If I knew the perfect game for me, that’d be the one I’d be playing and if it wasn’t an actual rpg, it’d be one I’d be wring myself. The best I can do is try to think of the kind of things I look for in a new game since the quest for the ‘Perfect Game’ is never ending.
I guess, first of all, it probably has be low tech. I find low tech games are easier to run and the perfect game is easy to run. Anything up to Call of Cthulhu 1920’s or 30’s is fine since tech is pretty rudimentary up to that era but fantasy is preferable in all honesty. That leads to point 2, it has to be easy to run. By this I don’t mean rules light (I’ll get onto rule density in a moment), but it has to be intuitive, for the DM and the Players. Everyone has to be able to get on with the rules and understand them without feeling like they are studying for an exam and, when the DM makes a judgement call, it feels like it makes sense in the context of the rules.
It has be relatively rule light. I’m not a fan of games that have almost no rules because rule help define how the world works. Certain games, like Shadowrun, would lose something without the complex rules because they are built into the high tech nature of the world and help define the wealth of options available, but games that can pull this off are rare and require an investment of time that neither myself nor my players are able to commit to now. Rules light-ish, is the sweet spot for me. By preference something perhaps a touch more detailed than Numenera but a little less so that, say D&D 5th ed, would be perfect, actually, something around the detail and complexity of Savage Worlds is about right.
It has to have a plot point system or some kind of token that DM’s can use as a reward or a means to drive the story a certain way without it railroading, that players can also use to modify the story and stay involved in the world. I’ve found player engage a whole lot more when they feel that they can manipulate the world in intangible ways, like the DM can, through the use of plot points and they stop a game stagnating when a solution to a problem isn’t immediately evident.
I actually like the DM not rolling dice, like Numenera. It’s weird and takes time to get used to, but it works really well and prevents the players ever feeling like it’s the DM vs them. It means that the DM is unable to fudge the dice, regardless of whether it’s for good or ill, without the players knowing and so it makes any adjustments to the results more about the story than about the roll itself.
I like strong narrative prospects with a detailed world and, ideally, a system that supports exploring and social interaction as much as combat. Now, granted, social interaction doesn’t need to be detailed in the same way but it should support players who aren’t as confident in speaking as their charismatic bard character and it should be able to reward people for just trying.
Finally, it needs to be able to support multiple modes or styles of play. I want a game that lets me run high adventure style quests in the same campaign that lets me run deep psychological horror and urban based investigation. I want to be able to use any idea I have and the game world and system support that, within the framework of a single game, without having to fudge things or break immersion by trying to shoehorn in some kind of sanity mechanic.
The closest any game has come so far is probably Numenera, since it’s a rules light science fantasy game, in the distant future, with the ability to explore strange places, talk to strange creatures, experience the horror of space and the high adventure of cloud cities while allowing XP to be awarded and spent to drive the story forward. My only issue is that it’s a little rules light, but still, that’s not bad and I’m curious to see how much closer to perfect the Cypher System core book is.