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I have an idea for a game meant to introduce a wide variety of systems to my regular group so we can see what kind of things we like. The idea is that the characters would be planeswalkers or possibly involved in a dream scenario like Inception; the trick is that every time they go to another world/dream/whatever, we'd be playing under a different system.

Clearly I'll want the original character sheets to be as inclusive as possible, so that I won't run into too many issues converting. For example, if I start with, say, DnD 3.5, and then they become Mortals/Hunters in White Wolf, there will be a whole bunch of skills with a big fat question mark because they simply don't exist in DnD, like Computers or Gun. (Of course, that's a bad example because I'd probably want to use D20 Modern to make the time periods match up better, but you get the idea).

What system should I look at that produce sheets that can be easiest to convert to different rule sets?

ETA: The problem I'm trying to solve with this game is the fact that my group is relatively new and we're not much liking the system we're using, so I wanted to find an interesting way to demo a bunch of varying systems to see which ones we want to try out for a longer campaign. I could just do a series of one-shot adventures, but I like the idea of linking them somehow.

Edit 2: I've been working on this some; I'm looking now at using Torchwood as my basis, since my group are all into Dr Who and the setting allows for time travel and alien tech as a plot macguffin. So I'll want something that can be stripped of setting as my "overworld" system. I'm looking at a tri-stat, a Basic Roleplaying, a FATE, a d20, and Deadlands as the "splat" systems, to cover a wide variety of systems. We're willing to dedicate some time to re-creating each character sheet before going into each session.

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I guess this question is somewhat related and might be of interest to you: Is there a method for sliding seamlessly from one system into another during a campaign? :) –  OpaCitiZen Dec 12 '12 at 22:38
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4 Answers

up vote 6 down vote accepted

"Simple to convert" implies a certain level of generality, which means that your best options will have a strong narrative (vs simulationist) bias. That doesn't preclude crunch, but (as @Simon Gill pointed out) you'll want a system that focuses more on who the character is rather that what the character can do, at least as a base. This is, of course, assuming that you'll be converting primarily from the original system, and not between secondary systems.

The big thing to keep an eye on, as far as numbers, is what's actually measured and how it scales. Something like PDQ# will have a much different numerical baseline than, say, Hackmaster, which will be different than Ars Magica. Using a narrative-centric system to aid in converting characters means that you won't have to worry about comparing apples to oranges, you can just ask "is this good, or really good?"

Some subjective recommendations, in no particular order:

Some "original" systems to look into (and why):

Some "secondary" systems to try (and why):

Incidentally, John Wick released a rather interesting meta-system for exactly the sort of situation you're in: The Flux. Might be worth a look.

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The main thing you will be looking for when selecting systems is selecting those that have a similar character-design ethos. What I mean is, in general, trying to convert from a class-based system to a skill-based system is going to be more difficult than class-based to class-based.

Most d20-based systems will translate with each other quite well. Systems like MERP, Harp and Rolemaster will translate between themselves reasonably easily, and with Chaosium-style Basic System with a bit more work, barring setting differences. Harp translates quite well to D&D3.x.

World of Darkness/Storyteller won't translate terribly well to most d20-based systems. They will translate ok to other skill-based systems, like Legend of the Five Rings, or MERP/HARP, or even Deadlands classic, but the amount of work will vary depending on the differneces in system and setting.

If what you truly want to do is to introduce people to multiple game systems, using the same core 'character' between them, I suspect that choosing one genre type (be it fantasy, modern or scifi), and sticking with that between settings will make conversions simpler. However, there will still be cases where the very nature of the setting has concepts that don't exist in other settings. For instance, Shadowrun is a modern/near future setting with both magic and cyberpunk elements. Other settings will likely feature one or the other, but not both. Having a character concept built around both will not translate to other settings. The same might apply to steampunk vs medieval fanatsy settings.

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A lot of systems are made different for a specific reason, and that's to be unique. Technically d20 has the widest range of availability (especially with Monty Cooke's d20 WoD). However, if you want to do things right you need a core system with a wide array of skills. If you don't mind sticking to all fantasy or all (post/ultra)modern, it is a lot easier. Otherwise I would suggest using OWoD as the core with a Dark Ages and Reckoning (since you mentioned Hunter) character sheet for each character.

