Best universal rpg system?

John Dallman

Adventurer
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.
Different PbtA games have rather different emphasis on different parts of the game. I think it makes more sense to describe it as a style with a common dice mechanic than a system.
 

log in or register to remove this ad

innerdude

Legend
I'm on the fence about PbtA being "universal." But I do think the transferability of the overall mindset of playing PbtA, regardless of differences in focus/playbooks, is quite strong.

I just started playing Starforged (the sci Fi spinoff of Ironsworn). And it's remarkable how much of Ironsworn was ported directly over with no changes. I don't know about PbtA, but the "Forged in Iron" system can easily be ported to anything, of you're willing to make a few adjustments to the assets.


That said, if I were to go full bore on a universal system today, it would be Genesys, though I know a mid-crunch, moderate narrative system probably isn't too everyone's taste.
 


Mezuka

Hero
Well, D&D obviously!

Many here think it can be used to do all kinds of different types of campaigns if you put some work into it! 🙃
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
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

So, I'd like to use this to make a point - Each so-called "generic" system still has its own style, and lends a different flavor to the play experience. Both GURPS and Fate can be used to do "fantasy", but they will not be the same in play, by a long shot.

I love Fate for its pulpy-action feel, and how character action really comes down to who the character is. If you are looking for a flavorful, fast paced play experience that yields a fun narrative, in which the characters interact with the situation you've set up, Fate is awesome. However, if you want a deeply tactical game... Fate probably isn't appropriate.

I have to agree that GURPS, does gritty/"realistic" games pretty well, and the rules are quite detailed - and yeah, the rules can get fiddly, which to some people is a feature, not a bug.

Savage Worlds is, imo, a pretty decent example of a traditional game design made into a "generic" core ruleset. Not rules light, not rules heavy, not particularly narrative driven. If I wanted to play D&D, but didn't want to use the d20 ruleset, I'd probably choose Savage Worlds.

Cortex Prime is more of a toolbox than a game you'd play directly. You assemble the bits you want. That makes it a bit difficult to say how it works in play, because it depends on what bits you choose. In my experience it has been very good at media genre emulation - The Marvel Super Heroic Roleplaying game, Leverage, and Tales of Xadia games have all been quite fun to play.

Cypher System I own, but I haven't used a whole lot, so I'm hesitant to try to characterize it.
 

Ulfgeir

Hero
Also forgot BRP, which can be used as a generic system. Not quite as fiddly as GURPS. Can have a bit of a slightly pulpy feeling, but is also quite grounded. Here obscure knowledge-skills are often what is needed. ;)

And given that various versions of D20 has been used for everything from fantasy to horror to science fiction and superheroes§, one could argue it is a generic system. Although it is one where you start weak, and hopefully become very very powerful. The problem is that the system isn't very well suited when you try to do anything other than certain types of dungeon-crawling. And if you have played enough versions of it, you will find that you will always have to look up how certain things worked in that specific version of it, as there are so many tiny but extremely important differences..
 
Last edited:

Dr Magister

Explorer
Barbarians of Lemuria is my fav " hack to any genre" system
There is in fact a generic version of BoL called Everywhen. It's my favourite generic system, although I don't know how well it would handle, say, high-powered super heroes. I've used it to run fantasy, space opera, wild west, Dark Heresy-style 40k, historical (Roman Empire), swashbuckling and I'm currently using it to run a Necromunda game.
 

overgeeked

B/X Known World
As much as I like Fate and Cortex, both amazing games, I lean more rules light or ultra-light these days. Though it comes with a well-defined setting, the system that runs Over the Edge 3rd Edition is perfect as a generic system. It can handle anything and fits on less than a page.

But, sometimes, even that’s too much system getting in the way, so it’s time for Free Kriegsspiel Renaissance (FKR) games.
 
Last edited:

aramis erak

Legend
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
Of the ones I've run... and my current tastes...
⚀ EABA 1E
⚁ WEG d6 (the version Nocturnal has in 3 volumes Adventure, Space, and Fantasy)
⚂ Genesys
⚃ Hero System (4 or 5e over 6e, and 6e over 3e or earlier)
⚄ BRP (Chaosium, either version)
⚅ GURPS

The ones I've not run, but know enough about to rank by interest in running...
⚀ Savage Worlds
⚁ EABA 2E
⚂ Plainlable/Simply Roleplaying
⚃ True20
⚄ d20M
⚅ TWERPS

My preference is for adapted core systems... by engine and preference
⚀ Year Zero Engine
⚁ 2d20 System
⚂ Cortex Plus/Prime (they're not different enough to separate)
⚃ Unisystem Lite (BTVS, Army of Darkness, Angel, but I've only run BTVS)
⚄ BRP
⚅ (Ick!) Palladium. If one's good with Palladium's approach to rules, then it's various RPGs are one semi-cohesive block of adapted cores. I haven't agreed with the core mechanical conceits for a long time.

