System-Neutral Settings: To Hell With Rules

There is a long if narrow history in RPGs of sourcebooks that describe settings or setting elements (cities and the like) without reference to a particular game or rules system. From Flying Buffalo's Citybook series through Green Ronin's Freeport, these books do the heavy lifting of creating or filling out a world but leave the final rules implementation to you.

I recently received the PDF of Karthun: Lands of Conflict by Brian Patterson and Tracy Barnett's Exploding Rogue Studios, and published by Evil Hat Productions. Karthun sits very firmly in the D&D fantasy space, and there are a few stray references to "free actions" and the like, but it is essentially system neutral, and I've already jotted down notes for a GURPS adaptation. I look forward to exploring the setting more, especially when I get the physical book.

Of course, my diamond example of a system neutral setting is Uresia: Grave of Heaven by S. John Ross. Originally a world for the Big Eyes, Small Mouth anime system, Ross eventually regained publishing rights and expanded the world in a rules-free volume. Ross's style is perfect for a system neutral setting, presenting the world in a way that begs you to put your favorite rules to it without envisioning it as benefitting necessarily from any one system. Different areas are explored at different levels of detail, but with equal levels of love and humor. Uresia is a masterpiece.

One other advantage of a system neutral setting is the ability to run it using multiple game systems. Different rules can bring out different aspects of a setting and make for an intriguing variety in your games. I personally have run Uresia using the OVA anime system and Ross' own Risus RPG, and each lent a unique feel to the setting.

I'm a fan of these kinds of setting, and I'm pleased when I come across one that is done well. The flexibility and adaptability of a good one makes for some of the greatest value in gaming.


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