My GURPS roleplaying game is all about system, and some people found that either daunting or boring, and they said "well, there should be some setting." And the fourth edition does add some specific setting suggestions, although it's a "multi-versal" setting. It still gives them a framework. Some people like framework. Some people prefer story framework to game rules. They say, "I can make up rules. Give me a story to work with."
There's no right answer, and there's no reason to think that one approach should or will dominate, because people are different. They want different things.
TE: GURPS is obviously a brilliant system, and it's held up pretty well. We've since seen another system come out: the d20 System. I want to know what you think about the d20 system and what you think about the proliferation of it.
SJ: It was an interesting marketing move, and it's been a very enabling thing. d20 enabled indie game publishers like crazy. Between the enabling of a licensee to do imitation D&D and the enabling of "Woo we can publish free on the web and cheap with Pod," we saw just a huge blossoming of indie game creators. Most of their work was simply abysmal, and that had some serious effects on the sales chain.
There was a big bulge of d20 stuff. For a while, you could sell anything with the d20 label on it and then when people figured out that the d20 label meant "lowest common denominator," a lot of retailers and distributors were stuck with product. And that hurt them. So we see enabling is not always a good thing.
At the same time some really, really quality products - some really quality companies - have been created in response to d20 or flourished and sunk their roots deep doing quality d20 stuff. There's nothing about the d20 system itself that says "this has to be lowest common denominator." It's just that out there in the "real world," unless you see a logo on it that you know ... when you see Green Ronin or Mongoose, you know you're buying Green Ronin and Mongoose quality. But if you see a d20 sticker on it and you've never heard of it, then what you have to expect is that you're getting imitation D&D by somebody that's living out their fantasies being a game creator. Open the cover and look before you buy it.
TE: How do you think d20 plays? Have you played it much?
SJ: Not much. It plays like D&D. D&D was the first roleplaying game I played because when I started there weren't any others. And I liked it! It was cool!
Some of my first design was in response to what I perceived as insufficiencies in the system, just like a hundred thousand other people who went out and wrote something because they saw insufficiencies in the system they were playing. Except I got mine published. Woohoo.
d20 is streamlined D&D. Duh. If somebody wants to play with classes and levels and they're in a setting where D&D works (because it was optimized for sword and sorcery, it's strongly optimized for that, and you get hilarious results when you try and bring the system into anything else), it's pretty easy to find somebody that wants to play D&D. And if you wave a d20 book around, that'll be recognized as D&D even though the trademarks are different.