Monday, August 22, 2011

Preliminary thoughts on psychopaths

So, my game at the Minicon was a total failure. Absolute. The original premise, the reverse dungeon, had potential, but I wanted to try an experiment...I gave the players characters from the old D&D cartoon playing out a finale for the show. I watched all the cartoons a few days prior to the event (and lemme tell you something: what the fuck was I thinking as a kid?) in order to ripoff encounters. Yeah, so, they were supposed to meet some bullywugs, werebear, evil sorceress (no idea if that's remotely correct) and a couple other things, culminating in a final showdown with Venger and Tiamat. Needless to say, within 5 minutes Chris in the role of mild-mannered Presto was committing murder and carving swastikas in foreheads. I had figured something like this might happen, but not so quickly and surely not by Chris. The downward spiral was much faster than I anticipated and within 30 total minutes the game had devolved into an exercise in futility. I really didn't want to even bother completing it, but I tarried on under the guise of amusement. Honestly, I was a little annoyed at such blatant displays of outright antipathy directed at yours truly; I had tried to set the tone with (what I thought) were clever cutout minis, cool character sheets complete with pictures and some mood music. Alas, I failed in all ways possible. Perhaps it's because the players, all of whom I know personally and consider my friends, know I am not a very serious-minded individual. They know I prefer farce and tongue-in-cheek approaches to gaming. Hell, everything. I'll satirize anything. When Chris decided to proceed with an utterly psychopathic action, who was I to intervene? I thought it was funny, but also I thought it was somewhat disruptive. However, as a DM, I'll never ever tell a player they can't do something. Ever. If they want to perform an action, no issues with me, just don't complain about the repercussions. Corollary, I shouldn't complain about the repercussions, either. And I didn't. But I did not like where the game started going and there was no real way to stop it; I don't think stopping it would have mattered, anyway, as it was only a 3 hour session that would have zero long lasting effects on a campaign or whatever. So, I got over it real quick, chalked it up to an abject failure on my part, and moved on. Game was finished with only around 1/4 of the encounters I had planned, mostly because we spent nearly the whole time making jokes. Everyone seemed to enjoy it, I think, but I'll never know as even if they are assholes, my friends are still polite in a lot of ways and probably wouldn't tell me the game sucked even if I asked directly. No matter, I wasn't bothered. Until...during Chris' game, some random dude said he wanted Chris to run the D&D cartoon game. Well, okay, that was certainly a nice statement. If he's reading this: fuck you. You didn't see the devolution from my honest, semi-serious premise into a train wreck. That did bother me some, and I'm not a sensitive gent.

After this fiasco, I'm wondering if I should even bother trying to run something in the future. I like to put a lot of effort into the games I run, but if they're all going to turn out like this I might as well hang it up and just play Wizardry or something. I did appreciate the endless, free supply of Jameson provided by Jason. Booze cures all ills, or so my Irish liver once told me.

Right after posting this, I realized it's probably the most gayass emo crap I could possibly write and considered deleting it, but decided to simply add this disclaimer: I know this is emo as fuck.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Middle-Earth RPGs: System Matters

With the upcoming release of The One Ring, I thought I'd make a few comments about Middle Earth-based rpgs, and licensed rpg settings in general. First, I haven't actually seen the game (I did pre-order it though), but from the comments and excerpts I've read in various places I'm pretty sure I won't like it. Oh, I'm hopeful it'll be a good game, but the design doesn't fit well with how I envision playing in Middle Earth should be done. A while back, on this very blog, I made a post about how to recreate the fellowship in D&D. Oddly enough, D&D would work just fine for LotR if you're not actually interested in playing a wizard or casting any spells. Unfortunately the game lends itself to a certain style of play and it's hard to break out of that mindset. I ran a Castles & Crusades game set in Middle Earth not too long ago, and while it wasn't an outright failure the system didn't help much. Actually, I blame a few of the players for overt powergaming; I think the system was working just fine. But, again, the fact that there are certain assumptions made within the system makes it difficult to emulate specific genres or settings without a lot of tinkering. I've heard "system doesn't matter", but from my experience, it matters quite a bit.

I played a lot of MERP when I was in high school. We ended up tacking on the full-blown Rolemaster rules because that's Just What You Did. I think there's a natural progression to complication in gaming...maybe I'll write another blog post about that sometime. Anyway, MERP was fun, it was gritty, it was deadly and it was Tolkien. The last point was reason enough to play it constantly. It had Hobbits and stats for Gandalf, who was I to dispute that it wasn't the absolute authority on roleplaying within the confines of Middle Earth? In all honesty, MERP was objectively an excellent game, and the supplements are still some of the best the rpg industry ever produced. The 2nd edition stripped out some of the flavor, and I never played it much after it was released. ICE ended up losing the license due to a multitude of reasons, almost went out of business, and thus no more Middle Earth gaming for a while.

