or, What is the best system to use
In the last post, I offered the two simple rules of reff’ing. So, now you need to consider what rule system you want to use. First of all, that’s easy! What rule systems do you have available to you? Then those are where you start. “But Master,” I hear you whine, “I only have first edition AD&D, but I want to play a game like Star Wars, but with dinosaurs!”
Well, that’s OK, say I…and that is why we come to this post. Game designers spend a lot of time trying to build a game system with an internally consistent setting. Often, they work very hard on Game Balance issues as well. But that does not mean you must play their rules in their setting! True, AD&D is best suited to a high fantasy almost Tolkienian setting and appropriate stories. The same way the Traveller rules are best suited to a high-tech, far future SF setting with starships. But let me pass on another ref rule:
Any story can be told with any rule set!
The thing that you will need to keep in mind is that the farther away from the intended setting, usually, the more modification you will have to do. If you are a beginning GM, I’d not recommend venturing too far away from the setting. In fact, I’d encourage you to acquire either A) A game system with a setting much closer to what you want to run, or B) acquire one of the several generic systems, such as PEG’s Savage Worlds, Steve Jackson’s GURPS, or Chaosium’s Basic Role Playing. However, if you can’t, or don’t wish to get a new system here are some things to think about.
Before attempting to modify a game system, you need a pretty good idea of both the normal, expected, game setting, and the setting you want to use. With this in mind, you can see what does and doesn’t need modified. In the hypothetical I posed above, we need to change the character races into dinosaurs, create a magic system like the force, create star ship and robot rules, even figure out what character classes are needed, which ones are not, and how we need to modify them to fit the new story line. Is a Jedi a cleric, or magic user? Could they be a Ranger or Paladin? If we made them a Ranger, then they would be more fighter types, with access to some of the new FORCE, instead of MAGIC. If we decide to create a new class all together, then we need to start considering the game balance built into the character classes. What if we use a dwarf template to create our new scaled Bear-a-saurus…who use specially designed Laser slings…“But Master, a Dwarf is short and disdains the use of slings!” Again I hear you thought, but this leads us to the next consideration:
Why change the rules if you can just put a new paint job on it? In other words, Our Bear-a-saurus is stout, a little slow, but very strong. Hey…that fits the dwarf, or maybe a Half-orc. Well, so rename them, re-describe them, but don’t make any changes except maybe take away their infravision, and give them Hunters sight…What’s the difference, and what can you see with Hunters sight? Well, it detects movement in low light…not much use in an underground dungeon, but in a forest, or town…LOTS of things move…The less you need to change then the better to preserve the balance built-in by the regular designers.
One more thing to consider: Special Effects! This is something that struck me like a lightning bolt when I first read it in Masterbook: What is a laser blast? Well it’s a beam or missile of light. Oh, so kinda like a magic missile, but it can miss, and come in a wand, uh gun, that has charges, um…ammo in it? How much damage does it do? Well…a magic missile already has a damage listed. Not enough? Well, is it more like a lightning bolt? Something that causes damage: a fireball or grenade or catapult or dagger or pocket pistol…does damage! That’s it. What does it look like? Well, they all look different. What about something that heals damage? A healing spell, or health potion or first aid kid or spray skin…well, they all heal damage!
Well…this is just a taster of all of the possible considerations. And it may be better suited for quite experienced refs, but I want people to consider the possibilities…Could you use the Shadow Run rules to tell a Deadlands game…yup without too much change. Could you use the Chivalry & Sorcery Rules to tell the story of a post zombie apocalypse? Sure! Using them for their own genre is easier, and converting a generic system is the next easiest thing…but with patience and a will, it could be done