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Adapting generic TTRPG rulesets (notably Genesys)

TheAlkaizer

Game Designer
So, I'm continuing the TTRPG expedition that I began after the start of the pandemic. I've invested a good amount of money and time in the past two years to explore different systems: Zweihander, Symbaroum, Forbidden Lands, Vampire the Masquerade, Lancer, etc.

One type of product that I haven't approached are generic rulesets that are promoted as being adaptable to any settings. Setting-agnostic rulesets. I think that includes the well-known: GURPS and Fate. In all honesty, I had zero interest in any of these systems. My thought process is that systems that are designed to be okay at a ton of things can't possibly be better at specific things. But that might be a bad shortcut to make. I also understand that a big part of the appeal of these systems is saving time and using the same rules to play different things. But I have time to invest in learning and exploring systems, so that's not something that's really a selling-point for me.

This leads me to having a dozen people praising Fantasy Flight Games narrative dice systems, notably used in the Star Wars TTRPG. I've promised myself that I would take a loot at it and now that I'm down to two books to read on my beside table, I took half an hour to look it up. I now realized that Genesys, the system which name I've seen often in the past years, is actually the standalone version of that ruleset!

So, I will definitely look into it. Just out of professional curiosity. But I could also be interested in running it and seeing what it's good at.

So, I'm maybe more interested in Genesys; but I'm curious as to what are your experiences with generic rulesets (Genesys, Fate, GURPS) and the experience of taking a ruleset and adapting it for your setting or type of experience. Is it worth it? How much work is it? Does it really play that well in most situations or do you encounter weird issues or contradictions?
 

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I'm a big fan of HERO system.

I'll say up front I've invested a lot of time in learning the rules set, this makes it easy for me to jump in and start fiddling with it. It does have a steep learning curve for new GMs. For players it's not so bad - if the GM (or campaign setting) is able to walk them through the character creation part. Character creation can be intimidating - especially if you're playing at a high power level. But it's no worse than creating a high level DnD character, in fact I'd say it's easier.

In actual play it's very consistent so it's pretty easy to pick up.

Setting up for a campaign can be a lot of work if you go from scratch. But there's plenty of campaign source books and fan created content for all types of campaigns/genres. To get exactly the game you want will obviously take more work.

If there's one thing it doesn't do as well as it claims it's jumping a character from one campaign to another. For instance - you take your Spiderman expy and play them in a Hyborian Age setting (Spidey got time traveled there or something.) The two settings won't necessarily scale as you might expect. Spidey can lift 10 tonnes at a push. With a punch he can do maybe as much as 12d6 damage. All sounds very impressive. The odd thing (to me at least) is that Conan the Barbarian can also do 12d6 damage. Surely someone who can lift 10 tonnes should be able to punch harder than a mere mortal?

The reason for this is the lack of fine levels of (and I hate this word) granularity at the bottom end of the scale. The system easily allows for increasing power levels but the lower end the power scale is flattened out. My guess is that this is due to the systems origin in the Superhero genre. At the heart of it the system just doesn't feel the need to make much distinction between low level mooks.

But overall it's one of the best generic systems out there. Very flexible, very consistent.
 

TheAlkaizer

Game Designer
Setting up for a campaign can be a lot of work if you go from scratch. But there's plenty of campaign source books and fan created content for all types of campaigns/genres. To get exactly the game you want will obviously take more work.
Would you say it's easier/faster for you to adapt a sourcebook and the rules of HERO as opposed to learning a new system?
 

Arilyn

Hero
Fate works really well for me in a variety of genres. It's easy to learn and very adaptable. I love aspects.Cortex is really good too. It shares some similarities to Fate and is also very stretchy.

Neither one of these games suffer from being a generic system because of their adaptibility. I also find they are great as beginner games because they just make sense to players coming to the table with ideas based off their favourite shows or books. D&D generates a lot of "but why?" 😊
 

Fenris-77

Small God of the Dozens
I find the older I get the less interest I have in generic systems, as my preferences tend to run more toward systems specifically designed for genre/style X when that's what I want, and there is no lack of games to pick from. FATE is the only 'generic' system I've used at all in the last decade I think.

