free copy ofThe System, my universal RPG written originally in the mid-80s. I'd also like to thank Chris's Compendiums of Free Role-Playing Games, John Kim's Free RPGs on the Web, and Rob Lang over at 1KM1KT (1,000 Monkeys, 1,000 Typewriters), all of whom have taken on the vocation of helping rule-makers and home-brewers to get their work out there. Rob even goes above and beyond, working double-duty with the 24 Hour RPG competition, and triple-duty with the Game Chef competition.
So... "What's The System?" you ask?
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Some time around seventh or eighth grade (this was around 1980, mind you), I started hearing about this game called Dungeons & Dragons. I knew a couple of guys who played it, but I didn't know much more than that. I remember making the mistake of buying the blue box Expert Set without having played the game or having read the Basic (red) Rulebook. So I saved up another twelve bucks, bought the red box, figured it out (a little anyway), and convinced my younger brother to roll up a character or two. Soon enough we were on our way... to adventure!
The bigger impact on me as a role player came not long after while accompanying my mother on her trip to the hobby shop for cross-stitching supplies. It was there, in a clearance bin, I spied it... a copy of Metagaming's Wizard. It blew me away. It was simple and straightforward. But more importantly, I realized there was more than one RPG out there, and there were other ways of handling character creation and combat.
I moved onto high school, joined the "Warlords" club (our school RPG club) and was exposed to the gamut of games available on the market—simple and fun superhero games, complex medieval games, unique starship combat systems. And the more I discovered, the more interesting it became. Then it hit me... "Why isn't there one RPG that lets you play in any setting or time period." It seemed so natural to me, and I couldn't figure out why no one had done it yet. So I set about creating one.
I'd go to my dad's office every chance I got, sit at that newfangled Wang word processing workstation (you know the one, the big thing with the black screen and green text, the one hooked to that big box on the other table, next to the daisy-wheel printer), and clack-clack-clacked my way through the rules. This early version of “The System” was mostly engineered from the mechanics of other games that made the most sense to me, filling in here and there with some contrivances of my own.
By early 1986, I had a working version of the rules together. I had a few copies printed out, ready to bring them to my gaming group (to see how they played), when a friend showed up at our weekly session with the first couple of GURPS rulebooks. "AAUGH! Somebody beat me to it! (Not that I shouldn't have figured it would happen.)" Staring at those fully-illustrated/typeset/printed GURPS books, I just didn't see the point in continuing with my game.
I went off to college at the end of that summer, got REALLY busy on my schoolwork and lost time to play, and drifted away from the hobby for a while. So my rulebook sat in a folder for years... somewhat forgotten. Until I found them in a box stored in the back of my garage last year, about the same time I discovered the OSR.
Call it nostalgia for those early years, call it the internet “if he can do it, I can do it” attitude, or just call it a waste of virtual space. With a little help from my scanner, an OCR program, and 20 plus years of graphic design experience, I published my original system earlier this year via a downloadable PDF and in a print version through Lulu.com. There was very little content editing (just some clean up for comprehension and a few glaring rule inconsistencies,) and I gave it a decidedly retro bent to the layout and graphics (inspired more by the post white box wave of wargame based RPGs.) So there it is... very raw, but "out there" in the universe nonetheless.
The rules are a little bare-bones and include some very obvious holes (and more typos than I care to mention). Moreover, I feel it to be plagued by the poor writing of a teenager who had yet to discover his voice as a writer, and was doing his best not to plagiarize the writing of the games that "inspired" him.
The new layout, however, is much more user-friendly than the original version produced on that Paleolithic word processor with monospaced daisy-wheel printing and justification forced to the point of illegibility. (It might as well have been chiselled on stone.) And with the addition of a few perfect pieces of vintage public domain clip art, I think it captures the spirit of that early wave of (now “retro”) role playing games. (BTW, there is a much smarter, much stronger, much deeper, and much more streamlined version in the works - The System: Expanded.)
So why did I put it that original (albeit re-published) version out there? Vanity? Legacy? Boredom? Most likely a combination of all three.
I hoped that somebody might find something useful in there, whether it be a game mechanic they'd adapt for their own use, an insight to the home-grown nature of early role-playing games, or (at the risk being committed) a system of mechanics they actually use outright!
So what do those 2,000+ people who've downloaded The System think of it? I have no idea. Though my email address appears with the copyright indicia, I have yet to hear from a single one.
To download a PDF of The System, follow this link to MediaFire.
And don't forget to let me know what you think. I've been in the advertising/design biz for 25 years. I've got thick skin. I can take it.