A regularly interacting or interdependent group of items forming a unified whole; an organized or established procedure; a harmonious arrangement or pattern.
There are more definitions of “system”, but these three are the most relevant to the discussion of today’s singular prompt. It’s no secret that I have become a real RPG system enthusiast. While a premise or a pitch may grab my attention first, mention of a new or beloved system isn’t far behind. Sometimes information about some of the mechanics of a game that is new to me is enough to convince me that I must give that RPG a try.
RPG mechanics are fascinating to me and always have been. It’s amazing how differences in the math have profound changes upon how a game feels. Matching mechanics to desired feel, tone, & genre is as much science as it is art. It’s amazing how many dice mechanics there are, not to mention other methods of randomization. So much of the feel of any given RPG depends upon the mechanics used.
However, an RPG system isn’t just dice (or other) mechanics. As my friends and I often discuss, the procedures of an RPG are just as much of the system as the mechanics they interact with. The procedures let us know HOW to play the game. This can be as simple as letting you know when to roll and when to just compare the skill rating with a task, and as complex as a detailed sequence of steps, contingencies, and protocols. It’s clear that the procedures of an RPG also have a dramatic effect on the play experience.
When an RPG has a system that is truly harmonious arrangement or pattern that fits perfectly with the intended genre & tone, it is a thing of beauty. Very often we must play these games as written to discover the experience that they produce. We may surprised at the genre the system produces versus the genre we expected. It’s a real joy to play with that spirit of discovery. Even if a game has a system that is less than harmonious, it’s interesting to examine it to see what went awry.
It’s also fascinating to observe the effect of our culture of play upon the system and experience of an RPG. As Ron Edwards has mentioned, there are the rules written in the game, and then there are the “real rules” of your table. This doesn’t have to mean wholesale changes and house rules. Game groups are full of organized and established procedures, and often qualify as a regularly interacting or interdependent group of items forming a unified whole. Very often there is a bigger system than the one contained in a specific game, there is “our system” established by each group.
Perhaps these are the best systems of all. A regularly interacting group of friends forming a unified whole with organized and established procedures which create a harmonious arrangement and pattern.