Are Generic Systems Still A Thing?

Bad news for the few who, like me, love generic game systems. It is by now official that Hero Games has given up its (by now already out of print) Hero System core books for the self sufficient Complete series, which replicate the 6e rule systems in genre specific all-in-one core books. The most recent news are that  Chaosium will make BRP obsolete, and from now on will focus on Runequest and Call of Cthulhu.

What about other games?  GURPS is alive but is now covering less and less new ground, many of its new products belong to the Dungeon Fantasy series, and there is talk of publishing self sufficient books, à la Hero. Savage Worlds still exists, and is now more precious than ever, but mostly focuses on a bunch of pre-written settings. Strangely enough, Fate Core is now the game that most strongly commits to universalism, and this is probably the main reason why I like it, in spite of a few reservations.

And yet, to me universal RPGs are, among other things, a great antidote against two ever widespread evils in the RPG industry. First, the default attitude of players brought up on a diet of D&D and World of Darkness: “Buy splatbooks, read overblown fluff and random unconnected crunch and play the game as the company wants you to play it.” This is still very much alive in D&D and Pathfinder folks, and I really do not get it. A tabletop RPG is not a computer RPG: GMs can write whatever they want, and players can ask a GM to write whatever they want, so why not do it?

Second, this indie kink for ultra focused, narrowly defined settings and game styles: “Generic systems are inherently broken because they try to be good at everything and this cannot be done (I know it is so because God told me in my sleep)”. This really infuriates me, and I am very happy that in the last few years the indie gang seems to have become less virulent than before. Still, this insight is clearly behind some successful recent games: think of  The One Ring, which only allows you to explore a tiny fraction of Middle Earth, as opposed to MERP, or the three (!) Star Wars games by Fantasy Flight Games,  which artificially break the Star Wars universe into three discrete (and very narrow) settings and then sell them separately in outrageously expensive hardbacks. Remember the nice breadth of  West End Games Star Wars? Pretty much the opposite.


[EDIT 07 Dec 2015: I changed the title from “Universal” to “Generic”, because it seems to be the most widely adopted term.]


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