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We've talked about our favorite systems before, looking at ranking systems as a whole. What what I want to talk about here is individual mechanical components and subsystems. What is your favorite system for X and–more importantly–why?

Subsystems and components to consider:
  • Favorite character creation system?
  • Favorite character advancement system?
  • Favorite skill system?
  • Favorite combat system?
  • Favorite system for handling powers, special abilities and other traits?
  • Any other favorite system components that stand out? Social encounter systems? Mass combat systems? Equipment systems?

  • Favorite character creation system? Traveller. I like how the characters that are generated have a fleshed out history and place in the world. I like how the system has push characters in novel directions sometimes and how the system avoids the “the is my build, I am built mechanically to do X” pitfall that plagues many other RPGs.
  • Favorite character advancement system? Basic Roleplay/Runequest. I like how advancement is tied directly to the actions the character performed in the system, and how advancement is spread out in small increments without the sudden events of “I've suddenly developed a new ability overnight” that some systems have.
  • Favorite combat system? MERP. I like how declaring actions at the beginning of the round both speeds up play and how it it leads to trying to guess how things will end up rather than trying to figure out moment-to-moment optimal actions. I also like how the critical hits are specific and add color to the combat. Finally, I also like the gravitas of combat that comes with its deadliness.
Favorite character creation system? I also love Traveler. Traveler has such a good character creation system, making characters you never intend to play becomes a fun pastime.

Favorite character advancement system? I'm very partial to Dark Heresy's advancement system. I like buying new abilities and the amount of XP you have invested in that career determining what traits you have available to purchase. It's a good combination of a Class and Trait system that still has levels, but not in the D&D DING level up style. It's a much smoother transition.

Favorite skill system? Also Dark Heresy. Like I said, I like how class and traits are combined, but there's still a ton of customization available.

Favorite combat system? Also Dark Heresy. I like rolling d% based on your ability to aim, and they roll d% based on their ability to get out of the way/soak up the damage.

Favorite system for handling powers, special abilities and other traits? Not real sure on that, honestly. Warhammer did a decent job, though it was easy to suck badly at it. But then, that's a theme of Warhammer, so it fits. Beyond that, I have a hard time saying.

Any other favorite system components that stand out? Social encounter systems? Mass combat systems? Equipment systems? The biggest annoyance I have in equipment systems is that they tend to be redundantly redundant. In the illusion of creating choices, they produce a bunch of things that are either (a) all the same or (b) all equally worthless before a single option. Like how the Thunderer in Star Wars d20 was obviously the best blaster pistol and everything else was just kind of useless. Or things will have traits that are useless, like “This one specializes in incapacitating people. Too bad the DC to save against its incapacitating trait is so low it's easily overcome by most of the normal bad guys you encounter. So it's actually useless.”
Favorite character creation system?

I tend to like systems that are deterministic and let me pick from a big list of flavorful powers in a way that's not overwhelming. That in mind, my favorite system is probably Exalted.

Favorite character advancement system?

I want to get a cool new thing almost every session, from a list with decent choice but that is not overwhelming. I'd rather get a cool new thing I can do than just get more powerful at something I can already do. There's no standout here: Saga Machine, Exalted and Dark Heresy are all good but not perfect.

Favorite skill system?

I tend to not care very strongly about the resolution mechanic: roll under, roll and add, dice pool are all good. I want a set of skills that covers everything I could want to do, doesn't have really useless skills, and doesn't exceed 25 skills or so. The standouts here are Saga Machine and Exalted.

Favorite combat system?

Pathfinder for the tactical depth. If the game isn't focused on combat, the biggest thing I care about is speed of resolution.

Favorite system for handling powers, special abilities and other traits?

I tend to strongly prefer flavorful abilities over systems that describe an effect and make you come up with the trappings. Besides that, it's hard to pick a favorite: I like Exalted, the dangerous magic of Warhammer 2nd, the spells and abilities of Pathfinder, etc.
Saga Machine
I don't know who you are, but I love you.
Thought I might enter some of my thoughts here… Let me preface this by saying I have not played nearly as many games as the rest of you so my selections are somewhat limited.

Favorite character creation system? I also really like Traveller a lot, as a general rule I prefer lifepath systems. I remember creating a Burning Empires character and thought it had a decent system for characters.

Favorite character advancement system? I always like new things but I actually like Chaosium's Call of Cthulu method for advancement. I like the idea of advancing in the skills that you actually use in the game as if you are learning and getting better.

Favorite skill system? I think Saga machine but again I like Chaosium really well too.

Favorite combat system? I think I have enjoyed combat in Warhammer 40k the most but I couldn't give a specific reason.

Favorite system for handling powers, special abilities and other traits? Not really sure… I did like Mage from White Wolf.

Any other favorite system components that stand out? Social encounter systems? Mass combat systems? Equipment systems? Not really, I just don't game enough (unfortunately) to have generated a lot of favorites.
Because I'm a huge screaming GURPS fanboy, most of these answers have something to do with why I love GURPS or why I love another system in comparison to GURPS.

