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Friday, June 3, 2016

Revoke my "Old School" card (10 year anniversary of my favorite game)

A bit of click bait title, but fitting.

In fact I never had an Old school Card. Though at 41 I have certainly been around the hobby long enough to be considered old.
These days being "old school" does'nt  mean having been round to play the original car wars, or knowing that a war-hammer with flamers is a hot-hammer. No to be really old school a person needs to ascribe to a certain gaming aesthetic, one rooted in play-styles from days past. Which is cool. My favorite D&D is 2nd edition, I can still figure THAC0 in my head, and I carry bat guano for my fire balls. I'm still not old school however.


Here's why.
I have written a few games for my friends* and I to play.
My favorite of all of them is not any of the Classic format RPG's we have kicked around. My favorite is a story game. Plain and simple.

That game is getting closer and closer now to celebrating it's (hold on guys) TEN YEAR anniversary no less.
How is that a thing?
It kind of depends on how you measure it.
From The  Wikipedia :
"On August 15, 2007, Wizards of the Coast announced the development of D&D 4th edition."
As a group we had been playing D&D edition three. None of us were excited by the Wizards announcing another edition. Frankly at the time none of us wanted to spend the money on more books. (how times have changed ehh?)
We car pooled out to Russ's back then, it's about  45 minutes and during that trip Jay and I had a discussion that was basically, "Fuck the man, let's write our own game."
So I think it is fair to say I started working on what would become our game in August of 2006, about two months from now. The game had been in conversation for around a year by the time the wizards  4th edition news broke. We choose to actually start running our own system full time sometime in 2007. The new game became known as Phase Abandon.  I'm not even sure how or why that name stuck.

My single minded goal when I started writing was to makes something that was first absolutely not Dungeons and Dragons. My secondary goal was a game that could handle whatever setting we wanted. This was long before I had heard about the  OSR, story games,  RPG blogs, or OSRIC style reboots. I stumbled on most of those resources while working on Phase.
In effect, the game we pieced together was surprisingly free of outside influences, truly our creation. The  funny thing now, reading the text of the game as I have been, I see that the ideas in phase are not strikingly original. Others had done them before. I wonder how many designs that came out a decade ago were actually, "Lets get as far away from D&D as we can" reactions to years of Dungeons and Dragons**.

So we wrote and, tested, and we played.
There were hiccups naturally. One of my favorites was the original version of the game had whomever sat to your left as the  player who would narrate your failures. This lead to jockeying at the table  involving people trying to sit to the right of whomever they were in the mood to mess with  that day. We changed it to a system involving chips that move around the table, to determine who gets to narrate failures.

We have changed from a game mastered to a non-game mastered system several times. Presently the rules are written as a game where the game mastering responsibility moves around the table, but it can be played either way.


Regardless of the problems we have had to write out of the  system, we have played an awful lot of it.

We played a gothic horror setting in a place called Londonia.
We played  Straight fantasy in my Aleria campaign setting.
We played Sci Fi.
We played one shot games that I truthfully / sadly, don't remember everything about.

We used Phase for everything from 2007 until about 2014, in the past two years we have taken a break to try out the cypher system, the new 5th D&D, and a few other fresh faces. Each time we play a new game, invariably one of us says, "we could do that with phase," then we nod, laugh and  move along.

That might be true, we might be able to do that ("that" being whatever we are currently doing with another game,) with our game. Other games are good to though so why is Phase my favorite?

The characters.
Somehow we got lucky, and stumbled on a system of   group goals, character goals, and  skills that creates characters that grow over time.  Not "you get a +1 proficiency  bonus and an new cool power." growth , but honest to goodness growth.

You completed your goal "Find my brother," wrap up the  scene and tell me what happens.
Sounds so simple right?
What if that goal gets completed while you are locked up in prison? How does that help you find your brother?  Well he could be in the prison to, or he could be a guard, or a judge, or a dead body in the corner... It's up to the  player.
Once that goal is  done the  player has to create another goal, so if he found the brother dead in jail, his new goal could be to avenge his death, or of the brother is a prisoner the next goal could be to escape with his brother.
The game makes stories, long interesting, fun stories that the players are always engaged in.

Rik was a D&D thief, Reggie was a D&D paladin. I remember them as such.
I remember what they did as phase charaters.
Melvyn
Muhaddin, massive,  orphaned, former slave, muslim. Retired to a farm near one of the cities in our game. Why? He had answered all his questions, it just felt right. He was free of shackles and the scars they left.
Volodya Taras. The near vampire of Londonia.
Harley Burke.
Carry Cross

So many others.

I am not selling a game here.
I think the latest draft  isn't playable outside of our table. In fact I had a phone conversation with a game designer*** who  was pretty clear that the style of play was not very clear based on the game text. My answer was, "Yeah I know but I never intended the text for public consumption."
It's more like a 38 page codex of how we do things, not what the end result is supposed to look like at the table. I'm not a competent writer, nor am I any one who should be trying to publish books. I'm a guy who games and that's about it. I don't push and agenda with my games, I don't try and prove a point. I simply write what I enjoy.

I have been working on a rewrite I'm calling Phase 2 with minor changes, (AKA, I finally dumped the  attributes.) and  some clarifications, why not get back on the  horse?
Why not play Phase?
Phase can do that.

How does this apply to game design in general?  How is this relevant to  anyone who has never played, or heard of Phase?

Like this.
Design what you like to run or play. Share your game with who you want, play it with who you want. Love your design.
Be proud of your creativity.

Do not let anyone on the internet  tell you your design is crap. Don't let anyone tell you  it's not  old school enough, or it's not narrative enough, or it's to this or to that. Nothing good ever comes of following the mob. 
You will know if it's crap and you will adjust it accordingly, because that's what creators do. If you are having fun with your own game, then damn it it's good. 
The human brain is  wired to  remember negativity and criticism. We take it to heart, it  burns itself into our minds so we will avoid doing the things that caused the disconfort in the first place. A great bit of evolution if you want an organism to not eat poisonous jelly fish, but it sucks for creative types. 
Criticism, intelligent constructive criticism, is useful. Unfortunately intelligent constructive criticism is rare on the web. Here in cyberspace what we get are people calling each other names, harassing each other over perceived elf game inequities, or generally calling each other stupid. It's extremely wasteful, both in terms of time and energy.
If you are reading this and you like to create and share the negativity is going to happen, eventually. It happens to everyone. It has even happened to me here in my  tiny  rarely traveled corner of the web.
Move past the negative. Find those people who can be critical and supportive. Game with your real life friends who you know won't be brazenly rude or cruel just because the  internet protects them with it's anonymity, it implied privilege, and it's assumed distance. 
Design what  you want, where  you want, how you want and don't be put off of your creative vision because some one tells you, "Only wankers play that sort of game." 
The best game I have ever played is a Dm-less story game no one has ever heard of, and I'm not only cool with that, I'm proud of it.

I dedicate this  post,  (post number 301) to Phase Abandon, the folks who have played it, and the good times we have had playing it.
Trust me it's not dead. 10 more years are coming.
****


Thanks for reading
-Mark.




*(My long suffering friends who have put up with more bad ideas than good. Toast them when you drink, they have earned it.)

** (May or may not hold some truth, good topic for a future post.)

***(Who didn't give me permission to talk about him directly, so I'm not going to. However if you read this you might be happy to know I took the attributes out of the latest version because you were right and I 100% agree.)

****(Why did I write this post 2 solid months before the actual 10th anniversary of the game? The reason is I don't know of this blog has 2 more months in it, and there were some things I wanted to get down just in case)