Change of System

Continuing on with this month's theme of change, today we'll be talking about changing systems. I've known a great many gaming groups and one of the first things that gets asked upon meeting is "What do you play". And then the battle lines are usually drawn, and the edition wars begin, and everyone hoists the banners of their favourite systems. Sometimes though I'm lucky enough to see players speak frankly and honestly about the games they play and why they play them. This can often lead to a lot of excitement and curiosity. There are a lot of gaming systems out there and I always find it energizing to tell or show someone something new. That all being said; a different system is by definition, different and there's a lot to consider about a new system. So let's take a look at how a group can deal with a change in system.


A new setting: Many games have vastly different campaign settings from each other, often by necessity. Even if the rules were the same, going from a fantasy setting to a modern one can be very jarring for some players. Let alone moving from something like a world of darkness game into say a Starfinder game. Even smaller changes to a setting like going from Greyhawk to Eberron can be very hard to get used to. For a game master, the most important thing is to be gentle with your players. It can be very easy to read or write a lot of setting information only to forget that these things aren't common knowledge. It's also important to consider player dedication. Only the most devout playerswill put as much attention into learning about your setting as you. Think like an exam writer, every question and test should be based on things that you have personally had the players deal with and address. For players new to a setting, think about some of the important basic aspects of the setting and how they apply to your character. If your character is a "Asteroid miner" think about what sort of life they lead. Most importantly, ask questions of your storyteller. If you think the job is basically low class dangerous grunt work akin to a coal miner, double check the case. It may be more like an ice road trucker, doing just a little bit of extremely dangerous work and getting paid enough to need only a few such jobs a year.  Remember, when it comes to an entire world different from our own, it's going to be impossible to explain, think of, or remember everything in one night. Take your time, allow for mistakes and do over's, and be patient with each other as you explore a new world together.


New rules: This is going to be one of the major things to get used to when switching systems. When people talk about a new system, most often they're talking about the rules and all their differences. The most important thing to realize is that no system will be your old system. Everything else you play will be different, which can mean better, or worse, but usually it means both. Different systems will be designed for different things. A call of Cthulu game is not likely to have the best rules for computer hacking for example. Likewise a gritty world of darkness game might not have as much detail in say the intricacies of sword combat. If you judge a game based on how well it does something that it's not trying to do, you're gonna have a bad time. Instead look at what the system is designed to do really well, where it puts the most attention and focus. Go into a new system with an open mind. It can be easy to find 1 or 2 weird rules and pick them apart and hold them up as sign of a flawed system, but nobody has ever made or played a perfect game. It's also really important to highlight what you like and why. Even if I'm running a pathfinder game, I might still grab the house and army management rules from the song of ice and fire rpg. I'd use those rules because, imagine that, the system is really good at house management and war. Even a bad system has a few good things to offer, and a great system might be full of ideas you can incorporate into other games. Just like getting used to a new setting, the most important thing is to be patient and to give your best effort to learning the new setting and understanding that mistakes will happen. And that applies to players and GM's alike. Sometimes a rule is misunderstood, sometimes the errata contains something vital, and some rules are just not for every group. My recommendation is to see if you can find videos of someone explaining the rules, including examples and the like. Five minutes of example can make more sense than five hours of just reading. Maybe a rule you thought was stupid actually had a really good reason that only makes sense when you view the game as a whole. Or it could just be bad rule, every game has them, and learning which rules to ignore is as much a part of a tabletop game as learning which rules to follow.


Newstyles: This kind of ties into the previous two things, but many games have dramatically different approaches. Imagine playing a world of darkness game like a DND adventure, kicking in the door, killing with impunity, stealing the loot and moving to the next enemy. You would get killed or arrested very quickly because it's a modern mostly realistic setting. Similarly, a call of Cthulu game where you try to negotiate with or politically outmaneuver cultists is likely to end with you kneeling at the altar of a great old one or being force-fed a sacrificial knife. A game tends to have a sort of unspoken way it's generally meant to be played. How severe the consequences of your actions are, how dangerous the world is, how powerful your character is, and more can vary a lot. It can take time to feel out how a game should be played, what the atmosphere should be like, and what sorts of things are acceptable and not. Luckily everyone at the table is there to help each other out and come together to find the real fun of a game. Make sure to be open minded about a new game style. If you're used to hack and slash adventure and your group wants to put on some sombre roleplaying, give it your best try even though it's different. You never know, you might actually really enjoy it.


If you keep these things in mind when changing rules systems, you're sure to have a more fun, open, and educational experience. Seeing a new game with eyes wide open and an accepting attitude can improve not just your new campaign, but all the games to follow as you pick up bits and pieces of great gaming philosophy.