Seeking Feedback: Interest in System Neutrality

This is just a quick post, but one I’m really hoping to get some feedback on.

How do YOU feel about “System Neutral” material?

The inspiration for this question comes from two projects I’m working on.

Those following my blog have seen my Neutropolis setting articles I’ve started up recently. This has been an idea I had for essentially using D&D 4E materials to run a steampunk-ish urban fantasy dystopia.
Another project I haven’t really discussed much openly about is a collaborative project in the scheming phase right now. Essentially, a few friends and myself are considering writing small publications of adventures and campaign settings that aren’t geared towards a specific system, although we would attempt to give some pointers and advice for various Open Licensed systems where available. The idea being to reach a broad market….here’s some adventures, some maps, and some settings….and it wouldn’t matter if you’re running AD&D, 4th Edition, Pathfinder, or any other fantasy game.

Back to me Neutropolis stuff, I’ve been getting some interest comments and conversations with others about how it could be interesting in other RPG systems. One friend of mine had an awesome character concept: Essentially an urban beast ranger, who instead of a normal animal has a clockwork pet. I felt using 4E that could be worked in just fine, but then he pointed out the obvious strengths of going with a system like Savage Worlds, or a slew of other “supers” and pulp-ranged game systems. Also, I’ve sort of been reading about systems like Fantasy Craft and seeing some potential there as well. So, I considered the idea of maybe going back over and starting to write the system without the 4E-specific terminology.

What’s interesting is when I asked for feedback over Twitter, one response I had came from an individual who didn’t care for 4E, but felt that going System Neutral was “dangerous” in that nobody is really interested in it. Which, thinking of my own interests at times, I can see how at least having a system tied to an idea or setting could be a bit more appealing, even if it’s not the system YOU are wanting to play.

So what do you guys think? Is System Neutrality not really the pursuit? Is it better to focus and cater to a specific system than it is to be broad enough for general use? Or is this something the hobby could really use more of? I felt that if we focused more on the story, the adventure, and non-mechanical driven stuff (like Puzzles and Trap design) then it could easily be incorporated into one game or the next.

Floor’s open, rant away.

7 thoughts on “Seeking Feedback: Interest in System Neutrality”

  1. Unless you have some kind of product that is truly top-notch with excellent art, system neutral just won’t grab anyone’s attention.

    For example, if I want some ideas with interesting art but want to taylor my own ideas, I can go out and buy a video game manual for $25 that has regional maps, dungeon maps, weapon descriptions, characters, magic items, etc. A perfect example is that World of Warcraft has three dungeon books alone. Some of these video game manuals are so complete that if that if they added some kind of dice mechanic and spent 10 pages on rules, they can be a self-contained pen and paper rpg in their own right. 300 pages in which every page is in full color for $25 is not a bad deal.

    So if your product is just 128 pages, black and white and system neutral, why I should I spend my $25 on your product when I can spend it on the WoW book or even less at Amazon?

    1. I see your point to a certain extent. I agree that the idea of shelling out a chunk of cash for a sub-par production isn’t going to be appealing; but I would say your argument is for gaming products in general. Unless you’re saying that offering support for a system allows lowered expectations of quality and recycled artwork.

      So let me ask two things: One, pending that the artwork and writing are decent, would 5 – 7 dollars for a PDF that included pretty much anything you would get out of a system-supporting product, including full color maps to scale, counters for monsters etc, be worth it? And two, when it comes to stuff being given away online (like my Neutropolis articles) does that still cheapen the experience ?

  2. I would buy a few products that are net neutral. I feel that there could be a viable market for a Spelljammer like neutral product. I missed it when that first came out and now after seeing the likes of Ebberon I would love to have products that aren’t earmarked for one game system or the other but for GM’s like myself to add to bring new ideas and approaches to whatever particular game system they use. Something that like the Judges guild products did back in the day.

  3. In order to sell me on a pdf in the $5-$7 range, the product pretty much has to be full-color maps, cut out counters, effect cards, etc.

    For example, I spend my money over at RPGNow and Drivethrurpg for 0One games with their blue print maps, color print maps, and Dungeon Under the Mountain stuff.

    Other system neutral stuff I buy are books that have general descriptions like the Bits of Darkness book and the map books that have full scale mini maps in it.

    For system neutral to work for me, I typically look for:

    1. Maps
    2. 3d Terrain
    3. Cardstock cutouts
    4. Description / Encounter cards
    5. Adventure / Plot cards for more unusual settings (scifi, western, horror)

    I avoid:

    1. NPC books (I need stat blocks for me to get any use out of them)
    2. Location books (I play in a specific campaign)
    3. Generic campaign settings (I have a lot of these already)

  4. Personally, and I’m not in the majority, I’m sure, I use a lot of system-neutral material (or off-system, which is the same because I can’t use the system info).

    Things I’ve found particularly useful to me have been the “quick but unsual setting+adventure” combo. They can make great one-shot games for the GM who doesn’t mind adapting the material to his or her favorite system.

    Notes on the power level of foes can be useful here without resorting to actual system notes. Or, and this is no doubt easier, stats for foes in various popular systems (d20, Savage Worlds, GURPS) which gives nimble GMS enough to draw on for conversion purposes.

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