As I get older I find myself having less and less time to design, prep, and sometimes even run roleplaying games. As a result, I try to find games that are quick and easy to run, so that I can concentrate on what I think is important (such as the story and the unfolding plot) and less on the mechanics and statistics.
Unless it's a game system that me and my group knows well I don't usually delve into my thick, comprehensive rulebooks that much these days. I have my favoured systems to introduce new players to the hobby, and these are pretty generic, but every now and then there's a group who wants to experience the system that dominates the RPG market; the D20 system. Or, to be specific, the D&D game.
Usually I'd use the starter pack, but for those quick and easy games I've found a new and even easier system, one that emulates the D20 game and addresses some of it's key features, and yet is so stripped back that it takes no effort to set a game up.
GATEWAY is an introductory game that takes the standard D20 stats and make them the key focus of the game. At 16 pages it covers everything you'll need to run a game, and not just in the fantasy genre. It's a really good little system. What stops it from being great is that it's lacking a lot of polish and some focus, and I feel a re-write and restructuring of the layout would help immensley.
It works like this; a character has the standard D20 system abilities - Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Wisdom and Charisma. Instead of being given scores, each is given one of three types of roll; Proficiency, Deficiency or Normal. Each ability is also given a selection of skills.
When called upon to make a roll, the player rolls D20s; if they have a Proficiency in the ability, they roll two D20s and keep the higher result, very much like the D&D 5th Edition advantage roll. If they have a Deficiency, they roll two D20 and use the lower result. A Normal ability is a straightforward D20 roll. The target number is determined by the GM, from 2 to 5 for really easy, up to 20 for impossible.
And that's it in a nutshell. There are small tables for working out Armour Class and Hit Points, but in general that is the entire game, and as it's simple to print off you can have a small sixteen page document, or you can download it as an app and keep it on your phone or tablet. In fact, with a form fillable sheet and a dice rolling app there's no need for any pencils or paper, and interested parties can download the rules and be ready to go in a very short period of time. And the greatest thing of all? It's free.
Now, I really like it. I like the idea of numberless abilities and using the proficiency angle as it just gives a dice roll and that's it, and even though you won't get an incredibly well-rounded character you will get a playable PC you can use for a few sessions. I like the simplicity of the rules and the idea that you can use it for anything, although I do feel it's more angled to fantasy games than any other genre, and I like the freeform feel of it all. It's a nice little system.
But what lets it down is the presentation, both in the free downloadable rules from the Aurican's Lair website and in the app itself. The rules are badly laid out in a very basic format, with some errors in the text, and the rules are spaced out in different areas which lends a little confusion, such as explaining how to roll against target numbers and then not having the target numbers explained until well into the rules section. There's also a lot of GM advice, but this is supposed to be a gateway into tabletop gaming so without a proper explanation of what tabletop RPGs are about these are somewhat superfluous. If the system is for existing GMs to use to introduce new gamers to the hobby, then this section is pretty pointless.
There's also a lot of attention on the saving throws covering incidents from being blinded to being unconcious, and this seems like a lot of wasted effort and betrays the focus of the game - to be simple and easy - and complicates things somewhat.
With some polish, some better imagery and layout, with a huge edit and much more focus on what and who the game is aimed at, GATEWAY could be an excellent introductory game, and may even be used for longer campaigns for experienced groups who just want to dive in and out of a game. It is a great little system, and it's one I have no problem in using on gamers who want to experience D&D or roleplaying in general for the first time, but the general presentation lacks finesse and may put some people off, and that's a shame because the core idea here is really quite good.