Edit: In all fairness I realized that there's another factor at work here. When I was younger, the built-in flex of the generic systems was a real feature for me, especially for stuff that wasn't D&D fantasy. Now however, not only do I own a lot more games, but I'm also very happy to hack games to get the precise result I want, and generic systems aren't the systems that are fun to hack (can you even 'hack' GURPS? IDK...). Anyway, that's my 2 cents.
 
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GMMichael

Guide of Modos
. . . I'm curious as to what are your experiences with generic rulesets (Genesys, Fate, GURPS) and the experience of taking a ruleset and adapting it for your setting or type of experience. Is it worth it? How much work is it? Does it really play that well in most situations or do you encounter weird issues or contradictions?
Is it worth the time? The money? The players? The answers depend on the question.

I put a ton of work into writing a universal RPG, so the work needed to set up a game is minimal. But players don't notice; they would prefer cool art and fluff that says stuff like, "you can summon a fire-demogorgon with your mind, for 16.5 minutes." I. e. generic rulesets need to be shone through the lens of a GM, not sold directly to players.

My game works great in a medieval setting. I haven't tried it in modern, but it's had some success in sci-fi. I think the weird issues you seek would come up when trying to run a game for one setting in a different one - not so much running a universal game in any setting.
 

TheAlkaizer

Game Designer
Is it worth the time? The money? The players? The answers depend on the question.
Worth it for the DM I guess.

As I said, without too much thought, I fail to see how a generic system could do as well/better what systems designed for a very specific type of experience. So, I guess that the appeal is the fact that you can quickly adapt such a ruleset and reuse the same rules for all type of contents. But to be worth it, it has to really deliver on the promise of being faster and easier to learn a new system.

Symbaroum is probably not the best example, because it's pretty rules-lite (for me at least). But I invested about 200$ CAD in a few books, and spent about four or five evenings reading the lore and the rules. I love it. But the designer in me is curious as to how fast and easy I could have adapted its setting (or something close) to a generic system.
 

Gnosistika

Mildly Ascorbic
I prefer generic systems to bespoke systems it scratches my itch to tinker. Too many times in the past have played with a bespoke system and then tried to force another setting in to it. Generic systems give me a neutral pallet to work with, so I can draw in the elements from various settings. It al so gives me that ability to shape the game for a specific experience.

But, with all that said, my players prefer it, they are at a stage where they don't want to learn new systems and I don't blame them, after 30+ years they want familiarity. It has been good for me - Werewolf the Forsaken with Fate Core and quite a few others. Freeport, Mage the Sorcerer's Crusade, Dark Sun, Castle Falkenstein hacks with Genesys. I am messing with a Dragonlance hack for Cypher System, because they quite like the system. A friend ran Vampire the Requiem with Modern AGE a few years back.

I quite like Genesys till you reach about 400XPs then it becomes a slog with reading the dice results, at that stage my players just stop engaging with the narrative results all together. We haven't touched it in a while.

I initially bought into Cortex Prime but the response during discussion with my players have been lukewarm - they are not in the mood for yet another system fuelled by my ADD curiosity. I'm okay with that I need to keep a handle on it :)
 

TheAlkaizer

Game Designer
I quite like Genesys till you reach about 400XPs then it becomes a slog with reading the dice results, at that stage my players just stop engaging with the narrative results all together. We haven't touched it in a while.
So, what's your go-to generic system right now? What do you play with your players?
 

Would you say it's easier/faster for you to adapt a sourcebook and the rules of HERO as opposed to learning a new system?

In general - yes. I'd save myself time by using a new HERO sourcebook instead of learning a new game. Because it is all generic I can just glance at the numbers and get a very good idea of what's what. That allows me to sit back and enjoy the world building, my own or reading someone else's.
 


So, I'm maybe more interested in Genesys; but I'm curious as to what are your experiences with generic rulesets (Genesys, Fate, GURPS) and the experience of taking a ruleset and adapting it for your setting or type of experience. Is it worth it? How much work is it? Does it really play that well in most situations or do you encounter weird issues or contradictions?
My most used generic was Hero System. It's more flexible than Genesys, but also more math... lots more math.

