Looking At Genesys From Fantasy Flight Games
  • Looking At Genesys From Fantasy Flight Games


    The quest for a truly universal RPG system has been bubbling away for decades, and while Genesys won't be to everybody's taste it certainly carves out its own niche in the middle-ground between lighter systems and their monolithic, crunch-heavy cousins.


    On a first flick through the book it looks a little shallow, but once you get your head wrapped around how it works and begin picking the rules apart you can uncover a surprising amount of depth. Be warned, however, that getting the most out of the game will require both players and a GM that feel comfortable improvising through scenes and occasionally tinkering with rules.

    The game - though it would perhaps be more accurate to refer to it as a toolkit - is built on the chassis of Fantasy Flight's recent Star Wars RPGs. Its core mechanics are fuelled by the same same 'narrative dice' system that ditches traditional dice in favour of its own unique set carved with symbols that determine everything from resounding success to absolute failure.

    It can be annoying when games insist that you buy new equipment for it and it alone, but it's hard to imagine Genesys working any other way - if it really drives you up the wall you can always fall back on a free dice roller app or an admittedly clunky chart that translates conventional dice rolls into symbols.

    Succeeding on a task, whether it be picking the lock in a monster-filled dungeon or hacking a corporate firewall, simply requires your roll to spit out more successes and failures. Better skills allow you to roll more positive dice, loaded down with success symbols, while the difficulty of the task ups the number of failure-filled negative dice added to the pool.

    If that was all there was the system would be a little too simplistic, but depth comes from the fact that there are symbols on the dice beyond mere success and failure. Rolling up an advantage symbol gives you that chance to succeed beyond your original aim, turning a successful shot into a critical blow, while threat loads the players down with a stroke of bad luck - not only does the door stay locked, but you snap your pick in the mechanism.

    The range of unexpected situations this little twist can throw up is huge. The juiciest of these come when a failed check comes with an advantage, or a successful one with threat. Spinning the results of these rolls into the story can be a challenge, but when they pay off it's a wonderful addition to a role-playing session.

    Indeed, as simple as the system is on paper, actually running a session needs the GM to be on top of their game. If nothing else, they'll likely have needed to do some work on the setting before the game even begins.

    The core rulebook makes it fairly simple to create worlds from scratch, however, and devotes almost half its page count to guidelines working in genres ranging from present-day investigations to space-opera and even a Lovecraftian 'Weird War'. Some come with their own skills-sets - you'll find it hard to play a wizard outside of a fantasy game - and character archetypes, but it also talks about the tone and types of games that feel appropriate to each world.

    Some GMs and players will find this approach instantly appealing, as it gives them a chance to flex creative muscles in a system designed to take a few knocks and still play right. Others may find the amount of blank space they need to fill in themselves overwhelming.

    If you and your gaming group are happy to tinker with both rules and realities, and feel unsatisfied by the setting-free games out there, Genesys may be just what you're looking for.

    contributed by Richard Jansen-Parkes
    Comments 18 Comments
    1. Jacob Lewis's Avatar
      Jacob Lewis -
      Let the revolution begin! Just as soon as I'm done with Star Wars... (Ha! Never!)
    1. aramis erak's Avatar
      aramis erak -
      Major Changes from FFG SW mechanics:
      Talent/Trait acquisition - no more trees!
      Vehicle scale to hit difficulties. Now based upon range, not size.
      Paranormal Abilities: no more force dice! (Skill driven, instead.)

      A couple of small changes to modifier lists.
    1. The Fighter-Cricket's Avatar
      The Fighter-Cricket -
      After having DMed and played D&D for about 18 years I'm looking now for less combat oriented system that also has a more open or maybe spontaneous feeling to it. Thought about getting Genesys but am now getting into Fate Core and Accelerated.
      Has somebody played both systems and could tell me how they both feel in comparison?
    1. Jacob Lewis's Avatar
      Jacob Lewis -
      I can tell you right now Fate has a lot more to offer in terms of supplements and support. Genesys is still fresh with only one sourcebook currently announced for support at the moment. The core Rulebook is more of a toolbox to help you come up with your own worlds and settings, which range from fantasy and sci-fi to horror and mystery. Even the forthcoming Realms of Terrinoth is provided as an example of fantasy setting using their own IP (Runewars), but with equal consideration given for those looking to create (or recreate) their own personal settings.

      As for the actual mechanics and gameplay, I can only speak to one. I have not used Fate, though I am familiar with the concepts and hear good things about it. That said, I am far more familiar and comfortable with the narrative dice system, which does exactly what I like. Really, really like.
    1. Ratskinner's Avatar
      Ratskinner -
      I'm kinda the opposite of Jacob. I've played plenty of Fate, but I am quite intrigued by this system. There's plenty written about Fate, but not having played Genesys or SW...::shrug:: I would say that Fate can be deceptively complicated...or maybe just weird...for players of D&D and traditional games. IME, the "Create Advantage" action creates the most trouble.

