I haven’t run a lot of games. (In fact, I’ve run precisely two: Memento and the ongoing Once Upon a Time in the West, plus one almost completely rules-free LARP session.) In the case of Memento, going into that game, I had a large amount of familiarity with the LARP mechanics for Changeling (i.e. what sorts of things their powers did, though there were occasional points of massive discrepancy between the two sets of rules), and a similarly large amount of familiarity with basic World of Darkness tabletop mechanics (i.e. how combat and such worked, though certain Changeling-specific rules were new to me).
That isn’t the case with OTW, and man, is this an eye-opening experience.
With all due respect to certain readers of this journal who were involved in the design of Scion, there are some honking big holes in the mechanics, which I mostly find when we fall into them headfirst. For example, there’s a first-level Justice Boon which allows you to accuse somebody of a specific crime and know if they’re guilty or not. The rules specifically tell you that the roll isn’t contested by the suspect’s player. So, in theory, a brand-new Scion of Tyr could walk up to Loki and say, “Loki! You arranged for Baldur to be murdered!” And know immediately that Loki was guilty. Erm, no: I respectfully submit that a trickster god should not be so easily caught, unless he wants to be. Also, there are a truckload of Manipulation knacks that have no mechanic for resistance; you could just say to Loki, “Tell the truth!” and he would have to obey, at least briefly. This seems unbalanced to me.
But the interesting thing to me — and the point where I diverge from some of the attitudes I saw expressed on the Forge, back when I was reading their forums — is that I don’t think house-ruling is necessarily a sign of failure on the part of the game designer. I do think the examples I’ve just given are things that would have been better fixed before I got my hands on the book, but that isn’t true of everything. For example, I prefer to have Legend increases (which are kind of like level increases) happen at narratively appropriate points, rather than whenever a given player saves up enough XP to buy the next dot. Ergo, our house-rule is that I announce when the PCs all go up in Legend, and in return they don’t have to pay for it. That’s a personal choice, not necessarily a flaw in the original design.
Then there’s the stuff that isn’t broken, I just have to learn how to use it. Boy howdy, does it make a difference how familiar you are with a system before you start running it: things like “what difficulty should this roll be?” and “will this opponent be somebody the PCs can take down?” and so on are tricky enough when you’re trying to remember which of the eighteen different White Wolf dodge mechanics this system uses, and a good deal harder when you start throwing in system-specific powers that can really change the odds. Scion has a particularly brutal setup on that front, I think, because of the way epic attributes scale. I think the scaling is appropriate — we’re talking about characters on their way to becoming gods, after all — but it makes me remember that the one thing I like out of D&D mechanics is the nicely mathematical formulae for calculating challenge ratings.
And yet, I wouldn’t want to run D&D, because I find its rules too confining for the kind of game I want to run. (Or for that matter, play in: most of my D&D experience was in a game that was really just a Forgotten Realms game, a world for which D&D happened to be the system. We regularly threw the rules out the window, and got by on group consensus.) It all just hammers home to me that whatever some die-hard fans preach, there is no such thing as a perfect system: there are systems better or worse suited to what you want to do; there are systems you know well or poorly and navigate accordingly; there are systems with more or fewer obvious mechanical holes. Only that third aspect rests in the hands of the game designer.
And that’s why we don’t live in a world where every game runs on GURPS or d20 mods. But I admit, there are times when I think about how much easier my gaming life would be if I only had to know one system. 🙂