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Socialism and Systems


Webster's On-line defines socialism as such:

Main Entry: socialism
Pronunciation: 'sO-sh&-"li-z&m
Function: noun
Date: 1837
1 : any of various economic and political theories advocating collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods
2 a : a system of society or group living in which there is no private property b : a system or condition of society in which the means of production are owned and controlled by the state
3 : a stage of society in Marxist theory transitional between capitalism and communism and distinguished by unequal distribution of goods and pay according to work done

Now, I'm no Marxist. I'm no communist, either. Heck, I'm not even a socialist. But sometimes, in some circumstances, I think socialism just might work. What does this have to do with systems? Well, let's just say that this is one of those circumstances where socialism just might have its benefits.

Just about every day I see a new system coming out, be it at a local hobby shop, on the internet, or just a folder full of notes brought to me by a friend. Yes, there are a lot of systems out there, and for every game that vanishes, three or more pop up in its place. Sadly, most of these newer systems offer little or no improvement in comparison to other existing systems. What they do offer, however, is another divide amongst gamers. And at the current growth rate there may come a time where there are more systems available than gamers.

The importance, or focus, of many new games is not the system, however. This is an assumption based on the evidence that so many of the newer systems are so slipshod and slapdash while the worlds so well defined. It could be that system design may have been more of a priority than I guess, the designers just performed poorly. In either case, the end result is a world rich in flavor without a system to properly support it.

Now we all know systems are important. Systems are the backbone of a game. They're put in place to help hold everything else up. The idea behind systems was to instill a reasonable degree of fair-play within a game.

Systems are fun to tweak and fiddle with, to bring out the most desired results. Every gaming group I've run across uses 'house rules' with their games. In fact, most gamers design at least one in the course of their gaming life.

Personally, I design game systems as a challenge to myself. To create a system that is easy to learn, playable, and yet fit into a game world is a challenge of math, creativity, and balance. Sure, I have dreams of actually getting a system published, I think most people who do design systems do. But, I also think it's more for the ego-factor than anything else, everyone loves to see their pictures hung on the fridge - so to speak.

Allow me to define that 'balance' challenge. I believe that certain flavors of play demand certain types of systems. While I adore Steve Jackson Games' GURPS system for realistic modern day campaigns, the system isn't fast paced enough for me to run a Hong Kong Action Theater-style cinematic campaign. The industry creates systems that flow better with perceived game pace of the universe(s) it creates.

And now we enter my utopian gaming world, where the gamers aren't persecuted and all gaming companies are focused more on the consumer than profits...

I would rather see more world books come out that use current good systems. The market seems a bit inundated with different systems and needs to share the systems that exist for settings that flow with it. For example, Holistic Designs could license their Fading Suns system to a fledgling company that might be designing a high fantasy world, the rules would be mildly tweaked to accommodate for the world, but there would be a lower learning curve for players already - and those who had not played Fading Suns might get an interest in the Fading Suns game.

I think the public buys most games for the setting rather than the system while, ironically, the system is what makes or breaks the game. And now we come right back to the definition of socialism. See, I didn't put it in there just to take up room! In my utopian gaming world, systems themselves would be public property, allowing companies to capitalize on the worlds. I'm living a fantasy, I know... but I am a gamer, so that's allowed. Seriously though, I'd rather have game designers build their worlds around an existing system, especially if the world is what the designers really want to give the market.

That's all I ask, really. System socialism. Well, that's not all I ask, but that's all I ask this particular column. Not necessarily no new systems, but a way to help dam the flood of poor systems out there for world introduction only, as well as stifling the amount of systems out there so there's one less thing for players to worry about when group hunting.

Wow, I've ranted quite a bit about systems in the past year, huh? Well, no more. Starting next month, I put the focus back on you, the gamers... grrrrr.

Roll Saving Throw Vs. Bad Gaming
Erich S. Arendall

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