Tuesday, December 8, 2009

To Be or Not To Be, Another Lite Generic RPG

So, in last week's post (see below), I talked about the future of my own homebrew RPG system. As mentioned, after a conversation with Rob Lang (of Free RPG Blog infamy), I've come to face the inherent pitfalls and dangers in writing what is, in the end, Yet Another Generic Rules Lite Fantasy-esque RPG system.

This is a creature more common than your average cockroach, and just as underfoot if you spend any time digging around areas rife with DIY role-playing games. Rob's most astute and 100% true suggestion for finding some way to make one's creation more unique and noticeable is to forgo the generic-ness to a great degree and create a setting that will put the best elements of one's system on display.

There's just one problem with this.

I like the idea of creating a generic rules-lite fantasy-esque RPG system.

Such was the idea from the very get-go almost seven years ago, when I started writing a Sword & Sorcery homebrew as an alternative to the much crunchier RPG system I had written and used for a couple of years previously. And although the system went through numerous incarnations, the idea still remained the same, because light-to-mid crunch RPG systems are my gaming sweet spot, and the idea of having one system that I'm very familiar with, that I could apply to any genre that struck my fancy (historical, fantasy, light sci-fi) sounded great.

So now I find myself at a crossroads. On the one hand, I would find great utility and great satisfaction of writing for myself my own RPG system, and since this has been so long in the making, I'd like it to be finished some time this decade. On the other hand, I am aware of the fact that, as written, it is really just "another generic system" that really is nothing astounding or revolutionary; no one's going to stop playing their favorite system and leap to playing mine just because I publish it.

There is one middle ground that I have been considering for a while now, a sort of "eye of the needle" that I might be able to pass through and still make this work. I'd long considered releasing "campaign primers" for the game, essentially short supplements showing how to implement the RPG core rules into certain specific genres or settings. In one short column I had from last February I talk about the idea of creating a Napoleonic-Era RPG, and I've also had a number of other campaign ideas I'd like to explore.

The possible solution comes from a somewhat unlikely source: GURPS. While this pretty heavy-crunch RPG is almost the antithesis of what I'm trying to accomplish with my core rules, the GURPS Lite PDF is, I think, a marvel of RPG efficiency engineering. Every major element of GURPS that you'd need to run a basic campaign can be found in that one 32 page document. To boot, several of their product lines, such as GURPS WW2, GURPS Transhuman Space, and GURPS Prime Directive, are known as "Powered By GURPS" product lines. The idea being to make the product line less an addition to the GURPS core rules, and go the opposite direction - have the "core of the core" (GURPS Lite) be the additional material that powers the rest of the campaign setting.

So, here's what I'm thinking...

1. Take the Core Rules document that I've got currently in rough draft status. Polish it up, and perhaps remove a few of the more setting-specific optional rules (firearms, sci-fi weapons and armor, etc.).

2. Create one historical setting (probably Grapeshot & Grognards) as the test-bed for the validity of the campaign setting. I want to do a historical setting first, because it allows me to forego having to worry about magic or strange monsters or sci-fi elements, and focus on providing rules for real-world situations. Something set in or around the Napoleonic Wars also fits in well with the episodic campaign framework that the T&B RPG promotes.

3. If the first setting works out well enough, continue the trend with other "Powered by Tankards & Broadswords" settings. I've already got an idea for a fantasy setting rattling around my head, revisiting an old setting that I created a number of years ago that could use a face lift. After that, other settings in various genres can come along as they appeal to me (I list a few examples of genres or settings I'd like to look at in this post from back in July).

4. In conjunction with #3, work on expanding various semi-generic rules supplements such as the "magic book", the "monsters book", maybe even a "sci-fi book". Again, one of the big strengths of GURPS isn't, I think, their rules; it's the modularity of the system, the ability to cherry-pick from their sourcebooks and settings and rules additions to take what you want and leave the rest (and how many of us own GURPS sourcebooks while having never run a GURPS game?).

So, anyhow, that's the plan I've got rattling around in my head at the moment. Might work, might not. We shall have to see.


Kameron said...

That was my plan for my d00M roleplaying system. Release a core rules PDF for free, and produce genre-specific settings with "A d00M RPS Game" taglines.

Badelaire said...

Right-o. I actually think the idea has some merit. I think the reason most "lite generic RPGs" shrivel up and blow away is that there's little content to put them into context gameplay-wise, and it's really true with any generic setting. In fact, I don't know of any successful generic RPG that has not eventually had a setting published utilizing it's rules; it's the single best way to prove to perspective users "yes, you can use this rules-set to create cool settings - see?"

misterecho said...

I think that another generic rules lite system is not a bad idea if you have plenty of setting material. If you releasee your generic system, not many will read it. release with a couple of settings and hey presto its UNIQUE!!

I want to encourage you to release your system. I also encourage you to work on setting material. :)

Fenway5 said...

I say go for it!! I have had the same debate/ battle and went ahead and posted a brief sample of the basic rules. I continue my work on the full rules and have developed a setting as well. I do not plan the setting going overboard into a 128 page world book. Instead I want to set up one area in the world and provide a brief history letting players take it wherever they want rather than mandating what the store line should be. Check it out on my blog www.swordandshieldrpg.blogspot.com

The Evil DM said...

I know just where you are coming from my friend. On Friday 12/04 I posted a very similar entry. I was trying my hand at my own RPG, up until Pinnacle opened up Savage Worlds to everyone. I dropped the rules, polished up the setting, and Legends of Steel was Born.

Badelaire said...

@Fenway5: Very cool - I'll have to take a look at Rogueish as soon as possible.

@EvilDM: Oh yes, I do know what you mean, all too well (shakes fist at monitor). Glad to see that LoS is doing great though. I've not gotten around to picking up one of it's versions, but I do have Broadsword & World of Broadsword, and they are great.