This is, of course, what most gamers seem to do.
The development of roleplaying games over the last 40 years has generally proceeded, at least for me, along two parallel lines. The first has been the fact that commercially sold gaming requires that companies kick out something fresh on a regular basis, and the second has been the fact that most of the settings sold come with their own (and often different) rules system.
The drive towards fresh product is a two-edged sword. On the one hand, we gain access to myriad ideas and ready-made elements with which to construct our own gaming sessions and stories. On the other hand, we are encouraged to keep spending cash on products which are rarely directly compatible across systems... or at least don't appear to be so, without some effort.
The assumption that a new setting will also mean a new system has also been a two-edged sword. It has pushed along the development of RPG systems from the single vision of D&D from the 1970s and led to multiple styles and approaches in the hobby. On the downside, most gamers are forced to either pick one system (and the available settings) or to learn multiple systems; the former is restrictive and the latter can drive you crazy.
Enter The Generic
The first problem with using the word "Generic" is that it has a negative connotation in our culture. For many, generic implies "one-size fits all, but not very well"; something that is generic is often viewed with suspicion and immediately written-off as likely to be colourless and flavourless.
This doesn't need to be the case.
Certainly many game systems that claim to be generic either aren't, or need a lot of work to make them fit into the GM's vision. Part of the problem is that nobody else's vision is really likely to fit 100% with your vision without some work. So, if you are happy to accept the limitations of someone else's fantasy (for instance) then D&D works fine... and, eventually, a committed GM will house-rule the system to suit themselves.
But it is a rare GM who will seek to house-rule a system from the outset. When a generic system requires some customisation for a campaign, the hardened GM knows that the effort may not be rewarded by the return. This is because it is a truism that most campaigns don't work out; they simply don't survive contact with the players. What GM is going to spent 200+ hours of prep for a campaign that might not fly?
Is Casual Enough?
Ours is a hobby that requires a great deal of commitment and effort in order to reap a reward. Is it really adequate to be a casual GM? A casual player?
Let's talk about the GM first.
Running a game requires a variable degree of preparation and a bucket load of imagination and commitment. The average GM is the kind of person who loves to tinker and play with stuff outside of the session anyway, so they often find themselves putting the elements together to make a game for others to enjoy. Only time pressures from outside the hobby force the GM to find strategies to limit their investment in the game.
If you are going to take on the challenge of entertaining a group of between 2 and 6 other people on a regular basis, drawing on their own contributions to the game as it unfolds in what can only be the most social of hobbies, why on Earth would you settle for anything less than the best? And yet... well, in my experience anyway, that's what GMs tend to do.
And then there is the player.
My friends, if you are going to turn up to play and you are not really bothered about the fact that the GM might have spent every spare moment in the last week preparing for the game, then what does that say about you?
Living in a consumer society, we have become used to the "turn it on and receive" mentality of TV and movies, and even reading seems like an effort. Yet roleplaying is a social endeavour that requires the input of the players. Without your creative input, your ideas and effort, the campaign will fail. The game will falter, stumble, stall and wither. And it will be fault of the players, rarely the GM.
What did you bring to the table? Another off-the-peg character sheet, filled with numbers instead of... well, character? What did you expect to happen?
What's Your Point?
My point it this: why spend time learning new systems over and over, or churning through games that you don't really feel opening up your imagination?
If you are a GM, spend the time developing the setting you are playing in. Instead of reading rules, write and create NPCs or story-elements. Use the stuff you have to greater effect.
If you are a player, learn one game system that is being played in your area and then ask GMs to use it to create detailed and fantastic sessions of gaming. And bring your imagination to the table.
Generic game systems that have stood the test of being played, preferably for many years, are the place to build your campaign from. Pick the setting of your choice and take the time to make it come alive using the rules system that you prefer. And even if that system is not truly generic (like D&D), if you like it then jolly well house rule it.
My Top Four Recommendations
- GURPS - This rules-deep game has stood the test of time and has ready-made options for almost anything you would need in print.
- FATE - This rules-shallow game (developed from FUDGE) has been morphed into several incarnations and plays very well for those of you who prefer story to rules.
- HERO SYSTEM - This game system has also stood the test of time but is perhaps the biggest ask for a GM to utilise because it is totally customisable.
- 6D6 - new on the market but wonderfully rules-lite and totally committed to being "for players, by players", this system is worth a look if you don't mind printing and chopping up cards.
My friends, go forth and play! Go and build the most wondrous, imaginative stories and stop faffing about with the rules.