      I will say that I find Genesys somewhat seductive. I like the idea of not simply 1-dimensional resolution. However, I'm not sure that a similar result to Genesys couldn't be obtained by rolling a "Threat/Advantage" die alongside whatever dice you would roll in a more traditional game. (For example, in D&D 5e, you might roll a d6 alongside each d20. If it comes up 6, then you get a Genesys-style Advantage, and if it comes up 1 you get a threat. Regardless of the result of the d20. I suppose you could pick bigger dice if you want to reduce the frequency.) If there is some greater intricacy to the Genesys dice-system, it hasn't been explained to me sufficiently.

      Then again, I'm a system tourist. I'll probably end up getting Genesys at some point.
    1. do_u_even_gif_bro's Avatar
      do_u_even_gif_bro -
      I ran a post ww2 spy game set in east/west Berlin as a test run of this system. Overall,once everyone got used to the dice/resolution mechanic we enjoyed the system. I plan on using it again for future one shots.
    1. Whithers's Avatar
      Whithers -
      I like what is described. My own trouble in creating universal approaches has been the balance between AOE and Melee vs. real world. Which in my own military experience is not nearly so independent in a tech setting as they become in a fantasy one.
    1. Jacob Lewis's Avatar
      Jacob Lewis -
      Quote Originally Posted by Ratskinner View Post
      However, I'm not sure that a similar result to Genesys couldn't be obtained by rolling a "Threat/Advantage" die alongside whatever dice you would roll in a more traditional game. (For example, in D&D 5e, you might roll a d6 alongside each d20. If it comes up 6, then you get a Genesys-style Advantage, and if it comes up 1 you get a threat. Regardless of the result of the d20. I suppose you could pick bigger dice if you want to reduce the frequency.) If there is some greater intricacy to the Genesys dice-system, it hasn't been explained to me sufficiently.
      That is not even in the same ballpark, but I can explain why easily enough.

      For starters, every die used in the narrative dice system for Gensys and Star Wars systems has a specific name which describes exactly what it represents. Collectively, they represent the Ability, Proficiency, Difficulty, Challenge, Boosts, and Setbacks of an attempted action. These are also the exact names for the kinds of dice used, also not by accident. Ability represents the natural ability of a character (Characteristics OR Skill Ranks), while Proficiency accounts for an upgrade in ability through training (Characteristics AND Skill Ranks). They generate positive effects, such as Successes, Advantages, and powerful Triumphs. Difficulty and Challenges work similarly, and oppose both Ability and Proficiency, generating negative aspects which cancel the positives to produce a net sum result. These negative results, Failures, Threats, and Despair have the same value as their counterparts (i.e. Failure counters Success, and Threats counter Advantages). This makes it a lot easier to mentally translate values into more descriptive, narrative results as opposed to interpreting flat numbers.

      Next--and this is an important difference--every single die used in a dice pool is uniquely accounted for. Your character has Intellect value of 3? Use 3 Ability dice. His Computer Rank is 2? Upgrade 2 of those dice to Proficiency. He is also using a personal datapad which helps access computer terminals, so add a Boost die. Now, it's an average task, so add 2 Difficulty dice, but the group has alerted the facility earlier, so upgrade one of those Difficulty to a Challenge die because the place is on high alert. And so on.

      Hopefully, this should make it more obvious why rolling an arbitrary d6 along with another number-generating die is nothing like it. Its just random, and not really a part of the game. Might as well be flipping a coin to see if you won the game.
    1. Unpossible E's Avatar
      Unpossible E -
      Quote Originally Posted by The Fighter-Cricket View Post
      Thought about getting Genesys but am now getting into Fate Core and Accelerated. Has somebody played both systems and could tell me how they both feel in comparison?
      I've played and run both Fate Core and FFG Star Wars. In broad terms, I think of Fate Core as providing narrative control to players at a strategic level. Players use the Fate Point economy to manipulate the overall flow of the story. The FFG mechanics operate at a tactical level. Narrative effects are introduced within the flow of a given scene, but do not define the scene.

      As someone steeped in traditional mechanics Fate Core has never become second nature to me. That's not to badmouth it, because the system can really sing in the right hands. But the emphasis on story flow really takes a different mindset to run and play to good effect.

