Sep 222011

Development on my Savage Fallout game continues and my players are starting to toss around concepts via email. So far things have looked interesting but out of three players I’ve yet to see a single human concept. Which utterly disappoints me to no end. What do people have against good old humans? Why do I so often hear the old “humans are boring” chestnut? Are Ghouls and Super Mutants so iconic that no one wants to play a human?

In some respects I think that race is often substitute for personality by lazy or uncreative players (not that I’m accusing my players of this). Non-human races quickly become shorthand for an interesting list of traits that you don’t have to think about or develop yourself. I’ll firmly agree that they can be utterly boring, as their culture is so diverse that it becomes a blank canvas. But all it really takes to make an interesting human is a bit of work. Some of which has to come from the GM, of course. I’m just as guilty as my players of making humans uninteresting. Which is why I’ve been developing faction benefits for humans.

When I actually get to play I almost always make human characters and often times I’m the only human in a party of 5 to 6 characters. That strikes me was utterly odd in a setting where humans are supposed to be largely dominant. At least 4th edition gave them a niche beyond versatility, which did go a long way toward making them more attractive. Maybe that’s what more settings need: a niche for humans. Because from where I’m sitting they’re just not all that attractive when other races are available. Which is a shame. After all, Bruce Willis wasn’t a sentient ape or an elf: he was a human!

Nov 242009

It’s almost the end of the year, and I’d like to talk a little about the past, present and future of FAD.

These rules have been around for 7 years now. They began as hastily written comments on a notepad, after playing and having my mind blown by Stargrunt II.

The things I knew I wanted, when I started the project was this:

Suppression should be automatic.

Only 6 sided dice.

Combat should be squad based.

The core mechanics would be roll 2 dice and pick the highest or roll 2-3 dice and see how many score over a certain target number.

With that in mind, the original game came into existence. My friend Paul liked it and gave some feedback, and I proceeded to talk it up a little on and the old GW fan site As time went on, I realized that I had struck something that people actually took an interest in. I saw threads where people asked for advice on a rules set, and people I didn’t even know would suggest FAD. I googled it occasionally and found it mentioned on forums and websites I had never even frequented.

As time went on, I even learnt that people had run games using FAD at a few conventions across the world. That blew my mind.

Yeah, it’s nowhere near the popularity of games like 5150, Stargrunt II, Warhammer 40.000 or any of those. The twohourwargames yahoo group has 3600 members and multiple posts every day. The FAD group is fairly quiet and has just shy of 500 members. But it’s something I had never anticipated or experienced before.

Now it’s November of 2009, and FAD4 has been out for a good while now. So what is lying ahead of us all?

First and foremost are a few projects that have been in various states of development for the past year. We have a lot of little additions to the core rules (night fighting, more traits, some clarifications of points that could be clearer, that sort of thing) which will eventually become FAD 4.3. I don’t think there’s any chance of having this done by December so expect something in the first half of 2010.

We have been working on a campaign setting as well (Cyberia) which will give a “out of the box” option to people who don’t want to fiddle with designing their own units from scratch. There’s also work on a WW2 and possibly modern day options. These are propably more distant projects though.

One thing that have been churning in my head lately is the idea of having money go into, and come out of, FAD. I am not talking about making the game commercial only (I watched my old ww1 rules Trench Storm whither and die from that decision) or making a living off it. Let me explain:

There’s a lot of things I think could be achieved with a bit of cash. A few include:

Commissioning artwork, writing etc: This is by far the biggest one. We’ve been extremely lucky in having some very talented volunteers provide us some great art to use. However, volunteers are subject to the randomness of life, and are motivated mainly by interest and passion.

Being able to have some artwork commissioned for FAD products would give us another, additional source of material. It could also go to additionally reward and motivate people who have volunteered their efforts.

It would also permit some additional incentive to prospective rules writers who may otherwise be disinclined to spend hours developing a rules supplement.

Advertising: I would like to do a bit more work advertising (and thus paying money into supporting) popular tabletop gaming sites like and Having some cash flow would allow for that, as well as give FAD some additional exposure.

Miniatures: This is faraway and expensive idea, but having a range of miniatures developed for FAD would be pretty cool.

Conventions: I’d love to have something setup where we could showcase FAD at conventions, and possibly provide some stuff for that, such as freebie print copies of the rules or whatever might be the case.

