Once you pop, you can't stop. This may be true, but we all know the regret, the shame, the darkness creeping up from the strained stomach... a font of bloated, potato-stuffed self-loathing... scratching, clawing its way into our guilt with salty fingers of delicious despair! We all know! Then the gaze returns to that blasphemous tube, the lid tossed like a tiny frisbee, open top yawning like a portal to the hell of frozen space, where dead stars twinkle for the last time in the eye of a laughing Pringle-man god! We all know!
If you Google 'Pringles fan art' you will find a dimension of pure terror
Despite this knowledge, despite the memory of every single cowboy-hat chip or duck-bill double cruncher, the Pringles bear no blame. There is no comfort in what you've done. Inanimate objects cannot be held responsible for your own snacking avarice.
Tabletop RPG books are much the same... they bear no more responsibility for your game than that great red tower of savory potato goodness. Books, systems and supplements are entirely inanimate, they hold no sway! This means the eye rests entirely on you and your friends. Your game is yours.
As we continue our journey this year through the landscape of the RPG boom, discussions of system preference, system seeking, or system critique are evergreen. How many pages and threads there must be discussing how '5e isn't lethal' or 'Dungeon World isn't crunchy enough' or 'Savage Worlds is too rules-lite for long campaigns' or 'GURPS doesn't do horror.' I bumped into one such thread a week or so ago, and proclaimed "System has no effect on style." This was promptly shot full of holes, ridiculed, counter-argued from multiple angles, and ultimately deleted. Whoa.
I was instructed how games should be played as written to 'capture their spirit' or 'manifest the intended feel.' I was told that 'mechanics inherently include and emphasize themes that directly translate to style' and that my comment was 'pure nonsense.' In short, I was told that once I pop, I shouldn't stop.
Did I miss the moment I agreed to capture the intent of RPG writers? Did I even agree to read entire books? Maybe I just want a few chips then reseal the can and put it away. Will the Pringles leap from the cabinet to attack? Will my RPG book turn mimic, devouring my precious sharpies? No, no they won't. They are objects. They hold no power here.
5e can be deadly. Star Frontiers can run Oregon Trail. Call of Cthulhu works great for exploring Rivendell. I can buy a RIFTS book and not even read the rules sections. Maybe I just like looking at the pictures!
No system holds any sway on any style. You can run Strahd in a cartoon style. You can run Dark Sun with dragons and swords. You can take or leave whatever pieces your crew enjoys. Books cannot self-enforce! You want something that isn't in the book? Add it! You want to ignore something that is central to a book's concept? Toss it!
Playing HARD SUIT with Jimmy's tracking cards, we don't even play my own systems as written
The RPG hobby is unique, to me, because it has always been about creative freedom. Recent years have seen an odd rise in the 'I hope we get' culture... waiting for publishers to do the lifting on new elements. Oddly, this has a crossover with the 'I only play X' culture. I suppose they could be called purists. They always eat the whole can of chips.
You may want to eat the whole can. You may want to follow the text, not stopping once popping. Rock on, but the Pringles cannot be blamed for your stomach ache.
Hack on, home brewers. Hack on.