In my crooked journeys through the role-playing blogosphere, I came across a post by Monsters and Manuals entitled Ryuutama and the Tiresomeness of New Systems. It was an interesting read, and there wasn't anything in there I'd like to directly argue with. It did get me thinking on the subject, however.
Obviously, there are certain circumstances in which you want to make the switch to a different system. Yes, I could run D&D style adventures in GURPS, but would I want to? So the discussion becomes when and why would I want to use a new system, and when and why would I design a new system? The latter question becomes particularly important for me, as I enjoy designing systems and I'd like to think I knew at least a little about the subject.
When talking about a "new" system for play, the question is always "what does this do that my old system doesn't?" There are only two real working answers here. It either offers a different experience than the old system did, or it simply does it better. You can make an objective argument for the former, but the latter is going to be subjective. Even if we established that game B was objectively simpler / more elegant / whatever somehow, there will still be people who think game A's clunkiness is charming or desirable.
For me, the former reason is why I read so many game books. I'm very interested in how different mechanical design choices impact the experience of playing a given game. This is the main reason I don't generally play universal or generic systems. It isn't because I don't think GURPS or Savage Worlds are fine systems in their own right, they are. I actually like Savage Worlds a good deal (in fact, I have a supplement planned for it one day.. one day...) but when I decide I want to run a specific kind of game, it's hard to make an argument for using a generic system over a system specifically designed for the kind of experience I want to play.
Fortunately, that seems to be the direction modern RPGs are heading. Whether we're talking about Dogs in the Vineyard, Apocalypse World, Sorcerer, or whatever else, the indie-RPG community has been pushing towards focused games providing a specific kind of experience and doing it very well. The market has evolved past the point where "create a better D&D" is a goal post. The OSR guys are doing a hell of a job playing with the original formula, but even that experience is being honed to a sharper focus on what they believe is "old school play," as opposed to the way modern D&D is trying to broaden its horizons and become everything to all people. (Protip: that never works).
So if that's why to use a new system, the next question is, why make a new system? When is it worth the effort?
That's the question for tomorrow.