Saturday, December 29, 2018

Games That Influenced My Current Understanding Of RPGs

I'm still working on the follow-up to the "What is Magic?" post, describing what spirits are, exactly. I also need to write up the events of the Deindustrial Future game, where the players' characters fought off a major assault by the forces of the antagonist—or antagonists, as the case may be—and realized that they may have been making some bad assumptions about what is going on. However, because I want to post something before the end of the year, this will be a simple social media game about my history in gaming. All it really is is a list of "games that influenced me", but I want to include some commentary to make it worth your time to read. Without further ado, and after the first two in no particular order:

  1. Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, 1st edition - This was, of course, the first RPG I played, before I had even heard the term "RPG". I learned a lot about gaming from this, in part because I had no idea what I was doing. It was where I learned that having followers is a good thing. It was where I learned that maybe you shouldn't trust your fellow players, but also that you could generally rely on them if they weren't dicks. I learned what it means to be able to attempt anything, even if you might or might not succeed. Some of those I would count as life lessons, too. I learned that resource management is a fun game in itself, even if it took me years to be able to articulate that lesson.
  2. Traveller - Since it was the first game I'd ever run instead of just being a player, this is where I learned the value of Referee tools. Random encounters, rumor tables, world generation procedures, and so on mean that the Referee can concentrate on the arc of the story and leave the details up to the dice. This has served me as well in learning what the value of divination is outside of gaming, too.
  3. Call of Cthulhu - This is where I learned that even a single rule, if properly designed, can thoroughly change the experience of the game by altering the approaches that the players will tend toward.
  4. Champions - I didn't know it at the time I was playing it, but this game taught me that point-based character creation is terrible. Even if the intent is otherwise, it encourages players to find as many loopholes in the system as they can. This is also called "system mastery", and it continues to infect some games to this day. Some games revel in that, such as Pathfinder, while others, such as GURPS, try to minimize it.
  5. RuneQuest, 3rd edition - Proved that it is possible to use points to generate characters and not have it be awful. On the other hand, it does this by limiting the point use to only one segment of character creation, the skills of the character. Technically, I probably learned this with 2nd edition and with Call of Cthulhu, but I really like 3rd edition RQ and wanted to include it in this list.
  6. Marvel Super Heroes - I learned that the description of a power—what Champions calls "special effects"—is very nearly as important as the mechanics of the power. I also learned that the direction of complexity that I was heading deeper into was not necessarily the best direction.
  7. Pendragon - There are other ways to play a game is what Pendragon taught me about gaming. Adventures can be had without making "adventuring" the centerpiece of the game. Instead, adventures can serve a larger purpose of supporting the play of families and the exercise of power politics.
  8. Hârnmaster - This game taught me that not every situation affecting a character is best simulated as a pool of resource points, but that conditions applied to the character are often the better tool to use. Also, that characters don't have to be high-competence to be fun to play. Other people learned that latter lesson with Warhammer Fantasy Role Playing, but this game was my lesson in that.
  9. Flashing Blades - Here I learned that the proper focus of a game is on the players' characters, even if the events being portrayed are larger than those characters. I also finally came to understand the lesson that I should have learned in Traveller or even earlier, that character development is not necessarily something that affects stats and skills.
  10. GURPS - Taught me that the math in the game is important, but that it should absolutely not be something that the players have to deal with much. It should be baked into the system as much as possible.
  11. Lace & Steel - Here, I learned one part of the lesson that even small things can make an adventure more fun, by helping to immerse the players into the setting. In particular, the concentration on the small indignities of travel, and how this encourages characters to choose to pay for better accommodations when available, taught me about the little things that matter to characters.
  12. Swordbearer - Like the previous entry, I learned that even seemingly minor elements, presented correctly, can add immeasurably to play, with travel being another area treated especially well, in this case by detailing how things like setting and striking camp, the condition of the travelers, weather, and so on affect matters. I also learned that sometimes finances are better handled abstractly, since the characters shouldn't be worrying about every last copper piece and so neither should the players, at least in some settings.
That gives an even dozen games, though I could have included more. I learned things from Chivalry & Sorcery, Fantasy Wargaming, Vampire: The Masquerade, TORG, Rolemaster, and many others as well, but I have to stop somewhere. That's not even counting the negative lessons—other than Champions, which I think was one of the most important lessons—such as the WotC editions of Dungeons & Dragons.

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