Cooperation with a miniatures supplier: This talk has come up before, and at least one supplier showed interest, however the arrival of my son into this world made me unable to follow through on this. I am however very interested in having some cooperation with manufacturers of scifi figures, particularly some of the small-scale operations. This would enable us to provide FAD stats and points values ready to use, and give them more exposure and advertisement, while giving FAD more exposure as well.

There’s other incidental expenses that could occur as well, such as server space if we move to our own server, website maintenance and whatnot.

So where does money for these ideas come from? Well, it can come from my pocket. I generally can’t really afford that, and I’d love for FAD to sustain itself.

I am also not keen on the idea of selling PDF’s. Anyone can develop for the game, and that is how it ought to be. So if I sell a supplement on urban warfare, and another guy does it for free and his is better, nobody will buy mine, and for good reason.

The core FAD products should be free and readily available.

Printed copies: An option that will almost certainly be used is to offer the printed version of FAD through a print-on-demand service such as lulu. Last I checked the cost of a book of this size would be about 10 dollars, so it could sell for a few bucks more. Based on polling on the yahoo group and comparing to existing products, most people are willing to pay 12-15 dollars for a game of this size.

This would not change the fact that it’s available for free, and there’d be no “exclusive” version. It’d simply be a service to people who prefer getting a printed, spiral-bound copy, rather than dealing with pdf’s and printing it themselves.

Ransom model: Those who play RPG’s may be familiar with Greg Stolze’s ransom model. You offer up a game or supplement and set a ransom. People pledge whatever money they feel is fair. When the ransom is met, it’s made available for free to everybody. This avoids PDF piracy, and nobody pays more than what they want to. If the ransom isn’t met, the money either never gets deducted, or is donated to charity.

Donations: Asking for money is basically begging, and in addition to being distasteful, people aren’t inclined to give money just for the sake of doing so. In the past when the topic of commissioning artwork came up, a few people showed an interest in donating towards that, so its conceivable that specific expenses could receive some funding through donation.

These are all ideas I have been mulling over, and I am still trying to lay out the best path to really push FAD forward into the spotlight more, and capture more ground.

Lastly, I’d like to put out a call for support and aid. I am at a spot where I have projects that I think FAD needs, but I do not have the luxury to work on all of them myself. I need people who are competent designers and tinkerers, creative writers or just plain thinkers, who may be willing to pitch in for some specific projects.

I’ll put forth more specifics, but the two main projects are: FAD WW2 and help with the Cyberia setting. I have two people lined up for the latter, but I need more, to really make progress in a reasonable time.

It’s been a strange and amazing 7 years, and I’d like to thank all of you out there for everything you’ve done. Here’s to another 7 years of fast and dirty wargaming

Ivan – authordude

Sep 302009

“We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.”

~Martin Luther King, Jr.

I always find my best inspirations for blog posts after I have played the worst RPG scenes.

This is a problem that plagues online roleplayoing, but I think it also ventures heavily into tabletop gaming across all genres of games – how do you make your game work for your group as a whole?

Lets go backwards on this a bit and look at the most basic question: why should you run for every player you have?  I swear it seems such a simple, stupid question but time and time again groups form where the ST/DM/GM gathers a big group of players and then proceeds to lead only for his or her best friends leaving the other players feeling useless.  The why is tied inextricably in the basic goal of roleplaying: fun.  Very few players find it fun to ride along on the coattails of others, and usually they are the sort of players who gain more fun by spectating rather than playing anyways.  Most players find it fun to affect the game and in return be rewarded for their actions.  Even in a game where there is a strict rank whether this is military or nobility – no one like to have thier options in a RPG limited solely to what someone else tells them to do.  We play RPGs to make choices and see how those choices affect the outcome.  No matter whether this is how does your combat strategy stack up against the DM’s baddies to how does your social manipulation scheme affect the plots of the ST’s villains.  So if you plot adventures that only appeal to a portion of your players – or worse can only be solved by a portion of your players the neglected players will start to resent the game and get very bored very quickly.

