I would like to start off this article by stating that there is no such thing as a perfect RPG system. So many people seek out and actively try to develop a system that will make everyone happy. The problem with this is that every gaming group is unique, they all of different levels of gaming experience, different Creative Agendas and even different preferences. What one gaming group loves, another will hate. In fact one piece of game design/business advice I was lucky enough to learn early one was to tailor your game/product to a niche. The more you focus on pleasing one specific type of group, the better and more focused experience you can give them. Trying to please everyone ends up pleasing no one.
But with so many different creative agendas, and personal preferences, it is nearly impossible to find a game that is exactly what you are looking for. The only way to really get what you want, is to make it yourself, and with regard to tabletop RPGs that is a lot easier than you may think.
Unlike Videogames, TRPGs aren’t hard coded, they function through a social contract between a group of players. Because of this, the mechanics become modular, and able to bend to the group’s preferences. If you and your friend’s don’t like a rule or mechanic, toss it out and substitute one that you think is better. That can all be done with a few words exchanged around a table.
This flexible nature leads to most gaming tables changing the rules in one form or another. In fact this is such a common practice that it has been labeled “House Rules”. A term I haven’t seen widely used in any other industry other than tabletop gaming. This is because other mediums are to rigid, and require a great deal of skill and technical know-how to modify, if modification is possible at all. For these cases, people have come to accept each product of what it is, critiquing it on how it was released.
Personally I see RPG modularity as a double edged sword. On one hand, pretty much every group of players has at some time taken on the guise of a team of developers, debating and improving game mechanics to better suit their needs. And truthfully I think that’s great, it adds to the medium by granting players freedom to experiment with the game’s mechanics. But at the same time I have seen this really awful mindset arise from this freedom. The idea that there is no point in learning and playing other systems when you can just modify the one you know to fit your needs. This argument has been tossed around on forums for ages, and truthfully I think the whole argument is pointless. It all comes down to “Yes you can, but why would you want to?”
Surprisingly, I have seen multiple Game Masters slave away, trying to modify the Pathfinder Rules to run a Pokemon themed game. With such a large leap between genres that the presence of the original system will do nothing but hold the game back. What boggles my mind even more is that there are two much better options for the Game Master. First off there are multiple free RPG system online that run pokemon, each with a different style of execution. The other option, and regrettably the more intimidating one, is to make your own system from scratch. It sounds scary and like a lot of work, but in the long run it will end up being a lot easier than trying to Frankenstein the Pathfinder rules into something that resembles pokemon.
Overall I see Tabletop RPGs like furniture, if you need a cabinet to finish off your room, buy one. If you are particular about color, or how many shelves the unit has, feel free to make some modifications. If you can’t find a cabinet the fits the room, you can try and make your own. But don’t go buying a table in hopes of McGyvering it into a cabinet.
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- Patrick Lapienis