I fall on both sides of this question so I’m going to split myself into Pro system Chris and Con system Chris.
Pro system Chris: Systems are important in conveying the feel of the game through its mechanics. They give us guidelines for creating stories with specific focuses and feels, help us tell the stories we want, and play the games we expect.
Con System Chris: The system is meaningless in the face of the story which should always trump the rules in every way. Besides, all the mechanics need to do is give the players a way to decide a conflict when it comes up, be it the logic pass-fail dichotomy, or the bargain with consequences, and that’s only if something more interesting can’t be decided at the table.
Pro system Chris: Let’s take a look at Fiasco. This game presents us with all the tools necessary to create a story which will simulate movies like The Hangover or Fargo. The play-set sheets create situations for the players to improvise these stories within a framework. Each player has the interesting choice of setting or resolving several scenes while giving the other players a chance to work their agenda based on what’s interesting for the story and the relationships created from the set up. In the middle of play we run into the twist, creating the same kind of complications we find in movies similar to the previously mentioned ones. In the end we have the montage to wrap up each characters stories based on how many dice a player has accumulated and how close to zero they total when rolling them. This is determined by subtracting the black total from the white total. This game’s mechanics create a framework for telling a total story in one session through scene pacing, interesting selections, and game created player agendas.
Con system Chris: I give you Savage Worlds. Savage Worlds is a generic system which claims to be able to do any game and any genre. It does Pirates, Weird West, Flash Gordon Pulp, Solomon Kane, Sky Ship Post Apocalyptic, Victorian Horror, Super Heroes, Epic Fantasy, and many, many others. All these different styles, genres, and themes are played using the same rules set. So does the system really matter as long as it’s playable? Based on this I’d say no. You don’t need different systems for every game. You can play however you and your group want and just have a generic system in place to assist you when a decision can’t be made by consensus. The feel is in the flavor and not the system.
Pro system Chris: So you say Savage Worlds is a generic system which can run any type of game.
Con system Chris: I do.
Pro system Chris: Then how do you explain setting rules?
Con system Chris: They still fall within the realm of the generic system.
Pro system Chris: Yes but they are distinct rules to help create a feeling for a specific setting so those mechanics wouldn’t feel right in a different setting.
Con system Chris: Possibly, but everyone hacks games to get what they want anyways.
Pro system Chris: I’ve never hacked Fiasco.
Con system Chris: But you pick different play sets to get different themes and settings. The structure is always the same. One system with many different possibilities.
Pro System Chris: This is my cross examination.
Con System Chris: Well then, maybe you should do a better job.
Pro system Chris: Hmm…You do make some interesting points but you did say you hack games to get the feel you want. Why would you do that? Why not just come to a group consensus or use the simple mechanic?
Con system Chris: Because the simple mechanic doesn’t always satisfy what we’re trying to accomplish. Sometimes you need something a little bit more robust or variable.
Pro system Chris: So you’re admitting you sometimes need some mechanics to play the game you desire?
Con system Chris: Yes, but not all the time. It’s not a black or white issue.
Pro system Chris: I agree.
Time to cram the two back together. I’m really not insane but I do like to have these discussions with myself from time to time. It helps me sort out how I feel about certain topics, trying to come at them from different points of view. I think system does matter but is not king and you can have a great time playing a generic fantasy session using Rock, Paper, Scissors as your core mechanic just as easily as a game like Dread. That’s the Jenga tower game where the longer the game goes the more tension is built because the tower becomes more unstable. Hence, Dread. I am curious as to what any of you readers think about concerning how important the system is to your gaming experience. Please drop a comment here or on our Facebook page and let me know.
Chris “The Light” Sniezak