We all have system elements that drive us nuts, and some that just plain drive us away from the table. By way of further informing my dear readers (as Miss Manners would phrase it) of my gaming philosophy, here are mine:
Absolute Dealbreakers (I won't touch a game or a campaign with these elements, ever)
Alignment. The single stupidest, most insidious and by far most mismanaged concept ever foisted onto RPGs. Screw you, Gygax.
PvP. For every person energized by backstabbing and screwing his fellow players (and somehow, these people are overwhelmingly the screwers as opposed to the screwees), there's a gaming group that's been broken up over it. This is the most unforgivable sin in my own campaigns, always has been, always will be.
Hack-and-slash. Look, if all I want are tactical situations, I'll play a wargame. Heck, I'll play a console game – the graphics are a lot better and I don't have to shave, wash or travel to play one. I'm a roleplayer, sorry.
Random chargen. Think Monopoly would ever have gotten off the ground if you got to roll 3d6 x $100 for starting cash? Is there any other type of game other than RPGs where players start out with wildly disparate levels of ability or resources?
High mortality rate. I get attached to my characters, and I want to develop them. If they're just cardboard cutouts with a life expectancy of three game sessions, what's the point? (See Hack-and-slash, above.)
Lack of credible realism. I like gritty, realistic games. If you don't know your shit, or it's not reflected in your game, you really don't want me as a player. Trust me on this one.
Dungeons. It's no longer 1975. We don't use Trash-80s for computers any more, and we stopped listening to disco, and Earth Shoes are antiques, and the polyester leisure suits are all in landfills now. Why the pluperfect hell do these crapfests still exist?
Skills that work. The last time my wife and I attempted d20, she damn near erupted in frustration having failed nine straight First Aid rolls. Look, if the sailor you hired has only a 50% chance to tie a knot, you're going to throw the incompetent loser overboard.
Jackass/agenda. I refused to have anything to do with a game written by a fellow who got onto my Ignore list on a prominent Internet gaming forum almost twelve years ago, and who defines "arrogant, obnoxious prick" to me.
Probably Not. (I won't automatically rule these out, but they're huge strikes)
Character classes. Sorry, I don't need a label. Give me a point based system and I can decide for myself what skills I get, thanks.
Levels. Sorry, I don't need to train all at once at some artificial point, and furthermore have an arbitrary basket of arbitrary skills improve. Give me a point based system and I can decide for myself when and what to train, thanks.
All-male groups. Quite aside from that I like women around, an all-male group has a significantly higher chance of having a number of elements I don't like. I can do without testosterone poisoning at my age.
Horror. It isn't that I hate the genre, per se – although it's no favorite of mine – it's that I don't think RPGs convey horror well.
Silly. I don't do that style well either. Slapstick isn't my cup of tea.
Fire and forget spells. It goes to figure that of all the magic systems in fiction, Gygax would have to copy the one author (Jack Vance) who used a fire-and-forget system. Screw you twice, Gygax.
Lack of walkovers. Sometimes the players make all the right guesses or have all the right luck. I want my decisions, skills and actions to have a material effect on gameplay. I don't want scenarios to be artificially prolonged just because the GM decided they ought to be and nerf anything that interferes with his timetable.
Overforced narration. Hello, there, we're the players, not you, Mr. or Ms. GM. If you want to do nothing but to tell stories, there are coffee houses and bardic circles that cater to that. If it's that you'd rather play yourself, go for it; I'll trade seats with you.
Over the top skill lists. You're seriously telling me I have to take skills in Abacus and Soldering and Isometrics on top of Merchant and Electronics and Fitness?
PDF only. I'm an old fashioned chap who likes a printed book in my hands. I've absolutely no problem with the outfits with PDF options, but if I can't order a bound hardcopy, I'm unlikely to use it.
BS having nothing to do with gameplay. I'm disinterested in the several pages of turgid twaddle by a gamewriter desperate to prove he can really write fiction, honest! I don't need two dozen pages full page color stills and character writeups of the cinematic party of the licensed property. I don't need a fifth of the book taken up by artwork and graphics. Since I am not six years old nor suffer from ADD, I'm capable of reading a book without dozens of (allegedly) pretty pictures to break up the text.
Major sections missing. If your game is missing a character sheet and an index, it's incomplete. If your SF game (say) lacks space combat rules, it's incomplete. I am disinterested in the excuses why ... especially since games missing such sections always seem to have plenty of the aforementioned art and fiction. The only reasons not to include such glaringly obvious sections involve carelessness, laziness, incompetence or obstinacy, none of which bode well for the rest of your rules.
"Fate" points. I don't want to handwave success, I want to earn it. I don't want a Get Out of Jail Free card any time anything bad happens to my character, I want to suck it up and deal with it.
Impenetrable jargon. I don't need some obscure polysyllabic term for every ability and game mechanic. (Yeah, WoD, I'm talking to you.) It's not even so much as needing a copy of Webster's handy to translate the terms during play ... if doing so does you no good, that's a large headache.
Half-assed attempts to emulate a skill-based system with a class-based system. Call them demi-classes, "Prestige" classes, what have you, but the end result is a system far harder to learn and far slower to play, if a GM has to flip through a splatbook every time you try something offbeat.
Lack of "light" options. I like crunch. I like a good bit of crunch ... but not nearly as much as I did, once upon a time. If a system crashes in ruin when you handwave modifiers or don't use every picky rule, I'm less interested.
So-called "social combat." ... in most cases Just Another Combat System with the serial numbers filed off. Look, we already have systems with tactical choice, CRTs and all those trappings.
Filler proliferation. It's good that production values have increased. It's bad that a lot of it is wastepaper. I don't need a fifth of my book (and the count is that high) taken up with inch-wide decorative borders, full-page illos, long fiction sections and suchlike crap. How about you chop the 50 pages that sucks up, just give me rules, and reduce the price of the book accordingly?
Watermarks/fonts. I don't need fancy backgrounds on every page. I don't need bizarre fonts, tiny type, or brown-colored print. Don't worry so much about PDF thieves; worry about me not buying your stuff in the first place, because I can't read the damn thing. A lot (daresay, the majority) of your customers aren't 20 years old any more, y'know.
Splatbooks. Look. I know why they exist: so companies can make more money. I don't even disagree with the principle. It's the results I deplore ... that far from optional for those who love crunch, they've become essential; that they shoehorn New Stuff in whether it fits or not; that said New Stuff often conflicts -- and often badly -- with the core system, and more often than not was poorly playtested; that they provoke a rules armsrace for Ever And Ever More New Stuff; that the end result is a massive rewrite of the system to disavow much of the New Stuff, whereupon the whole cycle begins anew. (Only without a large faction of players who declare Rewrite 2.0 to be suckass, and who insist on sticking with the “original” rules.)
New For The Sake Of New. The hobby's been around for approaching half a century. There is very little conceivable that no one's thought of before. Most of which IS "new" is in fact some old idea dressed up. A particular pet peeve of mine is baroque combinations and types of dice resolution mechanics. Look, it's a randomizer. It's not revolutionary, it's not new, and it doesn't make any game stand out as Uniquely Kewl.