So as I think about the dialogue around system does/doesn't matter, I have this little history in my mind:
1) White Wolf pushes the motto that "system doesn't matter" - either through the marketing for Vampire et al. or through public comments by their designers. This is ironic because they're trying to sell you a new RPG system, but what they mean is don't get bogged down in how much damage weapons do in this ruleset do vs. that ruleset: the thing we want you to get excited about is the art and the fiction and the setting and concepts that occupy more space in this rulebook than, you know, rules.
2) The Forge adopts "system does matter" as a manifesto for game design in which the rules are tightly written to produce specific play experiences with the overt expectation that players will have a better time the more closely they follow the rules, as a reaction to contemporary predecessors like Rifts (or perhaps Vampire, I don't have the experience to say) where the covert expectation is that you'll have a better time the more you pick and choose from this big smorgasbord of loosely-written rules and mechanics and one-man's-treasure which would make you hork if you tried to swallow it all indiscriminately.
3) Further discussion at the Forge leads to an expanded definition of system as all those things that individual groups use to decide what does and doesn't happen in the imagined space, which vary between groups even when they're both trying their best to follow the same set of rules faithfully. This is ironic because it represents kind of a return to the original White Wolf position: we agree that things should be this way regardless of rules because that's what feels right based on the pictures of vampires and the canon of fan mythos and the fact that we're in a group that's playing this game and not another one because something in the way it was presented and marketed appealed to us.
Here are my questions:
- Is this factually true? A little Googling of "system doesn't matter" +white wolf didn't turn up much that looked like an official endorsement, and re-reading Ron's original article I saw that he talks not about this idea having come from Vampire but rather having been around for 20 years.
- True or not, is this analysis "dreadfully jejune" (as Chip Delany once remarked on one of my essay-question exams when he was teaching undergrads at UMass Amherst)?