That is not to say that personal storylines or highlighting a character is a bad thing – as long as it is something that is shared equally among the playerbase.  The storyline that deals with a paladin fulfilling an oath to his order one session, afterward the fighter making a drunken bet and dragging his party into a monster-hunt; and then a gang of old enemies catching up with the rogue the next is cool.  The game where each and every problem is only solvable by some obscure spell your wizard possess while the rest of your party is getting mutilated and and doing zero damage is fundamentally broken.  Honestly – if you are running a tabletop game and you decide that you enjoy running for only a portion of your players and therefore favor them suck it up and either A. split the group or B. find ways to enjoy and/or run for your other players.

And if you’re running an online chat game, and you favor your friends exclusively you should probably admit that you’re not cut out to be a good GM and step down.  Period, end of story.

So now that the problem is defined, how do you kep your game running smoothly?  First – live by this rule: interested players make a more interesting game for all involved.  It takes some work, but in my opinion finding out what trips your players triggers is well worth the effort because once they are interested they will be giving both feedback and energy – and oftentimes story ideas through their play.

2. Give them what they want.  Some DMs I know specifically put something in every adventure for every character, some are more loose about it and just give open ended situations that are well suited for a variety of players – however you care to do it, make sure there are plenty of opportunities for everybody to think up solutions and act upon them.  This leads directly into …

3. Think before saying ‘No.’  Sometimes we trust our friends but don’t trust the new guy – so we’ll buy the wildly creative plan our best bud throws out but immediately shoot down the solution presented by the new player.  You know what?  If you trusted them enough to let them in your group give them a chance.  If everything goes to hell, kindly stop the session and either teach them the game or don’t invite them next time – on the flip side if they are wildly creative and make it work everyone might just be sold on the story and be thrilled with it.  I find too many GMs say ‘no’ too often and yet when you say yes not only do players feel like they are empowered in the game but they have more fun and are encouraged to be more creative.

4. If you have a railroader, stop them – even if (or especially if) it is you.  Some people feel that everything needs to go their way.  Some players like to order everyone else around and some GMs will force players into their tightly preplanned storyline.  But control isn’t fun.  No one likes playing out orders – people go to work to do what they are told.  They roleplay to have fun and explore the boundaries of their creativity.   So if you have a player who likes controlling everyone else, tell them to stop – trust me, even if the others aren’t complaining they will thank you.  And if it is you as a GM controlling them too strictly, start coming up with open-ended problems for them to solve.  This has the added benefit of taking stress off your shoulders.

5. If you are running a story based game, find out about all the PCs backgrounds and bring them into play.  If you are running a strategy or combat based game, find out each of the player’s tactical strengths/weaknesses and bring them into play.  Challenging each person individually or bringing up secrets of character’s pasts is a good way to get that player involved and tied to the other players in the game.

6. Personal SL are great.  Personal SLs that affect your entire group but can only be solved by one PC suck.  No one wants to stack dice and twiddle thier thumbs while waiting for one PC to finish defeating the big bad that only he or she can defeat.  Either run personal SLs on the side or make them so every player can get involved.

If all else fails, admit your strengths and weaknesses as a GM and run for only your close friends and let someone else run for everyone.  Because the game is fun, but sitting around watching someone else have fun isn’t.

Aug 032009

“It’s during long pauses such as these that we often grow philosophical and ponder the deeper questions of gaming…

Just where did that tiger keep those 20 silver pieces?”
~GM Hold music (

Lately I have noticed the discussion crop up on a variety of message boards over ‘Is Dungeons and Dragons really all about killing things and taking their stuff?”  The discussion invariably then delves into people saying “Yes, but it can be about a whole lot more” or “Well X edition was a whole lot more about killing things and taking their stuff than Y edition” or the people who stick up and say “Yes, that IS what it is all about.”  Yet one of the things I always notice about the discussion is that while gamers spend a great amount of time arguing how DnD can be so much more than killing things and taking their stuff or lambasting their least favorite edition while supporting their favorite no one stops to ask: is it OK that the game could fundamentally be centered on killing things and taking their stuff?

Everyone pussyfoots around it, like it is some dirty little secret that didn’t make millions of dollars for the video game industry.  But, despite me being a White Wolf loving, story-based, hang-the-rules sort of roleplayer, I’m going to tell you straight: there is nothing wrong with the concept of a game being founded on ‘kill things, take their stuff.’

