[generic] The rise and rise of game engines

#1
Looking at my collectible volumes of role playing books, I noticed I am drifting towards game engines that power multiple games, since that invariably increases the number of games I can GM while at the same time reducing the diversity of rulesets I must learn.

Despite the glut of the early d20 era where even Star Wars had a d20 edition, it seems most big publishers are returning to that notorious trend of reusable game engines.

Pinnacle Entertainment's Savage Worlds has been flying the flag for some time, but it now seems more and more modern game designers also seem to have made peace with the d20 glut of years past and are back on the game engine bandwagon.

Do other GMs see this trend in their own regular games like maybe FATE, PbTA, FiTD?
 
#2
When it comes to the role of GM in 2018, I am also guilty of coalescing around a few reliable and reusable game engines, especially those that do not shy away from comfortable levels of crunch. Thus, the year 2018 still retains my favourites:

(a) 2d20 games of Mutant Chronicles, Conan, Star Trek and even John Carter of Mars. Because of Graham Spearings excellent Infinity game, I may add it too.

(b) GENESYS engine games of Star Wars Edge of The Empire (EoTE), Age of Rebellion (AoR), Force and Destiny (FaD) and even Warhammer 40K Dark Heresy Genesys. And lest I forget, Realms of Terrinoth, later in the year.

(c) Mutant Year Zero games (all Fria Ligan stuff like Coriolis The Third Horizon, Mutant Mechatron and the award winning Tales from the Loop).

(d) Cypher engine games from Monte Cook, though Bruce Cordell's The Strange is strangely my favourite of the lot (pun intended).

(e) My childhood D&D3e engine inspired games include its trendy incarnation in Starfinder (especially at PaizoCon), classic Eberron campaigns for family fun and other DnD3.5 equivalent stuff.

(f) I am also targeting to GM more Savage Worlds in 2018 because of Flash Gordon, obviously.
 
R

ragr

Guest
#3
Funnily enough, I've found myself drifting in the opposite direction of specific game engines to support specific games/settings (Yggdrasill, 13th Age and Gumshoe at the moment). You're right, this creates both a workload relating to understanding the setting but also the additional load that comes with a new ruleset. The advantage is, I guess, that a specific set of rules helps to achieve the intended feel and there's less risk of square peg in round hole making things feel awkward or forced. The exception is probably Gumshoe which does cross over to different settings.

I do love both Savage and FATE, albeit more for one-offs where familiarity of system across participants speeds things up no end.
 
#4
Of course creating a set of mechanics that truly capture the feel of a particular setting is a worthy goal in and of itself.

I just noticed that companies that started out with rules for a particular game (Numenera for example, eventually take the generic engine route, like Cypher for all Monte Cook settings, including superheroes).

And, more recently, Fria Ligan opened their own engine to the public, the Year Zero engine that is.

To further showcase this rise of engines, the Revelation games convention has focused entirely on games Powered by the Apocalypse, though in future, I hear it may also include the hotness of the Forged in the Dark too.

This is making me focus my GM skills on running a few popular engines instead of always branching out, thus, only playing in Symbaroum instead of being GM.

Below is the Fria Ligan quote on their OGL:

year_zero_engine_ogl_after_forbidden_land_kickstarter.jpg
 
#7
I think when you find a game system that sings for you, going through the ball ache that is learning a new one can be off-putting. However, as has been mentioned, squeezing a setting into an existing system can be difficult and sometimes you just need something new and more appropriate.

For me, I find Fate and PbtA pretty effortless to pick up and run a game with - I can pretty much run Fate Accelerated without the book now. I thought I had loads of PbtA books but I don't really - 4 or 5. Similarly, I have managed to acquire a lot of the Evil Hat Fate stuff but not really read any. Which is a shame.

I do like a new system though - something to learn from.
 
#8
I think when you find a game system that sings for you, going through the ball ache that is learning a new one can be off-putting. However, as has been mentioned, squeezing a setting into an existing system can be difficult and sometimes you just need something new and more appropriate.

For me, I find Fate and PbtA pretty effortless to pick up and run a game with - I can pretty much run Fate Accelerated without the book now. I thought I had loads of PbtA books but I don't really - 4 or 5. Similarly, I have managed to acquire a lot of the Evil Hat Fate stuff but not really read any. Which is a shame.

I do like a new system though - something to learn from.
A new system but preferably one without funky dice, so no GENESYS or my joke name for it: The Savage Worlds of Fantasy Flight Games.
 
#9
I tend to buy games on the basis of whether I think the setting is cool. So mostly it is regardless of the system and hence it doesn't matter if said system is unique or is an engine that powers multiple games. The exception being any game where I utterly utterly hate the system - like the glut of the early d20 mentioned.

