will listen. Stories neither full of the past or the future, but bursting with elements of both. Those who know it is the story people come to hear, not the false artifices of mechanics or the capricious constructs of crunch. Those elements are like special effects–used and abused–leaving the storyteller gnashing his teeth and tearing his shirt, remembering when plot was important, when adding meaning and messages were not lost to the maelstrom. The wise storytellers know time is but a mere construct as well, and like Moebius on a walkabout, things are cyclical, the only constant is change, and he adapts, makes do. Whether he writes on cave walls or iPads is not important, only the message, only his story. With interactive media, RPGs, he is able to make his listeners active participants, rather than a passive audience. Everyone is engaged. This change is only to be expected.

People are a mercurial lot. Many like one thing this moment, another thing that, and it doesn’t matter which is best, or how smart any particular person may be; everyone succumbs to the herd mentality at one point or another. It doesn’t matter if Beta is better or this system works better than that one. People want to be part of the clique and apart. People long to belong. It’s essential to get beyond the white noise, beyond yourself, ignore the hype, and determine what system works best for you.

Do you want crunch? Do you want speed? Do you want story forward design? Do you want tactics? Do you want to spend an hour randomly determining the background of your character before game begins? Do you want to carefully cover every nuance of your character? Do you want ultimate control of design? Or do you feel it sparks your creative energies more if you get a fast handful of disparate elements and must put them together as best you’re able? Do you love the elegance of mathematics? Do you drool over probabilities? Do you want sweat dripping from your brow at the sight of a mere goblin? Or do you want the odds slanted towards the character so they can survive countless onslaughts  of arch-demons and their unholy minions?

The choice is there, and I have no easy answers for you. The decision is yours. Each game has a slant, a bias, either overtly presently or sublimated into the subtext. Savage Worlds promotes itself cleverly as Fast! Furious! Fun! and it is, but the presentation of its core design, along with its examples, make many folks believe its strictly for pulp. This is an example of both an overt presentation (on the part of the design team) and an unexpected perception on the part of its fans. Savage Worlds can handle an entire gamut of genres and pulp encompasses a broad range of styles from mad scientists to magicians, so it makes sense the examples are couched in pulp. However unintentional the implication, people infer Savage Worlds is a pulp game. From a design perspective, this can present challenges and obstacles to overcome as with anything, but is an interesting case of how player expectation can shape design attitudes. When I first announced we’d be developing Realms of Cthulhu for Savage Worlds, many thought us quite mad, because their perception viewed it as only one thing, but my experience in working with the system revealed a deeper, underlying truth. We turned things on its ear, by sharing four different ways to play the game, expressing the true versatility of the Savage Worlds engine.

Of course, there is no point in putting a square peg in a round hole or vice versa, so you must determine what your goals are in your game. As GM, you are a designer. You create materials for your group. You focus your creativity and energy in expressing an imaginary world tailor-made for your group whether you’re doing something as basic as determining the CR of an encounter to creating custom classes to creating an entire campaign. There is an evolution in the process. Just as players grow on a metagame level, so do GMs, and the designers and developers of said game. Everyone has a story inside them. The goal of finding the RPG for you is to discover the vehicle best suited for expressing your own.

I think this is enough for your noggin to noodle over for one day, so I bid you, dear reader, adieu!

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