      FFG's mechanics, however, introduce narrative effects within a pretty traditional system. The FFG die mechanics provide all sorts of cinematic complications (negative and positive), which helps make combat more interesting and less predictable. As a GM I like the mechanics because they provide plenty of hooks for improvisation. You could argue that any system can be cinematic if played with sufficient imagination, but in my experience the die mechanics do make it easier.
    1. Polyhedral Columbia's Avatar
      Polyhedral Columbia -
      Thanks for this.

      typo: "more successes and {>than} failures."
    1. Ratskinner's Avatar
      Ratskinner -
      Quote Originally Posted by Jacob Lewis View Post
      Hopefully, this should make it more obvious why rolling an arbitrary d6 along with another number-generating die is nothing like it.
      Not a whole lot. I get the die system (generally). Whatever magic there is in the die system must be heavily experiential, because I don't really see it from these descriptions (yours or the official ones). To me it looks like there are just two dimensions to the roll: success/fail and advantage/threat.

      That's not insignificant! However, I'm not sure that second dimension couldn't be achieved another way. Changing up the die types seems system-analogous of counting up bonuses in d20. (Of course, that doesn't mean that they are equally fun, but that's a matter of taste.)

      I had previously suspected that the die symbols had more detailed interaction with the rules, but a poster in another thread informed me that they generally don't by default. (I was thinking something like a pilot skill having specified triumphs or stunts that trigger off getting certain results.)

      Still, though, I am very curious about the system. Fate is currently my "go to" system, but (as others have mentioned) it doesn't "sing" for every group I play with. It would be nice to have another system in that narrative-focused vein.
    1. Jacob Lewis's Avatar
      Jacob Lewis -
      Quote Originally Posted by Ratskinner View Post
      Not a whole lot. I get the die system (generally). Whatever magic there is in the die system must be heavily experiential, because I don't really see it from these descriptions (yours or the official ones). To me it looks like there are just two dimensions to the roll: success/fail and advantage/threat.
      I gave you two very specific reasons why it's not the same as rolling a d6 on the side. If you can't understand that, then I'm afraid I can't help you by just explaining it again. You'll need to experience it for yourself. Good luck!
    1. J.M's Avatar
      J.M -
      Ratskinnerís hack with the d6 doesnít really replicate Genesys, but I like it. Sure, it doesnít give the same range of side-effects and probabilities, but it eliminates the time it takes to figure out what dice to roll, and simplifies the interpretation of the roll, while still bringing more than one dimension.
      If you gain in playability at the table, thatís a big plus in my book.
    1. Jacob Lewis's Avatar
      Jacob Lewis -
      Quote Originally Posted by J.M View Post
      Ratskinnerís hack with the d6 doesnít really replicate Genesys, but I like it. Sure, it doesnít give the same range of side-effects and probabilities, but it eliminates the time it takes to figure out what dice to roll, and simplifies the interpretation of the roll, while still bringing more than one dimension.
      If you gain in playability at the table, thatís a big plus in my book.
      Figuring out what dice to roll IS the game. Interpretation of the roll is also part of the game. It's a lot more engaging and interesting than figuring out how many +1's and -2's to apply to a d20 every round. That's a math chore. This is a literary exercise in creativity. That's playability. You're just doing homework. Everyone has their preference, of course, but I do not understand how anyone can think a side die is just as good. It's just an excuse for not getting out of what is familiar and comfortable. To each his own, but be informed. Be honest. I choose depth and a little more effort over simplicity and compromise.
    1. Mercule's Avatar
      Mercule -
      I hadn't heard about it, prior to this article, but was intrigued enough to listen to about 10 hours of podcasts (combination of discussions and actual plays) and went ahead and bought the PDF from DriveThruRPG ($13 and change during the GM's Day sale).

      It looks like a pretty good system. I just need to decide whether it's the one for me. Like some other folks, I'm a bit done with the D&D crunch. I don't hate 5E, by any means. I just want something more narrative, light weight, and fast-playing. While some of my players (including me) used to be hard-core geeks, we're pretty much in a casual mode and want to hang out and tell a story/have fun. Also like some others, I'm trying to compare Fate Core to Genesys.

      I've got one player who has never enjoyed reading the books and really is content to jot down notes during character creation, listen to suggestions, and use a character sheet that summarizes everything -- which can be pretty small print in D&D. Another player (my daughter) is newer to gaming, has the PHB, but, while she enjoys the game and even listens to some podcasts, really doesn't move as fast as the rest of the group on stuff we take for granted. Another player is the archetypal "Hold on, I'm looking up my spell," player, even when it's the same spell he cast last combat. A fourth player has made a point of only reading the parts of the rules that pertain to his characters because he's a recovering rules lawyer. That leaves one player who actually has any interest in doing much math and, although he's pretty moderate about running numbers, it's all the more disrupting because he's the outlier.