With the release of the movies, Decipher came out with The Lord of the Rings RPG (super creative name, I know, but as the license was derived from the movies it may have been contractual). I own the main book, and was never impressed with it. Way too much movie art, with a feel definitely derivative of the movies. No knock on the films (I think they're pretty good), but they do not capture the essence of LotR and anything based upon them would also fail in this regard. MERP was an honest attempt to distill Tolkien into rpg terms, LOTRRPG felt half-assed.

There are probably countless attempts by individuals to create an independent Middle Earth rpg...some of the ones I'm aware of include Realm Guard, Hither Lands, Legends of Middle Earth, Ea RPG and a Heroquest conversion. None of these does anything for me, to be honest, because they all seem to be based on previous gaming systems instead of a system crafted specifically for Middle Earth. I thought at length about what I'd want to use if I ever ran another game set in Middle Earth (if I do run a game anytime soon it'll probably be exactly this), and came up with a few ideas. I considered Fudge, using a variation of High Fantasy Fudge I wrote myself a couple years ago. I re-read it, it seems pretty good, but I don't really like how Fudge combat works so while it's a possibility the combat rules might need to be reworked. I like the MERP/Rolemaster combat system quite a bit, but it's extremely heavy and perhaps not ideal for me anymore, mostly due to being lazy. I saw some stuff for using GURPS, which is a good idea as Thaumatology and Powers can duplicate much of the feel required for the game; unfortunately I'm not so sure I want to use a point-buy system. If someone wants to play a hobbit, they're going to feel gyped if they only get 100 points while an elf has 500+. This brings up a major issue: characters in LotR have zero semblance of balance between them. To fully emulate the books, either the players are going to have to deal with that or all play rangers and elves. Bilbo and the dwarves were fairly even, so sticking with The Hobbit and a low-powered game could work, but I like the darker tone and the more expansive game world. Basic Roleplaying is a definitive possibility, as it has a fatalistic combat system, is quick to run and is easily adaptable for a wide variety of magic systems. Probably at the top of the list right now. A thought came to me to use d6 Star Wars, with skills edited to fit the setting. This idea had promise, but...

The 1st edition WEG d6 Star Wars game is by far one of the best licensed games ever produced, specifically because the system was designed for the setting. Further, d6 is actually an excellent mechanic for skill-based games in general. I think this fact is oft overlooked: system defines genre. Okay, that's really not true, but it certainly has a lot to do with it. I'm sure you could run a Star Trek game using a modified Toon RPG, but it would probably suck. Chivalry & Sorcery is awful for high powered D&D-style gaming because of the implied setting. This is probably why I like GURPS systematically, but dislike it as an actual game. The complete removal of setting leaves it feeling flat. In reality, GURPS is a great fantasy rpg, but this is is most likely due to its roots in The Fantasy Trip. The same can be said for HERO: good for supers gaming, leaves much to be desired for other types. Back to d6, I think it would work. The force powers can be removed and turned into nebulous magic-types; maybe instead of Control there is an attribute called Healing that allows some sort of ability to cure disease. Character templates are great: someone wants to play a Ranger, you hand him a template and say assign some dice to whatever skills you want. Done. Someone has already done a lot of the work, too. No idea how well it plays, but it looks good. Unfortunately, I really don't know if this would be better than an already existing Middle Earth game. Why not just play MERP and be done with it? It's not perfect, but the rules are codified and easy enough to use. It isn't in print, though, which makes it difficult for other people to get the rules. Irritating.

After all that, I'm REALLY hoping The One Ring is a good game worth playing. As I already stated, I'm lazy when it comes to rpgs anymore; I just want to play them, not spend hours preparing. Coming up with templates for a d6 game or figuring out a magic system using GURPS, yeah I could do it, but why bother if the new game works? I'm not sure how to end this so I'll just close with a cool picture that's more evocative of what I want in my Middle Earth RPG than anything I can express in words.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Smaug's Meaty Bits..?

It's amazing what you can find on the Internet...I like to eat and I like Tolkien: The Middle-Earth Foodie

I don't really know if I want to eat something named after a dragon's junk, even if it does look tasty.