I want to "master" a system. A roleplaying system, to be precise.
What do I personally mean when I talk about mastering a system? For me, the ultimate type of system mastery would be memorization of nearly all the core rules of a system. I have a strong desire to be an "encyclopedia" of a system, or should I say a living "core rulebook."
Now, this isn't because my ideal game system would have a rule for every situation, or that I think all players and GMs should strive to memorize a system. Memorization is NOT a prerequisite for good roleplaying. This is just a particular quirk of mine, I suppose. I have always been most comfortable at the table-top when I could rattle off rules without having to refer to a book or a referee screen.
Right now, I feel like I have a different, "lesser" type of system mastery when it comes to Castles & Crusades. I may not have every character class ability or racial ability memorized, for example, but I have a solid grasp of the core mechanics for ability checks, saving throws, combat, and the like. And this, to me, is perfectly fine and is more than enough for me to run a good game.
BUT I would REALLY love it if I could muster up the time and brain power these days in order to memorize character class abilities, racial abilities, poison creation rules, etc.
I am currently not what I would consider a "living core rulebook" for any system. Perhaps in my teenage years I was a near-master of AD&D or the Palladium RPG system. But this is just not possible for me at this point in my life, at least not when it comes to games like Castles & Crusades.
But of course, in typical "me" style, that darn system mastery urge won't go away.
So I've been looking at Basic D&D (B/X to be precise) as my most likely candidate for system mastery. I think the rules are short enough for me to have a good shot at memorizing most of them. And more importantly, it's D&D and I've got years of using that system under my belt.
But it seems that system mastery may come at a price: most likely, mastering a system takes all of one's mental and temporal gaming resources (or at least, this will be the case for ME). So forget about becoming similarly erudite in any other system. Unless you have unlimited free time (that's not me), have an eidetic memory (my memory is still pretty good, but not photographic by a long shot), or some combination of the two.
Now, combine all this with my sometime-desire to run games in genres other than fantasy, such as cyberpunk, post-apocalypse, Cthulhu mythos, etc. This makes me think it would behoove me to master a more "universal" game system that lends itself more readily to different genres of play. Yes, yes, you can of course remove the fantasy from the D&D engine if you tried, but that's just more work for which I don't have time.
The only universal game system with which I have current experience is Savage Worlds. I suppose the Palladium system is universal, but I've got a "been there, done that" relationship with Palladium from my teen years and I really have no interest in picking it back up. I've never played GURPS, but I've dabbled in the rule books and was never really drawn to it.
So would the solution for me be to dedicate myself to mastering a simple-enough universal system, so when I get the genre "switch itch" I wouldn't have to change game systems as well? That is appealing, not having to learn a new system all the time, as well as not having to ask players to learn new systems.
Anyway, here are some questions for you:
1. What would you define as system mastery?
2. How important is system mastery to you?
3. Is there a system (or systems) that you can confidently say you have mastered, or that you would like to master?
A final thought: all of this makes me wonder if the system mastery desire is part of the reason many OSR gamers, especially GMs, seek to create their own versions of the old D&D systems. A system that you tweak yourself may, by extension, become one that you know very well.
Anyway, I look forward to hearing from you all out there!