So, re-skinning your game. Why not? Maybe you’re comfortable with a certain game system, but don’t like its setting. Maybe you love a setting and there’s no accompanying game system. Maybe you are unhappy with the system rules that are associated with a published setting. Maybe you’re like me and wanted to run Shadowrun and had a player that insisted on playing Robotech. OK, OK, I admit that last one is just the premise of my last blog. However, the one commonality is that we want to run or play a game in a specific setting and either don’t have or don’t like a rules system associated with it.
The good news is that this is a ridiculously easy process. In fact, I’d be willing to wager that most pen and paper gamers have done this countless times without even really considering it. All those D&D or Pathfinder games that you’ve set in your homebrew setting have essentially been re-skins. While both of those systems have their own published setting and modules they are just as often used in a setting that begins with “Alright, in this world…” Though it’s an easy enough process there are a few guidelines that I like to follow, just to keep my head straight when running a game like this later.
The first and the most sensible of these guidelines is to use a setting appropriate rules system. With the plethora of rules systems printed throughout the years, one is bound to be up to the task. If you intend your game to involve dog fighting in shape changing jets with alien technology then the rules should be able to deftly handle that. If the rules system simply cannot achieve what you need, you’ll need to look further or be willing to cobble together some of your own rules. While patching a few weak points with house rules is all well and good, too many suggests that maybe the system might not be right for what you’re playing.
Next, the rules system should be one that will appeal to you and your players. Personally, I prefer not to play single die (read d20) resolution games. While I will play a game using single die systems, it’s a harder sell to convince me. Maybe you and your players love crunchier rules, consider systems that have rules minutiae, numerous exceptions, and all the math associated. Nowhere does it say you’re not allowed to enjoy the rules system based on its own merits. The rules should make the game more enjoyable not less. If they aren’t doing that, then it’s time to go shopping.
Finally, I suggest keeping away from games that intertwine the system setting and the rules system. A key example would be Legend of the Five Rings, an oriental-themed sword-swinging, spell-slinging game that allows room for and encourages courtly politics and interaction. The fundamental character advancement system is tied to the story-based conceit of bushi dojos and learning secret techniques unknown by other, possibly, rival family schools. The rules for the magic system are intricately tied to the system’s oriental flavor and magicians are essentially Shinto priests bargaining with the kami to cast magic. While these examples, and a host of other aspects, make Legend of the Five Rings a tremendously enjoyable game to play, those same aspects would make it extremely difficult to re skin. Divesting setting from rules can be an exceptionally difficult undertaking, other times it can be as simple as excluding Bigby, Evard, or Tenser from some spell names. Err on the side of caution here and use a system without setting details incorporated into rules mechanics.
I’d be remiss for not mentioning setting neutral games. There are a host of game systems that are fundamentally setting neutral and designed to be paired with any setting, homebrewed or published; GURPS, Fate, Savage Worlds, and Big Eyes, Small Mouth to name a few. Each of these has had to stand on the merit of its rules system and what you can do with it alone. While there are setting guides and other published settings utilizing these systems they are not intrinsically bound. Making each a prime candidate for the next game you want to run in a custom setting or a setting that doesn’t have a rules system you like associated with it.
As for me and my Shadowrun to Robotech reskin? It falls within my guidelines, but it’s going to be a bit of work. I fully expect to include vehicle combat using Shadowrun which has a variety of vehicles along with vehicle combat rules and associated skills characters can utilize for piloting F-14s that turn into giant robots. It uses a dice pool system, which pleases me, and has an amount of rules and tables that I’m comfortable with and genuinely enjoy some of the rules interactions. Finally, while the magic system and the rules for detailed cybernetic augmentation are pretty well-developed and key to the Shadowrun setting those rules aren’t going to cripple game play in a Robotech setting by excluding them. To me, it sounds like a pretty good fit. Changing the theme of the game from criminal mercenaries working for a megalithic corporation in Shadowrun to members of an elite military team within the U.N. Spacy of Robotech seems like something I can tackle when authoring the games underlying story line.