The real reason I'm monogamerous

I’m happy with my favorite RPG [5e], but would like to respond to criticisms that I’m somehow “missing out” by not playing alternatives with my groups…

When people are asked why they don’t want to try a different RPG - a very popular response is “I don’t want to learn another system, I’m happy with what I play.”. There are a lot of folks (who happen to like other games) that then try to refute this position, or worse, dismiss it with glib retorts. I find a depressing number of these rebuttals on social media and even a few here on this forum.

From my point of view, many critics don’t understand the deeper meaning of “I don’t want to learn another system.” You see, this response is actually not about rules, it’s about time.

And time is the most constrained resource we each have, and is consumed in great quantities by our hobby.

Time is required for rules acquisition, rules learning, meeting coordination/schedule management, transportation, game/campaign research, model painting, prop building, character generation, adventure acquisition/creation, session prep, terrain layout, meal prep, family/work-time-off-bargaining, and actually running the session & debrief.

Then there’s “mastery” - learning to be a good player, an effective character, and an engaging and successful gamemaster - all continuous incremental investments. And those are each compounded by the number of players (including GMs) in the group.

Clearly, several of the time expenditures I listed are common across most TTRPGs but, most of the rules mastery and game/adventure/session prep are generally not portable between systems (see final section below for a notable exception). That’s one reason “I don’t want to learn a new system.” is often saying “I don’t have the time.”

Let’s not overlook the compound-time-costs of being in a group of X people trying to learn a new system. Starting from scratch takes a lot more time and energy than a single session’s incremental improvement in a long-standing game. Sean’s own rule of trying a game three times indicates how rough this bootstrap can be, and how much time it can consume, with a significant chance it will fail - never to be played again. This time-risk is also folded into “I don’t want to learn a new system.”

Case Study: OldSchoolDM [That’s me!]

In my personal case, I have personally taught the vast majority of the players in my home groups D&D, and it is the first (and/or only) TTRPG for all of them. The FLGS tables I’ve run are usually either all new TTRPG players, or experienced players who choose to play 5e because they like it (though not to exclusion.) I always run my games live at a table. That’s how I like it. It’s all about f2f in person, even though it takes more time.

So, Covid has sucked ass for me this last year. I’ve had exactly 0 minutes of play time, home or FLGS.

No, I don’t want to play or run online. If you were going to reply that I should, don’t, you’re missing my point. [For that live contact I need so much, I instead play WoW with my adult children and their spouses and other non RPGs via Discord with the grandkids.]

But, I’m not completely intransigent.

I do change rulesets, but it’s rare. When I came back to D&D after raising my family, I jumped from AD&D to 4e. Since I didn’t have any players for either system, it was a chance to start with a clean slate. I read the 4e rules, liked them, and knew immediately how to apply my AD&D DM skills to the game and started a campaign (my daughter invited a friend, and they are now married…)

Later, I migrated that multi-year campaign from 4e to 5e over a 1 year break - the systems were close enough, and the players had pretty much forgotten the fiddly 4e mechanics anyway. I am a AD&D style DM “What do you want to do?(and stop looking at your character sheet)” - so that helped too. The time they’d invested in specific mechanics mastery (inertia) had decayed. Advantage and Bounded Accuracy fixed the parts they’d had the most difficulty with for their Paragon tier characters.

This is an example of a reduced switching cost for moving between systems: version upgrades within a game-system-family; In the case of 5e, it was a specific design goal that this version would be as easy as possible for players to migrate.

Despite being happy with my D&D, thankewverramuch, I am very, very interested in hearing/reading exactly why and how people enjoy their role playing games - as DMs and players. Though I’m not about to dig into PBTA or PBA or PIP or whatever, I think it’s great how those games are exploring the space.

I’ve joined this forum, and listen to podcasts about what folks have learned, and it refreshes my soul: when it is presented in a positive (non-contrasting) frame. “System X enables this kind of play” or “Picture-dice can encourage narration” or …

I also love being able to share with folks my experiences with my favorite game, especially when they seem stuck on something that might be often missed in the rules, or is simply the side effect of particular table style or problems.

Lastly, I know for a fact that my engagement with the greater community led to me enjoying my favorite game even more than the bad-old-days when it was just me and my group making it up as we went along. I’ve even adapted some ideas from other systems to my favorite game!

In summary

Please let’s chat all about your awesome game[s] [systems] - it’s my personal joy and proxy for f2f actual gaming.

