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Which RPG System to Use? RPG System Impact on Play Style? It Depends...

by Hawke Robinson published Jun 23, 2017 01:20 PM, last modified Jun 24, 2017 07:13 PM
While it does appear to be true about game system differences "in the wild" having a notable impact on play style, arguably the setting and Game Master may have a much greater impact than the RPG system.

Many people can get rather "religious" about which is the "best" role-playing game system. This is pretty much a "Chevy vs. Ford Vs. Dodge" type argument. Some systems are going to appeal to different people in different areas for different reasons.

It is a good thing there is NOT a one size fits all solution, the diversity of ideas in RPGs in wonderful.

Also, while it is true that "in the wild" different game systems do appear to impact play style notably, we have observed over the decades that it is MUCH more about the Game Master (and the players) personalities and play-style preferences, and the campaign setting, than the game system rules themselves. Though self-selection definitely factors in. Furthermore, with professionally structured approach to oversight and methodologies in place, such as using Therapeutic Recreation (TR) principles, it is almost entirely the GM and the setting that has the greatest impact on play style (as well as the individual players of course). The game system differences can be almost completely negated by these much stronger influencing variables. This often is caused by common house rules tweaking the system in the direction desired by the GM, which most RPGs do encourage.

Over the decades we've experimented with many different systems and with a very wide array of populations. From 2 years old to 80+ years old, from populations not requiring any adaptations to those with significant factors requiring considerable adaptations. Generally we make adaptations to any system for specific client needs, as needed, and with that approach, any system works roughly as well as any other. We usually don't bury participants in the rules up front, instead letting them jump in and start playing right away, and they learn the rules as they play the game. Later if they wish, they can delve into the depth of the rules, when they are ready.

Especially since we emphasize encouraging participants coming up with non-combat approaches to problem solving, encouraging players to focus on ROLE-playing over ROLL-playing, and the rule "Story trumps rules" (though it needs to be handled in a consistent and predictable way, especially for those with high anxiety levels that manifests as "rules lawyers"). We definitely allow combat, but we tend to make it more "deadly" than the default, and they quickly become violence adverse and instead look at it only as a final option only after all other options have been exhausted.

We have found that the setting and the GM style are MUCH more important than the system rules themselves. It is not that they don't have an impact, and in non-controlled settings do lead to very different play styles, but with TR methodologies applied they have much less impact on play style, and generally very little deterrent in achieving the educational and therapeutic goals, while everyone still has a wonderful, fun, immersed, flow-state encouraging, experience with role-playing gaming.

One important note. It is MUCH EASIER to take even the "crunchiest" of systems and easily, without much rules modification, focusing more on play style than rules changes, and make it a richly "narrative" style ROLE-play experience. It is more problematic to take a "rules-light" system and make it "crunchy" (easier to strip away/ignore than to add), without either adding rules from other systems, or making up a lot of rules from scratch.

Some systems are arguably easier to use for targeting very specific goals (education, therapy, etc.), but with the exception of the few little-known systems specifically designed for those goals, they all work in roughly the same way.

So, ultimately, focus more on the setting and play style you enjoy most, and use whatever game system you enjoy. While some may be more professionally slick than others, ultimately, if it works for you, then enjoy your favorite system, and let others enjoy theirs'.

Ultimately what really matters most is that those playing and GMing the game are having fun!


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Nikola says:
Jun 24, 2017 06:41 PM
Please name specific systems as examples to know what are you aiming at exactly. Thanks!
Hawke Robinson
Hawke Robinson says:
Jun 24, 2017 07:13 PM
You bet! This page:[…]/rpg-optimization-1#section-90 (still being filled in from hundreds of pages of research notes), is where the specificity is available for those desiring the information.
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