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Author Topic: Universal Systems vs Setting Specific?  (Read 1635 times)
SAW
Member

Posts: 35


« on: April 06, 2010, 08:30:24 AM »

So, I was just curious what the general consensus is regarding a Universal System compared to one built around a specific setting?

From looking at the existing RPGs, it seems that there are almost none that are Universal--most mechanics are coated in their settings flavor and while you can generally tweak things to work with another genre, it never completely meshes.

Do you all think that it is better for a system to be built around a specific setting/genre? Do you think there is going to be anything inherently lacking in an attempted Universal system?

Are there any distinct advantages to either approach that you're aware of?

What do you all prefer as players?
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horomancer
Member

Posts: 54


« Reply #1 on: April 06, 2010, 09:21:22 AM »

I like a universal system, but trying to tack down what that means exactly is difficult. In my opinion a universal system has to be very meta in its approach, distilling conflict of any sort down into as few rules and numbers as possible, and to be fairly uniform about it. There are plenty of systems which have core mechanics that can be considered universal by my deffenition, Dogs in the Vineyard, numerous Dice Pool system that crop up here on the forums, even D&D to a certain extent if the combat system was throw out in favor of story boarding would break down everthing into d20 + x vs 10+x and it doesn't get much simpler than that.

What are your definitions for Universal and Setting Specific systems? I see most as being a set of Universal conflict resolution rules with Setting Specific sub-rules tact on as needed.
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Mobius
Member

Posts: 46


« Reply #2 on: April 06, 2010, 09:30:42 AM »

I really prefer setting specific systems.  No one system captures all aspects of gaming well so I'd rather use one that models the primary focus of the game really well then one that tries to do a little of everything.

The disadvantage to setting specific systems is fairly obvious, you have to learn a new system.
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Mobius a.k.a Charles
SAW
Member

Posts: 35


« Reply #3 on: April 06, 2010, 09:35:27 AM »

I like a universal system, but trying to tack down what that means exactly is difficult. In my opinion a universal system has to be very meta in its approach, distilling conflict of any sort down into as few rules and numbers as possible, and to be fairly uniform about it. There are plenty of systems which have core mechanics that can be considered universal by my deffenition, Dogs in the Vineyard, numerous Dice Pool system that crop up here on the forums, even D&D to a certain extent if the combat system was throw out in favor of story boarding would break down everthing into d20 + x vs 10+x and it doesn't get much simpler than that.

What are your definitions for Universal and Setting Specific systems? I see most as being a set of Universal conflict resolution rules with Setting Specific sub-rules tact on as needed.

I would actually argue that DitV is definitely not Universal. Yes, you can change the scenery, but you can't really change the setting. It wouldn't work at all for a Dungeon Crawler, for example. Or anything heavily action oriented.

D&D is much the same way--it simply can't be used for intricate social interaction or a modern setting without heavy modding.

Yes, they can all be made to work, but I think that they definitely take a hit in doing so. Which I guess is part of what I'm curious about--are systems like DitV and D&D4e better for having those aspects that just can't be swapped for just anything else?

I really prefer setting specific systems.  No one system captures all aspects of gaming well so I'd rather use one that models the primary focus of the game really well then one that tries to do a little of everything.

The disadvantage to setting specific systems is fairly obvious, you have to learn a new system.

I think my thing is that while I love certain settings, I love other mechanics from non-compatible systems. Tongue

But yeah, aiming for Universal definitely means that something needs to be sacrificed. I'm running into that as I'm thinking over my own system-in-progress--by focusing on being Universal, what am I potentially forgetting? Its making me consider narrowing it down to a single setting to start and then crafting the system to facilitate that setting rather than the other way around.
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Mobius
Member

Posts: 46


« Reply #4 on: April 06, 2010, 10:41:05 AM »

Quote
But yeah, aiming for Universal definitely means that something needs to be sacrificed. I'm running into that as I'm thinking over my own system-in-progress--by focusing on being Universal, what am I potentially forgetting? Its making me consider narrowing it down to a single setting to start and then crafting the system to facilitate that setting rather than the other way around.

That is what I do.  I think one of the biggest failings of many games is that the meta game does not match the setting.  One example is the d20 Saga system.  It can actually do a relativity good job of modeling the Star Wars movies but legacy elements of the d20 system reward players for making characters that are nothing like the the characters you see in the movies.

Specifically d20 rewards extreme specialization where as all of the core characters in the setting are generalists. 
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Mobius a.k.a Charles
Ar Kayon
Member

Posts: 190


« Reply #5 on: April 06, 2010, 11:17:46 AM »

When I think of a universal system, I think of something that can be adapted to every genre but not every style.  The latter seems impossible because the aesthetics of the system and setting would be incongruent.  For example, although my Nevercast system can be seamlessly adapted to a fantasy setting, if I transitioned it to my Dramo Worlmoro setting, it would be retarded.  This is because Nevercast is predicated on realism and Dramo Worlmoro on inanity; I don't need to determine the overpressure generated by the blast wind of a duck mine.
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SAW
Member

Posts: 35


« Reply #6 on: April 06, 2010, 11:53:27 AM »

When I think of a universal system, I think of something that can be adapted to every genre but not every style.  The latter seems impossible because the aesthetics of the system and setting would be incongruent.  For example, although my Nevercast system can be seamlessly adapted to a fantasy setting, if I transitioned it to my Dramo Worlmoro setting, it would be retarded.  This is because Nevercast is predicated on realism and Dramo Worlmoro on inanity; I don't need to determine the overpressure generated by the blast wind of a duck mine.