Now before you rush out and go have a Mountain Dew rampage on how plebian I am, let me explain.  Let us, for a second; break down the basic structure of the “Kill Things, Take Stuff” plot.  In my mind it has 4 stages:

Problem (There are monsters)
Action (The PCs go find the monsters – usually in the form of a ‘dungeon crawl’)
Resolution (The PCs kill the monsters)
Reward (The PCs get stuff from killing monsters)

The Problem -> Action -> Resolution -> Reward structure is a primer for a successful RPG story.  It is one of the most basic, tried and true plotlines of DnD – or any other game.  It can be as simple as shown about or it can be far more sophisticated:

Problem (Innocent children have been disappearing from the PCs hometown, and last night the mangled corpse of a child was found in a dark alleyway)
Action (The PCs start a careful detective-style investigation into the shady elements of this city)
Resolution (After many clues and some random encounters the PCs decide that one of the respected politicians of the town is actually a corrupt wizard who is responsible for this atrocity, so they confront him)
Reward (Defeating their foe, the PCs find and release the surviving children.  The Lord of the city gives them a generous reward – or conversely they loot the dead wizard and take his stuff 😉 )

Either way and everything in between, the structure gives players what they crave: the chance to take actions that bring about solutions and give them rewards so they can go solve bigger and badder problems.  To reiterate: players want resolution and reward.  They put the work into solving the problems the DM presents them with, and in order to make the game gratifying to them, they want rewards for taking that action.  While setting up a problem is easy for most any DM, working the game through to a conclusion is more difficult.  Dungeons and Dragons sets up an almost fail-safe game structure where getting rid of obstacles (killing monsters, defeating traps, ect ect) grants reward and leads to a conclusion.  At the end, the DM can tally up all of the treasure and XP and reward his or her players.

I’m going to argue that the creators of the original DnD intimately understood what made the game fun, and that resolution and reward were an integral part of the enjoyment of the game.  That is why by-the-book you get treasure for slaying monsters and why the game seems set up to kill things and take stuff: it provides inherent rewards.  I will go so far to say that the DMG should be required reading for anyone who wants to lead any game system, because beyond the rules specific to whatever edition of DnD you play, the book is filled with a wealth of information on how to structure a basic game plot.  Don’t scoff at the seemingly simple examples.  Because it is far more gratifying and fun to play in a campaign with a very simple plot that keeps you engaged, active and rewarded than playing in an interminably complex plot where you just keep running in circles never reaching a conclusion because you’re either not smart enough to figure out the clues or the DM just hasn’t figured out the end yet.  (I see the latter happen most frequently in White Wolf STs, but that is the subject for a different rant.)

The DMG urges new DMs to start simple and if they and their players want to, they can refine the subtlety and complexity of their plots, as they understand the game and how it is played.  Or don’t – if your players get their jollies by mashing monsters and saving villages from orc hordes, let them!  Follow the basic rules of resolution and reward; and no matter whether your game is about complex political scheming or killing things and taking their stuff, you will be surrounded by a group of your friends who are all having fun and enjoying the game.

And in the end, getting together with friends and having fun is what Dungeons and Dragons is really about, no?

Jul 242009

So 4th edition D&D has been out for a while, there’s a steady stream of books out for it, its received quite a bit of acclaim and popularity, and the inevitable question has risen a few times: Why am I not playing it ?

So to address these in a manner that illuminates my playstyle and preferences, something that any gamer could do well thinking about occasionally, here are the reasons I have chosen not to play D&D 4, after giving it a few tests after it came out.

Unlike a lot of people I am not viewing this in comparison to 3.5 (which I hate like the plague) or AD&D or the classic D&D games. I evaluated it in comparison to other fantasy games on my bookshelf, some old (Runequest), some classics with recent editions (GURPS, Warhammer) and some bleeding edge (Burning Wheel, Heroquest, Reign)

1: Classes.

I realize picking on D&D for having character classes is a bit unfair, but it is the nature of the beast. I dont mind having a template that gives me direction when I create the character, but as the game goes on, I want to be free to develop my character in the direction I choose, rather than a pre-determined set of options.

2: Levels

This is the bigger pet peeve. As a player, I find level based advancement absolutely choking. I despise having to wait another 3 sessions to advance my character, as it prevents me from reacting organically to what happens in the game. Whats worse is that a level structure means there is only a finite amount of chances to make those changes. I can endure character classes if they are done in an open and entertaining fashion, but level based play is a killer for me these days

3: Character focus

I am lately finding myself wanting games that put the character to the forefront, their beliefs, their wants, their goals and desires. And to have mechanics that back that up. Burning Wheel, FATE and Heroquest are all good examples of this. D&D has traditionally never done this and the 4th edition is no exception.