If you can, please avoid comparing System X[1] to X[2] (can’t evaluate that matrix for all X) especially using superlative language. It can easily be read as judgy.

But remember, not everyone has time in their life to even effectively/regularly play their favorite game, much less time to explore others.

Honestly, I’m more than a little jealous of how much time you’all seem to have to play so many games…



That’s great, and I’d never tell you otherwise. Finding a system that just clicks for you is wonderful. I envy that. My problem has always been that every system has (eventually) two problems for me. Either (1) some quirk or aspect of the system that grows to bother me over time, or (2) the game itself evolves in a direction that makes it less enjoyable.

I’ve played and run a couple of dozen different systems, but there were a few standouts that lasted the longest. I ran Rolemaster for a decade until it evolved into something we didn’t care for. (Yes, we could have gone back to 2e, but by then our taste for the system had waned. It’s hard to go back.) I ran CORPS by BTRC for years, but it had some issues that grew over time, and it wasn’t suited to all genres.

So, all of my gaming life I’ve always been looking for the system that clicks for me the way D&D did for you. At the same time, I recognize some systems handle some genres better than others.

Currently, for hard(ish) SF/Horror, I use Shadows Over Sol by Tab Creations. It uses card decks instead of dice which, to our surprise, actually worked really well and has proven very popular. So far we’ve found no downside.

Currently, I’m running D&D for the first time in about 36 years (5e) and, while I don’t think it will make the cut as a “forever” system, it’s doing better than I expected. Just the sheer amount of online and digital support is a new experience (D&D Beyond, Foundry VTT, etc.) I’m also eyeing Tab Creations’ ‘Age of Ambition’, a Renaissance-style game similar to Shadows Over Sol in that it uses card decks.

For a more epic galaxy-spanning space opera game…not sure. I’m eyeing Savage Worlds.

Then…there are the interesting stand-alone games that fascinate me. They have a unique setting and usually their own system. (A|State (too unusual to describe briefly), Shadows of Esteren (gothic horror romance in the traditional sense), Acheron (a '30s-style Noire setting with magic, on a fantasy world where humanity fights to survive in their corner of the world against unknown dangers) are a few examples.

So, whatever terminology you would use to describe your situation…I’m pretty much the opposite. I love exploring new settings and systems. Even if I found the perfect system for each genre…I would still be looking to see what else is out there.


We buy books because we believe we are buying the time to read them. Warren Zevon


Great post Old School!

I feel you on several levels - I too run face to face and this last year has left a yawning void.
These forums and the B&S podcasts have also given me a proxy outlet.

Hang in there … hopefully we’ll all be back at the table with our miniatures & terrain later this year…

Your reference to having the time is especially cogent - once you have “mastery” of a system & a genre it can be hard to overcome the time most of us will want to invest to be able to GM to the level we’re used to devoting to a game.

I doubt we think about it in those terms - but if you’ve ever looked at another system - been attracted to it then then let out a huge sigh as you thought “Man it’s going to take me forever to figure out how to learn and design a campaign for this”. I look at running a game as equivalent to running a campaign - so when I look at a new system I heave a sigh and compare all the work required for something new vs 40 years of running D&D.

That said every week I eagerly await the podcast and haunt these forums to see what everyone is doing - there is always something new we “introverted” one-system DMs can steal.




I’m buying books to read them, and re-read them.
There is always time to read books.



For a few days my subconscious had been niggling at devising a thread very much like this, Old School.

At this point I have a shelf of games—not nearly as many as some people, I’m sure. I’ve played most of them. I purchased them, in part, because I hungered for different experiences. Some I bought to “fix” perceived frustrations with other systems. Others I suppose simply were, as they say, “shiny.”

And I learned from every one of them. I’m certain that I can learn even more if I continue to explore the rpg ecosystem.

But I’m really, really thinking about being “done.” In some ways, I may have discovered my Holy Grail—two of them, even! I know that the Blessed Chalice is rumored to be a myth, but I might have them: Conan 2d20 for system design, Against the Darkmaster for nostalgia and its OGL, for if/when I want to contribute through publication to the discourse.

I’m thinking of settling down into system mastery. As a result, I actually find myself drifting, in part, away from engagement in the more generalized and diverse rpg communities and instead deeper into those specific to the two mentioned properties.

Anyway, I hear you. If this new attitude continues with me, I know exactly what I’ll be “selling,” whenever I run at conventions.

To system mastery!