I've not used Genesys proper, but the mechanical differences between it and FFG Star Wars are in how talents are acquired; the talents and the skill system are pretty stock from SW. I've done 5 different kinds of campaigns: straight edge ne'er do wells, edge bounty hunters (due to the No Disintegrations playtest), AoR Fighter Squadrong game, AoR+Edge rebes masquerading as merchants, F&D Jedi team for playtest of an adventure... and one campaign that started edge, then they joined the rebellion and one of them became a force user... Oh, and an edge game testing the Smuggler book. When you're ripping off Lando Calrisian while Luke's whinging on about the academy...

So, it's already a multi-genre engine before the Generic Core.

I've run a lot of WEG d6, but almost all of it in WEG Star Wars. I've done a one-shot of MiB, and wanted to run Herc & Xena... but haven't.

I playtested EABA 1E, which is a very similar scaling to WEG d6... 2E is a related but rather different game. 1E plays a lot like WEG d6, but using two-pool point build, One for atts and advantages, one for skills and advantages... dice pools range 1d6 to 10d6 (very like WEG), with starting peaks around 5d, but unlike WEG, just keep best three. It works for fantasy, it worked great for Traveller. But neo-WEG came out with generic d6 cores (Space, Adventure, Fantasy) after the sale, and WEG is just much easier to use. I've helped friends build WEG games...

I've run one-shots of Masterbook and Torg; I've never gotten campaign play of them, but did get a few sessions of Shatterzone. I love the cards, I like the log maths... (I've a slipstick nearby, and use if at times)... THey're all the same core mechanics, except that Torg is 1d20 while MB and Shatterzone are 2d10, and 10's (and 20's in Torg) open end.

I ran a successful GURPS campaign spanning 5 years... at 3 sessions per year. I've had a bunch of unsatisfying attempts at GURPS campaigns.

I've run a single CORPS 2e campaign... The system was fine, at least for gritty fantasy. I wouldn't try to run Star Wars with it. I know people

Now, there are a number of universal systems that have no central core...
Palladium Megaversal
Hero System pre-1988
BRP until the mid 1990's
Rolemaster/Spacemaster (both of which border on being genre engines, and are intercompatible)
Until recently, FATE.
GDW's House Engine: Twilight 2000 2E & 2.2E, Dark Conspiracy 1E, Cadilacks and Dinosaurs, Traveller: The New Era. Space 1889 is a precursor to it.



I've run games of all those... I've run 4 of the 5 editions of T2K (1E, 2.0, 2.2, 4), plus T:TNE and Space 1889, but not C&D.
I've run several BRP adapted cores: Elfquest, Runequest III, Pendragon (4e & 5E), one abortive attempt at Worlds Beyond.
I've run Palladium Fantasy, TMNT, and Palladium Robotech, played Ninjas & Superspies, Heroes Unlimited, and Palladium Fantasy.
I've run both RM and SM, but not together; I've played a conjoined campaign.
I've only played fate, not run it... Dresden and SOTC.
I've run Fantasy Hero 1E, Danger International, Robot Warriors, Star Hero 1e, and a couple oneshots of Champions 3rd. I prefer the consolidated core mode, but the adapted cores are better adaptations.
FFG SW is another "adapted core" game... each of the three does something different, and the three combine seamlessly.

In general, I've found I prefer adapted core to universal core and setting books... but not by a whole lot.
I've found hero to both reward the time spent fairly well.
I've found the FFG SW cores flexible and fun; the genesys core by itself hasn't moved me to run it yet... because it's so perfect for Star Wars.
 

Ulfgeir

Hero
Ideally I want a ruleset that is suited to the setting and the general feel intended in the campaign. But sometimes the generic ones fill that role.
Have played a couple of different generic rulesets; FATE and GURPS, and some that can kind of be described as generic: 2d20, BRP, Storyteller/Storypath, Fantasy Flights Starwars (haven't tried Genesys).

