Apr 292015

Sitting down and slinging dice during a pen-and-paper roleplaying session is one of the great joys in my life. Over the thirty years that I’ve been gaming, I’ve played numerous systems from a wide variety of publishers. I cut my teeth on games from the titans of gaming, TSR, before exploring the offerings from other game companies. In the heyday of my original gaming group, we played rpgs from FASA, Palladium, Fantasy Games Unlimited, Games Workshop (yes, they put out the first Judge Dredd rpg as well as Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay), Pacesetter, Iron Crown Enterprises, Steve Jackson Games, Chaosium, Tri Tac, Hero Games, and others. It’s hard to imagine the countless hours my friends and I spent around my dad’s dining room table gaming as well as the time I spent reading every new game I could buy.

What was intriguing back in those early days of rpg gaming was that few companies used a specific system for all their in-house games. The perfect example of this was TSR, who were the largest game company for two decades. Each of their games had totally different rules. Gangbusters, Top Secret, Conan, AD&D, Boot Hill, Gamma World, Star Frontiers, Marvel Super Heroes, and the insipid Indiana Jones rpg all had vastly different systems. Palladium, Chaosium, and Iron Crown Enterprises did use similar systems for the majority of their games, and eventually Steve Jackson Games came out with GURPS.

Gangbusters rpg

No two TSR rpgs had the same rule system.

The reason for all this babbling is that I’ve listened for years to many gamers arguing over which rule system is best. Some think AD&D went downhill after second edition while others love 3.5. There are those who prefer skill-based games, such as in Runequest or Stormbringer, and those who enjoy level-based games. It’s true that each gamer has their own preference as each system has its own strengths and weaknesses. I prefer games that offer a lot of skills so that characters can be customized. (Hence, my love for Rolemaster.) Yet I think that the most important feature of any rpg is….the group itself.

No matter what game you play, the enjoyment you will get out of it is directly proportional to the group you play it with. (I’m talking both about the players who adventure by your side as well as the DM.) To me, the rules are just a wrapping that goes around the actual gaming. If you hate gaming with your group, then no system will make that process any better. I’ve played games with just a single sheet of rules and enjoyed them immensely because the group I played with was awesome. By the same token, I’ve hated quite a few adventures that took place within the confines of my favorite games because a number of people in my group were utter jerks. The group is the filling of your gaming sandwich. If your group is rocking, then who cares if the bun is wheat or Italian? It still tastes yummy. Dealing with a bad group is like eating a turd sandwich. No matter how you dress it up, it’s still a turd.

Overall, roleplaying is about social interaction. Gamers should scheme together, slay monstrous creatures together, and perhaps even betray one another if the alignments (and character motivations) demand it. The rules can help facilitate that interaction, but it will never replace it. The people you game with is the most important feature of roleplaying.

Dragib Quest TSR

No matter what rules you use, it’s the group that you play with that makes the difference.

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