There are two views of mechanics and roleplaying. One view is that the mechanics should stay away from the roleplaying, while the other is that the mechanics should support or encourage the roleplaying. D&D falls in the former school for sure. As does a few other games I enjoy, including my beloved Runequest, so its not inherently a killer in itself, but its a factor.

To me, it is completely uninteresting whether your character can swing a sword, hit 2 enemies in one blow and then leap 3 squares. What is interesting is that he has a burning passion for avenging his father, and that passion compels him in the game.

4: Simulation

Rules should simulate reality or setting to a certain extent. With 4th edition, D&D has really moved to the end of the Game axis of the game-simulation graph. This obviously resonates with a lot of people, but it makes the mechanics appear arbitrary and uninsteresting to me. Simulation does not have to entail realism. A superhero game is highly simulationist for example, as is Bunnies&Burrows.

5: Handling time

I was shocked to discover how long 4th edition combats take. I had chalked this up to our inexperience when testing it, but reports from friends and various actual play reports online confirmed that the game is indeed designed to have all combats last around a 1 to 1.5 hour time frame.

I only get to game face-to-face 2-3 times a month, due to work and family constraints, so I can’t in good conscience devote that much time to every single battle we have, unless its an epic conclusion. Rolemaster and GURPS both move faster than this, at an equivalent number of combatants, and with similar amounts of record keeping, and they are both renowned as “crunchy” systems.

6: Cost

I have a reasonable hobby budget, but I prefer spending that on miniatures. There are very few roleplaying games I invest a lot of money in. D&D has a basic start up cost exceeding 100 dollars, simply for the 3 core books to play. If I want a setting to play in, thats another 35 dollars, and this still only gives me a handful of character classes.

Throw in another 35 dollars when we get tired of what was in the players handbook (and an active group will cycle through the 8 or so character classes pretty quickly). This is more than I’ve spent on most of my wargaming armies, and I can’t justify spending that amount of money on a game that I will only play occasionally, at most.

WOTC has set an extremely high cost of entry for their game, which boggles my mind. For the same cost, I can obtain the core books for 3-4 other games, and have a far wider variety of material to play with.

So those 6 reasons comprise my main reasons for passing on this game. I bought 2 of the books, I tested it, I came to realize that it will not fill any lack in what I am looking for in a roleplaying game, and I passed the books on to a friend who will find far more benefit, value and enjoyment in them, than I ever will.

Sep 282008

This post is actually in response to a post over at the Tao of D&D (warning, naughty words abound over on that post!).  Within the author makes some good points and then makes a few points that I personally disagree with.  I’m not going to dissect the post or call out quotes; if you’re interested take a read and see what you think yourself.  Instead, I want to offer an opposing viewpoint as to why so many people do enjoy playing heroes in D&D (and other games beside).

I would also like to preface this post with the standard disclaimer that my ideas and words don’t reflect any one true way of playing.  There is no wrong way to play any RPG so long as everyone in the game is having fun and enjoying themselves.  I tend to hammer this point home a lot, but it’s an important one to remember.

To get right to the point, I’ve always greatly enjoyed playing the stalwart defender of innocents and the downtrodden when I bring my dice to the table.  (Yes, I quite like playing Paladins and Superheroes, why do you ask?)  There is something incredibly liberating, fun, and above all hopeful about playing one of the true blue good guys.  Judging by actions and characters of my friends and other gaming groups, I feel that it’s not an uncommon idea, either.  For at least some of us roleplayers, playing the good guy is very much part of the game and part of the fun.

I feel that a big part of the reason is that in this day and age (and in days past, really) there are so many bad things happening in the world that it’s nice to actually help out in a noticable and real (well, pretend real) way.  I feel bad that I can’t help all those people out there suffering by myself, but when I play in our weekly D&D game my character can.

