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The Quest for the "One True System" Is It a Myth or Something More?

dm4hire

Explorer
I was reading the latest thread about Savage Worlds when I saw reference to the “One True System” by the original poster. This got me thinking about my own quest for said mythic legend. I find it interesting that eventually almost every gamer seems to start down this path, looking for one system that will meet all their gaming needs. I’m not sure if this is a subconscious desire to recapture the essence of our early days in gaming or if it is just the desire to settle down with just one game and no longer compile a huge library of books. For me the quest was more trying to find the perfect game in one book. The closest I’ve come is Dungeons and Dragons Rules Cyclopedia, however I don’t like basic because it had races as classes.

So what does make the “One True System” for a gamer?
In my opinion it has to have the following in one book:
Core rules
Character information
Monsters
Basic setting info or enough detail to generate a setting on the fly
There are a few other core books I think meet most of those conditions. These are games such as Basic Roleplaying, Numenera, Savage Words Deluxe, and several OSRs just to name a few.

So what elements do you think belong in the “One True System” and why do you think gamers pursue this mythic quest? Can one system really capture everything?
 

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Morrus

Well, that was fun
Staff member
There's obviously no universal system that could meet that ideal, since every gamer wants different things. But, as with any area of life, an individual gamer can desire better and better stuff ("better" partly meaning "tailored to them").

But there's nothing the world which can't be improved, so perfection will always be just over the horizon.
 

dm4hire

Explorer
I agree. It is definitely the gamer version of utopia. Not to mention any game to actually attempt to completely cover every player desire would be an extremely large book indeed. Very much a vision quest if anything since in the end it comes down to personal desire as you mention.
 

Dannyalcatraz

Schmoderator
Staff member
For me, HERO is as close as I've found. But even I will admit that a system designed from the start to support a particular setting or playstyle will do it better than HERO can. I wouldn't want to run a standard Paranoia-type game using HERO, for instance.
 


Serendipity

Explorer
Not I. I enjoy having a multiplicity of systems and being able to play them all. Sure i have favorite systems, but they change over time. Which is not to say I've not encountered other 'pilgrims on the path' as it were just that I've never been one of them. Why just play one game forever?
 

Jack Daniel

Adventurer
I would love to find a single go-to system that hits the sweet spot for the sorts of campaigns that I typically want to play. But I've never found a game that hits the right level of simplicity vs. complexity while maintaining any kind of mechanical elegance.

Thence come the heartbreakers, and the quest to design​ the one true system.
 

Yora

First Post
For class based systems, I go with Castles & Crusades, which is far closer to anything else in regard to being a perfect version of D&D. If just the editing wasn't so abysmally bad. But the system itself is close to perfect.
For classless games, I think Fate Core covers everything perfectly well.
 

fireinthedust

Explorer
There's two things in this that I think are important:

1) the search for user-friendly systems

2) the search for a good simulation of X

3) the one game you can get your group to actually do.


In short:

1) Playing a game requires a certain flexibility for players. You need to have some kind of "game" that is fun for all players plus GM as frequently as possible. Cut down on lag time in turns (so simple rolls) is good, but so is having "stuff" they can use (ie: new items or powers, or even just a precious length of rope or a torch when needed), and so is having more than just "yet another" roll dX against target Y repetition. That's one aspect of the Utopia of RPGs. Find one that works really well and lets you do what you want to do. You can re-skin a lot of stuff so long as everyone has as much fun as everyone else, and things run smoothly.


2) The Simulation of X is an ongoing struggle: how do you represent how Judge Dredd feels with dice/Cards/Jenga? Vs. how to simulate Doctor Who? James Bond? X-Men? Each setting requires different, well, conceits. You can't expect one system to have the same flavour or style of play. Heck, each story type may need a different mechanic: horror, cinematic action, etc.

3) I'm finding that it doesn't matter the system so much as my players insisting on playing D&D. it's obnoxious that some folks refuse to try supers, or cyberpunk, but this seems to be the utopia system. Sadly.
 

A

amerigoV

Guest
3) I'm finding that it doesn't matter the system so much as my players insisting on playing D&D. it's obnoxious that some folks refuse to try supers, or cyberpunk, but this seems to be the utopia system. Sadly.

I'll chime in from my own experience. I used to be like your players. I thought I only like D&D/fantasy. What it turned out to be was I am a system mastery guy. 3.x (and I presume 4th) has a lot of material. I found that I did not want to stray from that "Investment", be it knowledge and monetary. While some wanted d20 to be universal, it really ported poorly to other genres - other than "roll a d20 + bonus vs. Target", the rest of the system tended to have to be revamped (wound/vitality, how do guns work in, etc). So I would not even like playing another genre using the d20 "system."

Eventually, 3.x dragged me down to where I did not want to GM it anymore. Savage Worlds quickly won out as my go-to system (and I would say my One True System). Now I can master the system and then apply it to other genres. It also made me realize that there are a number of other systems do not have the heavy crunch side like D&D. I am more willing to give them a whirl at a Con than I would have been in the past.

For my group, Savage Worlds was a group saver. D&D just did not fit what the broad group really could handle (be it 3.x, Monte's Arcana Unearthed, or 4e). The group was always fighting against the system. The system mastery aspect of 3.x really created a huge gap between some of the players. Now we can play any genre without the group struggle through new rules. This is very important to my group as we are an older group - kids, work travel, etc - so there is not much time between sessions for most to invest time. SW struck that balance that its crunchy enough for system mastery guys like me, flexible as hell to GM, and light enough for those with less time to attain a level of competence such that they enjoy the game as well. So for my group, searching out the One True System was worth the effort.
 

