View Full Version : Tailoring Universal Systems to the Campaign

02-28-2008, 12:38 AM
One of the complaints about universal systems is that they're "bland". In campaigns you've run, or you've played in, has the GM tailored the system to the campaign? If so, how?

For example, primarily skill-based systems use skill availability and selection to reinforce the genre. At the very least, available skills will match available cultures and technology; ancient Greek slaves are very seldom starship pilots.

Other possible examples:

Magic/psionics systems, especially if it's a variation of the "standard" one for the game, or an entirely new one invented/ported by the GM.

Primary characteristics such as Honor, Reputation, Social Standing, Wealth, or Piety, which measure important concepts to the genre or dominant culture.

Strange skills, crafts, and technologies, such as "steampunk" worlds where clockwork can simulate advanced electronics or just plain magic.

On the other hand, if you have stories of GMs who enforce genre entirely with plot, narration, and backstory, please share that too.

02-28-2008, 11:47 PM
1. In HERO, I always tried to create some sort of flavour with magic.

I have posted one of the magic systems (to emulate Ars Magica) that I've used for HERO here: http://www.penandpapergames.com/userpages/showentry.php?e=65&catid=member&entryuserid=2947

I also have used an adaptation of a priestly magic system that I saw in the old Adventurer's Club magazine. Essentially, it was an Invisble, Uncontrolled Cosmic Power Pool with an Activation dependent on how closely the god pays attention to the character. (The character also took a Watched by god Disad, to see if the diety is paying attention when the priest of Dionysus destroys a winery.) So, the character says, "Help me!" and his enemy breaks his sword, or a gust of wind blows smoke in the enemy's face or something along those lines.

Also, systems for Elementalists or Enchanters, among others.

2. In HERO, most of these would be handled by Perks or Psychological Limitations.

3. Every culture gets its own package of Everyman skills, and the skill list is adjusted from campaign to campaign.

02-29-2008, 10:06 AM
Certainly in Hero I used to enforce the environment simply using narration and backstory (although in Aegis I did create custom package deals). I would edit and modify skill lists as needed--no computer skills if the computer hadn't been invented in-game, for example.

And given Hero's variety of optional rules, I would add or subtract rules for a particular feel.

Using CORPS 2nd edition, I sometimes made new skill trees; I think that was visible for both Aegis (a fantasy world of my own creation, which I've done in Hero and CORPS), and the SF Alderson Disk campaign (also in Hero and CORPS).

02-29-2008, 05:18 PM
I've actually play tested E-RPG with different game worlds with their own systems (Palladium, Forgotten Realms, Earthdawn, Shadowrun, and Star Wars to name a few). Most of the time it was down to simply including/excluding skills and equipment. Often times, such as with psionics and D&D magic we recreated the spells using the E-RPG magic system. Psionics were easier, simply adding powers we liked from the setting to the skill list.

Some games, like Earthdawn, required an additional mechanic. However, the system was very easily changed over (we added a new skill layer over the existing skill and stacked the points for discipline talents).

In Star Wars we used psionics and natural magic to reflect Jedi and force abilities.

In all cases, I spent about as much time, or less, preparing the modifications than I do creating sessions. We would, on occasion, remove some parts of the core game world, but these were not very popular with the play testers anyways, and most opinions made the world work better.

If the world is defined well enough, it should add its own weight to the feel of the world. Mechanics, while being developed for the world are dependant on them many times, but a new mechanic on an existing game world should work if the mechanic is transparent enough to allow for any modification (if needed). In every case where I have played with any of the players from these groups we use E-RPG instead of the rules for that world and have not had any arguement or request otherwise.

02-29-2008, 05:56 PM
The main hits on Google were "Emergency Response Planning Guideline" and a system for programming the ancient language RPG, but I eventually found Ironwood Omnimedia.

Could someone (ruelk?) give me a rundown of E-RPG and how it differs from the Generic/Universal RPGs we already own? (In my case that's FATE/Spirit of the Century, GURPS, Basic Roleplaying, True20, and "Prose Descriptive Qualities" aka PDQ, in no particular order.)

03-01-2008, 01:26 PM
The main hits on Google were "Emergency Response Planning Guideline" and a system for programming the ancient language RPG, but I eventually found Ironwood Omnimedia.

Could someone (ruelk?) give me a rundown of E-RPG and how it differs from the Generic/Universal RPGs we already own? (In my case that's FATE/Spirit of the Century, GURPS, Basic Roleplaying, True20, and "Prose Descriptive Qualities" aka PDQ, in no particular order.)That's a long list of comparisons. It would be simpler to highlight the features of E-RPG alone, and then it will be more easily comparable to other systems. Besides, I have been using E-RPG for about 8 years, in which time the other systems have changed a bit since then.

Character Generation
There are 8 attributes which make up the primary attributes of the character. Four secondary attributes are the average of two of each of these 8 (example: Strenght and Stamina determine Toughness). Other statistics, such as startic skill points,starting money, life-points, movement, etc. are directly derived from these. After determining your 8 primary, you determine the rest from them.

