Dungeons & Dragons, Apocalypse World, Pathfinder, GUMSHOE, Fate, BASIC, GURPS, Savage Worlds, Cortex, Shadowrun, The Burning Wheel.
These are just some of the RPG systems that someone could find if s/he knew where to look (Google. Seriously.). Each system differs from the others primarily through mechanisms and settings. You may roll a 20-sided die (d20) in D&D and Pathfinder to see whether you hit the kobold, while in GUMSHOE you only roll one d6 for everything (and you do not need to make checks to obtain key clues). Also, there may be no kobolds in GUMSHOE.
You may be wondering, where am I going with this? Why babble about RPG systems when I have not even established an RPG group? Well, if you are new to the hobby, coming as I am, from video games and board games, the RPG is an intimidating beast. This beast looks to tear you and your friends up into shreds, lick the flesh off your bones and threaten to embarrass you on the internet. Such a beast, however, discriminates among its victims, preferring the supple and tender flesh of a young game master (GM, or Dungeon Master, or Master of Ceremonies, or Director, or Keeper, or whatever the fuck you want to call it).
Being the one who had the ‘brilliant’ idea to start playing RPGs, I was naturally ‘selected’ to be the GM. Being the ‘chosen one’, the first responsibility handed to me was to pick a system. Any system. Come on, just do it. Stop delaying and decide. Oi. You. Hurry up.
How do I pick a system? How do I pick anything? First, I’ll check out some reviews and look up the ratings that other players may have given. Then I scour the forums for some comments and ‘actual play’ reports. Some time later, I decide to purchase the electronic version of the text and give it a quick read. After that, I may want to watch some (admittedly, boring) videos to see how others play the game (though I’m pretty sure they’re having loads of fun. RPGs are like that). Subsequently, I may do a solo ‘playtest’ to see if the rules are easy to grasp by clueless players (roleplaying as a clueless player is a challenge in itself). Finally, I decide to repeat the process for a totally different system.
Hence the title.
On one hand, having to read multiple RPG rulebooks and absorb any and every bit of information about it is quite overwhelming. On the other hand, I begin to see the common threads that weave through the different systems. Threads that are of the same colour or material. Threads that interweave with other threads to create a unique cloth of Role Playing which helps me understand the ‘big picture’.
Role Playing Games are conversations. The rules are there to guide the GM and the players so that the conversations have foci. The settings help fire the imagination and supply ideas for what I think is most important in any RPG ever: Cool shit must happen.
Ultimately, regardless of the system you (and I) prefer, players should be given the opportunity and the freedom to make cool stuff happen to their characters/make their characters do cool shit. The rules and setting must encourage such iciness to emerge, whether its pre-planned or not (which is a topic for another day).
This post has gone on long enough and I have no idea what my point was in the beginning. All I know is I wrote some cool shit up there. So there you go. Read. Enjoy. And play to find out.