Dannyalcatraz

Schmoderator
Staff member
...it's obnoxious that some folks refuse to try supers, or cyberpunk...
Me? I'll try any RPG genre. I have already tried most.

But a big and vocal chunk of my gaming buddies are D&D only types. I don't find it obnoxious, though. Sad, maybe.

But why should they try something that holds no interest for them?
 

scourger

Explorer
For me, it comes down to genre portability. Savage Worlds (predictably) and d20 (ironically) have been the best systems for me in those respects.

The best generic system I've found is Savage Worlds. I love it. But, we mainly play it without magic so the experience is skewed. d20 is a great system too without the magic mucking up the game, but the magic is what makes it great to begin with so it's a bit of a conundrum.

I get tired of the fantasy grind pretty quickly. D&D is a wonderful game, but suffers greatly from kill-loot-repeat fatigue. d20 was portable to other genres. There was information on it in the 3e DMG. But it had about 1200 pages of "core" game in the PHB, DMG & MM before adding on any of a number of great books in different genres.

My 2 faves are Omega World d20 and Judge Dredd d20, but the other players in my group really only tolerated these and other deviations from D&D to lesser or greater extents. And, as mentioned above, that is the real problem with finding a One True System when most of the group just wants to grind out more & more D&D.

These days, I want whatever is easiest for me to get to the table. So, a confluence of a compelling story, accessible rules and cool miniatures (or counters or whatever) is what I seek. If I have to do too much work in 1 or more of those areas, it becomes less & less likely that I will actually field the game.

FREX, ORK! the RPG is a great little game with a good rules system that is fun & seems pretty portable to other genres. But, there aren't many foes fleshed out in the book, so it is hard to get it through to the "D&D only" players. I just don't want to do the work when other options are ready to go - sometimes right out of the box.

So, I'll probably stick to Savage Worlds or d20 to do whatever I want to do with gaming indefinitely.
 

DMMike

Game Masticator
So what does make the “One True System” for a gamer?
In my opinion it has to have the following in one book:
Core rules
Character information
Monsters
Basic setting info or enough detail to generate a setting on the fly

So what elements do you think belong in the “One True System” and why do you think gamers pursue this mythic quest? Can one system really capture everything?
My One True System would have great customization, mechanics that allow player creativity, simple rules that don't promote rule lawyering, sturdy rules that don't contradict each other, the ability to be fast or crunchy, and perhaps most importantly, an ever-expanding source of new rules and adventures from the fanbase, ala Neverwinter Nights or Minecraft.

I think, by the way, that I've found such a system...
 

Jan van Leyden

Adventurer
My quest for the One True System ended after playing several GURPS campaigns 20 years ago. Which brought me to the conclusion that a system designed to provide for a special type of game play is better than a generiy system adapted to the task.

On a side note, when talking about different genres, listen to the words of my 12-year-old son, who's a big Star Wars fan: "A roleplaying game is about steel sword, not about laser swords." Thus he spoke after playing SW:EotE when discussing what he wanted to play with his friends...
 


Bluenose

Adventurer
My quest for the One True System ended after playing several GURPS campaigns 20 years ago. Which brought me to the conclusion that a system designed to provide for a special type of game play is better than a generiy system adapted to the task.
This. As time goes on I've come to prefer systems written to do one genre/setting, and if they happen to be adaptable to others then that's nice but not necessary. Thus Pendragon, The One Ring, Ygdrassil, Doctor Who, et al are games that I'm playing more. There are exceptions, especially when I don't find games that cover something I want to do well.

On the other hand, I'm perfectly well aware that my go-to games for situations where I play a more generic system are not ones where the approach would suit everyone. It's not enough to be highly adaptable to different genres, to have plenty of character customisation and to make it easy to use different settings. How that is done matters at least as much; perhaps more for many players. Heroquest would certainly not satisfy people who want a process-sim game, yet I frequently use it for games in all sorts of settings and varying adventure/campaign ideas.
 

So what elements do you think belong in the “One True System” and why do you think gamers pursue this mythic quest? Can one system really capture everything?
There's no such thing as "One True System" for everyone, but there might be a OTS for you right now. Of course, having played it for a couple of years, you'd probably find your tastes had changed, and so start looking for a new OTS.

As for why people pursue a OTS, I can only speak for myself, but I've found, at various times, that I really enjoy a particular system, but there have always been just a few issues that spoil the whole - indeed, those few proud nails cause disproportionate annoyance. Because the system I'm using isn't perfect, and because I can just about see the shape of something that would be better just around the corner. If I just fixed this, that would be perfect.

But it's an illusion, of course. Because when I fix that, I then find that there's something else that isn't quite right. And something else. And then my first fix no longer quite works. And then... There's always one more thing needing addressed.

And even if I ever did get things fully fixed, that would leave the system so thoroughly changed that I wouldn't be able to find players...

Fortunately, the tinkering is quite good fun in its own right.
 

Mishihari Lord

First Post
One true system for every game is a myth.

One true system for a player has got to be a myth too, unless you always want to do the same thing. My preferences for an SF game are different than from a fantasy game.

And if you want to build a one true game you have to do it yourself, because no one will have exactly the same preferences as you. Lots of people find games that are pretty close and tweak them, though.
 


Balesir

Adventurer
I can't speak for others, they will find what they find, but for me it's a complete myth. As time has passed I find that I really appreciate several systems, and some of them are not in any way compatible. A mix of FATE Core and 4E D&D, for example, would in no way scratch the itch that either manages to hit spot on, alone.
 

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