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Can we come up with a 'System Summary' formula?


Validated User
Not to mention that one person's "personal horror" is another's "supers with fangs"...
Yep, that's why I think rpggeek has it about as deep as it can get before devolving into a subjective slapfight over the notoriously ambiguous terminology we use.


All out of spoons
RPGnet Member
Validated User
It's not about "how much", but "what kind". Nobody I've met ever decided not to play Fate because of the number or form of the dice. I know a lot of people who decided not to play it on account of the Fate point metacurrency. Or the aspects system. Likewise, I know many people who don't like classes and levels, and will hence not play D&D - whether it has d20s has never been a point of contention.
Exactly so. D&D 3 and at least three instances of Fate sit unplayed on my shelves; I have more class-and-level games and more instances of Fate in electronic form that I don't use either. And several instances of Gumshoe. But my dislike of them has nothing to do with dice types, the number of dice used, or the mechanics used. I like all sorts of genres and tones in their places, so long as camapigns are consistent. My issue with player agency is not that Fate demands too much, but that it demands that it be exercised in ways and areas that I don't care for.

Endless Rain

Active member
Validated User
Here's an expanded summary that includes most of the things mentioned in this thread. In my opinion, the more info there is to classify games, the easier it will be for people to find games they like. Anyone who wants can expand on this some more.

Scope (Genre): Generic, Fantasy, Sci-Fi, Space Opera, Western, etc.
Scope (Setting): Generic, implied setting, published setting only, etc.
Scope (Campaign): Any, adventuring, trading, narrow template, etc.
Main Die Type (If Any): d6, d10, d20, d100, various, cards, none, etc.
Die Mechanic: Additive, pool, diceless, etc.
Usual Number of Dice Rolled: 0, 1, 2, 3, 5, 2+, 10+, etc.
Tone: Comedic, Dark, Neutral, Parody, etc.
Character Generation: Random, semi-random, point-buy, template-stacking, lifepath-based, etc.
Power Curve: Zero to hero, zero to demigod, hero only, etc. (I need help coming up with descriptors for this.)
Character advancement speed: Normal, fast, minimal, none, etc.
Crunch, Character Generation: 1-5 Stars
Crunch, During Play: 1-5 Stars
Equipment: Extremely detailed, average, abstract, handwaved, etc.
Combat: Tactical, abstract, etc.
Lethality: High, low, only at player's choice, high but easy resurrection, etc.
Reference level: Book almost never needed, GM always needs a book, everyone needs a book all the time, etc.
Expected Player Agency: Light, Medium, High
Stance: Actor, author, pawn, director, multiple
GM authority: Absolute, shared, no GM, etc.
Resolution System: Gamist, simulationist, narrativist/dramatist, hybrid, etc.
Metacurrency: Yes/no, (optional, ignorable, integrated, core mechanic, etc.)
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Baroque Space Orc Mage
Validated User
I agree that using GNS or GDS isn't a helpful way to characterize that aspect of the system, because I think there's still a lot of discussion over the years about what those terms mean; they're frequently misused or abused because of definitional issues or misunderstandings. Also one of those points where people could end up arguing about it because they're like pushing buttons or pulling triggers to incite the debate.

I don't know if I have something better to offer in that layer. Maybe something like "(Predominant) fictional paradigm: realism/genre emulation, building drama/narrative, or competition and strategy". That feels like a more neutral way to describe it to me, even if it may not be the best wording for it. I think those capture what people seem to want to say whenever GNS comes up.

Endless Rain

Active member
Validated User
Thanks, I just added it to the Expanded System Summary.

Here's an example of it in action for D&D 3.5.

Scope (Genre): Fantasy.
Scope (Setting): Default implied setting, multiple published settings available.
Scope (Campaign): Any, but focused on adventuring.
Main Die Type (If Any): d20, though other dice are frequently used for damage.
Die Mechanic: Additive.
Usual Number of Dice Rolled: 1 for most rolls, 1-40 for damage rolls.
Tone: Neutral.
Character Generation: Class and level, multiple options for stat generation, point-buy for skills, all characters have feats that aren't class-dependent.
Power Curve: Zero to demigod.
Character advancement speed: Normal.
Crunch, Character Generation: 5 Stars
Crunch, During Play: 3.5 Stars.
Equipment: Highly detailed.
Combat: Tactical.
Lethality: Medium-high, but easy resurrection is available at higher levels.
Reference level: Most characters, especially Spellcasters, need a book available at all times on their turn.
Expected Player Agency: Medium.
Stance: Actor, author, and pawn stances are allowed by the rules, though actor is encouraged. The game does not support director stance in any meaningful form.
GM authority: Absolute.
Resolution System: Simulationism with some gamist elements.
Metacurrency: No. (An optional metacurrency exists only as a setting-specific rule for Eberron.)
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All out of spoons
RPGnet Member
Validated User
I find that much more usefully informative, though I do acknowledge the points that several posters have raised about the Threefold and GNS.


Registered User
Validated User
How on earth are we defining player agency here? Like is a game with no narrative control but tons of skills to choose from higher or lower than a game with some narrative control but little customization? Does "can be played with sandbox" equal more agency? If so how does that compare to narrative control? And how do we call if a game can or can't be played in a Sandbox fashion?

It honestly seems like a worthless, subjective thing to try and pin down at all.

Vincent Takeda

Chilllin in Rifts Denmark
Validated User
its super useful for someone like me. I've got dealbreakers with very specific labels that show up right on the surface here. If I'm the kinda guy where feat trees and fate points and dice pools are an automatic no for me, its right there. I like the idea. Some of the subjectivity makes it tough. Like I'd describe 3.5 and pathfinder leveling as 'fast'. But this is kind of like a game review built on 'game engine' tropes. Not so useful if, say, you're the kind of person who only plays fate or ptba since thats the one thing you need to know, but for folks with a wider gamut of preferences and proclivities...
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