If I'm making up my own setting, or adapting a TV show/novel then I reach for whatever my current favourite is of the systems that support multiple games. At the moment it is Cortex+.

That's then modified by the gaming group. There are a couple of folks in my Monday groups who don't particularly like Cortex+, for instance, so if every campaign i ran on Mondays was Cortex+ there would be grumblings.
 

Guvnor

Administrator
Staff member
#10
I am a systems junkie. In fact I might suggest that most Tavern regulars compared to most roleplaying folk who just play one system.

But I have actively tried to force myself to have 6-8 core engines. Think about that: 6-8 and I pretend that's a core!!

But I think publishers do it for the network effects. One system for all means lower cross development resources, higher cross buy in from players, and low resource niches. I think they also want their own IPR in their own system, just in case they are affected by another company decision, as Paizo was with the ending of 3x by Wizards.. but that was handled very well by Paizo!
 
#11
If there's a generic engine, I've come to realise that it's often better for my tastes when it's quite seriously adjusted to suit the setting. For example, 2d20 does a good job here; Star Trek is very Star Trek, and although it shares the same underlying mechanic with Conan, I wouldn't personally say they're the same system. Cortex+ does well here too. And of course Gumshoe. Fate, by contrast, often isn't shaped enough for my tastes. And every Savage Worlds setting, for better or worse, is Savage Worlds first and that setting second.

That said, my philosophy is incoherent. I like Wordplay, and that fits into different genres as is.

Like Guvnor, I have around six to eight core engines. There's also a deal of bespoke stuff I really like. There are no good answers from me to this one, though it's a good question.
 
#12
I think when you find a game system that sings for you, going through the ball ache that is learning a new one can be off-putting. However, as has been mentioned, squeezing a setting into an existing system can be difficult and sometimes you just need something new and more appropriate.
Guilty as charged! :-D
 
#13
I'm a hacker at heart which means I'm drawn to systems which are easy to hack.

Apocalypse World and Blades in the Dark have great chapters on how to hack the systems. Fate released with an entire book dedicated to hacking it. GURPs of course is supposed to be the ultimate hackable system, but has a lot of hidden assumptions built in at a very deep level and always ends up feeling like 'GURPs'. Other systems are more difficult to hack with their moving parts well hidden - I would never, for example, try hacking Burning Wheel.

Having said that when I decide what I want to play I normally start at the opposite end to most people. I don't generally decide to run D&D, Pathfinder etc. Instead, I start by deciding on the setting, genre and what the PCs are likely to do, and backtracking to a system. Hence I might decide I want a game about deep space miners in the asteroid belt, caught in the conflict between Mars and Earth. I then look at the genre - is it political sci-fi, space opera, hard sci-fi? Do the players provide a unified front or is there an element of conflicting agendas? What do they do? Do they man a mining ship, do they trade, do they spend all their time at a mining base? What sort of game do I want to run?

It's only after I've really evaluated what I want to run that I come back to the system. Those miners listed above might work well in Cortex plus drama (Smallville), Hotwar, Fate Accelerated, Shadows Over Sol (Saga Machine), Traveller/Cepheus, Stars without Numbers, The Gaean Reach (Gumshoe), GURPs, Cypher or even Wushu, but each is going to produce a very different game and each is going to require a different amount of hacking to produce the game I want.

Despite the glut of the early d20 era where even Star Wars had a d20 edition, it seems most big publishers are returning to that notorious trend of reusable game engines.
There is nothing wrong with modifying an existing system to meet the demands of a new game. The issue is when they don't - when they role out an existing system and assume it will work un-modified for a new setting and game style.

Looking back at the d20 era there was a lot of rubbish, an awful lot of rubbish, but there were also some gems. Iron Heroes, Mutants and Masterminds 2e (not 1st edition which was far too conservative and didn't step nearly far enough from its source material), and Spycraft 2e (again not 1st edition) all showed what could be done when publishers embarrassed their requirements and actually modified the game to meet their needs.

However, if you have a set of requirements which don't mesh with your system, you may find it better to start somewhere else. I'm really excited about the Expanse RPG, but concerned that Green Ronin are trying to hack the FantasyAGE to produce it. Its a great match for the action side of the Expanse, but a poorer match for the investigative and political drama sides of the setting. I'll wait to see what they produce but when it comes down to it Leviathan Wakes was a detective novel which would have been better handled by the Gumshoe system, whilst much of the rest of the series is a drama that might work better with Hot War.

Modiphius seem to have it right. They seem to be picking settings which work well with their core system.
 
#14
I run most games with a modified version of one of Rolemaster or RQ/Mythras or Harnmaster (which is similar to RQ/Mythras) or D&D.
Or I run L5R (4th ed) straight.

I am currently thinking of how to modify L5R for use in Tekumel though I may go for a version of Mythras instead.

