Sunday, August 29, 2021

#RPGaDay2021 Day 29: System

 A week ago I wrote on the prompt "Substitute", where I went on about how no set of rules or other decision has a larger effect on how well game night goes than being with good friends that you have creative RP sparks with. I talked about how great some recent Street Fighter role playing had been, and my suspicion that the same group of us could have fun regardless of the RPG. While I still hold this to be the case, by no means does this lead me to conclude that an RPG system doesn't matter! 

So, way way back now Ron Edwards wrote an article titled "System Does Matter" that was a bit of a reaction against folks who claim that a game is only as good as the people playing, and that any system can work with the right GM and Players. He then goes on to offer three styles of play (Gamist, Narrativist, Simulationist) and suggests that an RPG can't support each style of play at the same time, and so should focus on having a particular outlook and building the game to support that outlook. I found Ron Edwards' theory talk where he'd later expands and revises these ideas entertaining, even if I'm not sure that a good game must primarily aim to have rules matching one of these three outlooks. 

When it comes to the claim that "System Doesn't Matter", I almost wonder if it borders on being a strawman, or mischaracterization. What I mean is that it seems most role players have preferences for some RPG or another, or the desire for a certain style of play, even if they don't have the breadth of experience or vocabulary to express their reasons all that well. Rarely do you find (though you can) role players that are happy with an RPG that uses just GM fiat or simple coin flips to adjudicate actions, for example. If they are not happy with that, then system matters to them in some way, and it just takes some digging to figure out how.

If there is anyone out there who thinks "System Doesn't Matter", I'd think it would have to come from one of two places. One is that it is true that system doesn't matter in so much as you don't use it. The other is that, unless you know what the system is trying to do, you don't have a basis from which to claim that it matters or not. "What are the rules of this game trying to support, and what don't they support?" and "When we play, are we using the rules or glossing over some, and is this being done consciously on our part, or because we aren't noticing the differences between games and tend to run them as we always have our other games?"

This feels like some pretty vague talk I'm doing. I think what's important with system is just to notice. When you're playing a game, there are going to be moments you love, and there are going to be boring bits, and maybe there are bits you kinda loathe but grind through to get to the parts you like. The system you are using might be contributing in some way to all of these things. When you notice this, you may say to yourself, "Yeah, let's just get rid of the part's that are no fun", and that may be the answer. It is worth asking if there is a way the elements you don't like could be considered fun to someone. Like, is a game system aiming at providing an experience that the rules you don't like support? If you find this is the case, they you get into whether the game is still good for you after excising some bits, or if there is an alternative game out there better supporting the experience you're after.

Finally, I know I personally have a preference for trying to play a game using its rules, without immediately adapting or altering them into something I'm more comfortable with. The reason for this is that I want different games to show me different experiences. If I'm not open to at least taking a shot at using a game to aim for experience the author constructed it to support, then I'm missing out on the possibility of discovering something I might actually prefer to my usual tastes.

Anyways... we're almost there! It's well into Day 29. #RPGaDay2021, like summer itself, is inching closer to an end.

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