For sure it’s escapism and little more, but deep down within my heart of heats I feel better for having done the imaginary right thing.  Sure, I can volunteer at homeless shelters, I can give money to charity, I can do a lot of things to help people fairly indirectly.  But the results are never immediate or nearly so impressive as those of my alter ego.  I might volunteer my time help the less fortunate, but Sir Boros the Paladin sure helped all those peasants in that village when he stopped the orc invasion.

And isn’t that why we play games in the first place?  To have fun and do something we can’t normally do in real life, to get away from our worries and troubles for just a little while and smile and laugh with our friends?  For me it’s so much less interesting to play the greedy thief who steals from his friends; I see enough of that on television.  Why would I want to play something like that in a game where I can be anything?

Some folks say that good guys are forced to act good or suffer consequences.  Honestly, I think that holds true for every single motivation in the game.  After all, that’s all doing good work or gaining power or gaining treasure really are; character motivations.  Are my games any less valid or less fun simply because my players happen to be motivated by goodwill and heroism rather than gold and raw power?  My players seem to be having a grand old time, doesn’t seem to me like I’ve done anything wrong.

I also think that playing the hero happens to have a rather fun little benefit.  I’ve been a long time player and fan of City of Heroes, and one thing I’ve noticed in that game as opposed to other games is that people are so helpful.  You’ll get guys to drop really tough and challenging missions to help out a new player who just logged in and is clueless.  I’ve done it plenty of times myself.  I think that part of the reason is that it’s so much fun to share in the discovery of some great new game or world (something I want to talk later with a talk on young kids and RPGs) and help others see just how much fun something you love to play can be.

Yet beyond the shared discovery and joy is the simple concept that if you pretend to be a nice guy, it might just rub off.  I’m surely not Sir Boros, but I’d sure like to get that happy feeling that I get when playing him again.  That happy feeling often comes from helping those (perpetually) hapless peasants with thier troubles.  Perhaps if I, myself, were to help someone out just for the good of it I might get that feeling just a little bit myself.

That’s why I truly like playing good guys and playing with others who like playing good guys.  If you pretend to be the hero long enough, it just might rub off on you.

Sep 242008

Since Runequester started such a nice little topic, I figured that I’d chime in with my own thoughts and opinions.  In some respects I’m almost the polar opposite of him, far prefering mechanics that fit a specific setting or game than generic or universal mechanics.  To me the rules should support and reinforce the genre or game you’re playing, not function as an all-in-one toolkit.  Plus I want to highlight a very important aspect of roleplaying: there is no one true way to enjoy this hobby.

I fully admit that a large part of why I keep returning to D&D is that it is the teat at which I suckled as a fledgling roleplayer.  It’s a lot like Mom’s home cooking – you were raised on it and it’s comforting.  I think that all of us have that one game we first played and love warts and all precisely because its nostalgic.

Yet that’s not the main reason I return to D&D and similar games.  I love crunchy bits and complex mechanics.  For me there is a great and wondeful game within a game in these systems, namely character creation and getting the most out of what you have.  In short, I love to min-max or powergame my characters a bit.  I’m not one to take it to extremes, but generally I’ll come to the table with a very effective character who tends to excell in one or two areas.  And you know what?  There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.

For me the game mechanics should wholly support the game and genre that you’re playing and they don’t need to make sense outside of that genre.  I’m not going to use a wrench to hammer in a nail.  Why would I use a genric game to run something very specific.  (Again, this is not to say that generic games are bad.  Far from it.  I just happen to prefer games that fit one style of play).

I also really happen to like highly tactical combat and almost treat fights and conflict as games within a game.  When it comes time to break out the longswords and slaughter me some demons, I don’t much care how much sense my attacks make.  All I care about is killing those demons in a fun, cinematic, and awesome way.  Let me cleave through enemies like Conan or burn them all down like Raistlin.  I’m probably the happiest when I have skulls to bash and loot to earn.

For me, and most of my players, we don’t really care that we can only use some certain power once per day.  It doesn’t matter and in the world we’re currently playing in it makes sense enough, so we let it slide and get on with the combat.  But when combat ends we’re just as easily able to slip into roleplaying, becuase for me when you’re talking and negotiating you don’t need a lot of specific rules.  So in a sense we play two games at once, one a talky roleplaying free form sort of deal and the other a highly tactical and complex wargame using miniatures.