Skills are chosen from a large list. Each skill has an attribute it is primarily based on. When using a skill you roll the die associated with the attribute. Stronger attributes have higher sided die. You then add your skill level to the result. This is compared to a target level. If you roll equal or higher then you succeed. Higher rolls offer bonuses to your success. For instance, rolling higher on a lock-pick skill test will result in the action taking less time, while rolling a high attack will grant bonuses to damage.

Most skills have proficiencies, which are focuses of the skill. For instance, you may be skilled at tracking, but are particularly proficient in tracking in the wilderness. These proficiencies have levels just like a skill. When using a skill in that aspect you get a bonus to your skill test equal to your proficiency level. For example, a character skilled in Light swords gets their skill level added to any attack with a weapo in the light sword category. If they have a proficiency in short swords they also add that proficiency level to the result.

Everything is based off of these skills. Even the use of magic and psionics uses these skills (more on that below).

Items (particularly weapons and armor)
All items have a basic level of 0. Some items, such as weapons, armor, and tools grant bonuses to particular attributs. For instance, some swords are more effective at attacking than axes, but axes do more damage and are slower. These items may have their own attributes (for weapons it is generally attack, damage, defense, size).

Furthermore, well made items may have bonuses to their attributes (think master work but more defined). The level of quality iscalled the equipment level. You could have a set of lock picks with an eq of 3 and this grants a 3-point bonus to using the lock picks. Other items, such as backpacks, can reduce things. For instance, a normal backpack redistributes a load more easily on a character so the weight of items in the pack is treated as being 10% less. Higher level packs may have greater design and so greater weight reductions (it doesn't really reduce the weight, but it reduces the effect weight has on the character).

Characters gain experience by completing objectives in the adventure. This may be combat, or a puzzle, or convincing someone. There is no real experience points simply for killing monsters or using a skill. Instead it is based on wether the character can achieve a goal. Without a goal, the action is relatively useless.

The players spend experience on new skill levels at a rate of 10 x the new level. The can learn new skills through various training or study methods, or through autodidaction

Combat is time based. Each character has an initiative (determined by reaction and wisdom) that decides in what order they can start. All combat starts on round 1 with the character with highest initiative going first. On their turn they declare an action. Actions take x-amount of rounds to complete and are resoled on that round. For instance, a character declares an action on round 1 that will take 3 rounds to complete. They roll their die on round four to determine the action.

Actions can be interupted if another character takes action against you before you complete the action. For instance, if you are casting a spell and someone attacks you before you finnish the action could be interupted. You can canel actions to change to a new action (such as defend) at any time. However, starting a new action starts the round countdown all over again.

Magic is skill based. Your character learns a magic skill which is applied to casting a spell. If a spell is cast the spell level determines the effect. Characters can learn spells like skills. Furthermore, any character in the game can cast a spell if they can find it, read it, etc. However, without magical training (having a magic skill) success is difficult.

Spells take time in the game to cast. The more complicated the spell, the longer it takes. Time is reduced by the magician's familiarity with magic and the particular aspect and/spell. Therefore the higher the skill level, proficiency level, and spell level the less time it will take to cast the spell. There are no other restirctions to wht spells can be cast. If a character has access, and is willing to take the time, they can attempt any spell.

Another type of skill. These skills have psychic effects that we fleshed out through research. We don't provide force lightning or other psuedo-magical psychic powers, although it is very easy to make your own.

Reputation has alot to do with social encounters. This is earned with experince, but the GM determines how much of your exp earned is also earned as good or bad reputation. Intentions have nothing to do with repuation, it is simply based on how the world percieves your actions. So you could have a bad reputation doing good things if the world does not see your actions as being good.

None are provided, but these are easily created if neeed.

No classes. We have a book that provides 50 pre-generated archetypes that can help provide a class-like structure if need be. 5 Archetypes are provided with the core rule book.

It is utterly simple to modify. I have changed and rearranged just about every component to try to break the system. Using the skill based system for all types of actions leaves it all open, including using mana based systems for magic, spells per day, alignments, etc.

In my opinion the system puts alot more power into the players to dicide how things are played in the game. Each player can focus on the type of game they want and enjoy that aspect. While the system is fairly basic at its core, it is open enough for a good level of complexity as you want it. For instance, if you want complex social interactions you can manipulate situations through rp and skill tests or you could simply just roll your die and hope for the best. Combat is the same way. For the tactical combatant it opens alot of doors, but if you don't like that sort of thing, the simple roll die to hit and do damage mechanic is also fine.

Character development is at its core completely within the player's hand. Any directions is fine, and you could change direction as you play. If youre character was intended to be both a decent magician and fighter, but someone is developing a more focused fighter, and you find yourself becoming more and more magic oriented, you can simply focus your character development away from one and towards the other. Class roles become less important as you develop your character towards those game elements you are interested in.
Anyways, that's the crux, in as simple a narrative as I can imagine. Sorry if it seems long, and I hope this answered the question.

