Monday, March 19, 2018

Genesys: The Toolkit Layer

I read the entire Genesys book last night and the above image I feel best summarizes my feelings about the game. I love the system, I love the macro-situation creating dice, and I like the idea of this being a generic system...

...but? The game, by itself, is missing what I like to call "the toolkit layer." This is all the setting-specific information that makes character builds matter - weapons, armor, equipment, gear, powers, magic items, foes, monsters, creatures, vehicles, mounts, and all that other fun setting-specific stuff that makes character builds matter.

How can I build a Wild West gunfighter and specialize in a certain...um, where is the six-gun, scattergun, lever-action, horse, throwing hatchet, knife, buffalo rifle, TNT stick...? You get my point, without all these cool "rules-ed out" items and things to build characters around, what is there to do?

As a game master, it puts me in a really bad situation without having setting-specific information because I have to wing it. And when I wing it, nothing really has a cool defined list of attributes and features that the players can look at and sort through as they build their characters. As a game master, it is easier for me to create adventures with a full toolkit, because I can better design opponents and encounters when I have a huge box of toys to play with, all fully-statted out and working with the rules so both me and my players understand how they work with the game's systems.

I could wing it and make up stats on the fly for all my Wild West items, but I feel it does the players a disservice because they need to know about all this cool stuff before I make it up, because they are the ones who have to create characters to take advantage of all this stuff before I throw them into a situation where I say "oh yeah, that guy has a buffalo rifle" and they sit they feeling, "I wish I would have known about that cool piece of gear because I might have wanted to create a character who could use one and take advantage of the item with my character build."

You get into a situation where the player's first characters built for the game feel generic and not built for the world they live in, and only after playing a couple times do you build enough background data that the next set of characters will be able to take advantage of all of the stuff you house-ruled in, and you still risk not knowing about that next cool thing or situation characters may encounter (Gatling guns, derringers, poker games, quick draws, Calvary officers, Marshals, etc).

Six Sample Settings Included

To be fair, the game does come with six really basic sample settings with sample equipment and foe lists. They are by no means complete and I feel just serve as a starting point for you to create your own. They feel more like "sample adventure" seeders than "these are the official gear and stuff lists" for the game to me, because the fantasy section feels like it lacks enough for a long-term game for me. This will be solved one the fantasy book comes out later this year, so we shall see. I could wing fantasy better by pulling in tropes and creatures from other games, but again, these things mater when players build characters, so my default feeling is I want a complete "toolkit layer" before I start palying becuase it gives players more to work with than just a sample list plus "make the rest up."

The other sections for steampunk, modern, sci-fi, space opera, and other settings feel like similar "taster sections" for the genres than full-fledged support, and this is understandable because of their length and brevity. But again, I can't play with them as-is, because for the game to work at its best, I feel players need a full list of stuff, foes, gear, powers, and options to play with and design characters around.

I feel you get the best with this game when you can find an official toolkit (like the fantasy one coming with Terrinoth), or a fan-created one for a particular setting (which there are on the Genesys forums, and more are being shared there as time goes on). I feel the more detailed and more fully fleshed out the toolkit, the more fun you and your players will have with the game.

Contrast With FATE

FATE is a strange game, as it does away with the toolkit layer almost entirely. Weapons are weapons, gear is gear, and if you want a character build that takes advantage of something specific, you just take it as a character aspect or devise a stunt for a skill and you are good. If your character is a "Wild West big game hunter with a coon-skin cap" well then of course your character is going to be good with that buffalo rifle, you get your bonus then and there, and the world is good. Yee-haw, make it up, write something down, and keep playing.

I enjoy a more structured, mechanical game like Genesys where you can build a character to take advantage of a certain weapon or play style through stats, skills, talents, and gear - but you need that gear fully fleshed out in order to be able to build a character like that in the first place. With FATE, yes, things are less structured and therefore you get less of that "character build addiction and obsession" feeling you do with Genesys.

If I were doing pick-up-and-play games, I would use FATE because I do not need a lot to simulate anything. Everything is made up on the fly. I do not need a toolkit, just the English language and an understanding of "this would cover that." The game works well without toolkits and settings, and it is designed more to play off our assumptions and understandings of things through natural language constructs and "X to Y means Z" relationships.

If I want a longer-term game where players could get more deeply involved, I would more likely use Genesys with a fully-fleshed out toolkit and setting for the game, because that is where the players play and the referee derives inspiration from to create the challenges of the world. This is not to say Genesys is weak in any way, as if I had a Star Trek style toolkit I would jump on that and play Star Trek with "Genesys plus toolkit" a lot faster than "FATE plus nothing." I feel the support, and the quality level of that support, makes a huge difference.

But having that support I feels really matters, if it is my work, a fan work, or an official work.

Structured Builds vs. Do What You Want

To me, FATE is like a box of crayons plus some paper.

Genesys is like a video game console with controllers. The toolbox is like the video game cartridge you stick in the machine. Without a cartridge and a game to play, you have that excitement of having a cool game console, but nothing to play with it yet. The console is open enough you could write your own game or find something on the Internet to play, so there is still that DIY freedom.

For character builders, Genesys has that Lego style appeal as well of building things and putting together character builds. But you need all those special pieces in the toolkit to be able to build anything really cool, and all those special parts like doors, hinges, windows, wheels, mini-figures, and plastic trees matter - more so than just the sample settings in the main book and their collection of straight blocks.

With FATE, I will just come up with and draw all those pieces myself when I draw my picture of my fire-station or whatever I want to "build."

Both are fun and have different strengths for what type of mood I am in and my current group of players, but they are different enough to understand the strengths and weaknesses of each. I would not give up FATE because I now have Genesys, and I would not shelve Genesys because I prefer playing with fully fleshed out toolkits. Both are cool and have their places at our table.