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Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The new (or not so new) direction of RPG’s

The new (or not so new) direction of RPG’s
Starting over with AD&D second edition is a bit weird. The vast majority of my gaming experiance is with Second edition AD&D, it’s what I cut my teeth on. It is also what I have been trying to get as far away from as humanly possible with my own designs. Going back to it feels a bit odd.
Here are some observations from our set up and our first game in what I hope is a new lengthy AD&D second ed game.
1.       My ability to describe has atrophied considerably.
a.       I was trying to describe setting details last night and I found myself tripping over words and concepts. I think this is because in our newer more narrative games, the group creates setting; things do not need to be as explicitly laid out to keep people on the same page. Because of that group setting dynamic laying out the minutia of player surroundings, is something I have not done in a long time, it’s a skill that needs honing.
2.       Watching players new to second edition get used to it is still pretty cool.
a.       There is a lot of flexibility to AD&D second ed that I don’t think it gets credit for today. And once the players realize, “Hey all these numbers boil down to, I only have to roll when the DM asks for it.” The game really kind of opens up. When you explain to a new player with a first level character that, “Yeah you have 6 hit points, and fucking giant Rat has 4 hit points.”  There is a palatable nervousness. The player if they are any kind of player at all wants to keep their character alive. It’s not easy. It’s not going to be easy and it’s obvious. I think that brings as much tension to a combat scene as any dice or jenga tower. This is most obvious in new players, and it makes the game more fun.
b.      (The grognards just chuckle whenever a fresh faced 1st level character is rolled up “don’t get to attached.”)
3.       The web changed everything.
a.       When we were playing back in the late 80’s early 90s there was no I Table top, Roll20, Skype, or second life. Now online playing is so prevalent one of our guys missed the game because his OTHER online group was meeting. WHAT? That is a paradigm change of the highest order. Yes I know I am behind the curve on this one, but the fact that our group, no matter where they are, could theoretically get a game in, with shared documents, maps, white boards, voice / video chat. That’s Jettison’s shit to me.  We are planning 2 games a month 2 hours a game. It does not sound like much but with our divergent schedules, there is no way we could meet twice a month without the net. Would I rather be at table with everyone... Hell yes, but short of that, I’m amazed at how easy it is to get a game in utilizing the tools offered on the internet.
4.       You can never go all the way home again.
a.       I already feel myself putting spins on the AD&D rules to make the game more story driven, or more narrative (however you like to say it.) When someone makes a saving throw I plan on asking them to tell me how they avoid the damage, fight off the spell, don’t melt. In years past am AD&D save was just a save, you took half damage from that fireball, be happy and move along. The game opened with each player introducing their character, and then I just left the room after asking the players to decide how they all know each other. That’s a narrative game thing; “You guys build that part of the story, I gota go pee.”  Things like that are not things I would have done during my  previous spins with AD&D. Will the game be better for my loosening of GM caveat, and my focus on player’s narrative? I have no idea. The system is not built for it but as long as I layer in the narativism without shouting “LETS REWRITE THIS BEYOTCH!” It should be fine.
5.       The other side of the coin, structure. (a bit off topic but worth saying)
a.       Like an old pair of jeans, the structure provided by AD&D is reassuring. The class and level system which is much maligned these days has one great advantage. Every character can be measured against everything in the world, to the DM’s benefit. In our more free form games we have gone through great lengths to make sure that the only the players actions can directly result in hurting the characters. That is the danger in the world is directly related to the amount o frisk the players are willing to take with their characters. AD&D does not work that way. The DM is the world, and the game has a definitive structure that helps the GM know when enough is enough. This is perhaps the most underrated and overlooked aspect of the game. The class / level system is not really there for the player. If anything it stifles some character ideas before they even germinate. But for the DM it’s great, if you have a three character, third level party with no fighters, a GM can set up an encounter catered to them without being to heavy handed with just that information. Yeah I know it’s a bit vague however the structure tells you a lot about the party without even having to look. The Gm knows first that the average party hit points will be below 24 so using creatures of 3 HD or less would be best. No one is going to have super heavy weapons, armor or a great THAC0, so “softer” monsters would also be best. A lot of games don’t have this frame work to mess around in, it really is a nice safety net.
That’s a bit long winded but in the end the summary is, I don’t think we can ever really go home again. Sitting around some ones parents table, throwing dice, drinking soda, are all great memories. We have had a shit ton of good games using the exact system the group is using now. However our current positions in life, our perspectives on games and what makes a good game, technology, and even nostalgia, will combine to make this new AD&D2ed experience wholly new and different.