Favorite character creation system? I've never played Traveler - I must be missing out! I like the granularity offered by GURPS character creation - thinking, “hm, how would I model a particular suite of abilities?” is a fun challenge and I can tweak it until it's just how I'd like it to be. That said, I also love Lifepath systems, especially ones that let you make some choices for yourself and then add some color and context with the Lifepath. Trystell was my favorite of these.

Favorite character advancement system? So, I love that GURPS advancement lets you learn a new skill basically every session if your GM OK's it. I often cite the example of someone failing a default Swimming roll and then putting one point in Swimming at the end of the session - I love that sort of organic character growth, and having the flexibility to just drop *one point* in Swimming - you're no champion swimmer or even a particularly *good* swimmer, but you're much better than untrained. I also like being able to buy crappy, unreliable versions of powers with lots of Limitations and then buying these off as it improves. However, having to save up over many sessions for bigger purchases and the unfortunate reality of DX and IQ often being the best things you can buy are big problems with GURPS advancement. Savage Worlds advancement feels just right to me - every two sessions, either get better at some stuff you can already do or get a cool new cookie. New skills taking up a whole purchase and the way core attributes scale are less cool, but I still like it.

Favorite skill system? The GURPS skill list is too gorram large. I acknowledge this. I really like the GURPS Simple Skills list we used in Infinite Worlds. On its own merits, though, I think the Saga Machine skill list has just the right number and breadth of skills, and they are easy to apply and resolve. I especially love the ability to buy cheap Specialties in untrained skills, so you can have your character be a competent climber even if they're normally a totally useless athlete if it makes sense for the character.

Favorite combat system? I like realism in my combat resolution, with bonuses and penalties available to attacker and defender for relative position, facing, hit location, aiming, etc. GURPS combat is pretty simple in its core resolution but includes lots and lots of options for assessing bonuses and penalties depending on how in-depth the players want to be about this. It takes a significantly larger amount of time to resolve the 1-second(!) turns, though, especially if not everyone is super familiar with them or if range penalties are involved. I think I'd second Pathfinder as a good balance of interesting tactical depth and fast resolution.

Favorite system for handling powers, special abilities and other traits? GURPS just wins here, in my book. I love the flexibility to craft a special power just so, so it fits exactly into what I envision the character doing. Yes, customizing abilities is complicated enough to almost be a game in and of itself, but it's a game I enjoy.

Any other favorite system components that stand out? Social encounter systems? Mass combat systems? Equipment systems? I agree with pretty much everything Bergeistermeister said about equipment systems. I like the system of Fate points and Compels from Fate (it's one of the few things about Fate I like), because it really encourages people to embrace their quirks and disadvantages in a way that character-creation-refund systems (i.e., most systems that have Disadvantages) mechanically encourage you to only take Disadvantages that will not hinder you too much. The way the mechanics support the storytelling that way in Fate is really excellent. I've never really encountered a mass combat system I *loved*, but Savage Worlds was at least quick and engaging to resolve, and if vassals from Against the Dark Yogi count, I thought that was very good as well.
Favorite character creation system?

I would split this into two categories: “most fun character creation” and “best effective character creation.”

I have a lot of fun with life-path systems. I enjoy the character creation session more than with other games. Silly and amusing things happen. Then I find I'm writing a strangely erratic backstory and playing a mediocre character that needs to be fixed by advancement. I enjoyed the Traveller life path system for B5 and a standard Traveller one-shot we did, but I have problems with its results. It has an equal number of good and bad events which results in a bell curve of results. I have a lot of opinions on life path systems, but should probably hold them back for future questions.

I really like build point systems like GURPS, Saga Machine, and Shadowrun (if using that option) for actually making characters I intend to use. I like the flexibility to create interesting characters without too many arbitrary limits. I have been happy with the results in most games I've played with them.

Favorite character advancement system?

I like the Savage Worlds system for simplicity, though its advancement system made building replacement characters harder. I like GURPs for flexibility where even a single experience point can become a fill-out skill. I think Saga Machine has good ratios of options, simplicity, and power with advancement.

Favorite skill system?

I like the nWoD break down of skills and how they play out with abilities and dice pools. A mesh between skills and special powers makes sense to me. Saga Machine and Savage Worlds also rank pretty high for me. GURPS would be higher if it wasn't so long a list that sometimes can be difficult to use.

Favorite combat system?

I enjoyed combat most when playing Shadowrun, 3rd edition. It had a good mix of elements for me. It felt gritty without being impossible. It felt tactical without being too gamey.

Combat is another area where I have lots of opinions. I can like some elements of a system while disliking others. GURPs has a ton of options, yet honestly, most of the individual combats from our various campaigns with that ruleset sort of blur together. I find that doesn't happen as much with other systems. MERP has some interesting elements, but its initiative ranking, armor rules, movement rules, etc. create problematic biases.

