Best universal rpg system?

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.

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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.


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! 🙃


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.


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..
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Dr Magister

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.


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.
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aramis erak

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...
⚁ 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)

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

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)
⚅ (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

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
Worlds Beyond (3pp, possibly unlicensed at the time)

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
Ninjas & Superspies
After The Bomb (TMNT less the licensed content)
Macross II

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

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