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Monday, January 6, 2014

A long reply to "looking at old games with new eyes"

This is a post based almost entirely on an a reply to another one of my blogs titled "Looking at old games with new eyes."
Check that out if you're grappling with context for this post.

The reply is from Otto Q and he should get at least 75% of the credit for this post, co author credit and a glass if IPA to top it off. His reply was concise and well thought out and deserves more than the, "thank you for posting here is what I think " treatment that I do my best to give every reply I get.

It needs to be said in the name of transparency, I know Otto, he and I have gamed together, and I have a great deal of respect for him and his opinions.

The format is this .. Mr. Otto's paragraphs will be in normal font, my replies be in blue italics simple as that.

Otto Q shared your blog post on Google+

I don't know... I agree with you in theory. It seems like narrative/modern based games should enable some of the best characters. Yet, for some reason it seems (as you suggested above) a lot of the most memorable and well fleshed-out characters actually came from the "old systems." The current crop of characters bolster this observation - I can't say, well we were just younger back then and had more imagination - or the ever popular... well we are just remembering the glory days, the characters weren't all that great. Because, the current crop of 2e characters are every bit as good and memorable with distinct personalities and character flaws.

Ok, I hear you. And I agree to the extent that the characters presently being played in our AD&D 2 ed throwback game are fun, and every bit as interesting as our old characters from back in the day. Guthar Preist of Thodin, is frankly pretty darn awesome, as is Willhelm ex footballing dwarf, and the Master last druid of Aleria, and Professor Johann the gnome, the mysterious Cyrus Magnus ect...
We breath those personalities into the characters. I don't think a good "next gen game" really changes that at all. What I would like to see are players getting rewarded by the game for breathing so much awesome into their characters. Lets reward that labor of love no? or is it the reward in itself?

In a way, I think it is because 2e and the old games "got out of the way" of actually creating your character. Stat blocks and skills and all that existed solely to handle the mundane mechanical parts of the game. Heck, we went a long stretch before we incorporated skills into our old games. If I remember correctly, as we converted a lot of characters from 1e to 2e, we didn't even use skills all that much. Our primary character sheet consisted of stats, saves, HP and AC and a convenient place to write down our loot.

That is 100% true we have never really been a rules heavy bunch. You do remember correctly my Helmar sheet was seriously just his stats and his saves, with the word HAMMER written underneath.

It is true that in theory an "aspect" of a character (e.g. your illustration regarding alignment) should have a real impact in the game. But, I would venture to say that (at least in our games) it did. During the time of "no magic" - one character used his evil and necromantic ways to create a particularly vile way of energizing his magics (i.e. sucking the life force from others). It wasn't an aspect or a skill or a power or whatever you want to call it - it was taking an idea and working with the DM to translate it into the game. Same thing with countless "I'd like to do _" actions. We didn't have it spelled out that we could do it - we figured well... it seems like it is a [insert most likely state here]. Let's see if it works. By having very bare-bones stats and saves - I feel like it opened the characters up to being able to truly be unique and role-play.

For the record after the original post I noticed I left a certain Drow Elf Necromancer off the list of old player characters , this was a grave (har har) oversight and I hope he doesn't show up at my house kill me raise me then kill me again.. Just saying.

That storytelling was a function of the group always moving towards the "Frickin cool!" Like Lothar being able to cast in armor, or Treegan and Rhino starting a church of Geb / Fisticuffs training school on Tradewinds island. (how do I remember this stuff?) We did that as players but the game never gave us anything for it. Truthfully though in this case we could be making the same point except coming at it from different points of view. It was awesome because the game got out of the way and let us be.

Or maybe it was just we had an awesome DM that instinctively took into account what modern day rules systems are trying institutionalize. But after playing some of the new MMOs (Guild Wars, Neverwinter and DDO for example) - I feel to some extent players these days are being spoon fed.

They are, you're correct. In my opinion most MMOs and some current paper RPG systems exist only to make the players want the next "kewl Powerz"." IN order to maintain the player reliance on their product and hence guarantee future sales the game has to be rules tight and encompassing enough to where it is less trouble and more satisfying to buy the next expansion / splatbook than it is to do it yourself. It is obvious in MMO's especially the free to play model games, (You generally can't make your own content. VIA LA MUD!) I also see this extensively in AD&D 4th ed, I see this a bit in Numenera's Foci, I imagine I will see it in D&D next when that hulks it's way into the game stores.

The rules are trying to accommodate anything that can happen, rather than trusting to the DM to make it right. I understand that in a tournament like setting, you'd want hard and fast rules and an even playing field for everyone. However, for everyday gaming with a group of friends, I feel like the new rule systems might be doing a disservice to the players. And while I understand that the narrative rule systems are trying to be the opposite of the MMO rule systems, I'd argue in many ways they are doing the same thing - institutionalizing and creating mechanics for role-playing. It seems like a great idea, except, I'd argue it risks dumbing down and potentially limiting the very role-playing and narration it is trying to encourage.

To me this is the very crux of what you are saying, and is why I chose to do the reply in this format. My argument would be that in a game like Phase or Shards of Thimbral which I'm presently working on, the goal isn't to institutionalize role playing, rather to incorporate it as part of the reward system. Where an older game might get out of the way when you want to rp something cool, there is still that chance the the GM (if not named Me,) Might pull some arcane rule out of some dusty player's handbook and say ,
" NO, You can't ride that dear because you don't have animal empathy." or, "No you can not be carried around on a litter by a troop of skeletons because you will not be able to maintain concentration to control them." or "No you can't play a bad-ass cat person, because for a lot of reasons that's why."

Would you like to play game where you are in control of that? where if you have the resources you can just go for the awesome no holds barred? And what's more the game gives back to you the currency to improve your character based on how much you choose to add to the story? (Steve Marin tried to bribe some boat guards with prostitutes in our last playtest, up until then there were no prostitutes in the game, he made that happen, now there is a whole darn subculture of them, Just an example.)
The thing that gives me pause is when you use the phrase, " limiting the very role-playing and narration it is trying to encourage." To which I say I have to be diligent as I work on my current project about making sure the rules never get in the way of the fiction. That phrase almost made me start a massive rewrite, no kidding.

The best stories that we still tell around the old pub tend to have come from the serendipitous melding of a creative (and often snarky) player action being creatively interpreted by the DM. I feel like a lot of that creativity came from the blank slate nature of the game systems. Crude... yes... but effective.

I agree with you here. I think just having all that space to fill as a DM and as a player , lends itself to riffing off each other and telling really cool tales. Some of the classic systems when applied with a light hand give the players a lot of room to poke around and improvise great stuff.

My final point is this, over the years our troupe style of gaming has realy diverged from what the rules sets we were using actually were. I could argue that we have never really played D&D in the strictest sense of the word. I say that because I always used so few of the rules and gave the players so much leeway with actions and descriptions. We have been playing in the style of narrative games for years.'

So what I'm looking to do is write a game the glorifies how we play. Create a risk reward economy, make the in game reward the ability to make cool story elements, link character growth to those cool story elements. Yes a lot of the newer new, but really it's what our group has been doing all along.

Thank you for reading! and as always

comments welcome