For reference, my current 3 campaigns are using 3 universal systems, kind of...
Alien: Year Zero Engine. (Adapted core.)
Star Trek Adventures: 2d20 Engine. (Adapted core)
FFG Star Wars: Genesys engine's progenitor. using two of the 3 adapted cores. Genesys itself is a core+splats model, but technically spawns from FFGSW, rather than being its parent. Still, close enough.
 

aramis erak

Legend
Also forgot BRP, which can be used as a generic system. Not quite as fiddly as GURPS. Can have a bit of a slightly pulpy feeling, but is also quite grounded. Here obscure knowledge-skills are often what is needed. ;)
80's BRP is the "King of the Adapted Core"...
the BRP box - the rules light version of a BRP universal core, with three adaptations in box
Elf Quest
RuneQuest 3
Superworld
Stormbringer/Elric!
Ringworld
Worlds Beyond (3pp, possibly unlicensed at the time)
Hawkmoon

The other big 80's Adapted Core game line is Palladium...
Palladium Fantasy RPG
Mechaniods trilogy
Mechanoids big book
Robotech (eventually hit 5 cores!)
Heroes Unlimited
Villains Unlimited
TMNT
Ninjas & Superspies
Rifts
After The Bomb (TMNT less the licensed content)
Macross II

After 2000, palladium moved more towards core+splats...
 

DrunkonDuty

he/him
My favourite generic system is Hero. As others have mentioned above it's best suited to cinematic action.

I'm just starting an urban fantasy game using it. The system's flexibility has been great for character creation. We have a billy goat gruff, a wizard who suffers wild magic surges, someone who flips personalities when she flips the tape in her walkman (game is set in the 1980s), and a guy who's wearing the mantle of a knight of the Round Table (mantle in the sense of the fae mantles in the Dresden universe.)

Hero can be quite deadly if you use some optional rules but the standard is for super heroes who can live through almost anything. I'm not sure which route we're going to go with this campaign as yet as the players are all new to the system. I want them to get a handle of the basics before I bring in optional rules.

I've also played and enjoyed GURPS. I played GURPS before I played Hero but since trying Hero, many years ago now, I've preferred it to GURPS.

I've played a little FATE. I like the fate mechanic. A lot. And it's simple enough to port to any other system. Otherwise the lack of detail in FATE left me feeling a bit meh about it.
 

AK81

Villager
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).
Thanks for a great answer. I'm not exactly sure what I am looking for in a generic system yet. But what I think I want is a system where I can play most popular genres, with tactical but faster combat than DnD 5e, and that is easy for the GM to run.
 

AK81

Villager
Big fan of Cortex Prime, though its more of a tool set based on core mechanics to build your own games in any genre.
I really like the look of Cortex Prime, but I have not been able to totally grok it yet.

I don't understand how combat works. Is it possible to run the combat like a more traditional system like DnD or Savage Worlds?
 

dbm

Adventurer
Thanks for a great answer. I'm not exactly sure what I am looking for in a generic system yet. But what I think I want is a system where I can play most popular genres, with tactical but faster combat than DnD 5e, and that is easy for the GM to run.
Savage Worlds probably is a good place to start. The rule set spun out from a Deadlands skirmish combat game, so it does well for tactical encounters with a fair number of combatants on each side.
The latest version is very full-featured in the core book but there is also of high-quality supplements that can make GM-prep much easier.
 



There is in fact a generic version of BoL called Everywhen. It's my favourite generic system, although I don't know how well it would handle, say, high-powered super heroes. I've used it to run fantasy, space opera, wild west, Dark Heresy-style 40k, historical (Roman Empire), swashbuckling and I'm currently using it to run a Necromunda game.
Really.
Will check it out.
 

aramis erak

Legend
I really like the look of Cortex Prime, but I have not been able to totally grok it yet.

I don't understand how combat works. Is it possible to run the combat like a more traditional system like DnD or Savage Worlds?
Yes.
Thing is Cortex Prime is a construction kit, not a ready to play.

In Firefly, any hit takes you out. Initiative is by handoff. A logical character starts, takes their turn, then hands off to someone who has not taken their turn this round. repeat while there are at least 2 sides willin' to keep throwing down... if you're hit and don't want to be down, spend a plot point, and the unkept die not showing a 1 haing the most sides is counted as the size of the impairment. (it may even be the lowest non-1 showing). If that's not bigger than another impairment already held, it can either be an additional impairment or it may be a step up to one of the existing. If anything gets stepped up past d12, you're done.

Marvel Heroic is similar
The most appropriate goes first. after acting, pass to a character who hasn't acted this round.
When you hit, you usually keep the best 2 non-1's. The size of the biggest (most sides) not kept is the damage value. That becomes a d__ whatever on the appropriate track (physical, mental, social) if bigger than the current step, or steps up that track once. Again, if stepped up past d12, nighty night. When attacking, you can choose to keep a lower die roll so the biggest (most sides) die isn't kept... trading accuracy for damage.
Once everyone is down or has taken their turn, new round, hand off from last player.
 

I'm on the fence about PbtA being "universal." But I do think the transferability of the overall mindset of playing PbtA, regardless of differences in focus/playbooks, is quite strong.
I’m pretty much well off of that fence at this point - mostly because I don’t really consider PbtA to be a “system”. I view it more as a design philosophy
 

Its really heavily about what you're looking for, among other things the amount of crunch you want and/or will tolerate, how much tools you want to have to set things up, what tone you want and so on. My go-tos have generally been Fuzion or Hero, but there are things to say for things Cortex, WOIN, EABA or GURPS too.
 

Dungeon Delver's Guide

An Advertisement

Advertisement4

Top