You can also download the demos for free here (http://ironwoodnexus.com/community/viewforum.php?f=30) if you want more detailed info on it.

03-15-2008, 11:25 PM
Not to pick out ERPG, but so far the description sounds like the universal system mantra "we can do anything!"

The question was, how do you tailor a generic system for specific genres or worlds?

For example, say you want a campaign set in pre-colonial Africa. In your world, all the African folk beliefs about spirits, medicine men, oracles, and witches are true. You also want to represent the broad range of cultures and languages. Finally, your campaign will encompass every technology from stone-age through bronze age and early iron age, since different tribes and cultures had different levels of technology.

Here are some partial answers I know of:

GURPS 3rd edition has a sourcebook called Low Tech, which touches on every technology -- weapons, agriculture, medicine, etc. -- from the Stone Age through the Middle Ages and early Rennaisance.

A Magical Medley for FUDGE (from Grey Ghost Games) details an "African Spirit Magic" system, which is a somewhat inaccurate lowest-common-denominator version of African beliefs.

Call of Cthulhu: Secrets of Kenya and Dark Continent describe Africa of the 1920s and 1880s, which might be a start for understanding the history of Africa.

If nothing else, a GM can hit the library to understand the diversity of cultures across Africa, and research archeological and historical data about the cultures of sub-Saharan Africa.

So, pick your favorite system, and some historical or fictional world, and tell how you can make your system fit the world.

03-16-2008, 08:32 AM
Not to pick out ERPG, but so far the description sounds like the universal system mantra "we can do anything!"You're right. We share that mantra for lack of any better way to describe what the game can do without playing it. My last post was an answer to the rundown question. I knew it was long, perhaps too long, and that it was veering off the topic. It may be better to move or discard the post for the integrety of the thread.

To put the answer in relation to the thread is much more complicated, and will turn into more of a discussion on the system, rather than the thread's ultimate subject, which I enjoy and will pursue without any E-RPG promotion unless asked for of course ;)).

The question was, how do you tailor a generic system for specific genres or worlds?...
I surmise your post with this one line.

Obviously, as has been stated before, equipment and relating the theme through descriptors and tone are the most common steps. As you also mentioned, research is a big part of it. Library research is the best, but as GMs we are not writing an essay on our settings, this may be a long road for little immediate reward. We are trying to play a game. Getting some setting material and research done through things like wikipedia is perfectly acceptable (IMO) though the content is always questionable from that site. Be prepared to have someone more learned on the subject at your table that may contradict your research through such a site. Still, to get a game going, it is a great resource.

Aside from this, there is one other factor that universal/generic systems seem to have issue with. This is the mechanics relating to theme. For instance, DnD is a game themed for dungeon crawling (please bare with me and don't take this statement as a challenge to the versatility of DnD). Mechanically it is designed for a high adventure game of kill the bad guy, get the girl (or treasure or what have you). You get points, you get stronger, you keep going. You get kewl powers and go off and stop bigger and badder bad guys.

CoC has something different. In an effort to simulate the theme of Lovecraft's writings it has mechanics for insanity and it plays on a different field. Instead of killing the monster, you want to stay sane. It plays completely differently. Super hero games have mechanics to relate to the idea of the spandex wearing super human in a world where good and evil slips perfectly into its cell shaded world, and destroying a town to stop the rampages of an alien is good stuff.

So my question is, without answering directly for my own system, is how do you achieve the type of game you want to play? In Frank's post we are challenged with an African campaign. However, this is only just the 2d setting. What about the other key component? What type of game are we playing? I think any game, even non-universal/generic games could ultimately be managed to an African setting. But, is this a Dark Continent pulp adventure, a pre-history survival game? Are we delving into horror with black magic and pre-voodoo mythology? What are our tones and moods, the ultimate type of game play that we are looking for?

That is the difference between universal and generic. Generic you can build a character for any game world and plop down and play. A universal system can play in any type of theme. So I think we may look at this topic as how do you adapt a rule system to a theme. I.E. how do you make GURPS into a gothic horror or Hero into a game of political espionage and social engineering?

Or, am I wrong and the discussion is looking for a long list of creating mechanical and statistical references to building for the 2d setting?

I am more inclined to pursue the conversation to the former, as I think we can only go so far with a conversation regarding the latter.

03-16-2008, 09:25 AM
OK, theme is an important part of creating a campaign. The magic system for a Lovecraftian horror campaign is very different from a high-powered fantasy campaign.

In my example, then, assume the PC's village was slaughtered by raiders, and the PCs set out on a journey to find a new home. They have to survive in unknown territory, against war-bands, other villages that distrust strangers, and natural hazards. One of the survivors can commune with spirits, so magic both guides the PCs and presents yet another source of threats. (I actually know someone who ran a campaign like this, albeit in the Stone Age.)

But what I'm really looking for isn't how to approach this hypothetical example, per se, but real experiences of GMs and players. How did the GM use background detail to support setting and theme? How much did the GM exploit existing rules, or write alternate rules? There have been some good examples so far, but I'd like to gather more.