FATE is good at more pulpy/swashbuckling things where the characters are better than normal persons, and the characters at at reasonable same level. Like Indiana Jones, 3 Musketeers etc, Wuxia.. However, it is not that good for really powerful stuff (Superman would for example be problematic to do). The good thing is that everything can be described with aspects.

GURPS has the granularity to make for gritty low-level stuff. It kind of breaks down when you go too high powerlevel imo. Yes, you can make superman if you have enough points. The advantages with GURPS is that they have rules for everything, and they are kind of modular, so just swap in the part parts you need. Many rules are optional so you can also hack it by omitting things and the system will still work (as long as you do not take out the core stuff). It is also very frontloaded in that it takes a lot of work to make acharacter.

2d20 (only tried the Star Trek version). Good to make what are you character good at. Characters and npcs are at the same kind of power levels. Would be problematic in higher power levels.. Obviously hackable as each game that uses it is adapted to that setting.

BRP is in its normal version good for low level/ low action stuff. Relatively good granularity, Skill-based. There are modern versions using BRP as base that are much more suited to high action. Example The Troubleshooters. Advantage is that it is easy to transplant to different eras (change out the skill list, and some equipment), and it is obvious how good characters are at doing things.

Storyteller/Storypath works rather well for normal individuals, though gets kind of weird when the more superpowered ones don't have that much higher stats/skills compared to a normal person. Lacks granularity, The special abilities characters have are either too weak, or in some cases too powerful, depending on what you are using them on.

The system in Fantasy Flights Star wars works kind of well for Star wars, but it is not hackable or customizable at all. Much too crunchy . I would like taking a look at how they solved those problems in Genesys.
 

Gnosistika

Mildly Ascorbic
So, what's your go-to generic system right now? What do you play with your players?
Cypher System. It really sings when players buy into the premise of the system. Currently I'm just running short episodes in Freeport while I work on Dragonlance.

I've also been playing in a Cypher game since last year and it's been a blast.

I think I should add that our issue with Genesys can largely be ascribed to the pandemic. We are all very low on spoons and have had personal losses because of it - it just compounds the fatigue.
 
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dbm

Adventurer
My thought process is that systems that are designed to be okay at a ton of things can't possibly be better at specific things.

For context, I am a huge fan of generic systems.

I think if you were to ask their authors they were say that that designed to be great, rather than OK. :)

It’s more that they are not tied to one explicit or implicit world. Every generic game with longevity is designed, in my experience, to support a style of gaming. GURPS is designed with a very strong verisimilitude against a real-world base line. Fate is designed to model narrative beats and so deliver an experience similar to a typical novel structure (fun fact - the writers of Fate are friends with Jim Butcher and so emulating the Dresden Files was a key design goal for Fate). Savage Worlds is designed to deliver pulp adventure. HERO is designed to model highly varied, robust characters, like you would find in super hero stories.

All these games have expanded from their initial focus and can now support a broader range of games / campaigns. They can struggle when you try to get them to run a game very far from their core; running a tactical combat focused game is right in GURPS wheel house but not really something that Fate would support in my experience.

Generic games can deliver a better experience than targeted games in many cases, especially if you find the attached system limiting in some way. Classic example - want to play a Gish in D&D? Until you get to level 3-6 your options are almost non-existent. In a generic system there is nothing hard-coded to stop you being a Gish from ‘level 1‘. Your character will start off weaker than a specialist, naturally, but you can have a character that fits your desired archetype from the first moment, rather than having to wait for specific sub-class features or multi-classing.

So, I'm maybe more interested in Genesys; but I'm curious as to what are your experiences with generic rulesets (Genesys, Fate, GURPS) and the experience of taking a ruleset and adapting it for your setting or type of experience. Is it worth it? How much work is it? Does it really play that well in most situations or do you encounter weird issues or contradictions?

I’ve been a GURPS player and GM for about 30 years; at one time it was the only system I played or ran. More recently I have gotten into Savage Worlds which is a lighter system but still really good at delivering a satisfying pulp / action game (which is my default style of game regardless of genre - modern, fantasy or sci-if). I’ve also run a short test campaign for Genesys, Fate and another using the Cypher system (by Monte Cooke).