@OldSchoolDM , I’m glad you found a game that you enjoy so much, and hope you’ll be able to get back to in-person gaming soon. There’s nothing wrong at all with sticking with what you enjoy, so don’t feel pressured into learning new games if it’s not something you’re inherently excited about.

For me, roleplaying has always been about so much more than a single system, ever since I started in the 80s, and I think this has shaped how I approach the hobby to this day. Throughout the 80s and 90s, we alternated between many different systems. Part of this was so we could explore different genres (e.g. Fantasy, Sci-Fi, Urban Fantasy with Vampires, Dystopian Humor, etc.), but I’ve also enjoyed experiencing entirely different mechanics, such as mixing it up between d20 based games and dice pool systems.

After a 15 year hiatus, I re-entered the hobby with D&D 5e, and it’s been the system I’ve played most consistently since then. Mostly as a player, though - whenever it was my turn to run a campaign, I usually took the opportunity to pitch and try out something new. For example, we had a super-fun Shadow of the Demon Lord campaign. Mechanically, not all that far from 5e, but I really enjoyed some of the ideas in the system, such as boons & banes, or the fast/slow turn initiative system. For me, these sorts of experiences are a big part of my enjoyment. I love trying new games, picking out the parts I like and understanding why I don’t like other aspects. And sometimes, I just feel like a different experience than any one system can support well. Perhaps the occasional more narrative focused game like Fate or Blades in the Dark, a swingy, pulpy game like Savage Worlds, or a gritty OSR or DCC game.

I will admit that this requires some compromises. Upon reflection:

A) System Mastery:
I personally don’t care too much about this. I’m ok having to occasionally look up a rule, make up a ruling, or even ask my players. For example, I’m actually running my first 5e campaign now, after playing the system for 6 years, and while I think I have a pretty good grasp on the rules, I know there are a lot of gaps in my knowledge. I’m certain that my games aren’t even close to the level of excellence and smoothness as your games. I’m ok with that. This is especially true when I’m the one bringing a new system to the group. I know the first session or two will be a bit choppy and don’t hold myself to a standard I can’t achieve. If things click, there will be time for things to smooth out later on.

B) Time:
I’m lucky to have sufficient time to invest in the hobby. My kids are old enough to be mostly self sufficient, my job is mostly 9-5, and I choose to spend a significant amount of my time on this hobby. But even then, if I’m being honest, most of it is on a meta level - listening to podcasts, chatting in our Discord server, reading blogs, etc. Only a small portion of time actually goes towards reading new rulebooks or prepping for new games. If I was more disciplined and really wanted to focus more on actually learning new systems, I don’t think it would actually require that much of my time.

Sorry for the slightly rambling response. :slight_smile:


I think, to a certain degree, the irritation both sides of this argument tend to get with one another is a matter of perspective that isn’t seeing eye to eye.

You’ve stated your case very clearly and I totally get it. RPGs for you are an investment in system mastery and you don’t enjoy games where you don’t have the time to develop that level of expertise. I would guess that most of the folks who are encouraging folks to try other systems aren’t playing for system mastery, but instead play for experience or system exposure, so to speak. It’s two different philosophies, neither is wrong.

My real irritation usually lies with the folks who believe only their way is right. The folks who insist anyone who only plays D&D isn’t a real gamer. Oh get over yourselves. Or the folks who insist that only their game is the one that should be played. You’ll take my other games from my cold dead hands. There is no wrong bad fun. Let people like what they like.

I really appreciate you sharing this and explaining your point of view on this. I do hope you can soon (SOOOON) get back to gaming at the table with folks. I really miss the wonderful pictures of your table setups. :slight_smile:


Awesome topic and spin-out from the other thread, @OldSchoolDM. I’m one of those who owns, runs, and plays a ton of different stuff – for a lot of the reasons mentioned by Gabe, by digitalhobbit, by Ang in their posts. I like different genres, different play experiences, and it’s a great feeling when I run across a game that teaches me something, shows me a new approach, or just has some slick mechanic I can lift. I would also add that I really dig the creativity in the small press and indie scene, especially parts of the OSR at the moment.

I’m hoping none of those dismissive comments were mine, and if they were, apologies. No wrong way to RPG.

I have huge respect for system mastery, and while I’ve always played a bunch of different games, I’ve definitely had long-term relationships with games like AD&D, GURPS, and Fate. There’s a lot to be said for deeply understanding a ruleset, and the time investment is real. I think this is why I now prefer lighter systems – I can get my head around more of them in the time I have.

Anyway. Nothing revelatory to add, really, but good post!