      I had been looking at Fate Core because it seems like an amazingly lightweight system. Definitely no looking at the book during play, once you get your legs under you. It's very different, though, and getting some sideways looks from the group. Some are "whatever makes the GM happy" and others are not so sure of things like letting go of different weapons granting different damage modifiers. The biggest problem I have, personally, is that I haven't found a pre-existing magic system that feels like it could create the sort of "special effects" that you get in D&D without actually adding too many mechanics to the game -- I definitely want Fate Core, not FAE. Fate Freeport did not impress me. I love the "Session 0" support of Fate and mechanically integrating the characters both with the setting and each other.

      Genesys looks quite a bit crunchier than Fate Core. It definitely has an equipment section, rules for encumbrance, tracking for money, etc. I haven't read the details enough to know whether it's closer to D&D or to Fate, in those respects. It does give me pause, though, that there might still be a lot of rules reference during play. On the other hand, the Narrative Dice look fantastic. I really like the idea of having Triumph in failure, setbacks, advantages, etc. Very, very cool and it really comes out in Actual Play podcasts. The fact that I normally hate actual play podcasts, but have been pretty engrossed by The Haunted City is noteworthy and I think the Narrative Dice have a lot to do with that. As an added benefit, I suspect that the Dice make it somewhat more difficult to run the numbers on what the best "feat" to take is. But, I also worry that the Talent selection just takes the place of feats in players planning out their progression by the numbers instead of by the narrative.

      I also think the system could benefit from a bit more attention to "Session 0". Clearly, they aren't going for something as extreme as Fate, but so much attention on the Dice makes the lack of something akin to Aspects stand out.

      At this point, I'm tempted to try Genesys, just to move the dial a bit and consider Fate, later. If Genesys still has that one player fiddling with the numbers, gazing at his next advancement instead of focusing on the character, I'm not sure I'm going to be happy.

      What I'd really love would be to be able to run Eberron in a strongly narrative system that involves little-to-no rules look-ups during play, has fast combat, and rich character development with slower mechanical advancement. I might not use Eberron (currently home brew), but being able to support the feel of Eberron would almost certainly get me what I want. Right now, I don't see much for either system that's a solid conversion of the setting.

      Anyone who has played both systems have any thoughts?
    1. Kannik's Avatar
      Kannik -
      I've played both FATE and FFG's SW system. I was really intrigued by the possibilities of the Genesys/SW dice system, with its two axes of resolution (success and (dis)advantage). In play, though, Threat and Advantage were rolled so often (majority of rolls) that the quote from the article rang very true for us: "Spinning the results of these rolls into the story can be a challenge, but when they pay off it's a wonderful addition to a role-playing session." The shear number of times that this narrative tweaking came into play from Threat and Advantage not only created a challenge of trying to come up with something that felt worthy and fresh, but it also rendered them nearly meaningless, with the frequency robbing them of "paying off" to create/be unusual/special. Added to that was the disconnect (we felt) from how they operate once combat started, with very specific tables to spend Advantage or Threat, vs the more free-flowing narrative tweaks in the rest of the game.

      Despite its shortcomings I'm still very intrigued by the concept. I don't know if they altered the frequency of Advantage/Threat in Genesys (and cleaned up much of the rest of the rules messiness/contradictions -- please let me know if they did!) but if they did it could be worth checking out.

      All that being said, I concur with the comments above that, mostly, FATE's starting point allows for more narrative control and engagement from the players with the FATE point economy and aspects. With FFG's SW game, the best times we had was when we used Force Points in a similar vein to FATE points by the players introducing major narrative elements and twists into the mix. Made for a raucous and epic last session before we put the FFG rules aside.
    1. The Fighter-Cricket's Avatar
      The Fighter-Cricket -
      Quote Originally Posted by Mercule View Post
      What I'd really love would be to be able to run Eberron in a strongly narrative system that involves little-to-no rules look-ups during play, has fast combat, and rich character development with slower mechanical advancement.
      *Gasp* That would be fantastic, truly! I really love Eberron too, but the high octane pulp adventure style that it wanted to serve has not been a good fit for D&D. But with Fate, why not?
    1. Mercule's Avatar
      Mercule -
      Quote Originally Posted by The Fighter-Cricket View Post
      *Gasp* That would be fantastic, truly! I really love Eberron too, but the high octane pulp adventure style that it wanted to serve has not been a good fit for D&D. But with Fate, why not?
      I just need a magic system that feels right.

      Dragonmarks are a piece of cake -- just use the Viziers from the Fate Toolkit as a template.

      Everything else? Not so much. How do you get reliable magic (a foundation of the magic economy) without either losing balance or just re-implementing Vancian slots?

      Working out the Fate bits would be way off topic for a thread on Genesys. I'd happily bounce ideas around in another thread, though, if anyone is up for it.
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