While I mostly agree, I do think a Universal system needs to be able to incorporate a few options in terms of style. I think it should be able to handle conflict resolution in a good fashion in most forms--whether that be a dungeon crawl, a skill challenge, or a bit of political intrigue. They're all forms of conflict, but, for example, D&D4e can hardly handle 2 of the 3 effectively, and DitV can only really handle 1.

Not to say either of those are Universal--they aren't--but I think that's sort of why, in my opinion.

Especially "unique" styles need not be covered by a system to make it Universal. But I think at least the major aspects of conflict in numerous forms should be, as different genres require different ratios of those conflicts.
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horomancer
Member

Posts: 54


« Reply #7 on: April 06, 2010, 01:51:05 PM »

so that begs the question, Why does one system handle something better than others? And if the mechanical reason can be identified, why can't it be extracted and and put into another system?
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SAW
Member

Posts: 35


« Reply #8 on: April 06, 2010, 01:55:23 PM »

so that begs the question, Why does one system handle something better than others? And if the mechanical reason can be identified, why can't it be extracted and and put into another system?


Partially because a system has to mesh with itself. For example, could you imagine taking DitV escalation/social mechanic and inserting it into D&D4e? That just wouldn't go together at all without having to mash things in a way that they'd both be unrecognizable.
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dindenver
Member

Posts: 928

Don't Panic!


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« Reply #9 on: April 06, 2010, 02:52:29 PM »

SAW,
  I think the "right" answer depends on what the game is about.
  In other words, ditv is about "how far are you willing to go to make others do what is right?" The mechanics are perfect for this. And while you could use D&D4e rules set to make Paladins in the wild west, it wouldn't be about seeing how far the PCs are willing to go, would it?
  Similarly, D&D is about solving interesting problems with the resources at hand. Because ditv lets you make up what resources you have, those rules would not be appropriate for that setting.

  So, the real answer to your question is, what is your game about, and how does your mechanics make it about that?

  I think...
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Dave M
Author of Legends of Lanasia RPG (Still in beta)
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Ar Kayon
Member

Posts: 190


« Reply #10 on: April 06, 2010, 03:44:26 PM »

Again, it comes down to style.  Without style in mind, a universal system must have rules-consistency together with logical, straightforward algorithms.  To handle various styles, however, the system would also need to be modular so that when you remove or add modules (i.e. segments, not D&D modules), the integrity of the core system doesn't break down.  These new modules would be setting-specific without violating the core rules.  Naturally, the rules would also accommodate a method of altering modules.
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ObsidianSoul
Registree

Posts: 2


« Reply #11 on: April 06, 2010, 06:05:36 PM »

In general, I prefer Universal Systems.  The best Universal System, of course, is GURPS, by Steve Jackson Games.  Its primary problem is that the depth of the system is such that most people run screaming from it.  And, for the record, D&D 3rd and 4th, could not, and can not, effectively handle superheroes, modern settings or science fiction.

That being said, there are some awesome Setting Specific systems.  Shadowrun 4th edition, by Catalyst Labs, has solid game mechanics and works well in the setting.  Conan RPG, by Mongoose Games, was also a wonderful setting system.
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FetusCommander
Member

Posts: 21

also Rudy


« Reply #12 on: April 06, 2010, 06:18:45 PM »

I don't have any preference as a player, but one advantage I see in more universal systems like d20 or GURPS is that they encourage people (from GMs to players) to adopt them for their world/setting/game, which can lead to a lot of custom content.  I think that type of creativity involving mechanics is important and helps in turn encourage people to get into further game design, since satisfying in-playgroup custom content provides a real reward and helps get people used to giving and receiving design feedback, even if it's not the same kind as is traded about completely new designs.
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Luminous
Member

Posts: 43

Master of mayhem...


« Reply #13 on: April 06, 2010, 07:17:59 PM »

D&D 4e can handle modern age / far future / sci-fi / superhero genres just as easily as it handles fantasy.  Remove the classes, remove the feats, and make new classes, new powers, new feats that fit the genre along with a new equipment list and boom, you have a system that can handle that genre.  Actually, Monsters & Mayhem, my 4e derivative is Universal & Setting Specific.  It is universal in that the game mechanics are adaptable enough to any setting and any genre with very limited effort and more importantly, will not include classes, powers, and feats in the main set of rules.  Those are setting specific gameplay elements that will be portioned off into different "books" you can use for creating a campaign for that style of game, be it fantasy, sci-fi, or superhero.
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horomancer
Member

Posts: 54


« Reply #14 on: April 07, 2010, 05:11:17 AM »

Which goes back to many games having a core resolution system that is Universal and various sub systems which are more setting specific. As i go through building my own system, my goal is to have the core mechanics be as vanilla and universal as possible, while making the traits and skills setting dependent. In fact i hope to really just have frames for the traits and skills that a GM could hang color on, making it so any trait mechanic could be slipped into a game without it being upsetting to the rest of the game.
I think the biggest draw back in Universal is the feel of the game as it accomplishes tasks. You can do ANYTHING with either DitV or D&D core rules, but the way DitV presents problems is a process you go through to reach a resolution, while D&D is a simple 'Did you do it? Yes/no'. For social challenges Ditv feels right, but it would feel awkward for something as simple as picking a lock. Visa versa D&D has rules for social encounters, whole classes built on being social, but makes social actions equivalent to hitting someone with your 'Charm Sword' and can be completely devoid of Player input to have actions occur. "I charm the Elven priest *roles d20* He is charmed..."
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