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Day 23: System Mechanics, Setting, and Story

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Ask Star Wars roleplayers which system best evoked the feel of the movies for them, and you’ll likely to get four different answers. What makes the WEG d6 system more “Star Wars-y” than Saga Edition with its d20s or Edge of the Empire with its custom dice? It’s a personal preference, but that it’s a question at all indicates that mechanics somehow inform game experience for many players.

That’s pretty universally agreed upon at this moment in the history of RPGs: one need only look at the amazing cornucopia of system offerings on RPG Drive Thru to suit any genre or taste. But only ten or so years ago, during the d20 OGL explosion, it seemed like a hack/mod of D&D 3.X could support any setting or story you wanted to throw at it.

This world map of the Universe of the Four Gods would suit an RPG perfectly.

This world map of the Universe of the Four Gods would be perfectly suited for an RPG.

Right now I’m working on a campaign that’s best described as a blend of Magic Knight Rayearth, Twelve Kingdoms, Fushigi Yuugi, and Avatar: the Last Airbender. Breaking it down into its component parts on TVTropes, it’s a blend of Ordinary High-School Student, Magical Girl, The Chosen One, Heroic Fantasy, Constructed World, and Trapped in Another World.

Specifically, I want to evoke the feelings of fantasy, magic, mythology, romance, discovery, and sacrifice that are common to all these series, doing so in a way that is specific to the world they’re in.

Now the hard part: which system should I use for that? Big Eyes Small Mouth is known for being able to accommodate various anime genres, but in being able to support multiple genres, it feels a little too diffuse for what I want specifically. Moreover, I’m using the BESM Tri-Stat system for my current Sailor Moon Campaign, and it’s just a little too simple for my tastes.

I’m finding that Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition really suits my GMing style in terms of having just enough (but not too much) crunch. But I’ve always preferred point-buy systems, however rare they are when fantasy is concerned. Since discovering it back in college, I’ve been fascinated by the dice/resolution mechanic and advancement system of Burning Wheel–you get better by practice. This seems perfect for an anime/manga-based campaign: this type of advancement is especially apparent in how the Magic Knights improve and evolve their magic, weapons, and armor.

Characterization is of course hugely important when it comes to anime and manga in general, and the Fate system of Aspects brings backstory and character traits to bear on mechanics pretty intuitively. I also want the magic to reflect the mythology of the world, a blend of the Four Symbols of Chinese astrology with the Twelve Signs of the modern Zodiac, plus dragons (because dragons were to me what horses were to most young girls). Luckily, one of my friends has a fantastic homebrew magic system with school divisions very close to my own, one that also allows players to craft their own spells in a way that’s balanced.

So I’ve ended up with a hodge-podge of three different systems, while also borrowing from the design sensibilities of D&D 5e and 13th Age when it comes to adversaries and the action economy. Will it all work together? Hopefully. At the very least, this level of customization will best reflect the story and setting I want to tell and evoke. With any luck I’ll be able to report on its success in the coming months.

What effects do the system mechanics have on the setting or story in your experience? Link your answers in the comments below! You can find the rest of the 30 Days of Gamemastering Challenge prompts here. And stay tuned for tomorrow’s post on existing vs original settings. Thanks again for reading!

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