I’ve been a GURPS player and GM for so long that I have internalised the core of the system and can read a book or watch a film / TV show and broadly interpret what I am seeing into GURPS terms. Having that background in adaption has made it very easy to do the same in Savage Worlds, which has far fewer moving parts. That is the key benefit from running generic systems - when you fancy running something new and a bit niche you have the support to do that rather than seeking a system which supports a campaign concept like (e.g.) incorporeal aliens being encountered for the first time in an otherwise hard sci-if world. If you are a GM who likes running a broad range of shorter games with different themes and foci then mastery of a generic system is a god-send.

Genesys was an interesting system. We tried it out running a game set in Eberron and it worked well for a short run but it doesn’t have the vertical scaling to support a D&D-style game. For example, the highest strength available is 5 whether you are a human or a dragon. Contrast that agains the first iteration of the Narrative Dice System, Warhammer Fantasy Role Playing 3e, where humans still top-out at 5 but dragons and major demons can go up to 10.
 
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Dannyalcatraz

Schmoderator
Staff member
As another HEROphile from its earliest incarnation, let me say this:

1) while HERO does ask you to do more math, it’s mostly in character creation or improvement. Once you’ve done that, MOST of the math beyond counting up damage or attack mods, etc. is done. And even some of that math can be skipped by yoinking stuff from supplements and adventures, possibly with a reskinning.

2) Virtually everything you need to run a session will be on the character sheets. That means gameplay can run pretty smoothly because few players are flipping pages to find what they need to do their next character action.

3) HERO- and any other decent generic system- lets you run games in campaign worlds you love that were written for systems you (or your players) don’t care for with relative ease. That means if your players have experience in at least one generic system shared across them, it becomes kind of a Rosetta Stone for expanding your group‘s play horizons,
 

Marc_C

Solitary Role Playing
Green Ronin's AGE (adventure game system) is my default generic system. So far they have Fantasy AGE, Modern AGE and The Expanse AGE. They are similar but each has differences that take into account the trope of the setting. There is also Blue Rose that was adapted to AGE and Dragon AGE.

I find Modern AGE the most interesting since it lets you choose between Gritty, Pulp and Superherioc styles of play during character creations. Damage, healing, armour, spells are slightly different depending on the trope selected.

Currently I'm running a 1921 pulp weird science adventure using the Pulp template.
 

Lord Mhoram

Adventurer
If there's one thing it doesn't do as well as it claims it's jumping a character from one campaign to another. For instance - you take your Spiderman expy and play them in a Hyborian Age setting (Spidey got time traveled there or something.) The two settings won't necessarily scale as you might expect. Spidey can lift 10 tonnes at a push. With a punch he can do maybe as much as 12d6 damage. All sounds very impressive. The odd thing (to me at least) is that Conan the Barbarian can also do 12d6 damage. Surely someone who can lift 10 tonnes should be able to punch harder than a mere mortal?

Yeah - I've done crossovers a number of times, and it takes some prepwork - I was running a Champions game, while another in the group did the same (we swapped every few weeks). At one point the average damage, defense and point level for the campaigns matched, so we had a crossover - that worked OK.

My wife has run me in a solo Cyberpunk to Fantasy games that worked well... but only because the Cyber stuff was origin basically and Special effect.

I did run a 5 year fantasy Hero Campaign in 4th edition HERO. Every hero was from a different world - basically 1 from each of the sourcebooks - an Old West Dr, a Science Fiction character, a cyberpunk, a low powered energy based superhero, and some natives. That really worked because the crossover was part of campaign design - I was able to hand a sourcebook to each person and say "Damage is X, Defenses are Y, skill ranges should be Z build on ABC point" so they were all very different characters but on the same power level.

The OP mentioned about being specific with Universal games - One of the biggest strength for those systems, to me, is to run genre crossing games, transworld games, anything where 2 different things collide, and you use the "generic" system to bring them together.
 

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