Favorite system for handling powers, special abilities and other traits?

I think GURPs is probably the best system when it comes to representing anything and everything, but it's options can be problematic to sort through. I have enjoyed the two Supers campaigns we've run with Saga Machine; the system was able to model a pretty good array of abilities.

Shadowrun 3rd has a special place in my heart with its systems for everything (sorcery, conjuring, drones, cyberware, and on and on), but I will agree that its variety in how these different systems are handled can make for problematic play. I really liked skill-wires for example, but using them sometimes required some interesting logic puzzles (similar to using GURPS magic with modular power).

Favorite Social Encounter systems?

Most social encounter systems I've seen are problematic. I enjoyed the Warhammer 3rd edition one, though it had some very game-like mechanics (Shame counters leading to insanity). I enjoyed contacts in Shadowrun since everyone had a couple of them by default, but since intel-gathering was such a big part of that game, it made sense.

Favorite Mass combat systems?

Not many mass combat systems come to mind except Savage Worlds and Saga Machine. I really enjoyed Saga Machine's systems for our Trystell battles. Everyone could find a place for their character to fit into things. Troup divisions were more than just “a chip” and had different properties and abilities. I could honestly see playing a war campaign where that was a major part of play.

Favorite Equipment systems?

I think Shadowrun is one of the few games where I really cared what I spent money on, but it had lots of stuff to buy (everything from fake IDs to safe houses to cyberware implants). It felt like what you caried based on the situation actually was important. Most games, I pick the best weapon I can afford and use, and go!
Then I find I'm writing a strangely erratic backstory and playing a mediocre character that needs to be fixed by advancement.
That's actually one reason I love the lifepath style of char creation. It's more of a real character that you create. It's not someone who's Axemaster McAxtoyourface, who's been perfecting his ax-hacking technique since he was a small child and has the best ax money can buy and have you seen his ax? You might try to create an Axemaster, but life might have gotten in the way. Axemaster's parents couldn't afford to send him to Axing school, so he had to spend a few years as a pizza delivery guy.

Finally, he got enough money and put himself through Axe University, but then the job market dried up and he couldn't find an entry-level job in Axing. So he started his own business making axes for other people, for the real Axemasters, and he kept telling himself, “Some day, I'm going to be the one buying the ax and putting it through someone's skull. Someday.” And then he met Speargirl.

And Speargirl was awesome, and she totally got how much he loved axes. And they had three kids, but the spark just faded. She stopped talking about when he'd get out there and be the Axemaster and started talking about when they'd buy that house in Spear City. And he loved her and the kids, but he's the Axemaster, not the Spearfather. So he left her and the kids and set out to realize his dream of being the Axemaster.

So now he's set out. He's ready to be the Axemaster. It's been messy, but now is his time. He's going to send 80% of his paychecks back to his family, and he calls them now and then to let them know he loves them. But now is his apotheosis. He will become the Axegod or he'll die trying. Now is the time!
Or things will have traits that are useless, like “This one specializes in incapacitating people. Too bad the DC to save against its incapacitating trait is so low it's easily overcome by most of the normal bad guys you encounter. So it's actually useless.”

Speaking as someone who has been designing games for a while now, this is a particularly hard problem to solve. The problem with weapons that instantly incapacitate is that either: a) They become 1-hit-kills as they bring a character down with a single hit and become unbalanced (unless all weapons also tend to be 1-hit-kills) or b) They need a low enough chance to succeed that they aren't overpowered compared to everything else.

Example: Let's imagine that a system assumes it takes 4 solid hits to drop a character (this is in fact an assumption of D&D 4e). Given any random hit on a character, there is 1/4 chance that this hit will be their final one, and they will drop. Trying to balance an incapacitating weapon against this, anything that succeeds more than roughly 1 out of 4 times is going to simply be an unbalanced weapon. So in many designs they'll set the TN low so that enemies shrug it off 3/4 of the time. I can totally get why games are designed that way.

But flipping it around, picking a weapon that will be entirely ineffective 3 out of 4 shots isn't very fun to play. So it ends up being kind of a shitty weapon–even if it is a balanced one.
Yeah, I know it's got to be a hard problem to solve, or it wouldn't be so ubiquitous. It's just always been super annoying to me.

I think good, scalable and balanced equipment has to be extremely hard to make. For one thing, it's pretty much 100% crunch (which is, as you know, my weakest spot. I'm a fluff guy through and through). For another, you have to have something where the balancing scales with the characters. Something with a DC-15 save is going to affect most low-level mobs, but it's useless against high-level opponents. So you basically have to create a way to scale the equipment up while also balancing it.

The only system I know that really does that is D&D. You get +1/2/3/4etc. items, and it's a simple way to scale them up. I don't know if other systems do similar things or what, and I doubt D&D does it particularly well, either. For one thing, as I said, I'm a fluff guy, not a crunch guy. I just don't think in the way that it takes to seriously analyze the statistics. Mainly because there's nothing in me that really wants to.
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