#RPGaDay2021 – Day 29 – System

Twenty-nine days ago we started the #RPGaDay2021 marathon of positive posting on a Sunday much like today. This is the last Sunday in the run of 31 days, and it kicks off our last few posts with a pretty potent prompt. There are but two days after today and they too have good prompts, but not quite like today’s prompt.

You might be wondering what today’s prompt is. It is system.

For what?

LISTEN to the Casting Shadows Podcast instead


In the circles of folks who talk about RPGs in terms of them being RPGs and what make this one different in some way from that one, there is a notion such that if the GM plays the world and the Players play the characters, then the system is the instrument through which they play. Their decisions are notes, their statements the breath and motion that forms the notes, and all of this disparate activity shapes first chaos, then sense, then pattern, then melody, then song, then memorable prog rock concept album with mind-blowing art. Honest! Well… your mileage may vary on that last part.

Through all of this metaphorical musicality, the system – in its role as instrument – defines, shapes, and influences the the notes, the way and the tempo of their playing, and their impact on the listener.

System is the very difference between roleplaying and a rolepaying game. We can easily have roleplaying without system and often do, but we cannot have a roleplaying game without it.

Talk in these circles can get a bit heavy at times, with a hint of the esoteric, and it can accidentally start to exclude people who have not had the chance to catch up with the systems in question, and the development of specialized and localized jargon, but in an open-minded group, free of the sort of self-serving personality cult and/or profiteering nonsense that can follow deep dives of this sort into a favored topic, it can really be stimulating and elevate play to new levels. One benefit I am particularly fond of is the pooling of skills and other intellectual resources which spreads greater understanding of how our talents, training, and backgrounds give us varied insights into the same phenomena. We not only have an opportunity to learn from one another about games, we can learn to appreciate and develop other skills entirely – like statistical analysis, a survey of history or literature, an understanding of debate, or satire or… the list is as expansive as the people you have to interact with.

More commonly, talk about system goes down Preference Avenue, in the neighborhood where it intersects with Bias Boulevard. This is a rich neighborhood with a lot to like, dislike, include, exclude, switch, import, export, change, cling to with passion, and reject with fervor. Passion gilds the streets in this neighborhood and it is a vital artery in how the community presents itself to itself and others.

Conversation here does not do much to refine or alter play, but it does wonders for spreading games to new players. It sparks revolutions in local and global gaming trends, it revives forgotten games, and it introduces new ones. It restores us from burn out, it makes us rebuild groups which changes of life have taken away, it urges us to be creative ourselves and encourage others to be creative, it launches dreams, and it enables new connections and new friendships.

It is the truth that reveals the lie in the old myth that gamers are, were, and always have been dissocial misfits. The games persist, they have been spread, and they are growing in number, as are their players. How is that possible? We talked with each other and we played each others’ games, and then others saw the fun and joined in. We love gaming, and it is contagious!

Although we are arguably a mess as a species at present, on average we seem to be fairly well organized as individual creatures. Pattern recognition, collection of leafy things, amassing stores for lean times and shelving them in alphabetical order by publisher and genre – we are made, it seems, to get ready for game night.

We have got it down to a system~

In Our Play

We didn’t start the fire
But we can add fuel to it~
One Response to “#RPGaDay2021 – Day 29 – System”
  1. “System is the very difference between roleplaying and a rolepaying game. We can easily have roleplaying without system and often do, but we cannot have a roleplaying game without it.”

    I like this a lot, especially in relation to thinking about RPG essentialism and exceptionalism.

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