I’ve never been a fan of level-based role playing games like Dungeons & Dragons. For one thing, it can be demoralizing. Losing a high level character will immediately take a player out of a game. The surviving 9th level compatriots trudge through dark doorways while your new 1st level character could be killed by blood splatter. The hit points system makes no sense. Higher characters become invulnerable to all but the most terrifying creatures. How is it that natural human frailty could be overcome by killing scores of Orcs. "I defeated a dragon, so your measly +1 sword cannot hurt me!" Kings have been killed by stray arrows; veteran Navy Seals don’t have mithril skin. Anyway, I think skill based systems are more realistic and easier to play.
I orginally developed Houses for my Salt Lake City gaming group. I was a big fan of TSR’s Top Secret© game - not for the system particularly, though it wasn’t bad, but for the setting. Not only does a modern setting offer many opportunities for action and adventure (think James Bond or even The Matrix) but the familiarity of the setting makes for easier, more fluid role-playing. If the system is at all realistic, it can be practically invisible: players know what a 7-11 looks like and the dangers of a pistol pointing at one’s chest is obvious.
I looked around for a good system for a modern role-playing game. Top Secret was good, but defunct and thin. GURPS (Generic Universal Role-Playing System) was good, but as the name suggests, it was pretty generic. I took some elements from these games and many other games, (great writers don’t borrow, they steal and conceal the sources!) I added a bunch to help define characters and tried to write the whole thing to be easily understood.
Houses as linked below, is the basic rulebook of the game. It can be used for any modern role-playing game. However, I had a certain scenario in mind when I wrote it.
The world as we know it is controlled by a small number of elite families. These groups secretly rule over all aspects of our lives. They are the super power elite, the Illuminati. A word from them can topple nations or start a plague. These families, or Houses, coexist in an unseen Feudal system where laws of honor, heredity and loyalty outshadow any laws of nations. Ancient artifacts are coveted for their weird unearthly powers. Conspiracies are everywhere. Ancient feuds occasionally erupt and thousands of meaningless lives could be spent to appease a slight insult to a single member of a House.
I’ll see if I can find any of the campaign material and post it. In the meantime, peruse the rulebook of Houses. If you find it interesting or useful, please drop me a line.