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The Tech Deck

Favorite Generic Roleplaying Systems

The clash of the genre's! (Jon & Janelle Roster / Andrew Smith)
The clash of the genre's! (Jon & Janelle Roster / Andrew Smith)

The last “genre” is less a genre and more a concept, the idea of a universal system. They are games not tied to a particular setting or place. Generic games span all previously mentioned genres and anything that you can think of. They are a framework of rules explaining how everything works. Characteristics, skills, classes (or the lack there of), abilities, equipment, vehicles and more are built to fit into any setting.

What better way to start off the discussion than with a free RPG. Rule of Cool developed Legend to be a cinematic RPG with fluid combat. Each class has three tracks; each track gives you different powers at different levels. If you want to multiclass or a particular race you would replace your track with another and boom, you’re a wizard monk dragon. It’s actually a rather slick system that is easy to understand.

The whole game revolves around taking a basic power or ability and changing it to fit your idea. I had a sentient warrior tree that used the monk class and construct race track. All I had to do was figure out how my tree could make use of these abilities. Constructs can regenerate, so instead of nanobots it was magic. Little things like that. Legend is thematically focused primarily on a fantasy setting, but throughout the rulebook they suggest you play any setting you would like.

My only caveat and this can be applied to many generic RPGs is the lack of a monster manual. If you want to create a bad guy or monster you essentially make an appropriate character. It can go quickly, but it prevents you from just grabbing a baddy on the fly. Still, the game acknowledges this minor shortcoming by essentially saying, "just wing it." Through some numbers on a sheet, they don’t need to be balanced and have fun. That seems to work well enough as long as the DM has an idea of what he wants.


Also, did I mention that it’s free?


Kaboom, super powers!
Kaboom, super powers!

With the ability to be anything, the generic roleplaying game has the glaring issue of not being amazing at anything specific. This problem is well known to the developers, so they create setting specific rulebooks, such as Science Fiction or Fantasy. Alternatively, they will create world specific books such as Deadlands or Robot Warriors. These extra books generally include some extra equipment, a change to character creation and give adventure ideas based on that particular setting.

My introduction to a generic roleplaying system came when I was a bright young lad of 14. We played a game called Champions which used the Hero System. Champions is a game where the players are Super-Heroes and it is amazing! By using the Hero System, players can literally do anything! Be any super hero they can think of and whatever strange power they want. Like a hero that explodes and pulls herself back together.

The best part of the system is character creation. Characters have a variety of stats, skills and qualities (both positive and negative). Then you get to the best part, powers. First thing you do, ask yourself, “What do you want your super power to do?” Do you want throw huge bolts of lightning? Run up walls? Teleport about? Create walls to protect your friends? Something else?

Once you have your power in mind you go through the list of available base powers. These include energy blast, flight, teleport, barrier, etc. From there you apply adders (improves the power, but costs extra) and limiters (limits the power, but makes it cheaper). To run up walls, I typically take the flight power with a limitation of, “must keep in contact with a surface”. This means that I would technically be flying next to the wall, but I describe it as running. That’s how I do it, but there are other ways of combining powers adders and limiters together to get whatever power you want.

One drawback to the Hero System: there’s a lot of math (especially during character creation) and a lot to keep track of when playing. For example, players need to keep track of the following: BODY (how much killing damage they’ve taken), STUN (how much subdual damage they’ve taken) and ENDurance (how tired they are). There are also a huge number of specific defenses: PD, ED, Power, Flash, knockback, mental, etc., so it’s easy to overlook something. Example: A massive Space Marine getting knocked about like a ragdoll because he forgot knockback resistance.

If you can over look these drawbacks you will find a game of incredible customizability. Everything from vehicles to monsters to people can be made with this system -- for better or worse. Still, if my 14-year-old self can handle it, so can you!


There's no right or wrong genre, it's all about having fun!
There's no right or wrong genre, it's all about having fun!

On the other end of the spectrum is a relatively new game called Savage Worlds. Savage Worlds, like other generic RPG systems, is built around setting up a framework that can work for pretty much anything you want. However, what Savage Worlds excels at is its simplicity.

Your skills and stats are all based on a type of die from 1d4 to 1d12. In order to succeed at a task, roll the associated skill and if you roll a 4 or higher you succeed. That’s it! Plain and simple, just roll a 4+. The only exception I can think of is melee combat where you need to roll equal to or greater than your target’s parry stat.

They also have released a bunch of supplementary books such as the aforementioned Deadlands and Fantasy books. They also released a Super Powers book if you wanted to play Champions, but aren't sold on the complexity of the Hero System. This book also works if you want to do an anime style game as well. I’m sure it can also work for a large variety of different settings, so I suggest you pick up this expansion if you like the Savage Worlds system.

The rule book, while not free, is incredibly cheap at only $10 for the physical copy! You can generally find it at your local gaming store. It’s cheap, it’s easy and it’s open. What’s not to like?


Honorable Mentions:

GURPS - General Universal RolePlaying System, GURPS is, as it names describes, a generic RPG. It can be used for any scenario you want and there are hundreds of books to help augment your game. I have not played this game myself, but I hear it’s relatively simple and quick to learn. Characters are made with points, similar to Hero System, but less math.


RIFTS - Haven’t played it myself, but I hear it’s fun. The game and its expansions cover many dimensions, characters, universes, technology and they all exist at the same time. This can lead to send high-tech enemies against low-tech players or vice versa. It can be very interesting though the rules are a bit on the more complicated side.


Dread - A game that doesn’t involve dice or stats. Character creation is quick and a whole game session is a story in and of itself. Dread is a horror game, that can be set anywhere at any time. I cover the rules in my Halloween post. It’s a fast game with little setup required, only an imagination and a Jenga tower.


If you like my blog post you can find more content on my Facebook page or on the Tech Deck blog! See you for the next blog. In the meantime, have fun adventuring!

Thank you Jon & Janelle Roster for helping me with the photography!


“The goats rule the surface now.”­ - Out of Context D&D quotes

Andrew Smith is one of The Spokesman-Review's IT gurus and resident dungeon master.