Best universal rpg system?


What do you think is the best/most fun universal/generic rpg system and why? I'm really curious about Fate, Cortex Prime and Savage Worlds. Anyone have any experience with any of those? If so, what do you like/dislike? I'm interested in any other generic rpg systems you like too

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Staff member
I’m a big fan of HERO. It’s so flexible, I’ve yet to find a character concept I couldn’t model to make it work the way I wanted it to.

I’ve tried others, like GURPS and the Mutants & Masterminds system, but there’s always some little wrinkle that leaves me unhappier than I would be with the results in HERO. (Though not so unhappy as I wouldn’t use those systems out of hand.)


I like Fate's aspects and flow of fate points which really helps capture the feel of action oriented fiction. Cortex is really good as well but I haven't had much chance to dig into the latest edition.

Both these games require creating your world or finding a published one you like. This should be a collaborative process with players but some players are reluctant. Both games are easy to grasp but some find it difficult to wrap their head around the philosophy.

I like Hero System a lot, and used it for many games over the past few decades. With the right group of people, the various iterations of Fate can be cool - but the entire group needs to buy into the basic conceits of the system. I wanted to like Savage Worlds a lot more than I did. GURPS never quite worked fir me.


Of the ones I have played:

What I like with FATE is that characters are relatively competent from the start, and it is made for a it more cinematic feel, where it is a pulpy larger-than-life feel.

GURPS is best if you want fine granularity and a kind of realism in the game. It is very fiddly though. But on the other hand the sourcebooks are vey well written and lots of people use them as source material for other games.

I have only read Savage Worlds, but I do not like the way they handle stats with different dice


Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
Fate Core / Fate Accelerated Editon (FAE) are for me the best generic, but there's a particular feel for that which not all players like. There are plenty of extensions for various genres to better match them mechanically, just like GURPS has a bunch of sourcebooks.

Cortex Prime looks ridiculously good as a toolbox for making just the game you want to play. But you need to put effort into it to use the toolbox, or get an already made one.

I've played a good about of HERO, and you can emulate anything with it. But it's a rather crunchy system and that also has detractors. I have tgo admit, 6th edition, with no figured characteristics and renaming & reworing a lot of classic powers has lost the nostalgia for me so I haven't played in a while.

I haven't played GURPS in the past decade - it hasn't held up for me compared to others.

To stretch the definition some - since we're talking about adding in sourcebooks and the like, you could say that the PbtA "system" is a great universal system. The rules are the same, just the playbooks and GM agendas and such differ. It varies in that there is no core book to get first and then add a genre book onto, you just get the genre book that focuses on the experience you want to play. Again, this takes a little bit of mental gymnastics to see as a unified system so not will agree it fits the definition.


Generic systems are my 'thing'; I love the flexibility of being able to throw together a campaign based on my latest inspiration, be that a book, TV programme or movie of any kind. I've been a GURPS player and GM for over 30 years, and also have a solid couple of years of Savage Worlds under my belt.

The rest of my group are less sold on the concept and so I keep looking for alternative generic rule sets that might be more satisfying for my group as a whole. We played a chunk of Fate (3rd edition IIRC - the one before Core) but they really didn't get the concept of aspects and it wasn't as differentiated as they would like in terms of game effect for such things. Savage Worlds wasn't quite as 'broad and deep' in terms of character design to satisfy their gaming tastes. GURPS is baselined a bit less action than I prefer, which is why I have tended to move away from it despite owning pretty much all of 3rd edition and all of 4th edition. :oops:

I'm currently learning Hero 6th Edition and will be running my first campaign of that soon - it's a really solid system and I have high hopes that it will meet more of our needs.

In my experience there is no such thing as a 'best' universal system, only 'best for you'. Although all the games I like to play are based on generic systems they each have a different 'flavour' that infuses everything you do with them. Play the same campaign concept with Fate, Savage Worlds or GURPS and it will feel very differently in play. My current aim is to have a small stable of generic systems that my group are happy to play and I can pick the best fit for a specific context.

My 'hot take' would be that Fate works well with narrative concepts (e.g. story beats), Savage Worlds does action heroes and GURPS does high verisimilitude. Hero is also an action adventure style system, but has more 'stuff' in it than Savage Worlds. 'Action adventure' is the default baseline of all the campaigns I run so Savage Worlds was good from my perspective and I am hoping that Hero will be, too, whilst also having more differentiation than Savage Worlds provided which will keep my group happy.

My ultimate aim is to persuade someone else to run games in my generic system of choice, however to have a chance of that I first need to run a game or two so the other GMs in our group get comfortable with the system (I am lucky - our group of seven has four regular and one irregular GMs).


I've played Savage Worlds (lots and lots), GURPS (a small bit) and Fate (a tiny bit).

Savage Worlds is an excellent system, as long as you prefer its particular brand of "pulp" action style/feel. It's biggest weakness is that after 10-15 sessions of a campaign, it can become difficult to scale linearly. Players who are way into optimization can quickly go into "arms race escalation" mode in ways that stress some of the baseline system assumptions.

It's also definitely not a "zero to hero" kind of system. It's more of a "broadly competent to renowned master" progression. Characters generally will never reach an overall power level higher than an equivalent 9th level D&D character.

GURPS is ... Well, let's just say I'm not a fan. I will say it allows for near infinite ability to build any character concept you can come up with. But everything about its design --- rigid granularity, process simulation, direct input / output physics modeling --- leaves me completely cold. If you're interested in boring, overly-complicated, takes 2 hours to work through 4 rounds of combat (but oh so realistically!), GURPS is your baby.

None of this was helped by my interactions with the GURPS players in my groups, most of which have been negative. From my admittedly limited perspective, it's primarily a system for people who are more interested in bragging about their sophisticated gaming tastes because "anyone who knows anything knows that GURPS is the best role-playing system in the world" than about actually producing enjoyable gameplay at the table. As a system it rewards rules lawyering and system mastery to the nth degree. They'll happily spend 6 hours building a character, and get into an hour-long argument over how a particular application of one tiny piece of the combat model works. It's ironic, because I created one of the best half-orc fighter character concepts ever using GURPS, but the gameplay is so stilted, obtuse, and desultory I never even got to enjoy it.

Fate, I don't know that I really have enough experience with to give a wholly valid opinion. I do know that I spent a lot of time trying to fully grasp its workings, study how to best play it, read up on techniques, etc. ..... and it still never really clicked for me the few times I've played it.

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