So, what does all this naval gazing really get us? Not much at the end of the day but it may make for some entertaining reading. Recently Clash over at Flying Mice Games talked about system as a distinct set of components. In those he included things we would all nod our heads in agreement but added a few that we would most likely shrug at. In those, we have things like character generation, initiative, resources and abilities. Sure, we would probably say, you either rolling the dice for those or defining the dice you would roll. This is off course system. This is the toto of system, the alpha and omega. Or is it?
The problem here is we are looking at the trees, we are classifying them, defining the as the forest and not understanding how the moss, the brush, rivers and creeks, hills and vales all figure into it. We are leaving out what fundamentally gives system meaning. In a word, that is system.
System is the glue that binds, this is the elements that gives system meaning. System has no purpose, in and of itself. Setting though, this can exist without a shred of system. Wait! you might say, you have setting-less systems like DND!!!!! Not really. Sorry, but DND has a fantasy setting. Upfront. Very few systems are sold without a shred of setting. D20 Modern?!?! Well, a modern world setting. Palladium Fantasy?!?! Right there in the title. However, lets flip it around. Greyhawk? Sure, it was made for DND but it is not tied to it in the least. The many setting books by Green Ronin and others? You can sell a setting without a system because it is the glue that binds the system. It is the hills, vales, rivers and whatnot outside of the trees and types of trees. A truly setting-less system will fall flat because it boils down to a flat engagement of analytics. It does not engage our imaginations, it does not fill that craving for a story that we find so engaging. I am not saying setting equals story but that a setting engages the same area of our imagination and sparks the ideas for a story.
So, bottom line, how does the tripe above make for a better gaming experience for you, the reader. Going forward, assuming it had not already occurred to you, one could take the understanding of setting over system as a means to:
1. Present a setting to your group and let system work itself out. The group likes Palladium, then adapt it to your setting.
2. When picking a gaming product, look more closely at the setting, less at the system. The system, at the end of the day, can be replaced, setting, not so much.
3. When you are disappointed with a game, think about why that is. Is it really the system? It may well be. Is it the setting? If it is, you may have a much more fundamental problem with the product.
Good luck in finding a game you enjoy and Good Gaming!