Which Comes First? The Campaign or the System


I have a confession to make. I've been a D&D gamer for a really long time. Almost exclusively. I'd played other systems from time to time, but, I kept coming back to D&D.

So, when I decide to run a campaign, D&D is my first thought. Instead of designing a campaign and then massaging the rules to fit, I start with the rules and massage the campaign into that shoe box. And it's a big damn shoe box at that so I never really noticed any problems.

Recently however, I've started wandering afield. I'm playing other games. Yay me. And, having started playing other games, I've come to realize that I've been doing it backwards. There are so many games out there that it's not even funny. I mean, there's sites like 1000 Monkeys which host over FIVE HUNDRED FREE RPG's. Gack. I couldn't possibly read them all, although I've been trying to read at least one a week.

Anyway, I've come to the decision that I'm going to go the other way. Design a campaign and then hunt around for a system to fit. Or maybe a bit of both. Start with an idea for a campaign, hunt for a system, modify my idea, find a new system... you get the idea.

How do you do it? Do you put the campaign first or the system? Which do you think is better?

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First Post
For my group we do system first because there are game players won't play and they really aren't big on learning new ones at this time. So, we go with something they know and are comfortable with.


First Post

If the player don't dig the system, a lot of work is wasted.

No one cares how awesome your Rifts campaign is if they don't like the Palladium engine and won't touch it with a ten foot pole.

Theo R Cwithin

I cast "Baconstorm!"
For those of us with few gaming opportunities, I think system wins out.

It's vastly easier to tinker with a campaign to fit the system, than to find players for a little known system that meshes nicely with the campaign.
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First Post
Since old D&D is pretty far from systematic, I find it pretty adaptable. It's still an awkward fit, though, for something far from -- especially more particular than -- the default mishmash. Players' expectations associated with the name add another burden; even increasing the game-mechanical similarity (as I did once by actually using AD&D), I would not bill EPT as "D&D".

Perhaps because I've played a lot of different games, campaign and rules-set tend to develop together in my mind. Settings I've used or played in before tend to be pretty strongly associated with certain rules-sets already. I find it a bit easier to swallow some of the changes in Mongoose RuneQuest because they're presented in the context of Second Age Glorantha. Greyhawk or Forgotten Realms are "AD&D" worlds to me. I don't think of GURPS Traveller as Traveller, but that's at least partly because I don't think of Traveller as the Third Imperium.


I've tried both ways, and I have to go with system.

For example, I really like the setting of In Nomine. But after playing a campaign with the In Nomine rules, I won't touch the setting again unless I have the time and energy to convert the setting to a different system.


First Post
Um. . . campaign. :uhoh:

Seems to be rather out of favour 'round here, but yep, that's how campaigns-to-be are decided, by me and most of the other GMs I've known - locally, I mean. :hmm: :confused: Nope, no idea why (such tendencies exist, that is.)


Staff member
Sometimes I start from the campaign to the game, sometimes I start from the game to the campaign...and sometimes I start with "What will my players be willing to play?" before either path.


Campaign. The rules should always adapt to the setting, not the other way around. I generally don't care what rules are used, because if it's not a setting that fills me with ideas it doesn't frankly matter how easy or smooth the rules are, because it won't inspire me or my players - that's all the setting flavor. Rules don't inspire me.

That said, I've rarely run a campaign setting with a ruleset outside of the one which it was originally developed for, because the two of them are often entertwined (Shadowrun especially for instance).


Almost always system. The gaming group that I'm in is a D&D group, simple as that.

If the game is one that I haven't tried, I'll run it because I want to see how the system works.

That said, there have been a couple of times when my friends and I will want to play a specific genre of game independent of system, but usually the system falls into place fairly quickly (like Shadowrun or Savage Worlds).

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