Monday, November 9, 2009

Sometimes, the rules can work FOR the party...

So, we were ambushed by kobolds.

This is fairly standard for a first level dungeon; they're kobolds, that's what they do. It's the only way they can survive.

But they didn't kill anybody, so they got killed themselves, all but one who ran off.

Unconcerned, we continued on our merry way. Until we came to a door, one that wouldn't open no matter what we tried. We made a lot of noise trying to open it, and the DM (Kesher) told us so.

"It'll attract monsters," he said.

So I had an idea:

"Fine, let it! We'll hide and ambush them!" And someone else (sorry, I don't remember who) said "And we'll wait until they open the door!"

So that's what we did. Doors open for monsters, even when they don't open for player characters.

So we ended up ambushing the kobolds this time and killing off some more of them. And we got the door open, to boot! I love it when things work out like that.

Sadly, however, while searching the Wizard's room, Melvin opened the wardrobe and was immediately bitten by a large, black snake. Failed his save vs. poison, and Melvin is no more. The party continued searching the room long enough for me to roll up a new character, equip him, and enter the dungeon and catch up with him. That's when my new character (a magic-user) asked "Who is the dead guy, and why haven't you looted the body yet?" So another fighter got Melvin's +1 sword, which was kinda cool.

One little gripe I do have about the game is the way everything changes all the time. Now we're using a different system for magic. I mean, sure, it's interesting to see the different ideas that come up, but at some point I'd like to just PLAY instead of PLAYTEST every time. Ah, well. I guess that's what other games are for.

(Don't get me wrong -- I do enjoy the game. I just don't want to have to learn new rules every session, that's all.)

Friday, November 6, 2009

Nostalgia Gaming

I'm proud to be a part, in my own small way, of the Old School Renaissance. I've long thought that games were getting too complex, that we didn't really need the endless rules, the endless supplements and splatbooks, the endless endlessness.

On the other hand, if a game isn't supported, it dies. How many people do you know who still play Star Frontiers? Or Top Secret, a clunky but awesome game I used to love.

Okay I have to admit, when people accuse us of "nostalgia gaming", I get a little irate. But in my calmer moments, I do have to admit that there's more than a little truth to it. At least, for me there is. (I don't want people to think I'm speaking for anyone else.)

What brought this on, you may ask?

Well, I've rediscovered an old love. Not a girlfriend; my wife is my one and only in that area. No, it's the first role-playing game I ever bought any of.

It isn't D&D. While that was among the first, it wasn't the very first. In fact, I resisted playing D&D for quite a while, simply because it has rules quirks that take some getting used to.

No, this was Steve Jackson's very first rpg, called The Fantasy Trip.

Where D&D was quirky, this was streamlined. Where D&D was vague, this was concrete. (As a reviewer in Isaac Asimov's Science Ficion Magazine said "Four hexes are four hexes and that gargoyle is either in your way or he isn't.")

But I couldn't get anyone interested in it.

Sure, there was this one time. I got the "second string" if you will, of my gaming group, to give it a try. (The "first string" were the really cool older guys, who had been around since the little brown books. They would occasionally try something else, but were steadfast D&D men to the last.) We tried it out, and while it was okay, it wasn't sufficiently different to warrant a change.

I still like it, though, because it was so different from D&D. Things made sense. I'm kind of a big fan of making sense, but then I've always been a science fiction guy more than a fantasy guy. In fantasy, you can just say "it's magic" and get away with it. SF was always more rigorous, in that if you postulate certain changes in what we currently understand about the universe, the technology in question would actually work, whether it be warp drive, teleportation, or ray guns.

(I'm not trying to say that SF was in any way better; just different, just something I preferred. Put the rocks down.)

So, The Fantasy Trip (or TFT, for short), was kind of like the science fiction version of fantasy, if you take my meaning. There were spells, and you could put these specific spells into magic items. No more "What spell do I need to make a flaming sword?" or suchlike, that you got in D&D.

And combat was codified. You had your movement allowance, and if you moved too far, you couldn't attack. If you were engaged, you could shift one hex, but that was it.

Does any of this sound familiar? Add in Feats and you have a version of 3rd edition D&D, right here. No wonder I was so enamored of it when it came out. (That's right; I said it. The bloom didn't come off the rose until well into 3.5, with the endless stream of supplements.)

So now I see some of what others didn't like about TFT, especially as compared to D&D. It didn't have that same sense of wonder. It didn't feel like "anything could happen."

There was, in short, no serious weirdness.

Because I've since learned that that's the hallmark of pulp fantasy (or swords & sorcery, or whatever...) You need to get your serious weirdness on, of you just haven't got it.

And that, I think, is where I fall down as a DM. I'm not in touch with the serious weirdness. I may lack the gene for it, or something. I'm still more of a science fiction guy, even though the world has moved into more of a fantasy phase. (I'm not worried, though; I expect the pendulum will swing back again.)

So I may try to run TFT. Just don't expect it to be D&D, though. It is what it is. (I may just run the wargames, Melee and Wizard -- possibly at a convention. That would be cool. I think these old games need more love than they're getting.)

Because I do feel a large rush of nostalgia from some of my old games.

Make no mistake, I still do like them better because they're simpler, more "elegant" (if I can get away with using that word), more downright accessible to the busy gamer who doesn't have a fortnight to read and digest a three hundred page player's handbook before starting a game. I don't think the modern trend toward "bigger is better" is a good thing.

And I still really really hate "collectible" games of any stripe.

So, in the final analysis, am I a Nostalgia Gamer? Sure, to some extent.

But I've never seen much reason to distinguish between types of gamers. Aren't we all pretty much alike, when you get right down to it?