The Easy but Thin Plot

Pick one system and dedicate. I recommend in reverse order OWoD, L5R, and Mechwarrior 3e since they have the best arrays of traits, skills and (dis)advantages to create a broad character that can be funneled into another setting. OWoD has the widest range of equipment to work with since there are just as many people following old ways as new. L5R (especially 3e or 4e) and MW are good because the skills are so free form you can just add whatever you're missing, and the multitude of traits can help zero in on what you really want if you have to convert. Both L5R and MW systems have some nice bland (dis)advantages that can work in every setting. My personal favorite is the "Quirk" disadvantage in MW.

The Hard but Fulfilling Way

However, when I tried this idea it was for a multiple GM setting - each GM was responsible for a different world and thus we all had to sit down for a long and crazy character creation, making the same character in a different iteration for each applicable system. After all, when in d20 Modern that +5 sword from AD&D is just a paperweight. Your rig in Shadowrun doesn't get much net access in the Dark Ages. So it became an issues of parallels.

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FATE

The core of the system comes down to describing the character and the kinds of skills you can effectively use. The systems uses Aspects, Skills, Stunts and Extras to do this.

Skills are easy, they are ratings on a ladder from -1 to 8 of just how good you are at doing something. You get a good handful of these from a well-rounded basic skill list. What skills are actually available you can change up so long as somebody defines roughly how the skill can be used in a conflict.

Stunts are used to give you bonuses to skill use in certain circumstances or make a type of action available. They help you move from a guy who is Superb with Fists to a bare-knuckle brawler or to a boxing champ. They could also allow you to use skills to cast magic.

Aspects define more nebulous parts of your character. They are one sentence constructions like "Raised on the milk of hellfire by Baron Morbidius" which help you get into trouble and get out of it. In this example, you could find it easier to run into a bonfire to get something but equally, you could be hindered by somebody who hates the Baron finding out about you.

Extras help you build everything else. They act a lot like characters because they have Aspects, Skills and Stunts of their own but could represent anything from your special weapon to the cult you are trying to take down through your set of superpowers.

One of the more interesting things from the book is how to work with the players to define the game that you are playing. The game itself gets Aspects that define the themes you want to explore. In your example "Nothing is real; everything is permitted." and "Against the darkness" would work.

Using the skeleton of the FATE character, you would have a great blueprint to build characters in any other system on top of. There may be some rough edges due to starting point budgets, but those should file down easily enough.

Even better, right now the version 3 core rules are available if you pledge a dollar to their Kickstarter.

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I would be wary of GURPS for this purpose because it goes into lots of detail. It's worth trying as one of the worlds, if only to find out whether you like it or not. Don't know about the others you listed above though. Basically, if you have to look through a big list of stuff, the system is probably too detailed for this purpose. –  Simon Gill Dec 12 '12 at 19:10
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@Yamikuronue I'd suggest that you use a GURPS-based game as one of your splat worlds so you and your group can decide if you like its approach or not. As for using things twice, there are other systems that have similar goals but I don't know enough about to put in an answer. These are Theatrix and Over the Edge –  Simon Gill Dec 13 '12 at 14:54
    
Look, any game broad enough to cover many genres and settings is going to have a lot of material to look at. FATE has long lists of stunts and skills and powers. Well, the skill list may be short, but each skill is broad so there's still plenty of reading to do. And the basic mechanic of GURPS is simple. I love FATE. I'm running my third Dresden campaign now! But don't discount GURPS, especially since you are trying to explore systems. Maybe you should add something to the question that explains what you dislike about your current game, and what you want from your next one? –  gomad Dec 13 '12 at 15:11
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@gomad I'm trying to point out that a system that focuses on "Who I am" rather than "What I can do" is better for the over-system. GURPS does the latter with a lot of detail. It may be a good fit for the group, so it's good to try as a splat world, but a lot of the important-to-GURPS stuff is going to get lost if you translate out of it. Also, the new version I point at has slashed the numbers of stunts compared to previous editions. –  Simon Gill Dec 13 '12 at 15:26
    
@gomad you're suggestion of PDQ is a good one for instance. –  Simon Gill Dec 13 '12 at 15:29
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