A generic role-playing game system or universal role-playing game system is a role-playing game system designed to be independent of setting and genre. Its rules should, in theory, work the same way for any setting, world, environment, or genre that one would want to play.
There is some dispute among roleplaying enthusiasts on when the concept of a generic system originated and which was the first one published. It is clear that the development of the HERO System from the superhero RPG Champions was a profound influence in popularizing the concept. The publication of GURPS (Generic Universal Role-Playing System) as a completely setting-independent game and its commercial and creative success added credence to the movement. It truly became a dominant subject in RPG design with the release of the Third Edition of Dungeons & Dragons and the creation of the Open Gaming License (OGL) and the d20 System.
It is frequently disputed whether d20, which requires massive alteration with each new genre because of its class and level system, really qualifies as a generic system. Some d20 derivatives, however, such as Green Ronin Publishing's True20 Adventure Roleplaying are presented as fully generic systems. Similarly, Chaosium's Basic Role-Playing is sometimes considered a generic system, since it serves as the basis of several games in different genres, but the original booklet itself is so rules-light that each genre game has had to expand the basic rules substantially. The more recent Basic Roleplaying: The Chaosium d100 Roleplaying System is considerably expanded and presented as a generic system.
Other influential generic systems include:
- Eden Studios' Unisystem
- Grey Ghost Press' FUDGE
- Guardians of Order's Tri-Stat System
- Pinnacle Entertainment Group's Savage Worlds
- R. Talsorian Games's Fuzion and Interlock System
- West End Games's D6 System and Masterbook system.
Advantages and disadvantagesEdit
Many role-playing games have rules designed for a specific genre such as sword and sorcery, or specific universes such as Star Wars. Conversely, a generic system has basic rules designed to handle the wide variety of situations that can arise in the spectrum of settings. There is a long-standing dispute among RPG professionals over whether any system can be truly generic and whether it produces better games to use them or to build the system around the desired setting and genre.
The advantage of a generic rule system is that players only need to buy and learn from one main rule book, saving money and time. Since most settings share a large set of features, such as the way characters move and fight, players would not have to re-learn such basics when starting in a new setting using those generic rules. This eases players in the move from one setting to another. The players and the game master choose the desired setting before starting a game.
Generic game systems also have their share of disadvantages. Often, the basic rules of a generic system are more complex than those designed for a specific setting. Generic rule books have to cover features and aspects that might be of little use in some settings. Also, game developers still might need to produce rule books designed for specific settings to provide meaningful gameplay. If the developers take this too far, it can offset the original advantages of a generic system in the first place.
Multi-genre role-playing gamesEdit
A cross-genre or multi-genre role-playing game allows the exploration of different genres in their own settings with the same character, or different versions or incarnations of the same character. The character may go from the American Old West, to four-color superheroics, to a mystery, and back to an invasion of Earth by aliens. While fantasy and science fiction are usually the most common genres, others can include mystery, western, horror, historical, and espionage.
This doesn't strictly require generic rules; even first edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, clearly not a generic system, had rules for interacting with Boot Hill and Gamma World settings and characters. However, generic rules clearly make this crossover easier.
Taking a character from one world to another can be one of the strengths of a generic system and may be the point of the game. The default GURPS 4th Edition setting, for example, takes advantage of exactly that strength. However some otherwise generic games do not always allow for transferring the same character to different worlds with the same rules. The d20 system, for example, has special setting-specific rules that mean that you cannot take a character out of one world and put him in another without adding rules to the new world to accommodate him. FUDGE, because of the looseness of the rules system, GURPS and the Hero System, through design, do not need to have rules added for a world change - although a little character adjustment may be necessary because of the different way the new world sees the character (e.g., in a new world the fact that a character is an officer of the law in the previous world may no longer be relevant except for character background).
On the other hand, a multi-genre or cross-genre role-playing game does not have to be the same as a generic game system, since it does not have to have rules for all possible genres, just those for the specific settings or worlds it covers. The below are examples of multi-genre, but not completely generic, role-playing games.
- Multiverser - the player characters moving between dimensions based on varying rules of reality.
- Rifts - on a post-apocalyptic future Earth with different universes connected through "Rifts" in space, time, and reality.
- TORG - Storm Knights, deliberately larger-than-life heroes engaged in fighting the invasion of Earth, to prevent it being conquered by invading dimensions, largely corresponding with popular roleplaying genres.
- Worlds of Wonder - the earliest (1982) multi-genre role-playing game, based on Basic Role-Playing, including three worlds, Magic World, Superworld, and Future World, and a thin booklet for moving characters between them.