And this is the most beautiful thing about our wonderful hobby.  Both my take and Runequester’s take completely valid, fun, and perfectly reasonable.  That’s what really irks me when someone tells me that I’m playing a game wrong or that a certain system “sucks.”  In roleplaying there are no wrong or bad systems, only systems you don’t happen to enjoy or that don’t work for you.  If you’re having fun and the group is having fun then nothing wrong is happening; you’ve succeeded and you have a wonderful game.

If you really want to have fun roleplaying that’s all you need to know.  Pick a system that works for you and don’t let anyone else dare tell you that you’re doing it wrong.  Just because my mind loves the strange abstractions and finding that extra little +1 bonus to my rolls doesn’t mean that my style is innately inferior or superior to anyone elses.  It’s only different.

Sep 222008

So I’ve played a LOT of different games. I own a lot of different games.

I’ve played year long campaigns, as well as one shot games. And everything inbetween.

But one thing never fails. I always return to Runequest.

The specific version may vary.. 2nd edition, 3rd edition, Mongoose. They all have things I enjoy.
But its always what I return to. The baseline if you will.

And I think I’ve finally put my finger on why:

Modern games (and I use the term modern loosely) have a different focus than many older games. In a way, the best way to sum it up is “style over substance”. That sounds terribly derogatory so let me elaborate.
In many newer games, the focus is on the characters and their powers, abilities and ways they can influence things, the story or even the world at large. Crack open a White Wolf book and you’ll find countless pages of disciplines, gifts or charms. Check the new D&D or its predecessor D20 and you’ll find an ever-increasing number of feats, spells, creature abilities and class powers.

The emphasis is on the character and the powers he posses. The colour if you will.

There’s many reasons for this. It obviously appeal to the wish fulfilment we all do, “wouldnt it be awesome if…”  They define and set apart characters mechanically “My guy can shoot lightning” and they give us cool stuff to be excited about.  Those are all good things.

A lot of new games talk about player empowerment, about being able to influence the story directly, sharing the narrative. They often do this by mechanics that let you change details, take over the storytelling or at its simplest form, succeed at a certain dice roll automatically.  Often these things become rewards for actions taken, or even used as a sort of gamble or metagame mechanic.

The reason that these games ultimately don’t have the deep internal logic that Runequest does to me is that they were built around these steps. Often every single piece of the game is built around the ideas of character powers and player empowerment. Look at D&D4 for example. When you strip away the classes, races and monsters, you’re left with very little information.

Look at Exalted. Its all set up to specifically support a certain style of game, in a certain setting.
Look at Spirit of the Century. The epitome of a given playstyle and mood.

What Runequest did though, and to an extent still does is build a framework that is separated from all that.
If you strip away the monsters and magic, the Runequest mechanics are still rock solid. Nothing seems weird or unusual. The game resonates with an internal logic that matches how we expect the world to work.
Most games look very very strange once you strip away the flavour and the powers.  Some will still work, though they will feel devoid of what made them special. Others will work because they are designed to promote certain narrative ideas (like FATE).

But they don’t inherently “make sense” to me. I ran White Wolf’s Trinity for a year, and I still find the dice pool mechanic completely nonsensical. I understand how it works and I understand the effects on the game, but every single time I sit there and count dice, I am reminded I am playing a game.

Games with meta-mechanics like FATE are even more jarring. Rather than increasing the narrative, for me, they create a divide between the narrative and the mechanical play by producing strange dice quirks or effects.

To me, Runequest has always represented the fundamental way things work. Your ability scores affect skills, you improve by using your abilities or taking time to train them, limbs can get hurt or incapacitated, wounds are serious etc.

Once you add in the monsters, magic and people in funny suits, it feels more “realistic”.. .maybe plausible is the right term here.

Because the foundation is solidly grounded in what we know and expect, the fantastic feels like it makes sense. There’s a sense of scale. I know that an axe can seriously hurt somebody, so something doing 3D6 damage is extremely dangerous. I can equate that to something in my head.

This doesn’t mean I haven’t enjoyed or played other games in the past. I love WFRP, Rolemaster, Traveller, Reign and a bunch of other games. I thought FATE was neat and Heroquest was genius.

But they’ll never be “natural” in the same way.

Feb 212008

My god, I just get over being sick last week and now I have a fever in the triple digits. Dragging my butt over to the computron was hard. Want to write more, but having trouble sitting up straight. Will post more when I feel human.