I like to try out new games to see if there is anything I can use for one of my favourite settings or to see if there are elements I can adapt. Eg. I may look at some aspects of Blades in the Dark for a future Thieves Guild/Thieves World setting I am planning.
 
#15
I run most games with a modified version of one of Rolemaster or RQ/Mythras or Harnmaster (which is similar to RQ/Mythras) or D&D.
Or I run L5R (4th ed) straight.

I am currently thinking of how to modify L5R for use in Tekumel though I may go for a version of Mythras instead.

I like to try out new games to see if there is anything I can use for one of my favourite settings or to see if there are elements I can adapt. Eg. I may look at some aspects of Blades in the Dark for a future Thieves Guild/Thieves World setting I am planning.
Have you tried out the Fantasy Flight Games Legend of the Five Rings with funky dice? I took part in the beta tests but because I had to purchase another set of funky dice different from my Star Wars/Genesys set, I stepped away from investing in the new L5R.
 
#16
Have you tried out the Fantasy Flight Games Legend of the Five Rings with funky dice? I took part in the beta tests but because I had to purchase another set of funky dice different from my Star Wars/Genesys set, I stepped away from investing in the new L5R.
Yes, I signed up for the Beta, read through the rules and created some characters. My players refused to go further than that and I cannot blame them. The new system (aka 5th edition) is a step back from how we already play. FFG put in so many rules to encourage rp that it stifles rp; they want to enable and encourage rp but for my group that is not needed as we do that already. I took a vote and we are sticking with 4th ed.
 

Newt

RunePriest
#17
I kinda get obsessed with the game engines I run:

D100/BRP is my goto fantasy engine. Not just the actual % skill system, but also the Character ->Culture ->Proffession ->Magic System framework that originates from RuneQuest. RQ 3, in particular, introduced a whole framework of presenting setting information that I keep on coming back to.

OD&D. When I got back into D&D as a result of following the OSR blog sphere five years or so, of all the retro-clones Swords and Wizardry was a hit with me the most and I spun Crypts and Things off that (which is my Swords and Sorcery variant with a dash of Fighting Fantasy/White Dwarf 80s inspiration). It's my gateway to stuff like the Black Hack and 13th Age. Should really graduate to running 5th Ed, but OD&D I can carry in my head. Also, Mitch's Beyond D20 (which is what we are calling the system in Beyond Dread Portals) also builds a lot of modern narrative sensibilities on top of the S&W chassis, in an easy effortless way that doesn't tax my poor aged sponge of a brain too much.

FATE won the narrative system wars of the 2000s that raged in my head sometime in the 2010s, swiftly dispatching HeroQuest to the dustbin of failed systems (although I'm feeling the urge to take it out and give it a spin again).

PbTA is still the hot new kewlness, that I'd love to write something for but I'm still at the learning through play stage with. But every game I've either played or run has been a hit with me.
 

First Age

D&D h@ck3r
Staff member
#18
Hi @negromaestro - yes, I do see engines being promoted with SRDs or branching between genres and game lines. There's always been a bit of this going on. It's a blend, as I have lots of bespokes too, which I don't see being re-purposed or opened up in any way.

Outside of Wordplay, which is trivially easy to apply to most anything, Fate is, perhaps, the next easiest to hack multi genre engine just now, preferring others to do the heavy lifting for PbtA. Cypher is a podium third. My current jam is Genesys, and I can see myself using and reusing the engine a lot over the next few years.

Ironsworn is being opened up for use, and I'll be taking a careful look at that when it arrives as I may want to experiment with it.

I'm enjoying the big 2d20 splats, despite myself.

It's a rich time of good games.
 

Ezio

Administrator
Staff member
#19
For me it's very much a mix. I have some games with custom systems which I think work very well and are quite unique, others which happen to use a custom rules system, and then the ones which use generic engines. I also think that some engines work better for some games/genres than others. I'm a big fan of Fate for a lot of things, and I use it for my own Stiff Upper Lip game, but I don't think it works for everything, and some implementations are better than others. I tried Diaspora a while back, for example, which had some nice ideas in it but which I found ultimately unsatisfying. For that kind of science-fiction I prefer something with a bit more crunch and detail.

My current go-to engine is Mythras, which I'm using to write a Renaissance Italy game and a Cthulhu/horror game. I'm also converting the old FGU Space Opera rules to Mythras, drawing in part on the excellent M-Space. I just find it a very easy system to work with and adapt.
 
#20
I'm a big fan of Fate for a lot of things, and I use it for my own Stiff Upper Lip game, but I don't think it works for everything, and some implementations are better than others.
I don’t “get” Fate. But Stiff Upper Lip is one of two “implementations” which make sense to me. (The other being Bounty Hunters of the Atomic Wasteland.) It should be published.
 
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