'. . . I really think we all need to look beyond this whole "system" thing.'My interest in the quote may be far from what he was getting at. But when I read that I thought of my recent experiences as a DM and how I realized there are basically a few situations/subsystems you need to learn to take care of in order to run a roleplaying game. And once you have a system down for taking care of those things, you're set.
I like the idea that these "chunks" can be chosen or even hand crafted by each DM. Isn't that what people are sharing on their blogs anyway? How to restock a dungeon, how to handle wilderness travel, how to award experience points. The customized ways to handle these challenges that experienced DMs have developed.
I think it would be awesome, if someone sat down and wrote a book on roleplaying games that addressed each of these areas that constantly pop up, and how they were dealt with by various game systems. So, for example, skills and character differentiation could be a chapter, with class-based game examples on one end all the way to extreme skill lists on the other, with commentary on what those lead to in actual play.
The last part is the kicker-- it sounds like a big book of roleplaying rule theory, except more than anything, roleplaying reality seems pretty counterintuitively opposite what the theory often suggests, in my humble experience.
It's not a completely novel idea-- The Player's Option: Spells & Magic, book for 2e had something similar. It listed many variant magic systems including point based, sorcerous and magic granted by "alien" powers. But that isn't what I'm talking about. That book feels like a brainstorm. You would have a hard time convincing me that any of those methods had ever seen play in an actual game at time of publication.
What 'm envisioning would be someone laying out a spell point system, for example, and then people with experience with those rules give examples of the implications of those rules, how they actually affected play.
Anyway, forget the book, I still think it would be useful to think about roleplaying in terms of system "chunks." Maybe some of you already do. I think I'll try from now on. And while it might seem elegant for a rulesystem to handle things in a uniform fashion, rolling only d6s for instance, I think if you conceptualize the game in chunks you are freed up to have more appropriate systems for each of them. So, I might resolve wilderness encounters, for example, in an entirely different way than dungeon encounters. I might have NPCs that have no "levels." I might have a system that handwaves encumbrance for food and water but gets really crunchy when carrying loot out of the dungeon is concerned.
I'm also interested in chunks that aren't, for whatever reason, encountered much. Diplomacy, NPC encounter reaction/interaction (not skill rolls), espionage, and trade (or even, GASP, romance), would be cool possibilities, for subsystems, minigames, or at least ruling guidelines.